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Queen of free: Watch love grow as debt dwindles

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Keeping romance alive when you are on a budget can be a challenge. When we were in process of paying off $127,000 in debt, we spent four years of keeping it simple but still strove to have a healthy and strong marriage.

In the process, we learned plenty of tips for keeping date night affordable and fun. Here are some of my favorite tips and date-night suggestions that will keep your budget in the black and your red hearts beating as one.

Do a sitter swap. Agree to watch another set of bedraggled parents’ kiddos so that you don’t have to drop $30 on a teenager before even stepping out of the door. You will get to bless someone else and a night out on the town, too.

Change night. Gather up all of your pennies and dimes. Search the couch, the car, that little dish on top of your dresser. Then, use that money as your budget for the evening. Visit the batting cages, buy an ice cream cone to share, go to the dollar theater, be as creative as you like. The only rule is that you must spend change found around your home.

Let’s do lunch. The prices are cheaper during the noon hour. Rather than getting gussied up for an evening on the town, check out a local restaurant for the midday special.

Post-bedtime romantic dinner. If you can’t afford a sitter, set aside part of the grocery budget to prepare a late romantic meal together — after the kids have been put to bed. It’s fun to cook in the kitchen as a couple and you can actually afford an oo-la-la item like lobster or a good steak since your grocery bill will be much less than a swanky restaurant’s menu price. Bonus: You’ll dodge the typical date night crowd for a quieter, more intimate experience.

Enjoy the great outdoors. Go for a walk! Visit the nearest trail or park for some fresh air together. You don’t have to break a sweat, but exercising together is beneficial for your health and your relationship.

Buy a board game. For the amount that you’d spend on dinner or a movie, you can buy a board game to play together not just that night but many other nights, too.

Use your rewards. We collect reward points for just about everything –- even products we don’t purchase. Put the word out to your friends and family that you are collecting points and they might even give you their codes, too. We often cash in reward points for movie tickets, gift cards and more and then set them aside specifically for date night.

Progressive dinner. Set a budget, take only cash, and then head out for a creative progressive dinner. Choose somewhere to go for an appetizer to split, then another destination for a main course, and polish it off with dessert at a third location. You’ll save money by splitting each component of the meal. Typically, I’d suggest going somewhere simple where a tip isn’t required. Otherwise, you may end up splitting a candy bar from a gas station for dessert because you’re low on cash by the end of the evening. But hey, that might be OK, too.

Take out, stay in. If someone is watching your children at an off-site location (like the sitter swap or grandparents’ house), opt to stay home. Get take-out (or fix your own food) and simply enjoy the comforts of home minus the little people.

When we’re out of debt, we will ... The King of Free and I used to brew a cup of coffee at home and sit and chat about what we would do, to whom we would give money, what we would buy once we were out of debt. It doesn’t exactly sound like an evening of violins and rose petals, but it was super fun to dream together. Plus, it helped us get on the same page financially years before we actually had the cash to support the dream. We even wrote some of the financial dreams down and it was so much fun checking some of them off the list after we paid off our debt.

Any night is date night. If you are intentional about children’s bedtimes and your own work schedule, any night can be date night. Don’t just cash out on the couch after a long day. Don’t hide from each other behind respective screens. Be intentional with the time that you and your spouse have together. Plan fun things to do or simply ask each other about your dreams and plans for the weeks and months ahead. Play a hand of cards or a board game. Read books together. Throw in a workout DVD and work out together. Just don’t let valuable moments fly by during too many commercials or internet browsing.

Living simply and paying off debt doesn’t equal skimping when it comes to your marriage. In fact, it’s more important than ever to take good care of your relationships.

Get creative, set your budget and watch your love grow.

Greenwood resident Cherie Lowe and her husband paid off $127,000 in debt in four years and now live debt-free every day with their two kids. Send questions, column ideas and comments to newstips@dailyjournal.net.

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