Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Lessons Learned in Dating (While Married As Parents With No Money)

We've never really been big daters. We're both somewhat homebodies and find looking for a parking spot to be a "hassle" (Marshall's catch phrase), so given the choice in going somewhere or sitting at home, we mostly choose to sit at home. A movie on Netflix and a snack, and we are good to go.

The first couple of months of parenting held so much sitting at home, and once I was working from home I really needed to get out of the house and dress up (read: wear something besides leggings) every once in a while. That's never really been something I enjoyed before, but now I love an excuse to wear a dress and big earrings and go outside. So, to all you childless couples out there, there is something you should know: every night is date night. Savor. 

Currently we are in the final stretch ($14k left!) of our debt free journey. I'm so motivated, I don't want to spend money on anyone or anything, but I also need some time away from my precious son, dogs and messy house in order to maintain my sanity and be a nice person. Here are some lessons I've learned so far in our adventure in married dating as parents with no money.

We had to secure free (or cheap) childcare.
We've only but dabbled in the whole getting a babysitter scene, but just for the record, finding a good, dependable, polite, direction following babysitter is hard. We've capitalized on all the family members that want to spend time with Lincoln, grandparents, aunts, uncles and it's been great! If we do pay them, it is not as much as we would a regular babysitter or most of the time they'll do it for free. The best thing we've done so far is The Babysitting Swap with our close friends. We essentially trade nights of babysitting so it is totally free and amazing. Be sure to read that post for how to get your own swap started!

We had to plan ahead and plan on it. 
Mostly because of scheduling our babysitting swap we had to sit down at the end of each month and pick our two date nights. This has served us so well, in that we can plan financially (like, not blow all our restaurant money before date nights come and also we try to schedule them around celebrations (like, pay day! or big student loan payments! or completion of a work project!). There's also no rescheduling (unless there's like a legit reason to, like puke or blood). The date is precious and is scheduled-- we go.

I had to adjust my expectations.
When Lincoln was first born, we were able to get out once for an open house at school and went on our first baby-free date afterwards. It was kind of terrible. We literally went to open house, sat silently at a random restaurant and inhaled our food (we were used to eating quickly because babies always cry when dinner is hot...) and then we sat silently in the car on the way home while I pumped and played on my phone. I think I was expecting some magical romantic evening, and I think the reality was we were both just trying to get out of the house alone and alive. Slowly, I started to realize that it was really quality time with Marshall that I wanted, not the thing that we did together. And then it started getting awesome. 

We had to be creative. 
When we started the babysitting swap, we'd go for the traditional dinner and a movie thing (and sometimes if time permitted we'd go walk around Target or some place afterwards to talk or shop), but after a few date nights at the end of the month when the budget for restaurants and fun money was depleted we had to get creative and find things to do that didn't cost money, or if it did, very little money. Here are some of our most favorite date activities:
  • Shopkick. We will drive all over town to collect all the Shopkicks so I can get a free Starbucks card. I've tried to talk Marshall into downloading the app so he can get himself giftcards but he is not interested. With our occasional Shopkick binge hunt, I pretty much earn $10 in Starbucks money a month. This can mean walking around the mall, an outdoor shopping center or just driving really close to stores. We love to drive around and talk, listen to podcasts, or the Hamilton soundtrack (ok, that just happened once, but we loved it). Sure, gas costs money, but we aren't driving to another town, just to the shopping centers within 20 minutes of our house. 
  • Walk around. This can be a companion activity to Shopkick (or, uh, Pokemon Go, but we aren't that nerdy...) but once we went downtown for dinner and an outdoor movie night, and the movie was cancelled so we just wandered around downtown for a couple of hours. We read all the notes on the memorials near the capital, and if you are out earlier in the day both museums in downtown are free and would make a great date spot. It is also fun if you're the Fit Bit type and are trying to meet your goal/beat each other. 
  • The grocery store. Pre-baby, we used to grocery shop together and it was my favorite. I don't know that Marshall enjoyed it as much as me, but it was just one of those fun activities that we started doing when we got married and I never got over the novelty of it. I think now he likes coming home to finding the fridges stocked (I mean, who wouldn't?), but to me there was always something really fun about going together and getting our groceries. So fun. One of the first times his parents came over to watch Lincoln we snuck away to Aldi and Lowe's Food and it was my favorite! It was so fun to be out just the two of us midday and it didn't cost anything extra since we had already budgeted for groceries. Later on, one of our babysitting swap nights we were out of money for the month (the risk of scheduling a date night the last week of the month) and we ate before the babysitter came and just went to Aldi (and impulse bought a new trashcan). 
  • Budgeted gift shopping for us. One of my favorite dates ever was when we went to Bed Bath and Beyond to get a food processor. It was our Valentine's date. We decided that instead of buying gifts for each other (although, I think I still got flowers because #doublestandard) we would splurge on a new food processor and we went to buy it together. We ended up not getting it that night because they were out of stock. That is a tradition we will continue for sure, it was so nice to have the pressure off for a gift giving holiday and be able to spend money on something we both really wanted. 
  • Events at church. Yep, I call these dates. Part of what makes a date great for me is being off the hook of mom stuff, and totally present in whatever activity we're doing. In the past year we've gotten really involved with serving at our church here in Raleigh, and they do monthly meetings for the creative teams. They typically have a speaker and a short message then we do breakout sessions for whatever team we are on. We'll do dinner before, or while we are there or go do something afterwards just the two of us (like, picking up bananas at Target). Most of the time we end up staying as late as possible because we really love to be there and to hang out with the people we serve with, but it's so fun to get away together to focus on something we both enjoy! 
  • There is not a gift card not good enough. Last year for Christmas we asked for iMax gift cards (our favorite date of all time-- so pricy though!) and any chance we have to get a gift card to virtually any place, we'll take it. It's tricky eating out sometimes and avoiding dairy/grains, but at most places I'll get a salad or a gluten free option of something and it's all good. The most recent gift card awesomeness was finally redeeming a $25 gift card for Regal Cinemas from Ibotta. It took a few months, but it was SO awesome to go to a real movie for free! I used to be picky about restaurants (and I always prefer to go someplace that isn't a chain), but if it's free, it's food. And it's filling when you don't have to share with a toddler. 
So there's you have it, how we date these days. My hope is after our debt is paid off we can increase our date budget a bit and eat at some cool restaurants downtown (this would involve me driving and parking, as to make it as hassle free as possible...) but in the meantime, Shopkick it is! 

How do you date on the cheap? 


  1. We definitely turn errands that we HAVE to do into dates. Stopping to grab a coffee to walk around the grocery store can be a date, right?! Haha

  2. Thank you very much that you have shared with me this valuable advices. For our family, this question still quite relevant cuz I and my wife have met each other not so long time ago at and we are still in the process of building a strong family)