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Summer Love On A Shoestring

You don’t need to be a gazillionaire to heat up that new romance. We found 10 ways to bond without blowing the rent money.

By Ingela Ratledge

ure, impressing a date is easy when you have an unlimited budget. But what if you’re feeling less than flush? Don’t resort to dollar-beer night just yet: Summer offers tons of opportunities for affordable romance.

Cheapo Date 1#: Share puppy love
What better way to show off your warm and cuddly side than by hitting the park with a pooch? If you don’t have a dog of your own, contact a pet shelter
Minor-league baseball tickets run about $5 a pop.
about walking one of their friendly strays. Bonus: “You can tell a lot about a person by how nurturing they are with animals,” says relationship expert Carolyn Bushong, author of the The Seven Dumbest Relationship Mistakes Smart People Make (www.carolynsays.com). For a list of shelters near you, visit www.animalsheltering.org.

Cheapo Date #2: Root for the home team!
General admission tickets to minor-league baseball games are as low as $5 a pop. (Check out www.milb.com for schedules.) And since the stakes are pretty low — seriously, is anyone really stressing about how the Carolina Mudcats are faring this season? — you can chitchat between beer and dogs. Don’t assume that your date has to be a sports nut to appreciate a day at the ballpark, either: “I love a relaxed activity that’s not just two people staring at each other over a dinner table,” says attorney Katie Quitter of Nashville, TN.

Cheapo Date #3: Get tubular
Beat the heat by renting inner tubes; most cost just $10 to $15 per day. (Call a nearby campground or outdoor supplies store for locations.) You can opt for an easy route down the river or one with safe rapids for a shot of adventure. And hey, “It’s always an advantage when you’re together in bathing suits,” says Mack Cole-Edelsack, a recent architecture grad from New York City.

Cheapo Date #4: Say, “Salud!”
Glasses of vino at a restaurant or bar can add up fast—so why not take your crush for stress-free sipping at a wine shop’s tasting night? “It can be a very impressive evening without costing anything,” says romance advisor Michelle McKinney Hammond, author of How to Make Love Work. The store usually throws in free appetizers, too—just make sure to call it a night before you get the hard-sell on that $100-a-pop Pinot.

Cheapo Date #5: Climb the walls
Can’t swing plane tickets to Mt. McKinley? For around $25 each, athletic types can show off their skills on a climbing wall at a gym or camping supplies
Wine tastings usually include free appetizers!
store. “I’d respect a date putting the thought into planning something like that for me,” Says Dionne Cross, a personal trainer from Weehawken, NJ. Chill out in the free A/C, build trust and get a romance-boosting adrenaline rush—just make sure that your date is up for the challenge before the harnesses go on.

Cheapo Date #6: Stick a fork in it
Summertime is ideal for grilling out, and it sure beats picking up the tab at Chez Overrated. (Not a master chef? Food magazines are filled with great BBQ recipes this time of year, or visit www.epicurious.com for inspiration.) Says Hammond, “Cooking gives you an opportunity to interact as a team,” says Hammond. “So what if you burn something? It’s fun!”

Cheapo Date #7: Go on the world’s shortest road trip
You may not have the perfect cherry-red convertible to take out for a spin, but the luxury dealership down the block sure does! “Test-driving a car together can be really exciting,” says Bushong. “And how a person acts behind the wheel is very telling.” To avoid getting the full-on sales press, let the salesperson know you’re just shopping around at this point.

Cheapo Date #8: Park it!
During the summer, parks and communal spaces transform into grown-up playgrounds with concert series, theater performances and other outdoor events. “There are literally hundreds of ideas if you scour the newspapers,” says Chicago-based operational analyst Brian Zambie. (Listings are also available on the publications’ websites.) “I’ll tailor the activity to my date’s interest to show her that I care.”

Cheapo Date #9: Take an urban hike
Lace up your sneaks, and pick a path in your city or town—compact areas with a high concentration of shops, food vendors and points of interest work best. Just steer clear of making ultra-personal stops down memory lane. (Visiting where you learned to hopscotch: Cute. Pointing out the spot where you first kissed your ex: Not so much.) If your downtown is one block long, visit the nearest big town. Or visit www.fodors.com for nearby itineraries.

Cheapo Date #10: Start with the soufflé
Let’s be honest: The molten chocolate cake is the high point of dinner out anyway. So fast-forward through the wallet-crushing shrimp cocktail and steak and meet for the good part: dessert and cappuccino. For less than the price of one entrée, you can enjoy a high-end night out. And you’ll both want to pick up the check!


Ingela Ratledge lives in New York City. Her work has appeared in Real Simple, Us Weekly, Life & Style and Quick & Simple.
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