Date Night on the Cheap

Date NightI always get a huge reality check/heart attack combo when I visit the States and hear how much babysitting costs. It’s a lot. I’ve considered babysitting as a back-up career if this ministry gig doesn’t work out. My recent post on 4 types of date nights got me thinking about how to make dates cheaper and more accessible. Spending quality time with our spouse is healthy but also just plain fun. If expense is an obstacle then figure out a way around that.

Here are 10 date night ideas to get your creativity flowing.

1. Babysitting Exchange: Why not conspire with another family to regularly take care of each other’s kids? This works especially well if the kids are friends… then they love the evening too! Every other week, take turns being the ones to watch all the kids at your place. This works for weekend trips too. My husband and I have felt very sorry for ourselves for years because we live so far from family… thus making overnight trips seem nearly impossible. Just last week I went to a friend and said, “Enough! Every year we need to do a kid exchange and each get away for two nights.”. She said “yes” before I had even finished my sentence!

2. Call in a Favor: Why not just ask favors of people? Ask a relative or friend to watch the kids as a gift. Simply say, “We want to go out more but are struggling to come up with the cash, would you be willing to watch the kids once or twice a month?” I think you would be surprised at how many people would want to help.

3. Skip the Meal: One of the biggest expenses on a date is the restaurant tab. Skip this. Eat something before you go out and make the date about doing something else. If you want food, keep it simple by sharing a dessert or having coffee at a nice cafe.

4. Get Some Culture: Often art shows, museums, author readings, unique festivals and other cultural events are cheap or free. Keep your eyes open for what is happening in your community and try something different.

5. Outdoors: This works especially well in the long and warm summer days. Being outdoors is free and so relaxing. Go for a hike, borrow a kayak and get on the water, ride your bikes somewhere. One of my favourite things to do with Chris is picnics. Pack up something simple, get outdoors and enjoy being together.

6. Dreaming Date: My husband and I love, love, love to dream. We talk about trips we want to take, goals we’d like to achieve, family vacations we could plan, new cities we want to visit… it’s so fun! This is a refreshing way to connect that is free. A great environment for this is your local bookstore, looking at magazines, talking about the future and possibilities.

7. Combine Business with Pleasure:U.S. Travel Association survey found that couples who travel together have a better relationship and better sex than those who don’t. Two-thirds of those surveyed said a weekend away will spark more romance in their relationship than any gift. To bring down the expenses of a getaway trip, attach it to a business trip. If one spouse is traveling for business, why not have the other join and you both stay for 2 extra nights. This brings down costs for travel and can make it do-able.

8. Drop-Off: Drop off kids at Sunday School while you skip off for breakfast… avoiding church altogether. The Sunday School teachers will be none-the-wiser! Ok, I’m joking. Mostly. Haven’t all parents considered this option at least once?!

9. Stay at Home: A stay at home date can be just as nice as going out with a little planning. Plan an evening together with intention. If you have kids, the night only starts once the kids are fed and in bed. Have a later dinner with candles, spend time connecting. Being home gives all sorts of nice options such as taking a bath together, dancing on your own personal dance floor, watching the stars in your back yard with something warm to drink.

10. Utilise your Church: So many local churches are finding ways to support married couples… take advantage of it! Many churches offer date night babysitting where you drop of your kids. Some have yearly marriage seminars which are free and really fun… I know of many that provide the food and all!

What other ideas do you have where money is not a hinderance to date night?

4 Types of Date Nights

These days, date night is considered an essential component of a healthy marriage. I personally love any excuse to spend time with my husband. We’ve practiced it in various forms over the years but not always consistently. Marriage author, Ted Cunningham, suggests practicing a “daily delay, a weekly withdrawal, and an annual abandon”. These are three connecting points that build friendship and intimacy into a marriage.

The “daily delay” is simply finding a point in each day to connect, catch up and share how the day is going. The “weekly withdrawal” is what most of us call, date night. The “annual abandon” is scheduling a yearly trip of two or more nights… just the two of you.

types_date_nightsI love this grid and want to look at it with my husband to see how we are doing on each of these connecting points. When thinking about date night, there are many obstacles to having a weekly, deeper, connecting point. Many people have obstacles such as young children (all the more reason it is needed!), lack of finances, or simply not feeling that the date makes a meaningful impact on their marriage.

If you are stuck in a dinner and a movie rut then here are 4 types of date nights that can make dates more meaningful and fun.

Stay At Home:

Having a date doesn’t have to be expensive nor involve going out! Sometimes, for us, the thought of getting all dressed up, going to a noisy restaurant, navigating traffic just doesn’t seem romantic or relaxing. Stay at home dates can be relaxing, cheap and meaningful.

We often would feed our kids early, put on an audio book and put them in bed early. Then, we would cook a nice meal for just the two of us and eat in the quiet (!) house. Set the table nicely, light a candle, play some music in the background, open a nice bottle of something. The bonus of this is the bedroom is right down the hall for a great way to end the evening!

Taking Turns:

Why not take turns planning the date? Each week a different spouse gets a turn to plan something fun or nice. This way, you get the creativity of each person. I highly suggest to put a ban on movies for dates. I personally think movies are great for mindless relaxation but terrible for an evening of connection.

Often, date night gets relegated to last minute planning and doesn’t feel special or well planned. This way, each person know they are on for the week and take a few extra moments to put some thought in it. The other person gets to just relax and show up!

I know couples that do this and it is motivating to add a special twist for the week you plan! This works well, especially, for couples who are a bit competitive and love to out-do each other.

Digging Deeper:

This is one of my favourites. Periodically you can use this time to invest in your marriage. The idea is to get some sort of input which you use as a launching point for deeper discussion, growth and intimacy. Perhaps you sign up for a marriage course at your local church. You could read a marriage book, together. Use what you have read as a point of conversation each week. Most marriage books have guided questions at the end of each chapter.

One year we took an 8-week period where we did weekly stay at home dates. The kids were in bed early, we had a nice dinner together at home and then we watched a video series together. A friend had given us the “Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage” series. We watched one episode a week and then discussed it for a few minutes afterwards. It was funny and a great little marriage tune-up.

Adventure Dating:

Boredom is weight on a marriage. If you think back to your “falling in love” years, part of the allure is the newness and adventure of your relationship at that time. You are always doing or discovering something new together. That’s one reason I enjoy watching new love… they are constantly out exploring new parts of our city, finding new things to do, new live music venues to enjoy, new bookstores no one knows about. Young love is full of newness and adventure! Be purposeful to add some of this to your marriage.

I know some couples that go to dance classes together. I’ve heard of others that have taken a cooking course on their weekly dates. One couple tries to eat a different type of ethnic food all the time. It’s small but a fun little exploration that they do together through the years. We have a hobby of always finding new speciality coffee shops. We are always on the hunt for a good coffee roaster we have never been to before. Perhaps you go for a walk or hike in a new place. Or is there a part of your city you have never explored? What could you learn, do or discover together this week?

Read More: Cheap Date Night Ideas

Dates don’t have to be expensive or cost at all. The traditional date often brings three expensive items: babysitting, restaurant food, movie tickets. Dump the traditional date. Here are 10 ideas on making a date as cheap as possible.

Purse Peanut Butter

When I was growing up there was a TV game show called, “Let’s Make a Deal”. At the end of the show the host would offer cash prizes for the woman who would have the most absurd thing in her purse. He would call out “$50 for the first woman who can find a 3 sippy cups and a bottle of ketchup in her purse!” It was amazing because someone ALWAYS had the items, no matter how outlandish it seemed.

Of course this is just the nature of women’s purses. Women, if it doesn’t take 3 coal miners and an oxygen tank to retrieve your car keys then you are not using your purse to it’s full potential.

I used to ask my Mom, “Why is your purse so heavy?! Empty it out Mom!” Unfortunately, I have to confess, the apple has not fallen far from the tree.

By: Wicker Paradise

I realised this a few weeks ago when I had gone days weeks with an entire packet of salted peanuts in my purse. Unfortunately, the peanuts were not in the packet. It had burst open and the peanuts were rattling around all over the bottom of my purse, slowly morfing into purse peanut butter.

I have to admit… it raised questions for me. Am I so dirty and unorganised that a purse full of salted peanuts does not even give me pause? Am I slipping into some state of hoarders anonymous?

It’s amazing, though, how easily we accommodate small issues and learn to live with it. So many things in life we learn to accommodate. They are not major. They are not issues of life and death. Just little things that we “live with” because… well, we’ll deal with it later.

Right around the time I dealt with my purse peanut-butter I realised there were several relationship issues rattling around in my head and heart.

It had been bothering me for days  how I spoke about someone to a group of people. I used words which were less than honouring and loving. Now, because of me, people possibly thought less of a fellow friend.

I realised that I had not been as encouraging as I could have been to a co-worker. It just bothered me when I thought about it.

I realised that I had dominated the conversation, in a meeting at work, by speaking too quickly and forcefully. I did not keep my mouth shut and  listen intently enough.

So, after I cleaned out my purse I quickly sat down and wrote three e-mails. I apologised to the people that heard my criticism of a fellow friend. I asked them to forgive me for my words. I wrote an encouragement to the person who hadn’t heard it from me nearly enough. I asked someone to give me honest feedback when I was speaking too much and listening to little.

It took me 10 minutes to do all three. That’s it. How long would I have let those things go on for? I want to grow in quickness to humble myself and deal with those things that I am accommodating.

I want to be better at quickly cleaning out my relational purse before it turns in to peanut butter.

What about you?

Anxiety Falling

It seems that the older I get the more I have to worry about. With age comes this creeping anxiety. I read recently that women in their 60’s are the most likely to be hospitalised because of anxiety. Oh dear!

Anxiety is the expression of fear and worry. Anxiety, fear and worry are the triplets no one wants to bring home for dinner. The more I share about this, the more I hear people say, “Me too.”

I’ve gotten various amounts of advice in this area. Everything from “breath deeply” (which I personally find to be a placebo that sounds nice only on bumper stickers) to prayer, from exercise to gratitude.

All these things can be helpful I suppose. I definitely feel more at peace and able to cope after I’ve gone for a run. Something nags at me though. I can’t help but think they are all a pair of crutches for a limping soldier. Not really a solution, just something to help you hop-along.

Tim Keller once said something that pierced me:
“Anxiety is the result of a collapsing false god.”

I thought back to the scriptures and the Israelites often struggled with fear themselves. God’s response? Stop trusting in idols and turn to me. Fear and idolatry are almost always mentioned together.

The Israelites trusted in things like:
– Their own strength
– Created things (literal idols of wood and stone)
– Other people
– Their own wisdom on how to handle things
– Their reputation
The list goes on…

God’s response? “Trusting in things that can’t truly save is a very fearful place to be indeed.”

The solution? Him.anxiety

What?! Yep, no fancy solutions. No deep breathing. No prayer (as an idol in and of itself).

Just Jesus. Immanuel, God with us.

The temptation is to call this naive thinking. Advice meant for a bumper sticker.

Listen to these words of God.

In Isaiah God says, “Fear not, for I am with you” and “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you

In the Psalms, David famously says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”

The antidote to fear is the presence of Jesus.

No stats on how rarely planes crash will bring down fear. Reputation, no matter how highly people think of me, will not decrease anxiety. Constant reassurance of my child’s safety will not erase my worry.

None of those things will help if my comfort is found in an idol.

Only the reality of the presence of Jesus brings peace. He is the one of most value, the thing of most worth, the object worth my highest affection.

Anything else that I trust for protection, safety and reassurance will only bring more fear, worry and anxiety.

This has been my prayer lately, “I will not fear, for you are with me… may you truly be my greatest treasure.”

What do you desire and trust most apart from “God With Us”? In what false ways do you try to “manage and control” the resulting anxiety, fear and worry?

Letting Go of the Little Things (whatever they are)

I’ve got two boys and have come to that foretold moment in my parenting. That moment where I go in to their room, when they are not around, to collect every foul smelling t-shirt and pair of shorts that can be found. They know to put their dirty clothes in a basket and they diligently do so. We just seem to disagree on what constitutes “dirty”.

I tried to teach them how to know when something is dirty. Such as, “when there is visible dirt or an odor coming from the clothes”… this means “dirty”. Rookie mistake. They have their own definition and it involves lengths of time.

So, I now regularly hear things like, “But Mom, I’ve only worn it for two weeks!”. There is no other response but to weep with despair when your sons tell you this.

By: go_greener_oz

I work at a University and our students live on campus, in community. The staff, with our airs of superiority, bemoan those 20 year old young men that come to us without the basic understanding of cleanliness and hygiene. Dear future leaders of my sons, I’m sorry, I tried. I really did.

I’m pondering what my standard should be for said laundry problem. Is this a battle to fight?

When my sons were younger, I went through a similar battle with shoes. I’m an American but live in South Africa. I grew up in that blessed country of America where hand sanitizer reigns supreme and bleach wipes are at the beck and call of every minor mess. Americans tell me how dirty their kids are and I scoff.

Oh you Americans with your washing machine AND clothes dryer. With your anti-bacterial soap, antibacterial clothing and anti-bacterial hand-shakes. You know nothing of dirt and germs. Your children may have allergies, asthma and blow up like a balloon at the mere contact of a germ but at least you are clean. That seems to be a good trade off for our mutual homeland.

In South Africa, shoes are optional for children (that’s putting it mildly). I judged and criticised quietly in my heart but then I had kids of my own. I tried to put shoes on them, I really did. Alas, my children ran barefoot through shopping malls, to church and everything in between.

On the first week of Kindergarten the teacher told me, “You should really just leave the shoes, they will get lost anyways. It’s so much easier if they just come without”. That was her way of telling this American, “Get with the program, lady”. And so I gave up.

Now American visitors come and I can hear them mumbling under their breath, “No shoes, oh my!”. This is when they see MY children.

One visitor felt a vision to collect shoes for children in South Africa. She was so distraught… so many children had not one pair of shoes to wear! I had visions of those precious shoes, shipped all the way from America, joining a pile of unused shoes in South African homes.

So, shoes have gone by the way-side in my household. I now bookmark every article I can about how Amish kids have less allergies because they walk barefoot through barns and cow pastures. It somehow brings comfort to my shoeless existence.

What are those hills to die on in life? I sometimes I find myself giving 90% of my energy to issues that really aren’t worth it. I’m beginning to think that an inventory of high-priority issues in my parenting and relationships needs to happen regularly. Not a deep soul-searching exercise. More like a spring cleaning with evangelistic zeal. Those times where you tackle your home and throw out the excess like someone on an episode of “Hoarders”.

In this spring-cleaning, I throw out all unnecessary issues that I was obsessing about. The things that really just need less focus, anxiety and intensity. Instead they get laughter and throwing caution to the wind.

Two days ago my boys got in a fight. Now, the context is that my husband is gone for over two weeks… so I’m dealing with EVERY SINGLE THING. (Bless you single parents, there is a Bette Middler song out there just for you).

My youngest son was weeping because his brother hurt him. I went to the guilty brother and asked him what happened. The response?

“Well, he was annoying me. I asked him to stop and he didn’t, sooooo…”.

“So what?”, I said.

“So… I hugged his head.”

Parenting spring cleaning happened right then and there. I laughed until tears were falling down my face then stood up and walked out. Not a hill to die on. Not today, not for me. Tomorrow will be another day.

In the mean time I’m doing my “sneak attack” laundry and packing away the shoes for poor children in America.

What relational spring-cleaning do you need to do? What are you worrying about that just isn’t worth it?

Question, listen, repeat.

It is interesting to think about and ask others, “what makes a good friend?” All sorts of qualities come out which encourage me to be a better friend to those around me. One thing that often comes up is this, “Good friends ask  great questions and really listen”.

By: Bilal Kamoon

Wouldn’t you agree? We have these people in our lives that ask questions which go beyond the surface. Questions that help us think about God, others and ourselves in deeper ways.  No matter how healthy we are… sometimes we just need someone to ask us some good questions to draw out our thoughts.

I’ve been thinking about some questions that I could ask people in my various relationships: marriage, children and friends. Questions that go beyond the standard, “How are you doing?”  I thought I would share them with you. Take time to sit down with your spouse, child or friend.

Obviously, going through list might feel like an interrogation more than a good conversation. Grab a cup of coffee and find natural ways to dig in and really enquire into the heart of those around you. Choose to go deeper by being “that friend” that asks good questions!

5 Questions to ask on a night out with your spouse or friend:
1. What part of life are you enjoying the most right now? What makes it so enjoyable?
2. What part of life are you enjoying the least? Why?
3. Who would you consider your closest friends right now?
4. Right now, what do you need more of: personal or social time?
5.  If you could change one thing about your life, what would it be? What’s preventing that?

5 Questions to ask on your marriage anniversary:
1. What have we done well this year?
2. What have we not done well this year?
3. What are 1-3 things I could do this year to show you love?
4. Is there any area we need outside help with? (in the form of advice, wisdom, prayer, counsel, etc)
5. What could we do to improve our friendship in the year ahead?

6 Questions to ask your spouse/friend on their birthday:
1. In what areas have you felt the most successful this year?
2 In what areas have you felt the most disappointed or discouraged?
3. What have been your highlight events or moments this past year?
4. What are your biggest struggles right now?
5. What are your hopes for the year ahead?
6. What could I do for you to make this next year a great one?

6 Questions to ask your child to learn more about them (ages 3-10):
1. What is your most precious possession right now?
2. When friends are nice, what do they do for you?
3. What makes you the most sad or frustrated?
4. If you could plan a perfect day, what would it look like?
5. What is one thing you wish Mommy and Daddy did differently?
6. What is one thing Mommy and Daddy do well?