Ballin’ on a budget: Seven dates to impress your boo without spending big

The scenic Great River Road winds from Hartford to Grafton, Illinois, following the Mississippi River and providing travelers with beautiful views.

1. Astronomical Viewings 

Cost: free 

As The Alestle previously covered, SIUE star parties offer a great way for students to get their heads out of technology — but they also provide the most romantic date night. Stargazing is a classic couple activity, but the astronomical viewings offered through Continuing Education actually provide context as to what constellations and planets you’re pondering — and it’s free! The viewings are held at the William C. Shaw Skylab, and also offer the use of telescopes. For information on dates and times of these unique experiences, visit the Personal Development category under Continuing Education on SIUE's website.


2. $2 Tuesdays at The Wildey

Cost (couple): $4

Are you really going to school in Edwardsville if you have not visited the historical Wildey Theatre downtown? With its signature art deco look, one feels as if they are stepping back in time as soon as they enter the theater’s doors. The velvet seats are reminiscent of a fancy night at The Fabulous Fox Theatre; however, the theater offers plenty of date-worthy events for the broke college student, including their $2 Tuesday movie specials. Lucky for you, these run all year, but are particularly convenient for the cold winter that’s approaching — or rather has already arrived. The movies shown vary each week and can be found online at the Wildey’s calendar of events. Wanting to spend more time with your date? Head downtown early and do some window shopping on Main Street. 


3. Sculpture Walk

Cost (couple): free 

Seeing fine art is not limited to the city. In fact, there are many locations in Edwardsville where couples can ponder the creations of local artists, including our very own campus! As showcased in the Oct. 10 issue of The Alestle, many sculptures are new this year. We created not only a map pinpointing where each piece is located, but also a bit of background on each piece. 


Taking a sculpture walk makes for a creative date without spending gas money to travel to St. Louis, and of course, one does not have to pay any admission fees. Dogs can tag along, too, and the moderate amount of exercise that stems from walking around our large campus provides a great workout. For the busy couples out there, this date does not need extensive planning. Have a couple hours between classes? Call up your significant other and begin exploring. For long-distance couples, this is a great way to show your partner around the place where you spend so much time. 

4. Great River Road, near Alton, Illinois

Cost (couple): free, not including gas 

Here’s another expedition that does not require much planning: travel up and down the Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway and admire the beautiful fall foliage. provides several different routes one can travel, some longer than others. It all depends on how much time you have. The date is also highly customizable: if you would like to splurge, you can stop at one of the several restaurants along the way — there’s also a pretty great winery there, we’ve heard — but in keeping with the whole cheap dates idea, you can also bring your own food and drinks and find a cute spot to pull over. Spread a blanket on the ground and make it a full-blown picnic. Bring your dogs, too, and walk around the town of Alton! This is one date that can be enjoyed over and over again, because every time can be made different. 


5. St. Louis Zoo

Cost (couple): free, Wild Lights: $16 - $22

The Saint Louis Zoo was named the Best Zoo in USA Today’s the 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards Contest in both 2018 and 2017, and those who have been there will testify this is not a surprise. The fact the zoo is free makes the deal even sweeter! According to the zoo’s website, its fall and winter hours are typically 9 a.m. - 5 p.m., except on noted event days and holidays. 


For those looking to do something festive for the holidays, the zoo will be bringing back its U.S. Bank Wild Lights, which has been nominated for Best Zoo Lights Display in the country by USA Today’s 10Best. Unlike regular admission, the event comes at a price: on weekdays, members pay $8 each and non-members pay $9 each. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays bring a more hefty price tag at $10 per member and $11 per non-member. This comes in at the most expensive on our cheap dates list, but for those who really love the zoo and are itching to get into the holiday spirit, this may be well worth the extra cash. Bonus: the website boasts a special “Lovebirds Lookout” where couples can pose for cute photos. 

6. CP Pinball in South Roxana, Illinois

Cost (couple): $10 an hour 

Want a date that’s a little out of the box, that not everybody else is doing? CP Pinball in South Roxana, Illinois, is a hidden gem. Patrons can play from noon to midnight on Saturdays, and the location is completely bring-your-own food and drink, including alcoholic beverages. According to CP’s website, it houses over 80 games, including ones based on popular movies and TV shows. Game themes range from Doctor Who to Indiana Jones, Star Trek to the Walking Dead. 

Because it charges per hour and is open most of the day on Saturdays, this is not a date that requires extensive planning. So next time you feel yourselves falling into another Saturday night snuggling on the couch, grab some snacks and head to CP Pinball. 


7. Granite City Ice Rink

Cost (couple): $10 - $12

The snow is falling, the music is picking up, and John Cusack turns around to see Kate Beckinsale walking toward him. It’s the iconic scene in “Serendipity,” the one that made ice skating rinks suddenly the most romantic thing ever. Granted, a trip to Central Park is not within the typical college student’s budget, but this does not mean we cannot enjoy the company of that special someone (or special someones) while on the ice. Granite City Ice Rink offers perhaps the most affordable skating in the area, charging only $5 to enter the rink and $2 for skate rental during public skating sessions. For specific dates and times of public ice skating sessions, visit the rink’s Facebook page

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