How to Have a Great Date on a Budget

Free Date Ideas

Well, you're flat broke. Your paycheck didn't clear, your car needed an unexpected overhaul, or you dropped your wallet down a storm drain. Either way, you're going to have to pull off your next date for a grand total of zero dollars. It's going to take a bit of skill, but she'll be too busy enjoying herself to notice the moths flying out of your pocket. After all, the best things in life are free.

For centuries, the outdoors has been a popular low-cost destination. You can take a hike or a bike ride, or you can pack some bread crumbs to a nearby duck pond. If the weather looks cloudy, you should always make sure to pack along an umbrella -- there's a certain appeal to any man who can keep his date protected from the elements. Spice up your outdoor date by taking along a dog: They're cute, they're cuddly, and their Frisbee-catching skills are a sight to behold. If you don't have your own canine companion, borrow Fido from a friend.

Lots of orchards will offer weekend deals where you can pick your own fruit for a fee. But why pay to forage for fruit? If you know where to look, you can probably find some sweet crab apples, blackberries, wild blueberries or wild raspberries at a local park. Or you can try the urban equivalent: Free sample day at the local supermarket.

If you can't afford the $10 to go watch a movie, why not compromise by watching the majesty of the universe? Most astronomy clubs will host regular "star parties." Located in rural areas, these gatherings feature dozens of telescope-packing, amateur astronomers who are more than happy to show you their latest interstellar discovery. It's intimate, it's outside, and you'll literally be able to give her the moon and the stars.

A classic romance film isn't complete without a rowboat ride, and for good reason: She gets to sit in the back twirling a parasol and you get to look strong and manly while working the oars. Rowboats can be a bit hard to come by, but you should be able to pull off the same effect with only an inflatable dinghy. If the water's warm enough, you could cap off the afternoon by diving in for a quick swim.

Most museums or art galleries will offer free admission at set times. Some will open up their doors an hour before closing, some will offer free admission on Tuesday nights, and others will have a "free day" once a month. Keep tabs on all the free museum days and plan your dates around them.

If you live close to a university campus, you're within the vicinity of a freebie mecca. Log onto the university's Web site and check out their daily events calendar for any upcoming free activities. A free screening of obscure Italian cinema? A book signing by her favorite celebrity biologist? A host of intellectual wonders await you at the university. Don't worry if you're not a student: As long as one of you is wearing an indoor scarf, you should blend right in.

A trip to an exotic foreign destination is obviously out of your price range at this point, but you can offer her the next best thing by cruising the town for ethnic festivals. Whether it's a pierogi sampler at the Ukrainian Cultural Center or a dragon festival in Chinatown, entrance fees are usually nil, and unique experience is usually high. Make a habit of reading local bulletin boards to see what's going on.

If ethnic flavor isn't her bag, maybe she's more into time travel. If you're lucky enough to live close to a Renaissance fair, you should schedule a date with your favorite damsel post haste. Without any spare cash, you probably won't be able to enter the axe throwing contest or buy her a roast turkey leg, but at least you'll be able to see jousting knights and staged sword fights.

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