This may come as a shocker, but as much as I love dressing up and going out to a nice restaurant, some of my best dates have actually been super low-key and cheap. I love just staying home and cooking together– no need to rush, you won’t be disappointed in your meal, and afterwards you have a plethora of movie options thanks to Netflix streaming or On-Demand.

On a beautiful day, for those of us fortunate enough to live in the DC Area, there are plenty of places to go for a hike surrounded by beautiful views. All you need are some crackers, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and some water, together with a great companion to have a good time. Kayaking along the Potomac is also relatively inexpensive, and most of the musuems in DC are free. Soon we’ll have free movies outdoors, and many places have free concerts on certain evenings. Walking along the river, touring the monuments at night, or taking a garden tour with a trip to the gelato store as a treat, are all great ways to enjoy your partner’s company without breaking the bank.

We all need to work on our love stories, and by no means do I mean to discard the importance of celebrating special occassions. What I do want to emphasize is that many great memories can be built enjoying simple activities. Those of us that are goal-oriented may need big-ticket prizes to look forward to every now and then, but we shouldn’t expect them all the time. The best sign that a couple is on the right track is when they can have an honest discussion about finances, and when they can both agree to help one another lay low in order to save for something– like a big trip, house, wedding or whatever the shared prize may be. If you can’t stick to a budget and help each other out while dating– it is only going to get worse.

Red flags should go up immediately when someone doesn’t want to talk about finances at all, or insists on nothing but fine dining all the time. A high-maintenance date doesn’t miraculously turn into a low-maintenance spouse. What is going to happen when the going gets tough? Cheap dates can be a ton of fun with the right person, and they are also a great way to screen for people that are for real and those that are not.

By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.