You Can’t Afford Not to Date

This post was written in conjunction with our 10th wedding anniversary.

Call us old, but Date Night is a non-negotiable. We even observed a date night while dating, since our busy schedules and separate residences didn’t allow for us to spend most evenings together. We still spend many evenings separately. Thus date night has always been sacred to us.

The Case for Dates

Budget for it as Entertainment, Dining, Date Night, or Marital Survival, but you can’t afford not to date your spouse or significant other, especially if you have children. After about 3-4 weeks without a date our communication stalls out. We start taking the others’ statements the wrong way.  I start resenting that I can never finish a sentence at the dinner table. I start wondering if I need therapy, or we need marital counseling, or I need to read more parenting books. But then I remember I just need to get the heck out of my house, away from two-to four-year-olds, and have a fun time and a complete conversation with my husband once a month.

Dates won’t fix all your marriage problems, nor can dating alone ensure the success of a marriage or relationship. But surely never spending focused time together is not a recipe for a happy, healthy lifelong bond. Marriage counseling is expensive. Divorce is really expensive. By comparison, date night is a bargain.

Staying unified with your spouse is a powerful step toward working as a frugal team. Dating even renders the boring budget meeting dispensable for us. Quality time together is the perfect context for dreaming about financial and life goals while emotionally fueling your motivation to work toward them. Nothing will stall your progress like an unhappy marriage. You really can’t afford not to date!

Is Dating Expensive?

Our early dating ranged from expensive theater tickets to cooking dinner together in the dilapidated house Neil rented with up to 12 other guys. Now with kids we aim to get out once a month. I was indignant the first time Neil questioned our $50 per month dating allowance. That time means so much to me and to our relationship, I’d pay just about anything for it. But saying something is valuable doesn’t mean it has to cost a lot, an important tenet of pretending to be poor.

While I don’t find Taco Bell to be a romantic venue, we have found cheaper ways to enjoy our time out without feeling deprived. Zero entertainment spending isn’t a possibility for most parents. Instead we do our best to find volunteer babysitting (thanks to our moms & friends) when possible. Often we swap babysitting with our friends. It’s quite the endeavor with five kids aged seven & under between 2 families, but well worth it. When these resources are exhausted we are happy to hire one of the qualified teenagers we know.

The days of relaxing and connecting by eating leftovers & watching movies at home ended shortly after the birth of our first child. We always buy food when we’re out. If we had to eat dinner at home before leaving, we’d never get out the door. Plus, I produce about 87 homemade meals per month. I need a night off. And I bet you do, too.

How to Be a Cheap Date

Some thrifty date ideas we’ve implemented:

  1. Split an entrée.
  2. Go to Taco Bell, Chipotle, Chick Fil A, or buy prepared grocery store foods.
  3. Use a gift card or coupon.
  4. Split a fancy coffee beverage.
  5. A grocery store chain in our region has nice cafe areas where we can chill while splitting ice cream or snack for about $3.
  6. For more ideas, see Going Out Without Going Broke.

Some free after-dinner activities:

  1. Peruse a thrift store, library, or book store together.
  2. Go for a hike or walk in a park.
  3. Ride bikes.
  4. Go to a free outdoor concert or festival.
  5. Walk through a plant nursery.

Neil’s taken me on a lot of awesome dates by scoring free or cheap tickets to things like:

  1. Professional sports games.
  2. Professional orchestra tickets (redeeming himself after sports game).
  3. Boat rides.
  4. Art museums.
  5. Performances at a university.

Keep an ear out for free events, concerts, and museum nights in your area and you’re bound to find something to do. We have a somewhat harder time finding frugal diversion during the winter, but we can always chat over coffee or ice cream, laugh at the random stuff in the thrift store, or fantasize over travel guides in the book store.

Dating is about connection, not consumption. Once you have kids you need somewhere to go connect. It’s about conversation, which is universally tied to sharing a meal. It’s about common experience; do something outside your routine. It doesn’t have to be sky-diving or horseback riding, but it probably shouldn’t be grocery shopping, either.

We also aim for one overnight getaway per year where we’re solely focused on spending time with one another. We usually get a free hotel room using Marriott Rewards card points. Pretending to Be Poor isn’t about being a tightwad; we’re happy to spend money on what we value while minimizing costs wherever reasonable.

Be generous toward your spouse. Invest in your marriage while keeping it affordable. Your husband or wife is worth it.

What are your favorite thrifty date ideas? Do you budget for alone time with your significant other?

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43 Responses to “You Can’t Afford Not to Date”

  1. Mrs. Mad Money Monster says :

    I absolutely love date nights! Mr. MMM and I aim to have 1-2/week. We definitely try to keep costs to a minimum by cooking at home and watching a movie or going to a hike. If we’re feeling particularly adventurous, we’ll opt for a fancy coffee at one of our local shops and a trip to a nearby antique store. The requirements for our date time includes no kids and good communication. I agree that little, regular dates yield huge benefs on any relationship. Great post!

    • Kalie says :

      That’s great you’re able to get out that often! I think our date night tab increased when the frequency decreased–overall probably breaking even.

  2. Elise at Uphill To Easy Street says :

    This is so true. True dating is not in our budget right now (we are working on paying off the last of student loans and saving for the downpayment on our next house), but we do date night at home.

    We usually feed the kids their own supper, and then while one person puts them down the other cooks a really nice meal for the 2 of us. Then we eat, play a game (usually chess or scrabble because we’re nerds) and then a movie. It works for us and still lets us focus on each other for a night without the expense of dinner out, plus a sitter.

    • Kalie says :

      Great ideas, though I do like catching on break on putting kids to bed once in a while. But I also realize people have made their marriages work without any opportunity to “go out”–I’m thinking Little House on the Prairie times. Way to go on being so focused on your goals and getting creative with quality time.

  3. Holly says :

    My husband and I still “date.” The biggest expense for us is always getting a babysitter. We do trade babysitting with our neighbors from time to time, and that helps. We like getting a cheap dinner and seeing a movie in the theater.

  4. Tonya says :

    I’m not in a relationship but I can definitely see how this is really important, especially if you have young kids. I’ve been around my married friends with kids and you really can’t get a word in without some kind of kid distraction! Glad you’re making it a priority!

  5. Emily says :

    Yes, yes, yes! I love how you put it: dating is about connection not consumption. Happy 10 years!! Usually Josh and I do a mini vacation for our anniversaries, but this year was super frugal because we’d just had baby number 2! We went to several fancy grocery stores, bought things with gift cards, went for a nice long run, and ate wine and chocolate at home. Sometimes the simple hangouts are the best! Reminds me of being young, broke kids dating 😉

    • Kalie says :

      We definitely love to use gift cards to defray dating costs. I agree that simple times spent together can be invaluable.

  6. Harmony says :

    Congrats! We also just celebrated our ten-year anniversary. One of my favorite, recent dates with Mr. Smith was watching a meteor shower together. We sat outside and enjoyed the light show and a few beverages. It was amazing and uber-frugal.

    • Kalie says :

      Congrats to you! Neil loves space weather and we have enjoyed a few awesome meteor showers, though not recently. So romantic!

  7. Joel says :

    Market District! (retail cost for beer/wine and cheap food). Ladies night or market night at the local wine bar! ($5 by the glass or no corkage for bottles). I avoid movies because you don’t relate.

    • Kalie says :

      Market District is the upscale chain store I was referring to, though it is regional. It’s a great place to chill. I avoid movies because I can’t stay awake!

  8. Abigail says :

    Tim and I definitely notice a breakdown if we don’t go out about once a week. It used to be dinner and free pool at a place nearby. But the bar we were using got snotty about us only really ordering soda and the occasional drink — even though there was never a line for the table we were using.

    So now we just go to a pool hall and play there with quarters. We do better when he and I go out together regularly. Like you said, communication can go better even.

  9. Megan says :

    There’s a plethora of cheap (yet fun) dates. If you’re dating, dumpster dive for donuts together at Dunkin’ Donuts then share the bounty. Or play the Pirates of the Caribbean version of the game of Life together then watch one of the movies afterward. Share poop horror stories together to try to get the other person to vomit; whoever vomits first loses. University hockey games are usually free. Or I’ve always wanted to dress up in a superhero costume with my significant other in a downtown location, pretending to save people from crime.
    Anyway, loved the post (per usual)! These are things I’m definitely considering as I brace myself for a married life.

  10. Our Next Life says :

    YES! So, so important. We are huge believers that you have to invest in your marriage as a top priority, *especially* if you plan to retire early and literally can’t afford to get divorced. Not to mention that we *want* our marriage to last! 🙂 So glad you guys prioritize date night and are willing to spend a little money on your dates.

  11. Hannah says :

    Happy anniversary!

    Our babysitting swap friends recently moved, so we need to make some new friends stat!

    Thankfully, Kenny goes to sleep really early, so Rob and I can have regular hang out nights throughout the week, but I agree that there is something very valuable about getting out of the house, looking nice, and doing something fun together. I like to people watch or visit art museums.

    Our date night in has lately involved homemade greek food (Hello Falafel!) and reading or watching TV together (we’re super into the Arrow right now).

    • Kalie says :

      I hope you can find some new babysitting swap friends. And when we don’t have time or a sitter for a long stretch, we definitely make the most of an evening in after the kids are in bed.

  12. DC YAM says :

    You raise a great point: divorce is much more expensive than going on dates. My wife and I struggle in this area simply because of time. With her going to grad school basically full-time while also working full-time, and me running my blog and a couple other side hustles on top of full-time work…we don’t get to go on many dates. This year we are giving scheduling dates a try, and so far it’s working.

    • Kalie says :

      Before kids it was easy to assume we’d spend time together, but then end up too busy and not spend quality time. Glad you are trying to schedule dates this year. Enjoy!

  13. Cat says :

    Yes! My hubby and I still go on semi-regular date nights to keep us sane. We know we need time together without the beans once in a while, so we make it a priority in our budget.

  14. Prudence Debtfree says :

    Wait a second. Did you say that you had 5 children under the age of 7? Or is it two children: a 2-year-old and a 4-year old? (I must be tired.) I’m glad you’re investing in your marriage through date nights. Getting out and away from home clears your head at that intensive parenting stage. That (very young) couple up there is worth the time you’ve put into making it all work.

    • Kalie says :

      I have 2 kids! When babysitting my friend’s kids, the total comes to 5 under 7. However, I deleted the fun fact that my mother had 5 kids in 7 years, and babysat other kids for side work, too. Talk about hustle.

  15. Jim Wang says :

    “Dating is about connection, not consumption.”

    I think we grow up thinking that it’s about being flashy, showing off our plumage to meet the right guy/girl, but then you wise up and get older and realize that it’s about the deeper connection that helps relationships endure through good times and bad times. This is a good reminder, thank you!

    • Kalie says :

      Yes, there is something to be said for putting your best foot forward at the beginning of a relationship, but over the long haul that’s not what matters or lasts. Glad to hear you are dating your wife even after children!

  16. Jim Wang says :

    Oh and we have two kids too and date night is non-negotiable for us too now. 🙂

  17. Dee says :

    I can so identify with the frustration of not being able to finish a sentence with little kids around! That one gets me too. I totally agree, date night is so important to staying connected with your partner. Happy 10th anniversary!

  18. Chris says :

    We don’t go out often or on a schedule. Having four kids I always feel bad using free babysitters. We have hired a trusted teenager but the date gets expensive before we even walk out of the house. Instead we have made date nights at home work for us. Once a week my husband goes shopping and gets food for our date night. He has a set amount to work with and does really good staying within budget. He comes home and cooks dinner. I will feed and put kids to bed. We eat dinner together. Sometimes we play games, sometimes we watch movies, sometimes we light candles and just talk hanging out together. We have been doing this planned for over a year and it is wonderful. I cherish the time and look forward to it each week.

    • Kalie says :

      I could see how having more children would make finding sitters more complicated. That’s great you’ve found a tag-team solution to stay connected.

  19. Ralph says :

    Is it okay if we eat at a restaurant other than Taco Bell, Chipotle, or Chick-Fil-A? For example, we like Wendy’s.

    • Kalie says :

      Haha, those were just a few examples! I don’t think we’ve ever gone on a date to Chick-Fil-A, now that I think about it. We’re most likely to be found at an Asian restaurant anyway.

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