Infla-dating 101: 7 Tips for Fun Yet Cheap Dating According to a Dating Expert

A couple have fun as they take a stroll in a neighborhood.
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Inflation is the financial tide lifting all boats these days, including the Love Boat. If you’ve been anxious about impressing that special someone without coming off as a cheapskate, you’re in good company.

Singles, divorcees and even older folks simply trying to meet new friends have run into the same problem. Going out on the town is expensive and dating budgets are ballooning out of control. So what can you do?

We asked dating expert Kimmy Seltzer — who uses therapy, in-field coaching and styling to help people with their confidence and dating skills — about how to make connections without wasting hard-earned cash. This is what we learned.

How Much Are Singles Spending on Dating?

Whether it’s a rideshare to the local bar or pricey tickets to a concert, making a love connection on a first date definitely isn’t free. But how much are Americans actually paying for date nights?

According to The Hustle, the cost of a few hours painting the town red is a recipe for putting your bank account in the red as well. The average date costs $68, and Americans reported spending $1,260 in 2022 on dating alone.

It’s no wonder singles and couples are constantly on the hunt for cheap date ideas.

“Yes, dating can take a bit of a hit on time and the wallet! During the pandemic, many people got creative in ways of meeting people, which has continued to be a trend,” says Seltzer, a dating strategist, confidence therapist and image expert based in Los Angeles who hosts a podcast called The Charisma Quotient.

What Is Infla-Dating and How Does It Work?

This cheap dating trend — coined “infla-dating” by dating app Plenty of Fish — was confirmed in a 2022 survey that found 48% of single millennials and Gen Zers preferred budget-friendly dates.

From splitting costs on double dates to finding free admission days to local museums, infla-dating emphasizes that spending time with someone is more important than showing off by footing the bill on an expensive date night.

Pro Tip

If you’re looking for budget date ideas, check out our guide to cheap at-home date nights that won’t make you seem cheap.

Before resigning yourself to becoming a permanent member of the lonely hearts (and empty wallet) club, check out what dating experts say about how to save money and still have fun dating or connecting with old friends for a walk down memory lane.

7 Tips for Successful Cheap Dates (and Making Connections)

If there’s one thing dating experts agree on, it’s that a cheap date doesn’t have to feel cheap. Finding totally free ways to have good fun for a few hours in your own city is a lot easier than you think.

1.Find Like-Minded People at Clubs or Local Groups.

Before you start window shopping for a love match or a new set of friends, make sure to invest your time wisely by focusing on common interests. Scout out clubs or local groups that center on something you’re passionate about.

Whether it’s a book club where they pass around the free wine and cheese or a more informal group that organizes a monthly bike ride on a local nature trail, opportunities to spend quality time with others don’t have to be expensive.

2. Consider Virtual Screenings to Determine if There’s a Connection.

First dates, especially blind meetups, can feel like a bad investment when you can’t keep a spark alive through the simplest conversations. Before you plunk down money for bonding time at the bar, Seltzer — who offers free consultations — advises trying a virtual connection.

“Before running to meet someone, it can save a lot of time and money to talk on the phone or have a Zoom date first to see if there is a connection.”

3. Skip the Fancy Meal on a First Date.

Most matchmakers say to steer clear of expensive dinner dates. While you might think there’s a lot of romance in a fancy rooftop restaurant or a trendy cocktail bar, it’s a strategy that can backfire.

“When meeting someone, it doesn’t have to be a big long, lavish dinner — nor should it be,” Seltzer advises clients. “Instead, try meeting at a fun place for happy hour, meet in a local park, go for a walk on the beach or meet at a social event in your area. The idea is to build rapport, flirt, and have fun upon first encounter, which does not have to break the bank.”

Amy Nobile — the founder of Love, Amy, a holistic dating coach service — agrees.

“I love a ‘walk and talk’ date, a dog park date, a Facetime ‘cocktail’ date or even a cook-at-home date,” Nobile says.

4. Keep It Short and Sweet.

For new encounters, it’s best not to dive into a binge-watch of your favorite Netflix show just yet. Nobile says keeping the date short is a crucial strategy for a successful first date.

“One of my cardinal rules is a 45-minute mini-screener date — a juice, a coffee or early drink.  This way it’s short, sweet and low cost,” Nobile says.

Seltzer echoes Nobile’s advice.

“I always suggest that a first date should be on the shorter side to see if there is a connection and for both parties to be excited to see one another again,” Seltzer says. “A coffee shop or a cocktail are still good first encounters, and it’s really how you show up, the conversation, the flirtation and the fun that two people create when they first meet.”

Ever heard of a penny date? Check out this ingenious and inexpensive date idea that’s a fun way for couples to spend some spare change.

5. Lean Into Activity Date Nights.

The secret to a successful, inexpensive first date is to skip the happy hour deals at the dive bar and focus on free, fun activities like game night where you can engage in friendly competition, according to Seltzer.

“When you are in a more playful state, you are also seen as more attractive, relaxed and present,” Seltzer says.

Whether it’s playing board games, dropping into open mic night, taking a test drive of an expensive car or scoring bonus points for your general knowledge at trivia night, you can find completely free activities in most cities.

6. Take Advantage of the Weather.

Whatever the weather is, you can turn it into an adventure for two (or a crowd). Lean into building a blanket fort, playing a board game, doing a craft project or cruising thrift shops on rainy or snowy days.

A crisp fall day is perfect for fruit picking, going to feed ducks, hiking at a state park or finding a clear night to point out your favorite constellations. When the summer weather is in tip-top shape, you can catch a drive-in movie or rent bikes to pedal around town and get some fresh air.

7. Pace Yourself and Your Spending Habits.

Credello’s Love & Debt survey found that 41% of people were willing to take on $2,500 or more in credit card debt to impress a new love interest. But as Seltzer warns, overspending can set you up for heartbreak later.

“There are no hard rules when it comes to the amount of money spent on a date,” Seltzer says. “As you get to know someone, however, there should be a pacing of which money is spent, which always builds the relationship and excitement in a healthy way.”

Use Infla-Dating Strategies for More Than Date Night

Don’t save your main character energy for date night. Couples can spice things up with a fun activity like writing love letters, pursuing old photos or making cheap drinks from their home bar.

And when it comes to meeting new people, the rules for dating still apply. Don’t overspend because healthy relationships don’t require cash. The connections made through shared experiences can be worth their weight in gold.

Who doesn’t want more friends? Check out these cheap ways to make connections whether you’re new in town or just trying to widen your circle.

Kaz Weida is a senior staff writer at The Penny Hoarder covering saving money and budgeting. As a journalist, she has written about a wide array of topics including finance, health, politics, education and technology for the last decade.