12 Date Night Ideas on a Budget

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Remember those days when you first met your partner and everything in the world was seen through rose-colored glasses?  That person could do no wrong.  All you wanted was to spend every last minute with them.

Then you got married.

Then you had kids.

Then you realized being an adult requires more work, patience, and determination that you ever thought possible.

Where did all the romance go?  With the doctors’ visits, the football practices, the late-night homework sessions…oh, yeah, and the cooking, and cleaning, and the working two full-time jobs that sometimes take even more time.

This is particularly difficult for those who have children with special needs.  It takes longer to trust other people watching your kids.  If you are lucky to find someone qualified, they usually charge an arm and a leg for their services.  As one of our daycare providers in Maryland once said, “We charge more because we know we are the only ones in the area who does this.”

In the special needs’ world, it is extortion at its best sometimes.  According to MarketWatch, in America, 29% of people aged 18 to 34 are more than $500.00 in debt from overspending on dates spending an average of $1,596.00 a year on dates! Just dates.  For those math folks, that is $133.00 a month and $33.25 a week. 

Watching my parents, who married at age 16, had their first kid at 18, lost a child, had 7 more, and have gone to college (earning JD and PhDs) while raising us, I learned a successful marriage requires date night. My parents did it at least once a week – leave the kids and spend time with your spouse. So, when I married my husband, we agreed this is a requirement for our marriage too. Thank God, he agreed!

How do you find time for romance in the chaos without breaking the budget?  First – make a budget.  When you have a good budget, you can really enjoy things more.

Also, for those who qualify, look into your local Respite Care providers.  Respite care is short-term relief for primary caregivers. It can be arranged for just an afternoon or for several days or weeks. Care can be provided at home, in a healthcare facility, or at an adult day center.  We use this to help with grocery shopping, errands, prepping for holidays and so much more.

Before You Get Started

Before you get started, make sure you are scheduling this and putting it on the calendar. This is a priority. Then take turns planning them – surprise each other. Use this time to talk to each other (not about work, kids, or household). No excuses – date night is a priority. Never make excuses outside date night. I promise you date nights in your marriage will help you in parenting, relationships, and life in general.

Here are 12 creative no cost dates that helped our marriage cultivate instead of breaking our budget:

Without a sitter

1.       Movie and Wine: When we first married, this was a great one!  We would move the couch out of the way, lay down some pillows and blankets, and start a fire.  The lights low, the cozy setting was perfectly matched with our favorite wine and a good movie. It is important the movie is something you both can enjoy.  Some of our favorites are The Princess Bride, The Greatest Showman, Ghostbusters, Back to the Future series, and Indiana Jones series. ***This is great because you get to talk to each other during the movie without bothering anyone else. Talking is essential.

2.       Craft night: This is one of my favorites! My husband got me a subscription craft kit for Christmas.  Instead of doing the craft alone, he does them with me.  We like Adults and Crafts.  For $33.00 a month, we get everything we need for a great date night.  Once the kids are in bed, we enjoy time creating together.  The nice thing about this date night is it can happen over multiple days sometimes.  Certain crafts require setting/drying time, so date night becomes date weekend.

3.       Themed movie marathons: This is a fun one that can also extend beyond the single night.  We like to do movie marathons.  Movies with sequels are great, but you are not limited to just this.  We did a marathon of watching all Disney Animated movies in order.  Our next one will be to watch all their live-action movies in order.  This is also a great time to binge your favorite shows! This is great because it lets link back to our childhood, and often springs great conversation. ***This is great because you get to talk to each other during the movie without bothering anyone else. Talking is essential.

4.       Play video games: So many times, I hear wives complain their husband spends his time playing video games instead of investing in them.  Use this.  Before I met my husband, I did not know video games had stories…like movies!  Apparently, they do – and some are really interesting.  Husbands, play the stories.  Wives, watch the story (and your beau) conqueror all cheering him on.  Not interested in the story, I paint or do a craft while listening sometimes.  I am with my spouse, participating with him, and learning more about him. 

5.       Game night: This sounds like a cliché, but there is truth in this.  Games have the power of sparking great conversation, building trust, and bringing the gift of laughter.  We particularly like this night when we find new or unusual games (but the classic Sorry, Boggle, Scrabble, and Chess is just as good).  Some of our favorite games are Shut the Box, Liars Dice, Vertell’s, and Qiddler

6.       Read books: I am an avid reader as it is, but it is so much more fun reading with my hubby.  I like things like novels where he likes ghost stories.  We have both really enjoyed historical pieces as well. This often has given us ideas for travel, routines, and date nights.   We often switch between the two.  Or, my favorite is when we start with his ghost stories and finish with my devotional or scripture reading. 

7. Karaoke: There is something special about getting crazy in front of a mic with your special someone. No matter your skill level, this is a great date. Not ready to show off in public, show off in the safety of your living room with those you trust the most. Laughter is guaranteed no matter what on this date.

With a sitter

Movies and dinner are great.  But search out happy hours, Taco Tuesdays, and specials first.  The occasional, movie, fancy restaurant and trampoline park are great.  But do not make these the go-to.

8.       Coffee/Brew dates: These are so much fun and cost as little as $5.00 a person. We like to find a local brew company or coffee shop and enjoy the local fare.  This is great for nights that have trivia or open mic. If nothing else, it is cheap entertainment supporting the local small businesses in the community to reminisce about for years to come.  

9.       Painting with a Twist: This is a great night out as a couple.  Creating art (with someone to help if needed) and some wine/beer of your choice.  You both get to be a little goofy and come home with a souvenir at the end.  This is usually a splurge night for us as a couples event can range from $15.00 per person to $50.00.  It is best to look in advance to ensure you like what is being taught to make in advance. We especially like to do this on fundraising nights as we know the proceeds help a local non-profit.

10.       Dinner at a bar: This can also be a splurge night.  But we like to go during happy hours and specials.  With the right happy hour and special, we can spend less than $50.00 in total.  This is a great way to sample new places.  It is also fun to re-enact the first date or enjoy the simple pleasure of trying something new on the menu together.

11.   Fishing/hiking: We love the adventure of the outdoors.  A great hike (even in the winter with some hot chocolate) or sitting on the side of the bank with a book while he fishes are perfection. This FREE activity lends itself to experiencing nature, getting much-needed vitamin D, and feeling like you accomplished something together. Fish at the end of the day is also a great FREE meal.

12.   Beach day: There is something about the sound of the waves crashing onto the sand that brings a peace in the sole.  The sun, surf, and sand are a great way to get out and be silly.  We like to pitch a tent and then enjoy playing in the water, watching dolphins, and building sandcastles. 

13.   Bonus Sex: I debated putting this here, but I think it is vital to all marriages.  All marriages.  Going too long without sex is detrimental to the foundation of the marriage.  Many marriage counselors, pastors, and your parents (who are still together after decades of marriage) will all say sex is essential to the relationship.  Sex reinforces the foundation, reconnects intimacy, rebuilds, and strengthens relationships and so much more! For more on this, check out this great article on healthy sex in marriage, and this article on why married sex is the best sex.

6 Simple Steps to Partnership Parenting

September is a magical time in our house.  The leaves are changing.  The temperatures are cooling.  The sweaters and warm blankets come out.  Apple, cinnamon, and pumpkin scents are everywhere you go.

September is also a magical month because it is my wedding anniversary. 

As I ponder our marriage this month, I am so grateful for my husband.  The partnership we have grown together.  The father and mentor my husband is to our son.  The way he knows how and when to be our family rock and jester.  We are truly blessed by him.

In this spirit, I thought I would address some of the many times I have been told parenting is a one-person job.  The numerous times I have been told, “My significant other doesn’t help with the kids,” or “it is just easier for me to do it all then get my spouse involved.”

I understand this mentality.  It is really easy for one parent to take on all the responsibility of school, playdates, doctor appointments, therapies, homework, extracurriculars, etc.  This is especially easy if one is working and the other stays at home or both are working, but one has more work flexibility.

I remember one of our son’s medical team once sat us down (one or two years into our marriage), and said, “You know, people with special needs children divorce at 80% more than parents without.”  That was a scary number!  So, we became even more intentional with our marriage and parenting to avoid this.

I appreciate the difficulties of raising a child, especially one with special needs, I find this mentality of a single parent responsible for children’s development to be limiting, exhausting, and disrespectful.

You chose your partner, yes partner, because of the many good (and sometimes bad) qualities they have.  When you said, “I do” it was not just for a day, a week, or a year.  You chose to take that person in sickness, health, richer, poorer, good, bad, and (honestly) sometimes ugly. 

Marriage is a life partnership.  It is a daily choice to walk through life as a team.  And, trite as it might be, there is no “I” in “team.”

There is a reason two parents are ideal for raising children.  Both have different roles to play.  For example, I am not going to have “The Talk” with my son if my husband can do it.  My hubby isn’t going to take his little girl bra shopping – that is on me.  However, although we have different roles, those roles work in tandem with each other not against.

So, how do you make raising these awesome kiddos a team sport?  How do help your significant other become a player and not a spectator? Here are six rules we live by in my house.

1)      Be on the same page: If you are trying to implement a new routine, discipline, or change in the home, it means nothing if the parents in the home are not consistent with each other.  Dad cannot say no to something only to have Mom say yes two seconds later.  If a parent implements discipline, both parents have to support it.

Don’t argue discipline in front of kids. We disagree on how to discipline like any couple.  Whichever parent implemented the discipline is supported by the other.  Take the discussion behind closed doors.  After discussing, sometimes nothing changes. Sometimes the discipline is modified.  Regardless, discipline happens and a clear discussion of why there was a change (if any) is presented.  We discuss it as a unified front and implement the consequence as a team.

2)      Divide and conquer: A family is multiple people with different personalities, needs, likes, and routines all operating under the same roof.  The household is a mini economy and city (things break and need fixing, services need to be rendered, and relationships built). In a home with special needs, in addition to the traditional routines of school, playdates, sports, and extracurriculars, there are doctors, specialists, therapies all need to be addressed.  It can be overwhelming.

Both parents need to know these routines, doctors, therapists, teachers, and be able to jump in and do it at the drop of a hat.  Divide responsibility.  I have a more flexible schedule working from home, so I do school, therapies, and playdates.  My husband takes care of meals, all outside yard work, fixing EVERYTHING that breaks (cars, garbage disposal, washing machine, etc.).  My son takes care of dishes, his room, bathroom, and feeding the animals.  We all fill in the gaps. We work as a team.  No one person on the team is more important than the other.

3)      Fill the Void: We are a military family and my work occasionally requires me to travel.  Sometimes one of our team is MIA due to work obligations for days, weeks, months at a time.  When this happens, it is important to know how to fill that void.  When I leave, my husband has a schedule for our son, where to go, doctor’s names, etc.  When he leaves, I know he has taught me to fix somethings and where I should go if I cannot.  He also has ensured I have the tools I need for all the tasks he does in tip-top form and ready for use (he made sure I know how to use them too!)  While he is home, he will often take me aside to teach me something – like how to change my oil in the car. We are all responsible for filling the void when there is one.

4)      Invest in the fun: My husband is great at having fun, acting like a goof, and making everyone smile and feel comfortable.  I am more serious by nature.  For the first few years of our marriage, it seemed like one of us had to be the serious one and the other the fun one. But that is not so. In fact, it was detrimental to our kiddo. He learned I was the one to go to for school, clothes, and chores, while he went to Dad for anything else.  It caused a divide in the relationship with our son that took time to mend.  Having fun is SO important.  Find something fun to do with your child (even on hard days).  We do LEGO, art, science kits, dance parties, karaoke, you name it.  If your child finds it fun (even if you don’t), join in, plan some time for this, and enjoy it.  This will be the foundation for a healthy relationship in those teen years and beyond.

5)      Argue: This sounds counterintuitive, but it is so important.  Remember two become one.  That means two completely separate people with their own likes, dislikes, thoughts, and opinions come together to become one unit.  Simply because you said, “I do,” does not mean you magically agree on everything and life is perfect, happily ever after.  No.  To become is a process – a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end.  Arguing is part of the process. It is ok to argue in front of your children.  I think this is particularly important for those kids who have a hard time processing social cues.  

Arguing is life.  You argue with your spouse, siblings, classmates, friends….pretty much everyone at some point.  Knowing how to argue in a constructive way is essential to social success.  To not show your child you disagree with each other does them a disservice both socially and, eventually, as they view marriage (more to come on arguing this month).

6)      Date each other: This is a particularly hard one for any marriage with children.  It is particularly difficult for marriages with special needs.  Babysitters are hard to come by.  It may feel like there is never going to be a date in your marriage again.  I tell you from experience, that just isn’t so.  If possible, find someone who will watch you kid while they sleep.  Or get creative with date nights at home (movies by a fire, game night, wine or beer tastings, craft projects).  If you can and qualify, look into your local Respite Care providers.  Respite care is short-term relief for primary caregivers. It can be arranged for just an afternoon or for several days or weeks. Care can be provided at home, in a healthcare facility, or at an adult day center. 

Marriage is not easy.  But partnering in it should be.  Let me know what steps you use to keep your marriage fresh, healthy, and growing daily.

Silent Butler

Frustrated parent at work, home, teleworking, homeschooling at the same time.  Arms on head looking frustrated.
Frustrated parent at work – teleworker -home

Most of the world has been operating within the realm of the same four walls for the majority of the year.  Those in America have been at this at least a month, some longer. 

Day after day I hear the same exhausted frustrations of parents: “My kids are driving me crazy!  I keep repeating myself.  I feel like all I do is nag!”

Well, you are not alone.  We all get there (even in the best of circumstances).  The question is do we stay there or do we something to fix it?

For my family, we do something to fix it. 

Let me introduce you to one of our best friends and colleagues – Silent Butler.

Male servant preparing a bath at luxury hotel
Butler preparing a bath

Before you freak on the price tag, this friend has given his services for FREE.  This is so simple it will shock you.

How many of you have asked your kid to clean their room, only to find it hasn’t been completed or everything has been shoved under the bed/in the closet/crammed into drawers?

Out of exasperation, you now beginning the powerplay of taking things away, the battle of either teaching to clean (or, be honest) doing it yourself. By the end of the day, everyone is tired, you don’t want to be around each other and you just feel defeated?

Enter Silent Butler.

Man sneaking a peak behind white shutters
Man sneaking a peak behind white shutters

Instead of going through that battle, hold your child accountable.  An easy way to do that is a large plastic laundry basket (we use this one).

When your child says the room is clean.  OK.  Great.  Go play.

Then take the basket, and fill it with all things left on the floor, under the bed, in the closet, out away incorrectly.  (NOTE: You must have taught the proper way to clean a room and what Silent Butler prior is to implementing Silent Butler).

All those toys, books, TABLETS, video games, etc., that they claim to love so much, but do not treat as though they do, are now in the possession of Silent Butler.

But don’t worry, this is not forever!

When your child does something good, unexpected, helpful, you just ring the bell for Silent Butler.  Things like helping a sibling with homework without being asked, picking up the dog poo or doing the dishes, (for those on the spectrum) having a good playdate or losing a game without a single reminder of good sportsmanship all can trigger Silent Butler. 

The important thing is that it matches where your child is (age, mental ability) and it cannot be a chore already assigned as part of their daily routine.

When you ring that bell, Silent Butler rolls out once again.  Only this time, instead of taking, our Butler is giving.  The child can take one toy out of the basket. They have earned it back.

TWIST * TWIST * TWIST

Girls at desk looking at notebook helping with homework
Girls help each other with homework

For those with siblings, this becomes particularly effective.  There are no rules on whose toys are picked when Silent Butler rewards.

This means if Suzy left her tablet on the floor in her room when she was told to put it away, and Johnny earned a Silent Butler reward, Johnny can pick Suzy’s tablet. 

What does this teach?

I know you are wondering why use this method?  It seems sneaky and rude.  Well, that is true.  But so is the world. 

As parents, we are tasked with raising children into quality adults who contribute to society in positive ways and are aware that the world is not rainbows and butterflies.

This teaches so much:

1.       Responsibility: Whose tablet?  Whose responsibility?  Whose homework?  Whose responsibility?  When you shirk your responsibilities, someone else will swoop in and fix it AND get the credit. Silent Butler begins as Positive Punishment/Negative Reinforcer.

2.       Teamwork/Family building: Working in a family is the first practice of teamwork.  We are teaching children what it means to be on the team by showing them responsibility falls on everyone.  When we reward good extra behavior, it acts as a positive reinforcer that modifies the negative behavior.  Silent Butler is now a Negative Punishment/Positive Reinforcer.

3.       Integrity: What is done when no one is watching will be seen.  What is done in secret will be shouted from the rooftops.  All secrets come out.  That is why integrity is so important.  It is who you are when no one is watching (or you think no one is watching) that ultimately defines your character. 

4.       Accountability: Teaching accountability starts with parents.  I have said this before practice what you preach. You must hold yourself accountable to follow through, kind words, and tones, working as a team.  Once this is done, Silent Butler teaches that all kids are held accountable for their actions all the time.  Silent Butler is ALWAYS in play.  Both the good and the bad.

Before and after: messy room to clean room and ready to play
Before and after Silent Butler – now it only takes 20 minutes to clean a room not a day.

This is a simple idea that when put into practice can help SAVE MONEY on those reinforcers, help create a POSITIVE and HARMONIOUS environ for everyone in the house, and ultimately, help create HONEST, RESPONSIBLE adults to help create positive change in the world.

I encourage you test this out in your own homes.  Give it a couple weeks.  Track your progress and setbacks (there will be setbacks as with all changes).  And let me know how this works for you.  Don’t be afraid to share this blog with others you think might benefit from the simple induction of my friend Silent Butler. 

You have this. You are good parent.  You are a good teacher.  You are a good coach.  You are good leader. 

***Disclaimer: I did not come up with this idea AT ALL.  I was raised with this. The credit all goes to my parents who successfully raised 7 children and numerous “family friends” with to the sum of all six entrepreneurs, a lawyer, two opera singers, (one lawyer waiting taking his first bar), over fifteen degrees, all are fully employed, and the creation of two non-profits. 

The Power of Books

open brown book page
Open brown book pages

My son did not speak till late five years old.  I remember praying he would just say a word of what he wanted or needed instead of throwing a fit to communicate.  There were some nights it was just so exhausting not knowing how to help him help himself. 

I quickly realized I had two paths.  I could simply complain about my son’s inability to speak or I could attempt to help him figure out this essential skill. 

I chose the latter.

Know you are not alone.  According to the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, approximately 7.5 MILLION people have trouble using their voice.  And, most people have trouble communicating in written form too.  Communication is HARD.

Here are the four steps I used to get my son from speechless to not shutting up.

Boy in Grey Jacket Reading Book
Boy in Grey Jacket Reading Book

Don’t hold back. Babies can read.  Did you know that?  Research has found when a mother frequently spoke to their infant, the child learned almost 300 MORE words by age 2 than their peers whose parents seldom spoke to them.  More surprising is that by age 2, a child’s brain is as active as an adult.  By age 3 it is twice as active – and it STAYS that way. 

Woman reads with baby

Read to your child. Often. Reading to your child allows them to experience shared talking.  They see it visually as they hear it aurally.  This means their brain is double engaged. This is the best way to stimulate language and cognitive skills.

Child in long sleeves and trousers reading a book
Child in long sleeves and trousers reading a book

Comic books!  I hear a LOT a kid won’t read because they think it is boring.  Coming from this author, editor, and avid reader – YOUR KID IS RIGHT. The problem is not with reading, it is the material.  Find what excites them and read that!  For us, it was Disney Comic Books (also limits screen time so win–win)!

Women and girl lying in bed holding a book
Woman and girl lying in bed holding a book

Ask Questions.  Too often we read a book to a child and then simply kiss them goodnight.  We do them a disservice.  Ask them about what they are reading.  Is it interesting?  Is the character sad?  How would they feel in a similar situation?  What do they think the place looks like?  Asking allows them to interact with material not just lay there like a dead fish.

With these simple steps (and a slew of speech and language therapy), my kid went from non-communicative to never silent!  You can watch him on his Youtube Channel where he creates, reads, dances, and just gets all-around silly.  Just sit back, relax and watch as your child begins to open up.

Spencer gives a class presentation on Albert Einstien