87 Affordable First Date Ideas That Will Lead to a Second Date

Have you ever been on a first date so terrible the story goes viral on Twitter?

Awful First Date Awful First Date Awful First Date Awful First Date

I’ve thankfully never experienced that level of crazy on a date, but I will share a few personal anecdotes, for good fun.

Disastrous First Date #1:

Over lunch, this guy I met online kept arguing that Machiavelli is a decent dude, and in the next breath, insisting that my top priority in life is to get married despite me repeatedly telling him otherwise. Instead of a goodbye hug, the date ended with a one-sided discussion of marriage readiness.

To this day, my #1 dating advice is: if your date is pro-Machiavelli, run!

Disastrous First Date #2:

This dude brought me to a casino, and proceeded to lose $400 in a span of 20 minutes on roulette, which wouldn’t have mattered one bit to me, except the $400 was all the money he had left. 

Dating advice #2: make sure that you don’t end up somewhere that doesn’t allow you to fake a “family emergency” and exit swiftly.

87 Affordable First Date Ideas That Will Lead to a Second DateTo be fair, regardless of the outcome, most dates I went on checked all the boxes – fun, romantic, and at times, eye-opening.

But concocting a magical night of first-date perfection comes at a cost to both parties, literally.

  • Dinner is about $20 to $30 a piece, at least.
  • Movie: $10 per person.
  • Popcorn to share: $10, give or take.
  • Gas: $5, more during rush hours.
  • Parking: $8 if you’re lucky.

When you add it all up, the traditional dinner and movie combo could easily set each of you back $50. 

Assuming you go on a date every other week, that’s $1,300 per year.

Dating is tricky enough to navigate as it is. The last thing you want is for it to become a financial burden as well.

Thankfully, you don’t need a large dating budget to be a successful dater.

Sure, having more money gives you more options of things to do on a date. But plenty of people in all income brackets find love and build meaningful connections just fine.

Whether a first date is successful or not essentially boils down to 2 questions:

  • Did you get to know each other better?
  • Did you both have a good time?


  • How much money did you spend on the date?

Here are 87 first-date ideas that don’t cost an arm and a leg, but are still fun, and leave plenty of room for good conversations and flirty moments that you will reminisce together later.

First Date Ideas for Everybody:

1. Brunch

There are no hard rules that say you must eat on a date, but sharing a meal does bring people closer together. If you plan to indulge in a little culinary excursion, brunch is a great option. It’s more casual and fun than dinner, and much cheaper.

2. Wine and cheese

Another good alternative to a full-blown dinner at a restaurant.

3. Apple picking

Or whatever is the fruit of the season.

4. Go to an animal shelter to take care of animals

Nothing is more attractive than compassion.

5. Go to a Starbucks and do Buzzfeed quizzes together

A cute way to learn about each other’s quirks and preferences while laughing hysterically together.

6. Watch a movie at a low-cost movie theatre

I know “low-cost movie theatre” sounds oxymoronic, but I can vouch for its existence. It’s where I watch all my movies. They don’t always have the latest releases, but given the $5 ticket price, I’d say it’s a fair trade-off.

7. Walk around IKEA together, and enjoy a meal at IKEA’s restaurant

Warning: do not attempt to build IKEA furniture together.

8. Offer to help out your date with a fun and easy task that you can do together

As long as you don’t become their go-to person for favors, it’s all good.

9. Window shopping

Looking doesn’t cost a dime.

10. Watch sports in a bar

Drinks are pricey but seeing as most people wouldn’t want to drink too much on a first date, I’ll file this one under “affordable.”

11. Volunteer

As meaningful and fulfilling as it gets for people with hearts of gold.

12. Cheap or free sporting events

Goes well with hot dogs!

13. Hang out at a cat café

14. Dive bars

Nothing wrong with bonding over a few rounds of darts.

15. Comedy club amateur night or an improv show

16. Cheer on an amateur sports team in a local stadium

Cheer on an amateur sports team in a local stadium

17. Feed ducks in the park

18. Attend a show at a planetarium

19. Look up “[your city] free events” on Google for additional ideas

First Date Ideas for the Artistic

20. Free or discounted art exhibitions or galleries

Many museums offer discounted tickets during certain times, and occasionally host free public events.

21. Painting at a painting bar

You might get a discount if you book closer to the date of the event.

22. Explore a historical part of your city

23. Attend a community or college play

24. Visit a local library

Granted, you can’t carry extended conversations inside a library, but you can browse around for something to discuss afterward.

25. Visit a second-hand bookstore

26. Sign up for a trial class at a yoga studio

Sign up for a trial class at a yoga studio

27. Go to a flea market to hunt for bargain arts and crafts supplies

28. Find an interesting local landmark to draw together

Don’t forget to praise their work.

29. Visit antique stores

30. Put on a mini-concert

If you’re musically talented, why not serenade your date with a romantic tune?

31. Attend a book or poetry reading

32. Attend a free library event

Sometimes libraries put on author meet and greets, book signings, classes, talks, and workshops.

33. Dress up to go to a renaissance fair or festival

Bonus points for maintaining a conversation in Old English.

34. Take fashion portraits of your date in a unique setting

They’d totally appreciate it if they have any sort of Instagram presence.

First Date Ideas for the Adventurous

35. Explore the downtown core and sample street foods

36. Happy hour karaoke

Practicing beforehand is totally par for the course.

37. Mini-golf

38. Try a newly opened specialty coffee shop

If coffee ain’t your cup of tea, a juice bar or dessert shop work just fine.

39. Fly a kite

40. Play frisbee on a college lawn

41. Walk around aimlessly and let serendipity surprise you

Walk around aimlessly and let serendipity surprise you

42. Visit a pop-up shop

43. Go on a brewery or winery tour

Free booze. Enough said.

44. Go to a carnival

45. Explore a chocolate factory

Yes, it’s a thing. If you’re lucky, you might score some free samples.

46. Collect uniquely-shaped rocks and seashells on the beach

Back when I was single, this was my dream date.

First Date Ideas for the Geeky

47. Have fun at a board game café

Just don’t let your competitiveness overpower the fun.

48. Go to a Meetup event together

Go to a Meetup event together

49. Embrace your inner child at an arcade

All you need is some quarters!

50. Browse around in a comic book store

51. Find a mobile app game to play together

52. Play games that only require a pen or pencil

53. Live stream a game together on Twitch

Pretty sure this violates many cardinal rules about dating, but that’s how we roll.

54. Sign up for trivia night

If you’re a connoisseur of random facts, you could win a cash prize. Not only do you leave the date richer, you now have extra moolah for a follow-up date.

55. Take your date to your alma mater and show them around

56. Watch YouTube videos

Entertainment doesn’t get any cheaper than that.

First Date Ideas for the Active

57. Go roller-skating

65% chance of hand-holding.

58. Go ice skating

59. Go for a run

60. Hit golf balls at a driving range

Impress your date with your hand-eye coordination.

61. Flirty snowball fights

Just don’t aim for the face or below the belt!

62. Bowling

63. Play tennis in community tennis courts

Those endorphins will work in your favor.

64. Plant a tree together

65. Hiking somewhere with a view

Hiking somewhere with a view

66. Paddleboarding

67. Rent a kayak or canoe

68. Try out each other’s gym

Gyms sometimes let first-timers try out their facilities for cheap.

69. Rent a tandem bike to explore new neighborhoods

70. Rock climbing

First Date Ideas for the Hopeless Romantic

71. Drive up to the highest point in your city, spread out a blanket, and gaze up at the stars

Snacks are optional but highly recommended.

72. Pack a picnic to enjoy in a public park

Pack a picnic to enjoy in a public park

73. Ask each other 36 questions to fall in love

74. Make a bonfire on the beach and roast marshmallows

You can’t artificially create a more romantic atmosphere than that.

75. Take a ferry ride

Test the waters on the waters.

76. Movie in a park

A giant screen + a blanket + a secret bottle of Merlot = perfect evening.

77. Live musical performances

Swaying goes well with spooning.

First Date Ideas for the Unconventional

78. Join a parade

79. Set a time limit during which both of you cannot say any words that contain the letter “e”

Recommended reading: Ernest Vincent Wright’s “Gadsby.”

80. See a psychic

81. Give each other fake palm readings

Here’s what you could say: “You will live a long, healthy, and prosperous life. And you will grow to like the person right in front of you.”

82. Find an abandoned “haunted” mansion to explore

Find an abandoned “haunted” mansion to explore

83. Play bingo

84. Re-enactment of a historical event

85. Create a YouTube video together


86. Play truth or dare

87. Design your dream rollercoaster together

Forget the laws of physics. Your imagination is the limit.

Onward and Forward

Nailing the first date cheaply without being labeled “cheap” is more than an urban myth.

I would know. My most memorable first date took place in a whimsical coffee shop.

In between sips of Pu’er tea, my date shared fascinating stories from his teenage years (including an action-packed story involving a pack of huskies), talked extensively about his brothers, and expressed a desire to watch more Shakespearean plays.

I, on the other hand, rambled on and on about work.

(Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, and I agree.)

It didn’t make a lot of sense, but we clicked.

Fast forward 7 years, we’re now a happily frugal family of three.

When all is said and done, the “what,” “where,” and “how much” of the first date don’t matter nearly as much as the “who.”

When you’re with the right person, no matter where you are and what you do, you would feel like you’re cruising the Seine against a backdrop of fireworks, confetti, and rose petals.

And with that, I am proud to send you off on your dating journey.

Good luck!

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Article by: Flora Pang

Flora Pang aspires to become someone who plants trees in their spare time, writes thank-you notes to strangers, and serves in UN peacekeeping operations around the world. But to date, blogging about personal finance remains her only contribution to society. You can catch her rambling about money on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and (to a lesser extent) Pinterest.