More inexpensive but fun (and sometimes a little weird) date ideas

EbbsFleet Drive-In MovieA while back, I wrote a post on some ways The Hubby and I enjoy cheap dates with free or really inexpensive activities beyond the usual dinner and a movie thing.

Since then, we’ve come up with plenty more, so I thought I’d do a sequel post. Here are the latest additions to our roster of cheap (but fun!) date ideas:

Nature hike and picnic. Nothing works up an appetite like a nice walk through nature, so we’ll pack up a picnic lunch (sandwiches, veggies and dip, etc.) and go to the local park, which is pretty big. We’ll choose a direction to wander off in, and we’ll keep walking until we find “the” perfect spot. We can people watch, enjoy the scenery, and get some fresh air and exercise, all for what it cost to make a lunch at home.

Apple picking (or whatever-else-picking). A day out in the sun, plus you get to bring your haul home and have fun experimenting with new recipes for pies, pastries, and whatever else you can think of.

Drive-ins. Movies are so expensive lately that we don’t even enjoy going anymore. Why pay $16-$20 for tickets and $20 for an enormous sugary soda and greasy bucket of popcorn when you could pay a fraction of the cost to see a double feature at the drive-in? You get to bring your own (healthier!) snacks, and if you bring blankets and pillows, you get to cuddle during the movies in a way that movie theater arm chairs just don’t let you. Win all around.

Game nights. We love having game nights with our friends, but they can also be a fun date night…especially if you’re super-competitive against each other like The Hubby and I are! We like to play trivia games like Trivial Pursuit and word games like Boggle and Scrabble.

Sports tournaments. Exercise and fun competition. Some have a small price tag (bowling at the local bowling alley), while others are totally free (taking your rackets to a public tennis court or racing each other on a bike trail). Be sure to treat yourself to something afterwards for all your hard work. (Ice cream cones are perfect.) J

Minor-league sports games. If your city has a minor league sports team, you can have a fun night for hardly anything compared to big-name team games. We have a minor league baseball team that often runs promo nights, so we can get tickets to a game, plus food and drinks, for no more than $20. And it’s a nice, relaxing way to spend several hours out in the fresh air.

Independent movie houses. We’ve recently discovered a few indie movie houses in our area that play things like black and white classics and cheesy sci fi movies for no more than $5 admission (often for a double feature). Some have little concession areas where you can get snacks, some have comfy couches you can relax on, and some serve actual (snacky) meals like pizza and sandwiches. Not only are they inexpensive, but they give us a chance to see all sorts of movies we’d never even hear of otherwise.

What about you guys? What other cheap date ideas do you do with your significant other?





photo credit: Craig A

The Intrinsic Link Between Happiness and Productivity in the Workplace

Happy Office Worker[This is a guest post by Samuel Pierce. Think you’ve got what it takes to be a guest poster? Contact Em at em [at] blondeandbalanced [dot] com to learn more about becoming a guest poster yourself!]


Most people have had to suffer a slave-driver of a boss at some stage in their working lives; the kind of person who wants to know every detail of what each member of staff is doing, who wants to regulate working lives as much as possible, who doesn’t value flexibility but seeks to limit it as much as possible.

The idea that standing over employees (either literally or metaphorically) and looking to make them work in a very particular way is the path to productivity has a certain kind of simple logic to it, but it assumes that people are inherently lazy and unproductive. In fact, we all have an innate desire to want to contribute to society, but when we don’t feel valued, we sometimes choose to “drop out” and lack motivation.

When faced with a task that has a direct and tangible benefit for ourselves, most of us can find the motivation to do it. If you’re looking to book a vacation, you’d think nothing of spending hours trying to find the best value for money. If you’re a salaried PA and you’re asked to do the same on behalf of your overbearing boss, chances are you’ll simply pick the first vacation that looks okay and ticks all the boxes as there is no direct benefit to spend the extra time trying to save them $50.

Happy Interactions and Hard Work

In our hypothetical example, the employee might be much more likely to go the extra mile if they feel happy and valued at work. Good leadership and management are not about being scary or cracking the whip. Effective managers understand that staff will be more motivated if they are part of the “system,” rather than feeling that they’re meaningless to it. Negative motivation, or forcing an employee to do things under threat, fails because it will only ever get the minimum of effort required to avoid punishment.

Motivational gimmicks like end of the month reward charts also fail because they don’t focus on actual, internal motivation. Positive motivation is the desire to contribute, both for self-development and for the company’s development. For people to have that kind of motivation, they need to have positive interactions with their managers and colleagues. If someone just doesn’t like doing the kind of work their job entails, it might be harder for them to be happy at work than if they were doing something they loved.

However, that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible.

Working in a cooperative environment, where good work is genuinely praised and recognized, tends to make people happy, and it has also been proven that friendship in the workplace is vital. Happy families work in the same way. In a workplace that operates on a punishment and reward system, people quickly become unhappy.

Control and Challenge

As well as feeling recognized and rewarded when they do well, people generally have a need to feel in control of their own work, and they need to feel as if their work is more than just routine, that they are more than just another cog in a huge wheel.

Compare the lot of the cabinet-maker, who gets to create a beautiful piece of furniture from concept to finish, with that of the factory production line worker adding a single screw to each piece that works its way along the production line. While most jobs will have their routine, boring moments, it’s important to feel more like the cabinet-maker than the production line worker.

Money Is a Minor Factor

Unless a worker is really under the gun and turning to AAAPaydayCash to get them through to their next pay check, it often comes as a surprise to managers that money is often not a great motivator for employees. While we all generally want more of it, money becomes a dramatically reduced factor in employee happiness not too far above a liveable wage. In contrast, not feeling in control and not feeling challenged leads to stress. We want to feel a sense of achievement from our work, rather than just doing it to pick up a pay check.


Good managers genuinely value their staff and want the best for them. They will give people as much control over their own workload as possible, and will have genuine, positive interactions with them. Things as simple as saying “good morning” each day can make a huge contribution to motivation, as it helps people feel that they’re more than just another worker.

It has to be meant, though; it’s generally obvious when people are being insincere. If you’re a manager, like and trust your staff, and you should find you’ll be able to get the best out of them. Dislike and distrust them, and you’ll find they’ll do as little work as possible.


Photo credit:  Nor Oh

Blog Roundup (7-26-13)

I always love sharing my favorite blogs with people, so each week I’ll be giving you guys a roundup of the posts I’ve really enjoyed reading.

If you like them, make sure to subscribe and follow these great bloggers on Twitter and Facebook to share the love!



  • I’m all for frugality, but this is a bit extreme (though funny): Punch Debt in the Face talks about how they bought a crib…and they don’t even have a baby!
  • I bet some of you have considered working for yourselves to earn your cash. Check out Man vs. Debt’s list of ways you can work from home.

Are there any great posts you came across recently? Share them with us in the comments!

The balancing effects of rituals

breakfast yesterdayI tend to be a worrywart, and I’m naturally kind of high-strung. So keeping myself balanced throughout the work day can be a real challenge. One of the ways I’ve come up with to keep myself centered and take time to pause and reset is using rituals.

In the morning, I do a big, full-body stretch as soon as I get out of bed and think of three things I’m grateful for (in my life or in the day ahead). I feed the dogs, make myself a cup of coffee and a healthy breakfast, and then sit down with a good book to read while I’m eating. No news, no internet, no TV, just something fun to help me relax and start the day off on a positive note.

On my lunch break, I try to get outside whenever I can. I’ll take a walk if it’s nice out or nap in the car if I’m feeling drained. If it’s really awful out or it’s the dead of winter, I’ll go to the little waterfall/potted plants area in our lobby and read a book. I know, it sounds silly, but just being near nature…especially the soothing sound of water…helps me refocus and relax.

When the work day ends, I listen some of my favorite tunes on the drive home (Colbie Caillat and Ingrid Michaelson are my faves of the moment) and try to relax any stress that’s built up in my shoulders, my jaw, etc. When get home, I must immediately pet the puppies, hug The Hubby (not necessarily in that order), and change into comfy PJ pants so I instantly feel more relaxed.

They’re little things, but they help to signal changes in my day and times when I can let go of stress and refocus. And I definitely notice when I don’t do them. If I have a lunch meeting and miss my “outdoor” time, I can totally feel it. If I’m rushing in the morning and I have to eat my breakfast on the run, the whole day starts off on the wrong foot.

Sometimes it’s the little things that make a big difference…especially when those little things are reminders to yourself to just breathe and be happy.

What rituals do you have throughout the day?





photo credit: waterlilysage