Two weeks after my wife and I married we both started graduate school. We had just spent most of our savings on a wedding and were now prepared to face large tuition bills and spend full-time hours on homework and projects. This put a big hit to our date night budget - and by big hit I mean we had practically no extra money to spend on going out. Although this type of situation can be really stressful, learning to be creative and coming up with date ideas that were cheap or free ended up being pretty romantic. It offered a new challenge to get creative and reinforced in us that being together is what really mattered. There are so many free things to see and do and endless options to create new ideas. 

Go On A Hike

We live in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, where nature hikes are in abundance. Hiking doesn't have to be strenuous - a nice flat trail full of trees and nature is plenty fine. Getting outside together with a little hiking exercise can be a good stress reliever and opportunity to create some wonderful memories. Search for lakes, rivers or just new places to explore. Enjoy nature together and sulk in the fresh air. 

Volunteer Together

There is something special about serving other people, and doing that together as a couple can be a great bonding experience. Look for a local nonprofit that can use a hand - maybe a local homeless shelter that needs help serving lunch or dinner. Volunteering together can be an intimate experience that is deep and bonding. It has a tendency to re-calibrate what is most important in life, and going through that experience together can deepen a relationship. It can also be a great way to filter out a potential partner - someone that maybe doesn't have the same values as you. 

Attend Local Events

Look for events going on in your city - maybe a farmer's market, local bands and concerts, a high school or college play, local art museums, cultural events, etc. Most of these are free and can be a great excuse to get out and see new sides of your city. 

Make A Picnic Lunch

Look in the fridge, make some snacks, put them in a basket and find a nice place outdoors. Lay out a blanket, open your basket full of food and wa-lah, you are now having a picnic! Picnics are a perfect alternative to going out to eat for lunch. Save  your money and pack a snack. Find a nice place near a lake, river or other scenic background and you have a better seat than any table a restaurant can offer.

Picnic Date
Credit: Vincent Anderlucci via Flickr

Hit the Beach

If you live in an area not too far from the beach, make that a place for a date day. Jump in the ocean together, walk along the coast line, search for shells, build a sand castle. The options on the beach are endless, and there is something so soothing about the sound of crashing waves and that feeling of soft sand on your bare feet. 

Take a Walk

Walks are underrated. Getting out for a stroll in the neighborhood or local park provides fresh air, a mild amount of exercise and a great opportunity to be together with your love, hand-in-hand as you admire the scene around you. It provides a great environment for some chit-chat, and who knows what you'll come across as you walk. 

Go Camping

If planned and done well, camping can be very romantic. Imagine being alone together in the outdoors, lounging in your tent with the sounds of nature surrounding you. There is opportunity for mini hikes, camp fire meals, seeing more stars than you thought existed, sleeping in tight quarters, and that fresh french pressed coffee in the morning. Getting outside the hustle-and-bustle of everyday city life and into the peace of the outdoors can be a wonderful intimate setting. 

Yosemite National Park at Night
Credit: Copyright: Quinn Burke Photography

This is a photo I took on our last camping trip. Is there anything more romantic than being together in nature under stars like this?!

Have A Movie Night In

Sometimes the best dates are changing into pajamas and staying in. If you have Netflix or another streaming video service, pick out a movie and pop some popcorn, get cozy on the couch and enjoy a movie or show together. I have found that sparkling wine and popcorn pair well together and are a perfect companion to a movie night in. 

Play A Board Game

Challenge each other to a board or card game. Add a little friendly competition and wager to sweeten the deal a bit. A trivia-based game can be a great way to discover hidden intellectual talents within each other. Trivial Pursuit, anyone?

Pillow Fight!

Bring back that inner kid that used to enjoy sleepovers with friends and then smacking them with a pillow. A friendly pillow fight can be fun, illicit a lot of laughter and can to lead to other physical activities... Just make sure it doesn't get too competitive, and no cheap shots. Make it fun, flirty and romantic, otherwise this date idea could make a huge turn for the worse. 

Get Creative

Dates do not have to be expensive. If a lavish night out just isn't in the budget, get creative and think of new things to do together. Just remember, the point of a date is not in the activity itself, but to spend quality time together. Focus less on activities and more on making memories. There are endless options if  you think creatively and enter into the ideas with a fun heart. Sometimes the ideas will turn out as duds, but even a dud date idea with the right person can turn into a great time together. 

And if you've been married for awhile, being creative in these types of date ideas can be even more beneficial. After years of marriage, you are likely used to the typical dates nights - restaurants, shows, vacations, and so on. Putting in extra efforts to be creative and to come up with fresh, new ideas shows your partner that you care about creating quality time together. Remember, the value is not in the activity or cost of the date. The value is in the quality of time together and the memories that are created. 

50 Cheap Dates: Free and almost free date ideas for couples
Amazon Price: Buy Now
(price as of Sep 22, 2016)
Some great ideas for free and low-cost dates. The book is also low-cost!