People don’t like to think of their dates as being “cheap”, as if they don’t think the person they’re dating is worth spending a little money on, but that doesn’t mean that every date has to be at an expensive restaurant or activity. Sometimes, the most fun can be with the simplest activities that give you a chance to relax and talk to the other person.
What's most important is for you and your date to have fun, so whatever you decide to do, keep in mind not only your interests, but what your date likes.
"There are three possible parts to a date, of which at least two must be offered: entertainment, food, and affection. It is customary to begin a series of dates with a great deal of entertainment, a moderate amount of food, and the merest suggestion of affection. As the amount of affection increases, the entertainment can be reduced proportionately. When the affection IS the entertainment, we no longer call it dating. Under no circumstances can the food be omitted."
-- Judith Martin
Dinner and a Movie
The typical date night! But, eating out can be expensive, and movie tickets can cost more than $10 each (although students and seniors can get better rates).
I already have a page of restaurants where it's possible to get a meal for under $10, but those aren't your only possibilities for food. For example, if you go to an evening movie, you could have coffee and dessert afterward instead of a full meal. One of my relatives met her husband in college, and she said that they always used to meet for ice cream instead of dinner because they just couldn't afford anything else. Personally, I recommend eating after the movie rather than before because you'll want to talk about the movie after you see you it.
If you can go to a matinee, the rates will be cheaper than at evening showings. Certain theaters can also offer better rates, especially for special showings. For instance, certain Harkins theaters show classic movies at 7pm on Tuesdays with tickets only costing $5 each. The Tempe Pollack Cinemas always have tickets to their movies for $3.50, except on Tuesdays, when they're $2.50.
Of course, there's always the option to have dinner and a movie at home. You can watch what you like, eat what you like, start and stop the movie as needed, and talk as much as you want to (or as much as your movie companion will allow).
Visit a Museum
I have a listing of low-cost or free museums on another page, but not all of them would make good date options. It largely depends on your interests and those of your date, but if you enjoy museums, art, or history, they can spark some interesting conversations with your date.
I would particularly recommend the Phoenix Art Museum or Heard Museum on one of their free days. The ASU Art Museum, which is always free, is a smaller museum, but it has some interesting exhibits and is close to downtown Tempe, which is convenient for window shopping and food. The Tempe History Museum is also free. It's a fairly small museum, but it sometimes offers special free events, such as concerts or films, which can make good date possibilities. The Arizona Museum of Natural History is a good place for a casual date where you can goof off and be a kid again, panning for gold, wandering through the dimly-lit mine exhibit, and seeing the dinosaurs and old territorial jail.
Window Shopping/Exploring Downtown
Just because you go shopping doesn't necessarily mean you have to buy something, and not buying things can really keep the cost down!* Sometimes, people just go shopping so they have something to do while hanging out. You can window shop at a mall or in a downtown area where you're likely to find some unusual or eclectic shops. Downtown Tempe is ASU territory, so a lot of shops there cater to students. Downtown Mesa has more antique shops and some interesting statues, some of which you could mistake for living people, sitting on benches. Feel free to explore, walk and talk, and stop at anything that looks interesting. At the very least, you might find a nice place to stop for lunch or coffee.
* It's good to support your local merchants, but the more time you take to decide on a purchase, the more entertainment you get out of shopping, and the less overall that you're likely to buy, saving you money. Decide ahead of time what you can afford to spend, and do not go over your limit. When you're on a date with someone, the entertainment should be more of a priority than the shopping. If you're undecided about buying something while on a date, you can always return later, by yourself, to have a second look.
Musical or Theater Performances
There are various places around the valley where you can find free or inexpensive theater performances. There are ragtime and vintage music performances on Monday evenings at Extreme Bean, so you can have a cup of coffee and listen to the music. Occasionally, there are free musical performances at the Tempe Historical Museum, next to the Tempe Public Library. The Off the Cuff Comedy Improv troupe gives performances around the valley, and most of them are free. They're a hoot to watch, with lots of audience participation!
There are various places to go for dancing around the valley, but one of my favorites is the NRG Ballroom, formerly known as the Paragon. Every Friday night, they offer dance classes followed by a dance for $10 per person (only $8 dollars if you skip the class and come for the dancing, $5 per person for students age 24 and under, with ID). You can bring a date if you want, although they don't require it because partners circulate throughout the lesson. The type of dancing changes every week.
Go to the Park
You can pack a picnic lunch, fly a kite, swing on the swings, or just go for a walk. Sometimes, it's nice to just get out in the fresh air! Parks are good places to relax and talk.
It's hot in Arizona, so things you can do after dark are good! Find a place that's as out of the way of city lights as you can get (good luck!), bring along a telescope or binoculars if you've got them, and maybe bring a picnic blanket so you can lie down and look up at the sky. (I know that's not all that you can do out in there in the dark, but you've got to start somewhere.) Stars are free!