Priceless Summer Dates

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Summer love is in the air—and for some it isn’t cheap. As if the increase in apartment rental prices isn’t bad enough, the costs of summer dates are equally as unsettling.

Think about it this way: If planning the absolutely perfect date were to include dinner and drinks for two in the city, the latest flick at the nearest movie theater, a medium-sized popcorn to share with a fountain soda—one straw, of course— transportation costs, and a bouquet of flowers for the end of the night (because no matter how cliché they may be, we are all secret suckers for them) you’re looking at spending around $100 per date. All in an effort that hopefully ends with a priceless kiss at the doorstep that makes your lady’s foot pop and the night’s expenditures totally worth it…but is it?

If an average date (dinner and a movie) costs about $100 per date, and these were to occur at least three times a month, that’s a total of $300 monthly. If this were to with- stand the entire summer, as summer romances often do, you would need to budget about $900 for summer dates alone! Do those “priceless kisses” feel so priceless now?

Here’s my opinion: The value of time spent with your partner will always be greater than the sum of money spent on individual dates. In fact, with a little creativity, you can still plan intricate dates that will wow your partner, guarantee a real priceless kiss by the end of it, and still leave your paychecks intact.

Austin is a culturally vibrant city year-round, espe- cially during the summertime. With a booming environment filled with live music, art, and liveliness, there is always so much to do, and a lot of it comes at little to no cost. When it comes to planning dates, it’s all about keeping an open mind and open ears to what’s happening around the city, and if nothing sparks your interest, you can always stick with the basics—a sunset dinner for two.

Why spend $50 on dinner and drinks when you can get more than your money’s worth with a picnic on Lady Bird Lake just as the sun is setting? Picture this: a cool breeze with the late afternoon skyline as the backdrop, the sun setting slowly behind you, a picnic basket filled with simple delicacies that include a variety of cheeses, fruits, bread and sparkling water, and interlaced hands—all of which make the evening feel as close to perfect as perfect can be.

Finding the alternative to the societal norm is really where the key lies in innovative and inexpensive dates. Instead of spending $30 watching the newest blockbuster release, why not spend one dollar at the closest Redbox movie rental and settle on a film neither of you has seen? Instead of spending $60 at the opening night performance of the nearest regional theater production, why not catch the free summer musical at Zilker Park?

Some may call this form of dating a compromise to save money, but isn’t that what relationships are all about? Compromising? Finding that middle ground where both parties are happy and not at the expense of one sacrificing more than the other, even financially, is almost a given for successful interpersonal communication.

Another plus: Saving money now gives more opportunities to splurge later. So if you sacrifice a couple of pricey dates and substitute inexpensive alternatives, you can save enough money to take your partner out to more luxurious dates once or twice every couple of weeks, or whatever best suits your financial needs.

Saving money is all about keeping an open mind—even in your social life. With an open mind comes an open heart. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather seal a date with a kiss overlooking a sunset on Lady Bird Lake than over a messy dinner table at an overpriced restaurant. And in that moment, I can almost guarantee that the last thing you’ll be thinking about is how much money you spent.

Alternative dates for summertime romance

Sunset Picnic

A sunset picnic overlooking one of Austin’s quintessential lakes is an ultimate romantic gesture. More than that, it’s one that will save an inordinate amount of money. With the cost of small treats like fruits, cheeses, veggies, dips, bread and sparkling water, you’re looking at spending about $20 in comparison to a $40 dinner date. Plus, it’s healthier.

Outdoor Performances

Performances in open and public spaces happen often in Austin, especially during the summer. From the annual Zilker Summer Musical to the Austin Bike Zoo, tons of theater and performance companies put on productions for your viewing pleasure. The best part—They’re free! Find them with event search engines such as Austin360 and 365 Things to do in Austin.

Lunch Specials

There are a variety of different kinds of foods found through- out the city. From familiar franchises to local businesses, Austin caters its food selection to the diverse taste buds of its inhabitants. When going on a lunch date, find out what the specials are (they change daily and almost every restaurant has some.) The average lunch special runs about $6 per plate.

Coffee Dates

Most people argue that the coffee date is reserved for the first get-to-know-you date, but who’s to say it’s not a viable option for the second, third, or tenth date? Everyone loves good conversation. Whether it revolves around the events of the day, or society and politics, nothing says “intimacy” like conversation over frappuccinos on a hot summer day. Prices average about $3 per beverage.

Walking Trails

It’s a little hot to do this in the middle of the day, but an early morning walk or late night stroll down the trail of a nearby park is a great way to maintain communication and get some exercise as well. Play a game of twenty-questions, even if you think you know everything there is to know about your partner. General admission: free, free and did I mention…free?

Kayak/Canoe Rides

With the warm weather and the coolness of the lake, what better way to find a balance of the two than with a kayak or canoe ride on Lady Bird Lake? It’s a great way to test the trust of your partner through means of paddling while trying to keep each other from drowning. Zilker Boat Rentals offer kayak/canoe rentals for two for $12 an hour.

Blues on the Green

A music lover’s favorite, Austin’s pristine biweekly free summer music series offers a chance to lie out on your favorite blanket at Zilker Park while listening to live music with the downtown skyline as your backdrop. With per- formances starting at 7:30 p.m., this is a great opportunity to share in good, local music with your girl (or guy) while enjoying a summer evening in the city of Austin, Texas.

Bookstore Raids

For you book-loving nerds—and I know I’m not the only one out there—a great way to spend some time is heading to the nearest bookstore, picking out a couple of books, finding a comfortable spot to sit and read. Do it to your heart’s content, share favorite passages with your date, laugh and cry at the expense of fictional, or not-so-fictional, characters, and enjoy this free date while expanding your literary repertoire. The hours pass quickly, trust me.

Stargazing

With this activity, one word comes to the minds of most: cliché. Well, another word comes to my mind: heart-stopping. There is nothing like finding a desolate area out by Mount Bonnell, while counting the stars and tracing their shapes in the palms of the hands of your partner. Whether you’re recalling familiar astrological and astronomical figures, or creating some of your own, this is a fun and free way to spend intimate time with your partner in the peaceful night. If you see a shooting star, don’t forget to make a wish.

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Isaac Gomez is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin (BA, Theatre and Dance), and a recipient of the University of Texas George H. Mitchell Award for Academic Excellence. As a young Latino Playwright, his most recent works include The Women of Juarez (Cohen New Works Festival), an ethnographic piece centered on the mass murder of women in Cuidad Juarez, Mexico. The Women of Juarez was additionally presented as a Lunada table reading with Chicago’s Teatro Luna, and is the recipient of the Austin Critics Table David Mark Cohen New Play Award for 2013. Upon moving to Chicago, Isaac completed a Literary/Dramaturgy internship at the Goodman Theatre, to which his dramaturgy credits include Cheryl West’s Pullman Porter Blues, Martin Zimmerman’s The Solid Sand Below, and Rebecca Gilman’s Luna Gale. Currently, Isaac is the Literary Manager at Victory Gardens Theater, where he is the resident dramaturg as well as the curator of their Public Programs event series. He is also an administrative associate at the Alliance of Latino Theatre Artists (ALTA) in Chicago and an active member of the national Latina/o Theater Commons.