By Chris McGillicuddy
Do you know where you'll be taking your date this Valentine's Day? Maybe you're thinking of dining out at that fancy restaurant you've both been dying to try. Sounds like a safe bet, until you realize the menu is a prix fixe four-course meal -- and the wine pairing almost doubles the final bill. Valentine's Day can be stressful enough without having to worry about whether the cost of a night on the town will drain your bank account. To help you out, here are 15 frugal date ideas for $15 or less.
1. Attend a YouTube Cooking Class
Foodies can show off their culinary skills, while amateur chefs can prove their willingness to try new things by cooking a meal together. Traditional cooking classes can carry hefty fees, so look up a tutorial on YouTube instead. Compare ingredients with what you have in your pantry to cut costs.
2. Take a Walk in the Park
Not only is it the most affordable option on this list, but it is also a great way to get to know someone. Depending on where you are, February can bring ideal weather for a leisurely stroll. A slight chill in the air is a perfect excuse to keep your Valentine close.
3. Hit the Bar
Rather than stopping at your usual watering hole, try something new, maybe a jazz club, a cocktail lounge or even a dive bar (where you know the drinks will be cheap and the people watching will help stimulate conversation). Do some research and see if any are hosting special events like trivia nights for the chance to win gift cards or even cash.
4. Go on a Coffee Date
Seek out a café with ambiance and enough space for you and your date to sit down and have a conversation. Don't order your usual cup of joe. Compared to cocktails, the prices of coffee concoctions are relatively cheap, so don't be afraid to try something new.
5. Roast S'Mores by the Fire
What better way is there to enjoy the cool weather than sharing a sweet treat with your sweetheart while bathed in the warm glow of a crackling campfire? Those without access to backyard fire pits or campgrounds can stay indoors and snuggle by the fireplace.
6. Bike Around Town
Cruise through your favorite neighborhoods or try to discover a secret, scenic spot to call your own. Those who do not own their own bikes can rent from shops or bike sharing services. Rates vary depending on location, so you might be better off borrowing from a friend. If it's too cold to ride, take advantage of low gas prices and go for a drive instead.
7. Tour Open Houses
You might not be able to afford a new house, but that shouldn't stop you from appreciating what's on the market. You and your Valentine can daydream about how you would build the perfect nest (or have fun critiquing the homeowners' tastes).
8. Visit a Museum
Soak in some culture with a trip to the museum. Look for institutions that offer price specials or, better yet, free admission. You might want to eat before you go, as the connected cafes can be overpriced.
9. Sing Karaoke
Karaoke is an affordable form of entertainment that allows you to be part of the show! Granted, not everyone is comfortable singing in front of a room full of strangers, but listening to "Frozen" fans slur the words to "Let It Go" is plenty of fun on its own. Just beware of karaoke clubs with drink minimums.
10. Throw a Game Night
Pull yourselves away from your smartphone screens and break out a board game. If you never invested in Monopoly, there are plenty of fun, free options such as 20 Questions, "Would You Rather?" and, of course, Truth or Dare.
11. Play a Round of Mini Golf
Mini golf is one of the few sports you can play while carrying on a conversation. Certain putt-putt courses even allow BYOB, which can make the game (and the date) really interesting.
12. Check Out a Local Band
There are tons of talented bands out there who haven't (yet) hit the radio. You don't need tickets to see these shows, but venues often charge a modest cover fee when popular groups are headlining. Look online to see if fees fluctuate depending on what time you arrive. A $5 cover at 9 p.m. could jump up to $10 by 10 p.m.
13. Paint Each Other's Portraits
This creative activity is fun for both the artistically inclined and enthusiastic amateurs. All you need are a few colors of paint and some sheets of paper. Save more when you release your inner-child and use your fingers instead of brushes.
14. Watch a Movie
Watching a movie is a tried and true date idea and, thanks to Netflix (NFLX), finding something to watch is more convenient and affordable than ever. You can take the more traditional route and choose a romantic classic. Or, if you're feeling brave, put on your favorite guilty pleasures that you've been too embarrassed to reveal.
Show your Valentine just how big your heart is by lending a helping hand to a worthy cause. You can find plenty of volunteer opportunities online that allow you to share your interests, including environmental work, to education and literacy initiatives, and animal shelters. You can find worse ways to spend an afternoon than playing with puppies and kittens.
By Chris McGillicuddy