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5 less-expensive - or free! - first dates

Few things are more exciting than a first date. Learning about a new person, seeing if there is a real connection and sharing a little bit of yourself can all put a pep in your step and butterflies in your stomach. One thing that brings that enthusiasm down, however, is figuring out how you're going to pay for it all - especially if you have limited funds. Don't worry! There are a number of things you can plan that are easy on the wallet and still tons of fun. Here are a few dates ideas that won't break the bank, but that are a little more creative than "sit around and watch TV."

1. Go to an amateur sports contest
If you enjoy cheering for athletes, but don't like paying exorbitant prices to do so, look into amateur sports in your area. The tickets are much cheaper, and because the teams are anxious to gain fans, there are often excellent specials on food and drinks as well. Especially on a nice fall night, it's a great opportunity to sit outside and take in a competitive event, with plenty of time for conversation in between plays or innings. 

As an added bonus, because tickets are so cheap and the stadiums are usually smaller, you can easily get seats close to the action. It's like being a celebrity, only without having to worry about being hounded by paparazzi as you leave.

2. Check out a used bookstore
For literary types, a leisurely stroll around a used bookstore is the perfect first date activity. They're filled with the wonderful smell of paper, and all of the different titles around are sure to spark up some lively conversation. Discuss your favorite authors and why they mean so much to you, and take the chance to listen to your date's preferences as well. It's a great way to get to know each other a little bit in a low-pressure environment. 

Want some extra romance? Take turns reading passages to one another, pausing to reflect whenever you find a turn of phrase particularly arresting. At the end of the date, buy each other the books with the passages you liked the most, as a keepsake of a date gone well. 

3. Listen to an outdoor concert
Especially during the summer and fall months, many cities offer free or reduced-price outdoor concerts. Check out your local listings to find a musical act that both you and your date will like, then bring a picnic dinner along with you. It's much cheaper than a restaurant and a big-venue concert would have been, while still allowing for the same enjoyment and conversation. Then, when the music's winding to a close, you can segue naturally into a lovely stroll around the park, where you can discuss important topics like how amazing the band was, and how much you both can't wait to hang out again. 

4. Take a long hike
When it comes to active dates, hiking is a great go-to. Not only is it virtually-free - all you need is some trail mix and a water bottle - it's also a chance to show off your athletic side and see some wonderful views. Look up trails in your area and find one that's challenging enough to be interesting, but not so tricky that you'll spend the whole date out of breath and wheezing. Make sure you bring your camera to get some snapshots of the lovely panoramas you come across. No two hikes are ever exactly the same, so you're creating a personal, memorable experience that you and the person you are with can share. 

5. Wander around a museum
Most museums have times of the day, or days of the week, where the entrance fee is waived or reduced. Often, these correlate with those periods where there normally aren't as many visitors. This combination makes for a perfect inexpensive outing, as you and your date can explore the museum in virtual solitude. One of the best things about museum dates is that they naturally lend themselves to engaging talks - sharing opinions on the things you see is a natural conversation starter. Plus, it gives you and your companion the chance to show each other all of the cool facts that you have tucked away. 

Want extra creativity points? Check out some of the more off-the-beaten path museums, like the the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine, the National Mustard Museum in Middleton, Wisconsin or the Museum of the Weird in Austin, Texas. 

Need a few extra bucks for your next date? Consider signing up to take paid surveys. For the low price of sharing your opinion, you can get some extra funds to do something nice for somebody special. 

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