In a cost of living crisis, it’s time to reclaim the joy of a ‘cheap date’

Written by Amy Beecham

Forget fancy restaurants, climbing the O2 and rooftop bars – when did dating get so complicated and expensive? 

Amid sky-high cost of living, soaring travel costs and bank-breaking energy bills, we’re all feeling the squeeze in almost every area of our lives. So as our spending allocations for household items, rent and little luxuries are increasingly eaten into, so is our budget for dating.

According to new research by dating app Inner Circle, the rising cost of living is causing 41% of us to go on fewer dates than we used to. And with UK inflation at its highest level since the 1980s, nearly half of those surveyed by Inner Circle said they’re now more selective about the dates they choose to go on.

There’s long been a stigma attached to the ‘cheap date’, both the fear of being one (“Only having water? You’re a cheap date”) and organising one.

In 2017, a study found that UK couples spend a ridiculous average of £129 per date, but when did dating become so synonymous with constantly splashing the cash? Just how many £15 cocktails is one supposed to sip in Soho before you realise that it’s just not working out with Jay or James from Tinder?

A casual pub drink or coffee now has the association of being low effort or sub par, yet another indication of our “the bar is on the floor” mentality towards potential partners.But when I think back to the best dates I’ve been on, they’ve all been ones where we didn’t spend a lot, if anything at all.

While the pandemic forced our hand with socially distanced picnics with canned cocktails and endless park walks, weren’t they actually pretty damn fun? Didn’t they make us feel a bit like teenagers again, sinking ciders in a field between snogs?

And what happened to the joy of a night in? Not just reserved for wintry evenings, they’re the perfect opportunity to get cosier (and closer) as you get to know one another better, without having to compete with a hoard of finance bros and £40 bottles at the bar.

Dates don’t have to be fancy to be good

“Money can’t buy happiness, nor can it buy chemistry, ease and butterflies”

Let’s be real: it’s near impossible to flirt across a six-course tasting menu with wine pairing, as delightful as it may be on your palate. The London Eye at night is spectacular, but can feel like something you do with your out-of-town relatives rather than someone you’re trying to get to know.

It’s rarely more romantic the more you spend, and it’s certainly so much harder to break the ice when you’re climbing the O2 or front row at a cabaret.

Because money can’t buy happiness, nor can it buy chemistry, ease of conversation and butterflies.

You just don’t get that tipsy, starry-eyed conversation at the kind of in vogue restaurant where the lights are low and the music loud. Your knees can’t brush in that heady will-we-won’t-we expectation when you’re perched on high stools in some generic Canary Wharf rooftop bar. 

There’s a good reason why so many people hook up in smoking areas, or over a pint in the sun in a slightly dingy beer garden: there’s no expectation or stuffy, regimented way of acting. You can focus on the person in front of you without being distracted by the £25 small plates and fretting over who will pay the (enormous) bill.

In fact, Inner Circle found that singles actually enjoy a cheap date: 29% say they feel more relaxed, 27% feel as though it’s a more realistic scenario, and a quarter say it takes the pressure off the already anxiety-inducing task of meeting someone new. And for those looking to build a proper connection, more than two in three think you can get to know someone better when the setting isn’t too fancy.

However, when it comes to dates, it is important to distinguish between frugal and thoughtless. Cheap dates don’t have to cost a lot, but there should be some effort involved.

“Going for a drive” to a cool area to watch a sunset or jam out to your favourite nostalgic hits? A great date. Waiting around aimlessly in their car until their friends decide to gatecrash? Not so much.

Walks, scavenger hunts, museums, galleries, bike rides, stargazing, game nights and breakfast in bed can all be sweet, attentive yet low-cost date ideas that can be personalised to your interests.

Of course, there’s a time and place for a fancy dinner or romantic getaway, but it shouldn’t be a precursor to modern love.

When it comes down to it, all a ‘great’ date needs is a connection, a display of interest and the opportunity to have fun. Save The Shard – I’ll take supermarket wine and a good time any day.

Images: Getty

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