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Interesting date ideas may be as hard to find as an interesting date. And harder yet if you're seeking romance on a shoestring. Whether you're getting to know someone better or looking to relax with your long-time love, go beyond the ordinary. Discover new activities together, share your personal interests with one another, or simply tweak your old favorites to give them new vitality. Shake up your social scene with these 10 simple pleasures that won't bust your budget.
1. Do-Good Dating. Share values as well as time together by volunteering for a favorite charity. An afternoon spent cleaning up an inner-city school playground, building homes with Habitat for Humanity, or participating in a 5K charity run are all worthy endeavors. It's a win-win situation: You help someone in need and by working as a team, you and your date will create a stronger bond.
2. Thrifty Gift Swap. Head to a town known for its vintage shops and thrift stores or seek out a super-sized flea market. Set a time limit, say 30 minutes to one hour, and a spending limit (try $10) and go your separate ways. Scope out a meaningful gift for your date (within your preset limit, of course). Cheap, chic treasures to seek: political campaign buttons, vinyl albums, or vintage postcards. If all else fails, hit the baked goods table for homemade double-fudge brownies. Meet up with your mate to exchange your gifts over lunch at a local cafe.
3. A Different Vintage. Visit a winery for a tasting and a tour. The fee, if any, is nominal and you'll have the chance to discover new varieties and stock up for a later date (think picnics and candlelight dinners). Not near wine country? A local restaurant or wine shop may host wine tastings. Or hold your own wine and cheese party. Select a few bottles of reds such as Pinot Noir, Shiraz, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel; or sample a range of white wines like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Riesling. Serve a compatible cheese with each glass of wine. Ask the expert at your local cheese shop or wine store to suggest appropriate pairings.
4. Seek Serenity. Reduce the stress of dating by taking a partner yoga class where you can help each other release tension. There's no need to be intimidated if you're not an experienced yogi; the only thing you need is a partner. Inquire about such workshops at a nearby yoga studio, the local Y, or try it at home with a partner yoga videotape or book for guidance. OM Yoga in a Box for Couples (Hay House, Ltd.) has everything you need for sharing a yoga session with your sweetie: an instructional CD, flashcards, a yoga strap for assisted stretching, even a candle and incense.
5. Swing, Baby, Swing. If the spectacular dance scenes in the movie Chicago tapped your desire to don swing-era threads and jump 'n jive the night away, head over to your local swing society. Two left feet? Swing nights at clubs often start with a lesson before the night kicks into high gear. Learn the basics of the Lindy Hop, Jitterbug and East Coast/West Coast Swing, then dazzle each other with your fancy footwork.
6. Heat Things Up. If your typical night out is discovering a hot new restaurant or you have a standing reservation at your favorite eatery, why not discover the joy of cooking a meal together? Culinary stores, colleges, and adult schools have courses and one-session workshops that teach techniques for cooking anything from Italian to Indian to vegetarian cuisine, and don't forget everyone's favorite course -- dessert! For a small tuition fee, you'll gain kitchen know-how, enjoy a satisfying meal, and savor a special night out together.
7. Get Fresh. Spend the morning picking strawberries at a "u-pick-it" farm and the afternoon creating luscious desserts (from the skills you learned at a culinary class, perhaps?). Enjoy the fruits of your labor year-round -- look for berries in the summer, apples and pumpkins in autumn, and citrus fruits in the winter -- if you're lucky enough to be in warm regions during the cooler months.
8. Film Flip-Flop. If a dinner and a movie date is your Saturday night mainstay, turn things around and attend the first showing of the day. You'll save money on the movie tickets to use toward a leisurely brunch in the afternoon. If sitting in a dark theater during daylight hours isn't your thing, plan on a late afternoon show with dinner reservations afterward. A simple switch will get you out of the rut -- and save you some dough.
9. Support the Arts. Check out author readings and book signings, appearances by acoustic musicians and poets, or an art opening for a local talent at your local library, bookstore, or coffeehouse. If you're at a coffee bar, relax and enjoy the free entertainment as you sip cappuccino or herbal tea. If not, cap off the night with a trip to one and linger over a latte and conversation.
10. Join the Club. Set on sailing? Find a sailing club that offers use of sailboats to members in exchange for chores around the boatyard. Want to see a local theater production gratis? Volunteer to act as an usher at the show. Be in the know by joining a group with activities you're interested in. And, keep in mind that most organizations offer year-round activities to raise money for their projects. A ski club may offer canoeing or hiking trips in the summer. The historical society may host garden tours in the spring and summer and holiday house tours in winter. From birdwatchers to microbrewery aficionados, people with similar interests band together. And, no doubt, they'll be glad to share their passion with you and yours.