What Is 'Infla-Dating' (And How To Keep The Romance Alive On A Budget)

For many of us, the cost of living has never been more of an issue. Food prices, rent prices and oil prices are all going up. Inflation seems to be on a steady, never-ending rise. In the U.S., a staggering 67% of us are worried about our finances and our daily budgeting. Lots of us are trying to cut back on spending and save where we can — even on our dates. 

In fact, so many people are trying to cut back on expensive dates, the phenomenon has been given a name: "infla-dating." "Infla-dating is a strategy designed to keep your dating-related costs down during times of inflation," Jessica Alderson, Co-Founder & Relationship Expert at So Syncd, tells The List. "It involves being mindful of your spending and planning dates based on low-cost activities."

If you're feeling the pinch, it doesn't mean you have to give up on dating altogether. While it can feel like romance and money always go hand-in-hand, this couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, there are plenty of clever ways you can spend quality time with your partner while sticking to a budget. Many cheap dates are actually even better for your relationship than the expensive ones. We spoke to a few experts to find out the best ways to make infla-dating part of your life.

Tip #1: Try a romantic money-conscious first date like a picnic or a walk

While it may be tempting to book a table at your favorite restaurant for a first date, you can have an equally romantic date without the expense by heading out for a picnic or even for a scenic walk. In fact, this kind of thoughtful date can often feel even more personal than an expensive meal — and your date is sure to notice the effort you make.

"A romantic picnic or walk are affordable and enjoyable choices for a first date," says Alderson. She actually thinks this kind of cheap date will help you in the long run. "Simple activities can actually be the perfect way to get to know someone because you can spend time talking, laughing and enjoying each other's company without distractions."

Plus, as Lisa Lawless, Ph.D., C.E.O., who is a clinical psychotherapist who offers sexual health services at Holistic Wisdom, tells us, this kind of date can help you and your date get close than you might get at a restaurant. "It encourages physical touch and affection, such as holding hands or snuggling up on a blanket, and creates a sense of shared experience that can deepen intimacy," she says. Of course, if you are on a first date, remain respectful of your date's physical boundaries!

Tip #2: Skip the drinks — it may help your relationship, too

For years, alcohol has been a staple of most dates. In fact, according to a study by Alcohol.org, 865 of people have at least one drink during a first date. But even though alcohol is associated with dating, it's not actually an essential part of the romance — plus, it can add a surprisingly hefty sum to your bill at the end of the evening.

According to Lawless, skipping the alcohol on your dates doesn't just make for a cheaper evening — it also helps you have a better date, too. "Alcohol can be expensive and unhealthy, and skipping the drinks may also help your relationship by allowing you to focus on each other instead," she says. "It can allow you to pick up on your partner's non-verbal cues, such as body language, which can improve intimacy." Lawless also tells us that studies have shown that couples often report that alcohol use leads to conflicts in their relationships, so if you want to keep the romance alive, drinking less will probably help.

If you choose to skip the alcohol on your dates, you won't be alone. "There's a growing movement of daters who feel that they build stronger connections without alcohol, so they are forgoing it altogether," Alderson says.

Tip #3: Cook your partner their favorite meal

Another great alternative to a night out at a fancy restaurant is a romantic evening in with a specially cooked home cooked meal. To make the dinner feel extra romantic for your partner, prepare your partner's favorite dish and lay the table with candles and flowers. Splurge a little on high-quality ingredients. This romantic gesture is still a lot cheaper than going out on a date — plus, your partner will be blown away with how much thought you've put into it.

You could also make the cooking part of the date. "Cooking together is always a great way to connect in a comfortable, cozy environment," Alderson says. "Plus, it's a great chance to show off your culinary skills."

Adds Lawless,"If you make it together, you can appreciate your mutual accomplishment of making a delicious meal, which encourages communication and teamwork. It is a thoughtful gesture that shows you care about what they enjoy and can make them feel appreciated and loved."

Tip #4: Organize an old-school sleepover-style movie night instead of a trip to the cinema

Remember back in middle school when there was nothing more fun than a sleepover movie night with our friends? Recreate the magic of the childhood sleepover for your partner and surprise them with an at-home movie night. Decorate the room with fairy lights, build a cozy blanket fort, stock up on popcorn and pick a couple of your partner's favorite movies. This date will be way cheaper than a trip to the cinema and you and your partner will remember it for years to come.

"Going to the cinema can be expensive, but you can always organize an old-school sleepover-style movie night in your living room," notes Alderson. "This can be just as fun as a trip to the cinema, and it's much more cost-effective."

Lawless adds that this kind of cost-effective date can help to bring you and your partner closer together by adding a sense of adventure and surprise to your relationship. "Breaking out delicious snacks and making it memorable can feel like an adventure," she tells us. This is one cheap date you'll never forget.

Tip #5: Give personalized handmade gifts for special occasions

If there's a birthday or anniversary coming up in your relationship, you may be worrying about how to afford a gift for your partner. However, giving a thoughtful gift doesn't have to break the bank. "Giving thoughtful, handmade gifts can actually mean a lot more to your partner than an expensive item that didn't come from the heart," Alderson suggests. "Plus, it's always nice to receive something that was made just for you."

"Instead of including a store-bought card, you can make them one and write a funny or meaningful poem or a story for them with both of you as the main characters," adds Lawless. 

Great homemade gift options include a knit sweater or hat, a piece of art inspired by your relationship, a photo album or scrapbook or a set of homemade coupons of things you'll do for your partner.

Tip #6: Keep an eye out for free events in your area

Cheap dates don't always have to take place at home. There are plenty of ways you can get out of the house without spending a fortune. Keep an eye out for events taking place in your area that are free or cheap. For instance, many concert halls offer free lunchtime concerts. Some venues hold free comedy shows or music gigs. There might be an amusement park coming through town that offers cheap rides. A local museum might hold a free exhibit. Outdoor food markets are another free activity.

"You may well be surprised by the variety of free events available in your area, so keep an eye out for any opportunities," says Alderson. "It's a great way to explore your city or town too." Lawless adds that it's sometimes possible to watch outdoor festivals without purchasing a ticket. So get creative! 

Tip #7: Pick up a cheap hobby together

If you and your partner are struggling to think of things to do that are affordable and help you keep the spark alive, you could try taking up a cheap hobby together.

"It could be anything from cycling to rock climbing to gardening to chess to tennis," Alderson tells us. "Not only will you get to see a completely different side of each other, but you'll also learn a new skill in the process." Other fun, affordable couple hobbies to try include cooking, yoga, pilates, painting, knitting or tai kwon do. Get creative and pick something you've both always been curious to try.

Not only is taking up a new hobby great for your relationship, it can also be wonderful for you both as individuals. "It can stimulate your creativity and imagination and be a fun and engaging way to challenge each other to think outside the box and try new things," Lawless says.

Tip #8: Instead of a normal shopping trip, go to a special vintage shop

Even though heading out on a shopping spree can be a super fun way to let off some stream and have fun as a couple, it can quickly become quite expensive. To itch that shopping bug, you could try changing up your routine and setting off for a vintage shopping spree instead.

"Go to a special vintage shop or visit garage sales," suggests Lawless. "It's a unique and affordable way to spend time together and a fun way to find new treasures. Doing so can strengthen your relationship and improve your ability to work together as a team. Finding unique treasures together can be fun and create positive memories and a sense of adventure in your relationship." Make it your mission to track down one or two special items — this way, you'll avoid overspending on too many things, while still getting that shopping buzz.

As Alderson puts it, "It's usually a lot more fun than just going to a regular store, and it can almost feel like a treasure hunt." Sounds like an ideal date to us.

Tip #9: Head out on a hike or a bike ride to a get a great view of your city

Looking for a cheap daytime date idea that's both fun and frugal? Head out for a walk, a hike or even a bike ride on a local trail. Getting into nature is a great chance to get away from the hustle and bustle of every day life. Hiking has also been shown to be excellent for your physical and mental health. Plus, if you're lucky, you'll get a great view along with the exercise. 

"Explore the outdoors and stretch your legs while going for a hike or a bike ride," offers Alderson. She explains that no matter your fitness level, getting some fresh air and some quality time can do wonders for your relationship. "It's a great way to connect and appreciate the beauty of nature," she says.

Lawless adds that heading out for a hike in your local area is a wonderful way to see more of the place you live, while also giving you deeper benefits. "It can create a deeper emotional connection and a shared sense of awe and wonder while enjoying beautiful views and nature," she says.

Tip #10: Take a road trip

If you and your partner have been together for a few years, you may be looking for some holiday ideas — but if you're trying to save some money, you may think that putting your holiday on hold is the only option. However, you could take a road trip as a cheap holiday alternative. Rent a camper van and sleep under the stars every night. Or, set off in your own car and spend your nights in cheap roadside motels. It can be a fun, adventurous change from more traditional vacations. Just be sure to plan your road trip carefully to avoid any arguments or disappointments.

"You can pick a destination that's within your budget and hit the open road," Alderson tells us. "It's bound to be an adventure you won't soon forget, and you'll make memories that will last for years to come.

Lawless suggests creating a special road trip playlist before setting off so that you can really enjoy the experience of blasting down the open road with your partner. "These small romantic gestures can enhance your intimacy and strengthen your relationship," she says. Even for couples who aren't on a budget, we have to say — this sounds like the idea trip.

Tip #11: Treat your partner to an at-home spa day

If you and your partner have been feeling anxious about your finances, chances are, you've both probably dealt with a fair amount of stress. Treat yourselves to a day of pampering and relaxation with a DIY at-home spa. Invest in some essential oils, bath salts, flower petals, foot scrubbers, face masks and fluffy bath robes to really create the illusion of a real spa in your home. We can promise you — your partner will thank you for it!

"It shows that you care about their well-being and are willing to put in the effort to make them feel loved and appreciated," Lawless tells us. "Spa treatments like massages, facials, and aromatherapy can help lower stress levels and reduce anxiety."

Alderson suggests treating yourselves to a glass or two of Prosecco in the bath tub before giving each other massages to finish off the day. Sign us up!

Tip #12: Make a batch of cocktails at home

If you love treating your partner to a date night at a local cocktail bar, you can recreate this special experience in your own home by investing in some cocktail tools, learning some basic mixology techniques, mixing a batch of your favorite cocktail, lighting some candles and serving your partner from a makeshift at-home bar. You can also whip out your at-home cocktails for a spontaneous tipsy afternoon in the backyard in the summertime. 

This romantic hack will be sure to save you some money in the long run. "Making a batch of your favorite cocktails at home can be a lot cheaper than going to the bar," says Alderson. "You can choose from a variety of recipes and even create unique concoctions of your own. It's a great way to have fun and get a little tipsy without breaking the bank." It sounds pretty great if you ask us!

How to be open with your partner about your financial concerns

If you're intrigued by the concept of infla-dating, one of the most important things you can do is be open about your financial situation with your partner. This is a concept known as financial intimacy, and can transform your relationship. This way, you can both be on the same page and can work together to be frugal within your  romance.

"I recommend that couples communicate openly and honestly about their financial concerns," Lawless tells us. "Money can be a source of stress and conflict in relationships, but it doesn't have to be. It's vital to approach the conversation with an open mind and a willingness to work together." After all, the last thing you want to do is lie about why you're prioritizing saving money on your dates. 

In most couples, it will be all about compromise. "A couple could create a joint budget considering their incomes and expenses," Lawless says. "They can also set aside a certain amount each month for discretionary spending they can use as they see fit. Additionally, they could consider meeting with a financial advisor or therapist to help them find solutions that work for both of them."