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The True Cost of Dating & How to Plan a Date on the Cheap

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By Susan Johnston, guest contributor from Bundle.com

Dating — especially in the early stages — can be expensive. And with data from online dating site WhatsYourPrice.com, we now know just how pricey it can be. According to the site's research, single men in Denver shell out an average of $221 on a first date, compared to $197 in Seattle and $145 in New York City. Book of Odds thinks men spend even more cash, estimating that an average first date costs around $250, factoring in time and opportunity costs. To put this cost into perspective for an "average guy" that's "nearly a third of what you take home in a week after taxes and just about 1% of your adjusted disposable income, for the entire year!"

Dinner, drinks, parking, and movie tickets can add up quickly. Tack on babysitting costs (if you've got kids) and membership fees to an online dating site or two, and you've sunk some major money into meeting Mr. or Ms. Right. Our friends at Bundle.com chatted with Emma Merkas, founder of $30 Date Night, for suggestions on cutting the costs of going on a date, and we tapped into our archives to see what kind of deals can help you save on dating expenses, too.

Discounts on Restaurants and Entertainment

Daily deal sites like Groupon and Living Social offer discounts for restaurants, bars, and social activities galore. Often, folks can score credits that slice a bill in half, or take $20 to $30 off the total cost. If you're self-conscious about paying with a coupon in front of a date, call the restaurant ahead of time; they may allow you to show up early and redeem the offer in advance, avoiding awkwardness at the table. If that still makes you nervous, you can make restaurant reservations via OpenTable and earn points towards gift cards.

We also frequently see deals for movie tickets, which can be used online before even leaving home. In fact, just yesterday we listed a deal that discounted two tickets via Fandango to just $2 (now expired, sadly). More regularly we see deals that cut the per-ticket price to only $5 or $6. We recommend setting up an email alert for this type of deal, and snapping up every offer that comes along.

Get Creative

Being creative on a date effectively serves two purposes: you can find activities that will save you money and score points with your date for activity coolness. "If you're looking to impress someone, the best way to do it is to use a little imagination," says Merkas. She notes that it doesn't require much imagination to take someone out for dinner and a movie, but going to a drive-in theater or laying out a blanket for a free movie in the park is far more special. Plus, in both cases, you can bring your own food and drinks. (And it just so happens that we frequently see deals that offer very good prices on wine bundles.) You can also plan a trip to a local farmer's market and put together a picnic to eat after.

Date During Off-Hours

Just as a matinee is cheaper than a nighttime movie showing, breakfast, lunch, or brunch at a restaurant usually costs less than dinner, ultimately saving you money. These meals also allow you to try impressive, buzzworthy restaurants without laying out a pretty penny. Merkas, too, says that one of the most popular date ideas on her site is getting up early to watch the sunrise. "Drive up to a great lookout, then stop at a bakery and get some buns straight out of the oven," she suggests.

Host a Date at Home

For safety reasons, you may not want to invite someone you don't know to your house on a first date, but once you've established trust, a stay-in or at-home date can eliminate costs like parking, cab rides, or premiums paid for dining out. Merkas suggests a fondue dinner or movie marathon as fun, at-home date ideas.

Get Ready on the Cheap

Of course, the figures mentioned above don't include the preparations that both parties involved undertake to look their best on a date. Many people have a go-to date night look in the wings, but some (mostly women, probably) might buy an entirely new outfit for the occasion. With a little foresight though, both men and women can save quite a bit of change by sprucing up their datenight wardrobes online. For example, this The Webster at Target Men's Two-Button Suit Jacket ($17.48 with $4.99 s&h, a low by $33) is pretty smart with a pair of nice jeans, and it just so happens to be the lowest total price we've ever seen for any suit jacket. You'll just need to make sure to allow enough time for it to arrive before your date.

Whatever you decide to do for your dates, you'll want to avoid putting any emphasis on cheapness in front of your special someone. While he or she likely understands wanting to avoid reckless splurging, you might inadvertently convey the tone that they're not "worth it." Some clever planning, though, can go a long way to help you save while still enjoying a fine time with the apple of your eye.

Front page photo credit: Bridal Fantasy
Photo credits top to bottom: Passion Search,
Life 123, myspace, and The Little Price and Spaceman


Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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