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8 Great Dates Across America for Under $20

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Dating Mistake Numero Uno: Spending the better part of a paycheck when you’re not even sure  he or she is gonna put out.

Seriously. If you just dropped a few hundred dollars to impress someone and they don’t so much as feel you up through your clothes, it was a waste. And you’ll hate yourself for it. Not only did you come off looking like a prick flashing all that cash, but now you have to head home, tail between your legs, to engage in the most expensive solo session known to man.

Well, at least until the next dipwad comes along and does the same thing.

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It’ll happen, too. Because, for some reason, we think that dates are only fun when significant dough is involved. But I’ll let you in on a little secret: Whoever came up with that idea is a schmuck '“ and probably still a virgin.

A great date isn’t about the amount of money you spend but rather the thought you put into creating a day or night filled with fun. Its purpose is to get to know someone, and if the first impression you make is that you’re the kind of chap who thinks with his wallet (among other nefarious things), you have a better chance of finding a suitable mate by clubbing them over the head and dragging them back to your cave. Or, in this day and age, attending a Bravo casting call.

Exciting, inexpensive dates can happen anywhere, anytime. To prove it, here are eight high-octane adventures in cities that span America.

The homework is done; all you’ve got to do is seal the deal.

Samurai Sword Class and Sushi in New York City

Wax on. Wax off. And learn some kick-ass street-fighting skills while you’re at it. Free for first-timers, the Samurai Sword Class at The Workman’s Circle at NYR Studios provides yuppies of all ages with the necessary, albeit introductory, training required to battle evildoers in 12th-century Japan. Don’t have a time machine? Then head over to Café Zaiya‘s Midtown location to enjoy a smorgasbord of sushi dishes that range from $3 to $10.

TV Show Taping and Famous French Dips in Los Angeles

L.A. has major entertainment value '“ and if you’re not taking advantage of it, why the hell are you living there? (Don’t say the weather, either; everybody knows you’re a waiter-slash-actor). Tapings may seem cliché, but you can’t get any closer to your favorite stars without being told via law-enforcing bullhorn to exit the bushes. Late-night shows are a sure bet since you’ll not only witness Hollywood’s 'œfinest' become gluttons for mandatory applause, but you two can jam and laugh to musical and comedy performances. Once you’ve had your fill of feeding legendary egos, nourish yourself with local landmark Philippe’s 'œFrench Dipped' sandwiches and offbeat sides. For added aphrodisiac delight, share a slice of chocolate mousse pie for dessert.

Screen on the Green and a Picnic in Washington, D.C.

There’s nothing more romantic than watching a movie under the afterglow of congressional indiscretions. Each summer, Screen on the Green plays classic films on the National Mall with this year’s selection including 'œGoldfinger,' 'œThe Goodbye Girl,' 'œ12 Angry Men' and 'œBonnie and Clyde' (Mondays from July 12 to Aug. 2). Arrive early '“ screenings begin at dusk, but crowds start flocking as early as 5 p.m. '“ spread out a sheet (blankets are way too heavy for this time of year), uncork a bottle of cheap wine, and nosh on low-maintenance goodies like fresh fruit, bread and a selection of cheeses. If you really want to earn points, break out your secret weapon: bug spray. Your thoughtfulness will be rewarded.

Improv Comedy and Chicken Caesar Salad in Chicago

They say the best way to a woman’s heart is through her Potbelly. Sike! Nobody says that '“ and you shouldn’t repeat it in the company of your lady friend. Still, David Montgomery, a resident of Chi Town, recommends 'œsplitting a huge chicken Caesar salad' ($6-$7) at the aforementioned chain then strutting right across the street to enjoy hours of improvisational funny business at The ComedySportz Theatre. Totally free shows kick off at 7 p.m. with REC League, followed by Kayfabe at 8 p.m., Battle-Prov at 9 p.m. and Improv Open Mike at 10 p.m. Old Style beers are just $3 a pop, so buy her a few. Mostly so she’ll forget that you forced a salad on her. Jerk.

Bats, BBQ and Bacon Donuts in Austin

This is an oldie but goodie '“ and if you ask a true Austinite, it never loses its appeal. Every night from the start of spring to early fall, nearly 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats ascend from the depths of the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge, creating a Hitchcockian scene of chaotic, chiropteran wonder. If you make it away unscathed (don’t worry, they won’t hurt you), mosey on down to Franklin’s Barbecue '“ served fresh from the side of a camping trailer '“ for plates of finger-licking beef, pulled pork and sausage (sorry, no chicken here) that include two sides and bread for around $8 each. Just as your heart starts to flutter with love, stop it dead with dessert from Gordough’s Big Fat Donuts, where, for around $4, you can sample the 'œFlying Pig' '“ a bacon-laded confection with maple syrup icing '“ among other calorie-pumped pastries. If your date doesn’t scoff in disdain when you mention that last bit, she’s a keeper. No matter what she looks like.

Lawn Bowling Lessons and Vietnamese Sandwiches in Seattle

If you’ve ever played bocce, you already possess the requisite aptitude for lawn bowling, a similar sport in which opponents vie to place their team’s 'œbowls' closest to the 'œjack,' a small white ball tossed out to start each game. Except, it’s not as easy as you remember; in this game, the bowls are weighted to one side and have a natural-leaning bias, hence why always-free lessons for newbies at the Jefferson Park Lawn Bowling Club are a great way for couples to get competitive '“ and closer. Afterward, say chào to Saigon Deli, a Vietnamese sandwich shop that specializes in pork bánh mì, spring rolls, dumplings, crisp veggies and offensively low prices. One Yelp reviewer suggests paying in cash over credit since there’s a $.50 fee for plastic transactions under $15 and 'œit’s really hard to rack up more than' that, she says.

Stump! Trivia and 25-cent Wings in Boston

There’s a plethora of places throughout the Commonwealth where you can proudly boast your knowledge of everything inane and useless during Stump! Trivia (free to play), but perhaps the best bar to enlighten your date as to why Megatron covets the AllSpark is The Mission. The contest begins promptly at 8:30 p.m. every Sunday (yeah, it’s a school night, so suck it up) and lasts for about two hours. While you’re there, snack on quarter-per wings washed down with $3 Narragansett tallboys. A word of advice: Brush up on current events beforehand. You’ll only end up embarrassing yourself when you can’t remember how many states are in the Union. Hint: It’s not 51; D.C. doesn’t count.

Surf, Sand and Steaks at Biscayne Bay in Miami

Despite what the E! network will have you believe, Miami is not best known for the Kardashians. Rather, its fame is drawn from miles of soft, sandy expanses perfect for recreational activities. Bike, kayak and canoe rentals are available at Oleta River State Park, but to save money strap your own to the car ($6 entrance fee per double-occupancy vehicle) and prepare yourselves for an afternoon adventure amid mangrove forest preserves and saltwater fishermen. When the hunger pangs start to creep up, claim a grill and throw some well-seasoned steaks and shrimp atop the open flame. Pair the meal with a complementary red, followed by a cuddle on the beach as the sun sets over south Florida. No need for plates or cutlery; by the time dinner is served, she’ll be eating out of the palm of your hand.

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Mikey Rox - Cut-Rate Copywriter

Mikey Rox - Cut-Rate Copywriter

Mikey Rox is an award-winning journalist/writer whose work has appeared in more than 80 regional, national and international print and digital publications. He resides in Manhattan with his partner. When Mikey's not uncovering the best that NYC has to offer, he's crashing roof parties with open bars. Because he can.