Cheap College Fun and Date Ideas

“Everything fun costs so much money!”

I have heard this complaint throughout my life, especially when I was in college. But I head this complaint for what it was: a myth. Growing-up in the middle of nowhere taught me to play a little differently.

Really. NOWHERE! Remember the scene from Forrest Gump where he is running in the middle of the desert and suddenly stops and says, “I think I’ll go home now?”

Well, that was my back yard. And my front yard was equally beautiful but desolate.

It still takes 5 hours to get to the closest mall from my home-town and 1.5 hours to the closest Walmart. That reality mixed with the small recreation budgets we had and the fact that drugs, drinking, and sex were off the table, motivated us to get REALLY creative.

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Tight budgets force you to think about the core motivators of everything you do.

When choosing recreational activities for alone time, socializing, and dating, ask yourself, “What is the purpose, and why will it bless my life?” If you turn into a three-year-old and ask yourself enough whys, you will probably conclude you are looking for recreation that:

  1. stimulates and challenges your mind and body
  2. improves your understanding of yourself and your world
  3. reduces stress and rejuvenates your soul
  4. enables you to enjoy someone’s company and get to know them better.

Your tight budget is not as much of a limiting factor as you think. Christ turned a few loaves and fishes into enough to nourish a crowd. Likewise, when you tap into your own creativity, talents, and positive attitude, your limited funds will always be enough for positive bonding and silly fun. And if others show up the same way, the collaborative effort will bring even better rewards.

Tight budgets also serve as a natural filter for deciding in whom you want to continue investing your time and energy. Just like a singer’s true vocal talent is revealed when the drums, lights, and dancers are traded for an acoustic guitar, likewise a tight budget reveals the true values, creativity, humor, and character in you and your date. Good friends and good life-partner candidates make anything more fun, and they will respect and support your boundaries whether they be physical, fiscal, moral, or otherwise.

I have compiled a list of my favorite date/group fun ideas that you can do on any budget and most anywhere.

Many of these ideas are a little (or a lot) out of the traditional dinner-and-a-movie routine. However, don’t knock ’em ’til you try ’em! Creativity, originality, humility, generosity, humor, and people skills are essential for an abundant life. I have done and enjoyed every single one of these things, most of them many times.

  • Go to your local grocery store and let everyone pick out their favorite can of soup. Go home and heat them all in the same pot. Bon Appetite!
  • Go to the local grocery store and designate a budget amount ($3-$30 depending on group size and actual budget) and a time limit (10-15 min). Each person or pair needs to plan and grab ingredients for a meal/dessert within the designated limits. Meet back at meeting spot and vote on whose idea is best without going over budget. Go home and cook together.
  • Go to your local all-purpose store, the biggest one you’ve got (Walmart, Kroger, rancher supply store, etc.). Each pair/team gets a grocery cart and has 15-20 min to gather up 10 of the most random items they can find. Return to the meeting spot to shuffle carts. Each team races to see who can return all items in their new cart to their proper place in the store.
  • Campfires are ALWAYS a good idea.
  • Go to your local thrift store and create a fashion show of the most random, ridiculous clothing items. See who can make the crazy things look cool.
  • Grab some blankets (or a couch if you have a truck in the group) and watch a movie in a random outside location – field, parking lot, roof top, front yard, etc.
  • Do a traveling food night. Make an appetizer at one house/apartment, main dish at the second one, and dessert at a third. The food does not need to be elaborate. Jalapeño poppers for appetizer. Grilled chicken, rice, and canned beans or bagged salad for dinner. Pudding or chocolate chip cookies for dessert.
  • Play a board/card game – buy one from a local thrift store and play it.
  • Do a scavenger hunt.
    • Grab a souvenir (napkin, take out menu, business card, etc) from a list of local places. First one to complete the list wins.
    • Service – write a list A-Z of services you could do in your area/season. See which team can complete the most things on the list in the time designated. Use this as an opportunity to get to know neighbors and local business owners. People are usually really supportive if you tell them what you are up to. College students will probably be grateful to have you clean their toilets but young families may prefer you to weed a garden bed. Whatever the service, do it well.
    • Stone Soup Hunt – plan a simple meal together and do a scavenger hunt for all the ingredients. Make the meal/treat and invite or take some to those who helped you out.
    • Natural items – make a list of local nature items.
    • Photos – make a list of places, people, or random things. Take a picture of each to prove you did it, e.g. a tree = take a picture of you and your date in the tree, a park bench = take a goofy picture of you and your date with a park bench, etc. Whichever team completes the list first or finishes the most items in the time limit wins.
  • Play hide-n-go seek with cars (NOT TAG! Nobody die or get a ticket) -designate city/neighborhood boundaries. Choose the seeker, and then go hide. Last one found wins. Seeker flashes brights . . .I guess modern technology would allow seeker to text photo of spotted car to spotted driver. I still don’t have cell reception when I go home, so . . . Play 20 questions with your date/those in your car as you are hiding.
  • Play night games.
  • Approach strangers and have a conversation with them except you can only reply with lines from a movie or lyrics from a song. Someone can slyly video everyone’s turn. Then go back to someone’s place to eat popcorn and die of laughter as you watch the videos.
  • Learn to rope stuff like a cowboy– seriously, don’t knock it ‘til you try it.
  • Draw pictures with sidewalk chalk or leave favorite quotes/scripture verses on random sidewalks.
  • Heart attack someone
  • Gather random items from around your place and create a skit/video.
  • Go to a junk yard, thrift store, etc., with a designated budget. Find items you can upcycle to something beautiful or useful, and then do the project together. Sell it, gift it, or keep it.
  • Practice rock skipping at a lake or pond.
  • Play a sport together. Don’t forget flag football, Frisbee football, ping pong, etc.
  • Find a new recipe and cook it together.
  • Be the out-of-season Easter bunny – Buy a bulk bag of candy and hide contents around someone’s place/yard. Ring the bell and run.
  • Go for a walk and talk about how you would spend a million dollars.
  • Go ice blocking – buy blocks of ice, remove them from the bag, and sit on them to slide down a hill. You’ll want a dish towel or something to protect clothing and skin from melting ice.
  • Hike or explore the local natural wonders – You can find something beautiful and unique EVERYWHERE. Google can help you find out what to look for. Or you can just get in your vehicle, drive away from the lights, and explore.
  • Do a puzzle and talk.
  • Lay on a blanket and find images in the clouds.
  • Go star gazing. Use a book from the library or app to help you know what to look for.
  • Check out your favorite childhood book from the library and read it out loud together.


  • Build a snow fort or igloo. Have lunch/dinner inside.
  • Have a snowman building race/competition.
  • Buy a small tree and make homemade ornaments to decorate it. Talk about family Christmas traditions.
  • Use large tote lids as sleds and go hill sliding.
  • Rake leaves from the neighborhood to make a GIANT pile to jump in. Then gather them up and dispose according to city resources.
  • Go Christmas caroling.
  • Carve pumpkins together.
  • Do a simplified/Americanized Día de los Muertos celebration with homemade tacos and share family history stories with your group.
  • Pick one random appliance and make a meal using only that appliance. See Tasty’s youtube clips for ideas.


  • Rather than going to an ice cream parlor, go to the grocery store and buy ice cream there. It is a FRACTION of the price, even if you buy a few different flavors.
  • Cooking at home will always be cheaper than eating out. Even getting freezer options from the grocery store is a good step down in price, and meal prep is always bonding.
  • A tank of gas, a jug of water, a flash light, and a box of cereal is all you need for an adventure.

Did this list give you any good ideas? Which ones are you going to try? Which ones had you never thought about?

Leave a comment below or send me a personal message to share your ideas for cheap, clean fun.

Few high school and college students know how to manage money well; the biggest reason students drop out of school is for financial reasons. Financial coaching is a GREAT addition to your education and will have more impact on your life than any single college class, maybe even your whole degree! AND, it’s cheaper than ONE college class!! Ask about group coaching options.

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Published by Ruth Liebel

I am a mother of 4, wife of a surgeon and soldier, girl of the Southwest but I love The South. I am a formally educated financial counselor and a Ramsey Preferred Coach. I love my work and want to empower others to live abundantly through budget, boundaries, and beliefs. What can I help you accomplish today?