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10 Dates Cheaper Than a Box of Condoms

Let’s be more specific. The goal isn’t just “cheap dates,” but cheap dates that won’t get you mocked. So we’re nixing ideas like “ride a tandem bike!” or “pick pumpkins!” or “read each others’ palms!” Instead, these are seven legitimate dates that, if framed with the proper charm, will disguise the fact that you’re George Costanza.

1. Cook her dinner

Cost: $10 (Some budget recipes here. Bonus? There’s a 90% chance that she’ll bring the wine).

Merits: Creates the illusion that you’re gallant, it’s more relaxed than a restaurant, and it puts you in a positive light.

Risks: Might not fly as a first date. “Can I make you dinner at my place?” is not very subtle code for, “Let’s drink wine ten feet from my bed.”

2. Play tennis/shoot hoops/whatever sport she likes

Cost: $5 (2 Gatorades).

Merits: Assuming she’s into this stuff (if not, don’t force it), it’s more than just cost-effective. It’s actually, you know, fun. Gives a better sense of how you click. Sneaky, underrated date.

Risks: She obliterates you on the court and loses all respect.

3. Hit up Happy Hour

Cost: $12 (2 rounds of $3 drinks).

Merits: Not always appropriate, but works for the right scenario: the two of you have just met, you’re busy, and you need a ruthlessly efficient, low-cost way to find out if there’s more potential.

Risks: Things go well, happy hour ends, and suddenly you’re paying full-price.

4. Picnic at the park

Cost: $11 (Grapes, hummus, crackers).

Merits: Cheesy? Potentially. But there’s a reason that every romantic comedy is contractually obligated to have at least one park scene; the atmosphere works.

Risks: You’re stuck in the middle of a green field, surrounded by mimes, with nothing to talk about and no alcohol in sight.

5. Hiking

Cost: $8.99 (bottled water, trail mix).

Merits: Jokes aside, there’s a lot to be said for a change in scenery. This dramatically different context can break monotony, transport you and her from the day-to-day grind, and provide a free romantic place to make out.

Risks: She agrees to do the hike (out of politeness) but secretly seethes. Or, conversely, you’re so out of shape that she ends up carrying your backpack.

6. Trip to the museum

Cost: Varies. But even the flagships usually have discount days.

Merits: The best date-concepts have two attributes: 1) They give you something to talk about; and 2) They give you the space to talk. Bars have #2 but not #1; movies have #1 but not #2. The museum date has both.

Risks: You might learn something.

7. Street festival or county fair

Cost: $5 (cotton candy) + $6 (shooting water balloons).

Merits: See above (museum) but it’s more down to earth, has throwback charm, and it’s a better barometer of your actual, guards-down personalities.

Risks: 1 in 4 street festivals truly, profoundly suck.

WARNING. Those seven dates are viable. The next three, however, are not.  Here are three cheap date ideas you should avoid:

Coffee date

“Meeting for coffee” is something you do with your aunt. The word “coffee” actually comes from the Greek word ka’fe, which means, “I have no interest in ever seeing you naked.”

Groupon date

Since their invention in 1888, no woman has ever said, “I’m looking for a man who knows how to use a coupon.”

Offer to give a full-body massage

Unless you’ve already hooked up, as a first date, suggesting this is too transparent, too aggressive, and too creepy. You can only get away with this if A) You are a masseuse; B) You look like Brad Pitt; or C) You are Brad Pitt.

Jeff Wilser is the author of The Maxims of Manhood and The Man Cave Book, and the Editor of ThePlunge. Follow him on Twitter.