(MONEY Magazine) – You probably never realized how pampered college life was until you got out and tried to date on a real-life paycheck. Dinner and a movie? You can break $100 without breaking a sweat. And at $100 to $150 per date, the typical $40,000-a-year swain or swainette has to work 3 1/2 days to earn enough discretionary income for a single night out. [See note] 1

What can you do? Simple: Invite the object of your desire on one of the great economical dates described below. We priced them in specific cities to be able to give real costs rather than averages. But throughout the country, each will run you less than $100 for two, and all are creative, romantic and memorable--just like you.


Spring has finally sprung, so what's more appropriate than a picnic in the park? He is in a tux if he's got one; otherwise a snazzy suit. She is in a long dress. (We threw in a little post-date dry cleaning to get the grass stains off those nice clothes.) The meal can be simple: a loaf of bread, a jug of wine and wow! Lobster salad from the nearest fancy deli and some chocolate truffles. After dining, you can feed the birds. The pet store can sell you seed and perhaps a novice bird watcher's guide. Dave and Claudia Arp, authors of 52 Dates for You and Your Mate (Thomas Nelson, $7.99), rate this idea as one of their best. They were so good at dating they got married.

Cost (in Washington, D.C.): Three-quarters pound of langostino (lobster) salad: $7.50; one pound of Godiva chocolate truffles: $29; French baguette: $1.98; one bottle of Piper-Heidsieck champagne: $24.99; two pounds of mixed birdseed: $1.18; Peterson's First Guide to Birds: $4.95; dry cleaning a man's tuxedo ($7.50), a woman's dress ($7.60): $15.10. Total: $84.70


Sign up to take a one-night course. John Graham, co-author of The Little Black Book of Dating Ideas (Buzz Boxx, $7.95), recommends a cooking class, "because afterward you can eat the food you prepare together." It's a great way to get to know someone, and if the date doesn't work out, at least you've learned to do something in your kitchen besides zap TV dinners. You can find out what's available in or near your town from community college catalogues and ads in city magazines and local newspapers.

Cost (in Menlo Park, Calif.): One-night class "Good Food for Busy People" at the Draegers Cooking School: $30 per person. Total: $60


For something sporty that is both romantic and noncompetitive, it's hard to beat a tandem bicycle. Since you're sitting close to each other, it's much easier to talk than on a normal bike date. Bring along a box of fried chicken--exercise builds an appetite--and one of those disposable cameras. They take pretty good photographs of the scenery, and you can draft some bystander into taking a shot of the two of you. Then volunteer to get the pictures developed, which means that you'll have to see each other again--clever, no?

Cost (in Ann Arbor): Three-hour rental of tandem bike: $22.50; rental of two helmets at $5 each: $10; two water bottles at $4 each: $8; box of KFC fried chicken: $16.74; 24-frame disposable camera: $5.96; two sets of four-inch-by six-inch prints: $8.79. Total: $71.99


All coffee bars boast that they have the world's best coffee, so meander from coffee shop to latte bar grading the different places on ambience, clientele and decor. (Include ladies' and gents' rooms because you'll be seeing a lot of those.) If caffeine sends your central nervous system into overdrive, you should stick with decaf. Some cafes offer free readings by local writers, and Barnes & Noble often has an author doing a book tour. If you're brave, go to a poetry "slam," a competition where contestants stand to recite their verses and judges grade them.

COST (in Atlanta): Matching black turtlenecks from The Gap: $36; two cups of coffee at International House of Pancakes, with tip: $3; two double tall lattes at Starbucks, with tip: $7; two cappuccinos at your favorite poetry cafe, with tip: $5; donation to starving poet at poetry cafe: $5. Total: $56 Alison Rogers is an associate editor at Worldbusiness magazine.

[Note] 1 If you're keeping score, we're assuming you work 251 days a year and that a typical 73% of your gross income is already spoken for by taxes, food, clothing, shelter, and transportation.