15 free or cheap first date ideas
Dating on a student budget can be tough. Your loan might not cover fancy wining and dining, but there are still plenty of ways to impress without breaking the bank.
Everyone loves a uni romance but your student budget probably won't stretch to a table for two at the Ritz.
Our list might not extend quite as far as 50 First Dates, but we do know of a solid 15 ways to make a good impression on your date, without parting with too much cash.
Here are some top ideas for budding
romantic cheapskates Romeos and Juliets...
Fun date ideas under £10
These are the best free or cheap things to do on dates:
Dine out with a discount or voucher
Let's face it – gone are the days when you'd be embarrassed about taking someone out for dinner as part of a deal. What's more attractive than someone who's smart with money?
There's almost always a good restaurant deal to be snapped up – bookmark our food and drink deals to catch the latest ones.
Most restaurant deals and discounts are tailored for two diners, so they're ideal for dates. 2-for-1 meals or 50% off your food bill aren't unusual either.
Alcohol is typically where most of your money goes on dates, so check out a restaurant's drinks menu before booking. If you can, it's worth trying to find somewhere that offers BYOB (bring your own bottle). A nice bottle of wine from the supermarket will cost a fraction of the price of one in restaurants, and taste just as nice.
Be sure to check the menu for any offers and set meals that could save you money. Be wary of 'all you can eat' deals, as you'll no doubt be determined to get your money’s worth and risk walking out of a restaurant bulging at the seams. Not the best look.
Check out our guide on how to eat out on a budget for extra tips.
Go charity shopping
Going to local vintage or charity shops is one of the ultimate cheap dates.
Best case scenario? You meet the love of your life. Worst case? You find some absolute bargains. You can't lose, really.
You could both buy some second-hand gems and still spend less than you would on a round of drinks in a bar. Or, to leave the date without spending a penny, you could just window shop and see who can find the best/cheapest/weirdest finds in the thrift shops.
Find a pub with fun perks
Pubs are obviously a great first date spot. They're laid back, have a good atmosphere (which will help cover up any awkward silences) and the flow of alcohol should settle any nerves you might have.
And before you ask, when we say 'perks', we don't mean making out by the public loos.
We mean finding a pub where you can play a game of pool, a pub quiz or even a board game. Not only will this be a good laugh, but it (should) prevent you from nervously drinking so much that you end the date with your head down the toilet.
Plan a picnic in the park
There's nothing like someone with impressive sandwich-making skills to win you over, right?
With a picnic, you could save money on drinks by getting a budget bottle of wine or some ciders, and preparing some snacks and easy meals to bring with you.
The beauty of picnics is that they don't have to be elaborate or expensive to be really lovely days out. Just seeing that you've made the effort to pack up a few things to dine al fresco is romantic enough – trust us.
This one's probably best kept for the summer, although a winter picnic can go down well as long as you dress appropriately and bring a flask of something hot.
Not an obvious choice for a cheap date, but you can get some great deals on bowling if you're a student – and what better way to bowl them over? (Maybe don't use that one on the date).
To find the best deals, try to go at off-peak times. In particular, consider going on a weekday if you can, when it will be quieter and (hopefully!) cheaper. Some places even offer bowling sessions for a few quid per game.
Bowling is great for a first date as it gives you something to talk and laugh about. It also works as a good double/triple/quadruple date with friends if you'd prefer.
Plus you can 'accidentally' reach for the same ball and lock eyes over that shiny sphere... before taking the ball, bowling a strike and winning, obviously.
Take a romantic stroll
Think a walk in the park's a bit too obvious? Think again. Not only is this free to do, but it can be really romantic if you do it right (weather permitting, of course).
A quiet walk can be a great chance to ask questions and get to know each other a bit better. And, if you're feeling like splashing out a teeny bit, you could even stop off for an ice cream or a takeaway coffee along the way.
For those of you a little keener on walking or keeping fit, maybe plan a hike or a bike ride.
P.S. He'll kill us for mentioning this, but Save the Student's founder, Owen, once took a girl for a walk around the park for their first date. They're now married, so it must've worked!
Visit tourist attractions near you
This might sound like an odd one, but it can actually be quite nice (romantic, even) to be a tourist for the day in your own town or city.
It's likely that there are loads of cheap things to do nearby that you've never done, just because it feels a bit weird being a tourist in your own town. Now's your chance!
Try Googling 'free tourist attractions in [insert city name here]' to see what pops up, or just have a look on local tourism websites for some inspiration.
And, bear in mind that some attractions actually offer discounts to locals. If there's somewhere you fancy going that charges entry, it's worth asking if you could get any money off a full-price ticket as you live nearby, just in case.
Find free local events
Keep an eye out for events going on in your local area. You can usually find out about them online, in your local papers/Facebook pages or by checking out noticeboards in your area.
Again, one of the best ways to find them is by Googling 'Events in [enter city name here] this weekend' and a few ideas should pop up.
Keep an eye out for events like food festivals and street fairs. These are ideal cheap dates as they usually have low admission fees (or are free!), and they're pretty chilled ways to spend the day.
You can also find some great free events on websites like Eventbrite and TicketText. Keep an open mind when looking through these sites – you could stumble across some really fun, quirky things to do that you might never usually think of.
Visit an exhibition
We're lucky enough in the UK to enjoy free admission to loads of great museums and galleries, so take advantage of this.
If there are any exhibitions that you're particularly keen to see that you'd need to buy pricey tickets for, it's worth seeing if you could save money by getting a Student Art Pass for £5 from Art Fund.
With the pass, you can visit loads of galleries, museums and historic houses in the UK for free and discounted prices, and major exhibition tickets for half price. But, the £5 art pass is only available to students for limited periods each year so keep an eye out for it. Otherwise, the under-30 National Art Pass costs a hefty £45 (or £33.75 if you pay by Direct Debit).
Also, a lot of big museums and galleries offer discounted tickets for young people.
For example, it's worth signing up to Tate Collective if you're aged under 25 and live near a Tate gallery. It's free to register and, with it, you can get £5 tickets for their exhibitions, and free or discounted entry to some of their events.
A walk around an exhibition can inspire great conversation and open your eyes to the wider world... or, at the very least, make you look a bit cultured and help with any awkward silences.
Go to the cinema
Worried about first-date small talk? Watching a film together can be a great way to break the ice. There won't be any pressure to keep a conversation going consistently from the moment you meet, and it'll give you plenty to talk about afterwards if you then go for a walk or drink.
There are loads of tricks to getting cheap cinema tickets, like 2-for-1 tickets for a whole year for under £2. If you don't want to look cheap in front of your date, you can always pick up the tickets in advance (sneaky!).
During summer, there may be some open-air cinemas near you. Taking a date to one of these is bound to earn you five stars on the romantic side of things.
Remember that the cinema snack counter is where your money fritters away. Why not 'surprise' your date with a little cinema picnic from the supermarket? They won't even suspect you're cutting corners, you'll just look really thoughtful.If you'd prefer to see a show, see our tips for getting free or cheap theatre tickets.
Visit a car boot sale
This one might sound slightly more on the quirky side, but we actually have first-hand experience of this working a treat (you're welcome).
There's likely to be a car boot sale near you at weekends, and they can be really good fun to walk around and snoop at all the weird stuff people try to flog.
You can even treat your date by buying them a gift or two. Name something sexier than a bargain. We'll wait.
Have a quiet night in
Forget going all out on a pricey date... why go out at all? One of our personal favourite date ideas (which also happens to be one of the cheapest) is to stay in, cook up a nice meal and watch something on a streaming service.
A home-cooked meal can be a much nicer gesture than spending £50 in a restaurant (and this can be your chance to show off your skills in the kitchen). You could even bake a cake together or do brunch.
For food inspiration, check out our selection of cheap and easy recipes that will impress.
Go to an open mic night
There's nothing better than free entertainment.
Whether it's comedy, poetry or obscure indie bands you're into, there's an open mic night for almost everything.
The only risk with open mics is that you can't predict how good the acts will be. But, even if they're not great, it'll give you something to laugh about and bond over afterwards.
Teach each other your favourite hobbies
Particularly if you both have pretty varied interests, or if you've just met for the first time via a dating app, you can use your first dates as an opportunity to learn about each other's hobbies. As long as you've got everything you need already, it should cost you very little, if anything at all.
As an example, if you love learning languages, you could teach your date a few phrases, and they, in turn, can teach you about their favourite hobby.
Maybe they love drawing, playing instruments or are super sporty – whatever it is, learning about their interests like this will help you get to know each other so much more quickly.
Go fruit picking together
Healthy and cheap: fruit picking is perfect as a quirky date when you're both looking to save money.
It's worth having a look online to find nearby pick-your-own-fruit farms. Then, check their websites or call up the farms to see if they've got any in-season fruit available to pick at the moment.
Granted, you'll need to buy the fruit you pick so it's not a completely free date, but it's still a lot cheaper (and more memorable) than a night in a restaurant or bar.
This idea's probably best for dates in June and July, when the weather's better and berries are starting to ripen, but you might be lucky and find a fruit-picking farm open outside of summer that has loads of lovely in-season fruit.
The important thing is to think about what you and your date enjoy, be creative and keep an open mind about potential things to do together. In particular, we recommend putting your date's interests or wants before yours – this is the ultimate romantic gesture, and it won't go unnoticed.
For more ideas, see our long list of fun activities that cost less than £20.
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