Inexpensive (Cheap) Date Night Ideas for Parents

Psychologists and marriage counselors champion the benefits of establishing regular “date nights” for married couples that have children. It’s a matter of keeping the romance alive in your relationship, reminding yourself that you’re still an adult, and—let’s call it what it is–sanity! We can only hang out on Sesame Street so long, and then we need adult time.

There are two problems with this for most couples with children—time and money.  Time as in “who will watch the kids while we’re gone”, and money as in most of it is spent on the kids.

The solution to the time problem is a babysitter, an inexpensive one!  The answer to the money issue is finding ways to have a good time that won’t cost too much.  Truth be told, most entertainment oriented activities have gotten prohibitively expensive.   Concerts, theater tickets, amusement parks, comedy clubs and even a night at the movies are largely beyond the financial means of couples with children, especially as regular outings.  But there are ways around all of it.

Solving the Babysitting Dilemma

The problem with going out is always who will watch the kids? More specifically, who do you know, who do you trust and how much will they charge?  It’s possible to get free babysitting, or at least lower cost, from people right around you.


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If you have willing family members nearby, you have the best of all worlds—people you can trust and a price you can’t beat.  Take advantage of this, but be careful not to abuse the privilege.  Monthly will probably be better than weekly, and where possible try to offer to return the favor in some other way.

Swap with another couple who have children the same age as yours.

We didn’t have family in our area when our kids were little, but we have another couple who we’re close friends with who have kids the same age.  We took to swapping date nights—we went out while they watched our kids, and a couple of weeks later, they went out while we watched theirs.  This usually mushroomed into sleepovers, so each couple would be free for the entire night (I know what your thinking–ahhh–a full nights’ sleep!).  We never worried about our kids safety, didn’t have to be home by a certain time so the babysitter could go home, never paid a penny, and never felt guilty because we knew we’d return the favor.

Share a babysitter.

Are there couples in your social orbit who need a babysitter for date nights?  Work out an arrangement to hire a sitter for both sets of kids and pick which house they’ll be at.  It will usually cost extra for more kids, but not nearly as much as if both couples have to get separate sitters.  We’ve even done this when we’ve been on vacation with other couples, as many resort areas have babysitting services for tourist’s right in their hotel rooms.

Now that you have some options on babysitting, it’s time to take a look at some activities that won’t break the bank.

At home dates

Before you had children the whole idea of having a date at home was off the radar screen—fun was always somewhere…out there. But now that you’re a parent, and as long as you know your kids are being safely cared for, fun can be had anywhere and anytime you have some quiet time without them.  With that thought in mind…

Eating in.

One of the dilemmas couples with children face is the pattern of making kid-friendly meals; you rarely cook what you and your spouse like because you’re trying to please the kids.  Well, date night can be your revenge.  Cook a meal you could never make for your kids, and make it special like the kind of meal you’d go out for.  Dim lights, candles, soft music, wine—and don’t forget a sinful dessert.   You can take some of the “work” out of it by preparing as much as possible in advance, and by preparing the meal together.  Oh, and leave the mess in the sink for tomorrow—it can wait.

Movie night in.

Rent a movie you’d NEVER watch with the kids.  Movie night cupcakesBuy movie theater type candy at Walgreens for a dollar a box, make a big bowl of hot air popped popcorn and smother it with melted butter (your heart can take it for one night) then pour out a couple of sodas into oversized containers—with straws.  All the fun of going to the movies but with more comfortable seats and all it cost you was the movie rental and a couple of dollars for candy.

At home karaoke.

Do you both like music?  Do you like to sing?  The kids are gone for the evening so you can play YOUR music, so after your candlelight dinner is done, crank-up the music and start entertaining yourself and each other.  If you’d do this in a bar crowded with people, it should be even more fun at home when no one else is around to hear how bad you might sound.

Going out dates

It’s tempting to believe that you have to spend a lot of money to have a good time, but it’s also categorically untrue.  With some creativity you can come up with dozens of activities that won’t cost much at all.

Dinner out—with coupons.

Many moderately priced restaurants have coupons from time to time that offer buy-one/get one free.  By using the coupon you may get dinner out for about $25, or about what it would cost to feed a family of four at a fast food restaurant.  Check out the websites of restaurants in your area for online specials, or start saving those free-circulation ad booklets that come in the mail or land in your driveway.

Dinner in/dessert or coffee out.

This is kind of a date hybrid, you eat a nice dinner at home (as described above) but then head out later for dessert or coffee.  You have a candlelight meal together at home, and then you go out, so it’s a little of both but at substantially less money.

An evening at the mall.

Don’t laugh—you did it when you were single, and probably after you were married but before you had kids.  An evening at the mall is an entirely different experience when you’re there without the kids—and you don’t even need to spend any money.

Free concerts and other events.

If you live in a large metropolitan area there are always events taking place on college campuses, public parks and downtown areas, and many of them are free. Check with local newspapers, local entertainment tabloids or on the web.
The low cost, simpler dates at home (or close to it) may not seem as exciting as heading out for a night on the town at the usual places couples go to, but there’s one other commodity they save in addition to money: ENERGY!  After a week of working and taking care of children, parents often have little of it to spare on high-energy entertainment activities.  In that way, the quieter events can be even better.

But the main purpose of a date is to spend time together doing things that you both like, and that doesn’t have to come with a high price tag.

What’s your favorite inexpensive date night?

Photo by clevercupcakes

About kevinmercadante

Kevin Mercadante is professional personal finance blogger, and the owner of his own personal finance blog, He has backgrounds in both accounting and the mortgage industry. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and two teenage kids and can be followed on Twitter at @OutOfYourRut

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  1. Great ideas, another that my wife mentioned would be a day time date to the matinee.

    • Yes! I’ve found that since we had ids staying up late just doesn’t work anymore for us anyway.

  2. This is a very creative list of ideas! Mall walks are actually very entertaining, from a people watching perspective. Thanks.

  3. I think the best dates are doing something that involves nature like walking the beach on going to a zen garden

  4. financialwizardess says:

    I love your ideas. We’ve been swapping sleepovers with the kids for a few years now. We swap with 2 other families, so we get a date night every month and watch someone’s kids every month. It would be even better if you could find 2 families that like each other enough to take all of the kids at once, then you get 2 nights out in return for 1 big sleepover. But the logistics of that has been to hard for us, and the 2 families we swap with don’t really mesh well together. Great ideas!!!

  5. Last time my wife and I visited her parents, they volunteered to take care of the baby, telling us that we could go out for the evening. We didn’t know what to do :).

    We ended up going for a nice long walk (without a stroller!), then went to a swanky bar for a fancy drink. The total was $20 with tip, and we got to recapture the feeling of being child-free for a night.

    • Haha, we had a similar experience when my wife’s sister volunteered to watch the kids for our anniversary. We really didn’t know what to do!

      I bet that $20 felt great to spend!