Many human experiences are universal: our first steps, our first friends, and our first falls. When dating also appears to be a universal experience amongst your peers, especially in university, feeling left behind in the dating world is understandable. Everyone around us always seems to meet new people, casually see others, or be in full-blown relationships. 

Under this pressure, let's paint the picture-perfect scenario: you run into each other, sparks are flying. In class, you catch yourself staring. Across campus, you see the double looks. So, you approach them and start a conversation. Everything is working out for both of you, and that spark is beginning to grow under your careful care. Now, it’s time for the date.

Bubbling with anticipation and ready to fuel the hungry fire between each other, you both look at your phones, judging how much is in the budget … and see … barely any to spare.

Suddenly, your excitement for the possibility ahead is crushed. The fire between you is at risk of being smothered by the crashing weight of financial stress. There is no need to panic, though. With a sprinkle of sawdust (creativity) and lots of kindling (budget-friendly date ideas), dating for the broke university student doesn't need to be so intimidating. Here are four low-cost dating ideas to send you on your way.

  1. Thrift Trip Roulette

Most people love thrifting, so why not make it a fun date? Pick a thrift store, take your date and make a game out of it. Each of you has to make an outfit for the other — give a rough budget, and perhaps a theme, and start searching. Be creative: maybe a cowboy? A rock star? A character straight out of a Tim Burton movie? It is all up to you. Afterwards, you will both laugh while trying the ensembles together, and a bonus is that you can trade pieces with your partner to fit each other's styles.

  1. Gallery Meet Up

Love art? Go to a local art show, gallery, or museum with your partner for a day on the town. Browse through beautiful pieces from our local artists, or learn the history of the Okanagan’s beginnings. Start the date by finding a meetup spot, setting a timer, and splitting off in the gallery for 15-30 minutes to look at the pieces yourself. It might sound counterintuitive, but trust me — take your time, admire the art, and pick your favourite piece.

Along the way, this will build tension and anticipation as you make eye contact across the room, and brush past each other without a word. When the time has run out, return to the meetup spot, and bring each other to your favourites. Discuss why you picked it. Now is the time to get deep and meaningful. You might learn something you never knew about your partner.

  1. A  Strolling Photo Shoot

First, grab a phone or a camera —  anything capable of photography. Then, take the day to visit one of Kelowna's beautiful parks or trails with your partner. This could be along the Okanagan Lake, on the trestles of Myra-Bellevue, or in the autumn colours of Mission Creek Greenway. As you are walking, start using your surroundings for a photoshoot. Keep your eyes open for aesthetic backgrounds, and break up a long walk by stopping to capture the scenery. Taking pictures together makes it easier to be vulnerable and have fun simultaneously, so initiate fun poses and don’t forget to be encouraging. 

  1. A Technology-free Night

Staying in with your partner can be more fun than going out. Make it a tech-free night to make it more interesting than rewatching shows on Netflix. As a child, you had to be creative with your activities without access to technology; this usually meant ghost stories, or game nights at home. Recreate this — turn off the lights, light some candles, and make it your own. The entertainment could mean playing around with some paint on canvases, brushing the dust off a board game, or reading that book you have both been eyeing aloud to each other. Whatever you choose, focusing on entertaining each other, without relying on a digital platform, will make it a date for the books. 

Often, the slow burn you create with your partner isn't through materialism — it's about the time and thought you continue to put into your relationship.

These four suggestions are only a fraction of the many activities out there for students. Hundreds of budget-friendly options can be thoughtful experiences for you and your partner to become closer. These activities can be unique, but should not be the main focus. Instead, they should serve to elevate the happiness and intimacy you receive from being with your person.