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Date Night on a Dime

Paint the town red, mom and dad – without breaking the bank

Pocketbooks are in a tight spot. And savvy families are looking for ways to economize, limiting luxuries and avoiding unnecessary purchases. Many may think that this includes eliminating a night out on the town.

Yet the strained economy doesn't mean that you need to forego all fun. In fact, while times are tight, parents need a special evening together all the more in order to decompress, rejuvenate and reconnect as a couple. It may not be caviar and champagne, but you and your honey can still swing a date night on a dime. So grab your adventurous spirit, and head out on the town.

1. Get outside. Now that restaurants and dinner shows may be a little outside the budget, the great outdoors is just beckoning you to take a stroll at your favorite park, lake or waterfront. Investigate the hiking and biking trails near you. While a big bouquet of flowers may be beyond your means, a picnic dinner at the botanical gardens is not. Explore the great outdoors and enjoy creation better than man could have made.

2. Find a freebie. Visit your city's website to learn about free upcoming events. Concerts in the park are ubiquitous throughout spring and summer. Museums occasionally offer free admission days. A visit to your local farmer's market or swap meet with a limited amount of spending money can be a pleasant amusement. Sample the different products and enjoy the atmosphere. Free events may stretch your imagination and you'll find that dueling banjos are entertaining after all.

3. Take a ride. If gas prices allow, drive down a scenic route in your own vehicle. The quiet, kid-free, interruption-free time will allow great conversation. Or explore the city you live in and see all there is to see – without paying an entrance fee.

4. Book it. Bookstores offer a wealth of date night options. Check the calendar to see what special events are on tap. Usually, these are free. Otherwise, grab a cup of coffee and a few interesting new releases. Find a pair of chairs and browse your selections together. Better yet, find a book you're both interested in, like a coffee table book of Florence, and turn the pages together.

5. Focus on cheap, but good, eats. Dining doesn't have to be elegant – or expensive – to be enjoyable. Visit your favorite diners and dives to see how low you can go, in terms of price. Even fast food can be fun when the company is. A buck-fifty will buy you a kosher hot dog and a soda at your local Costco. After noshing, you can window shop, walking hand in hand. Consider going out for part of a meal, such as drinks and appetizers or dessert and coffee. This gives you the experience of dining out without the big bill. For the uber-frugal, pack a picnic to take to the park or prepare something elegant at home for a fraction of the price.

6. Choose a good, frugal flick. Movie night is still within your grasp. Hit a bargain movie theater for a second-run film – or find out when the cheaper showings are at local chains showing new releases. Consider watching movies at home, too. Redbox rentals are a great, budget-conscious alternative to higher priced movie stores. Better yet, your local library will loan you the movies for free. Plan a few weeks in advance to secure your preferred titles.

7. One more tip. Before you begin, consider swapping babysitting with friends, in order to secure cost-free – and trusted – childcare.

Remember that it's the time spent together, not the ticket price, that matters most. Make time for one another, talk, enjoy each other's company, and you'll find you're richer than you thought you were.

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