9 Budget-Friendly Dates That Won't Make You Look Cheap

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No one wants to be known as the date who cheaped out. But considering how expensive dating can get, what's a tightwad to do? Luckily, there are ways to impress without having to spend much money. These nine first dates are both cheap and a tad offbeat, but your date will never know you're saving up until you're sure the relationship is worth the investment.

Drop in on happy hour.

Not only is happy hour cheap(er) than dinner, it makes a lot of sense for a first date as you start to get to know each other. There is less pressure than a full-on meal and it's perfectly acceptable to stay for only a drink or two and an appetizer. Bonus: Choose a bar or restaurant with live music at happy hour to experience conversation-stopping free entertainment.

Drink some wine.

Many wine stores have designated wine-tasting events. These are a set price, often as cheap as $10, and include a variety of wine samplings. At this type of event you know exactly how much you are going to spend and can budget accordingly. And hey, if you find a bottle of wine you particularly enjoy, you just may decide to splurge on it and share on your second date. Or, wander the aisles together and choose a bottle better suited to your budget.

Do dinner and a movie at a discount.

Pulling out a coupon on your first date may not make a terrific first impression. But if you buy discount concert or movie tickets or restaurant vouchers in advance, no one will be the wiser. You can find local deals on sites such as Groupon and Living Social. Alas, for some deals you need to print out a voucher to exchange for the tickets or when paying the check, but sometimes you can trade in the voucher ahead of time. Then again, it's hard to predict your date's response to your frugality. It may be a turn-on.

Meet at the dog park.

Depending on how you met, you may have found a few things you have in common before setting out on your first date. If pets -- and dogs in particular -- are one of those things, what better (free) activity than taking the pooches out to play? Only one of you have a dog? No problem. As long as the other person doesn't have an allergy or an aversion to dogs (which you might want to know right away), it's a good excuse to do something outside the box, save some money, and get to know each other's best friend.

Picnic for pennies.

A picnic in the park, the botanical gardens, even your own backyard, is a thoughtful, romantic gesture that can cost as much or as little as you want. You can choose very simple foods and still make a major impression. A variety of cheeses, crackers, smoked fish or sausage, and a sweet finish packed in an attractive, inexpensive basket can satisfy hunger at a first-date price far below what you would spend in a restaurant.

Be part of the community.

There is an abundance of cheap or free events in every town. From concerts to festivals, many don't require an admission fee. This type of date could also involve community days at your local art museum or zoo, where residents can visit for a reduced price or for free. For any first date at a performance or other outdoor venue, you can hold down costs by bringing your own food and drink. If you prefer to travel light, remember to budget for these expenses.

Hear a local band.

If you want to get tickets to a show, go local. Ticket prices for national acts are many multiples the price to see a local band at a smaller venue. After all, big names start out at smaller venues before they become well-known, so search around for the next up-and-coming star to really impress your date.

Volunteer your time.

What better way to spend time together than by donating it? For the price of a few hours, you can give back to your community and get to know someone at the same time. You and your date could serve food at a homeless shelter, sort cans at the food pantry, or walk dogs at the local humane society. This may not be the kind of first date for getting all gussied up, but it could be one of the most memorable.

Play tourist.

Just because you've lived somewhere all your life doesn't mean you know it as well as you think. Take off your resident's hat and don your tourist cap for a fun, unique, cheap first date. Take a day to visit the most popular tourist attractions in the area, whatever they might be. Maybe your city houses the state's largest historical society. Have you been there? Perhaps there's a local landmark you've driven past a million times but never stopped to investigate. Explore your city with fresh eyes and don't spend a dime while doing it -- except, perhaps, for lunch to keep you both going.