Finance Friday: Saving for a Down Payment? 14 Cheap Dates to Enjoy Now

Welcome to Finance Friday, our series focusing on personal finance, how you save how you spend, and how you make it all work. If you have a story about a big financial decision you've made, a mistake you're working on fixing, a financial success, or any other personal finance issue, let us know. We'd love to interview you and share your story. Today's post is about saving money, for a down payment, a renovation, or even a fun vacation. While it can be a lot of fun to enjoy gourmet dinners with the love of your life, there are cheaper ways to enjoy each other's company!

How long have you been seeing your boyfriend or girlfriend? If it’s been a while, the talk may have turned to marriage. Visions of a great party with all your friends and plenty of cake may have filled your head, and you might even be looking farther ahead and thinking about children, but there’s one thing you can start doing now, before you’re even engaged, to make your union more harmonious. Learn to enjoy cheap dates!

Saving together is a good habit, and spending less money and more quality time on dates is a great step toward a wonderful life together. By the time you tie the knot, you’ll already have a nest egg that you can use for a down payment on a home.

Here are a few cheap dates to get you started:

  1. Picnics. Who doesn’t love a picnic? Pack lunch together or take turns, grab a blanket and head to a favorite park. But what if it’s raining? Or too cold? Set up a blanket on the floor and light a fire! Bonus: If you go to a park, the talk may turn naturally towards children and how many you might want to have (or if you want to have them at all).

  2. The zoo. Or the museum. Or the planetarium. If your town charges steep entrance fees for these, check the calendar for free or reduced-price admission days. Or get a membership, which will encourage you to go more often, and save money in the end.

  3. Movie night at home, with friends. Sure, you can put on sweats and watch whatever’s on, but why not make it a party? Have everyone chip in for pizza, or show the movie after supper time and hand out bags of popcorn. Make it BYOB or serve beer and wine, which will still be less expensive than going out. Bonus: Having people usually means a few invitations will come your way soon!

  4. Volunteer together. Serve at the soup kitchen once a month, read in the children’s room at the library, or help plant a garden at the local family shelter. Discuss what skills you’d like to share with others, and go for it. This one could even be turned into a mini vacation if you sign up to help build houses somewhere or provide other services. Doing something new together is a real bonding experience. And there’s never a shortage of volunteer opportunities.

  5. Go pick something. Apples! Blueberries! Strawberries! Whatever’s in season near you. Then go home and bake a pie together.

  6. See a fancy charity gala you’d like to attend, but the tickets are pricey? Call the organization and see if they can use volunteers. If you and your partner are willing to spend an hour or two setting up, cleaning up, or helping during the party, you may be able to score free tickets.

  7. Go old school. Remember how much you enjoyed bowling when you were little? And roller skating? Look into local spots and get moving! Save on snacks by eating at home. Those nachos you loved so much as a tween really don’t taste as good as you remember.

  8. Don’t be shy about using a coupon. Check local flyers and social media for deals and promotions. And don’t forget about "deal of the day" websites like Groupon, but be sure to check the fine print and see what your coupon covers -- and don’t forget to tip.

  9. Cook together. If you’re trying to save money by not going out to eat as often, try to recreate your favorite restaurant dish at home. The chef may even be willing to share the recipe. It can’t hurt to ask!

  10. Host potlucks. Everyone brings a dish, and they’re thrilled that you’ll be cleaning up afterward. Bonus: They may even leave leftovers, saving you money at the grocery store later.

  11. Learn something new together. Interested in fishing? How about tennis? Maybe you’ve always wanted to try your hand at a pottery wheel. Find something you’d both like to try and sign up for a class or just do it. Your local parks and recreation department may offer inexpensive classes in any number of things.  

  12. Join a team. What’s your game? Kickball? Softball? Those options are usually cheap or free. Mixed doubles tennis teams can be fun, too.

  13. Make it a day trip. Overnight trips can cost a lot when you factor in lodging, and several meals, even for a one-night stay. Pick a town an hour or two away and go explore for the day. Ask locals where to find the best pizza or diner for lunch.

  14. Invite yourself over. You know Grandma would love to see you, and she’ll be tickled pink if you care enough to bring the lovely young woman you’ve been seeing. This is also a great way to introduce your potential partner to the people you care about the most.

Now, every time you go on a cheap date, put the money you’ve saved aside. If you're eligible to join a credit union, do it. Because they're owned by the members, credit unions are able to pass on savings by offering more interest for your money, not setting minimum balances, offering reduced or nonexistent fees, and making it easier to save. A lot of credit unions may even offer perks if you tie the savings account to a checking account. Put the money you save into an account you share, so you can watch your nest egg grow. You may even think about investing it in a Roth IRA or another kind of savings account. If you don’t end up needing it for a down payment, you’ll have started saving for retirement. And that’s a recipe for a long-term commitment!

Looking for more info on how to save and increase your financial health? Check out the rest of our Finance Friday series.