Sounds cliche but it's true. Taking your food outdoors and opening a bottle of wine can make any meal an event. It also has the added benefit of giving your kids something to do if you can't afford a babysitter. Pick a park that has hiking trails or some other physical activity to tire the little balls of energy out. By the time you're ready to eat, everyone is relaxed and has happy endorphins pumping through them because of work out. One of the best anniversary dates my husband I have ever had was a picnic at a vineyard. How can you not feel all warm and fuzzy with such an impressive view?
2. Lunch instead of dinner:
If you absolutely have to go out to a meal for it to be considered a date, consider having lunch with your loved one. Most restaurants will have a cheaper menu for lunch and it often doesn't require alcohol, which is where the meal tab can really start to add up. But you still get the benefits of not having to cook or clean up and you get some one on one time with your mate. Plus, extra bonus, if you have school aged kids and plan it on a school day you don't need to hire a sitter.
I've never actually used this option for a restaurant. I'm not sure why. Actually, that's not true. I do know why. Whenever I think about showing up at a restaurant with a groupon, I picture that sitcom scenario where the maitre d' is rude and the waiters sneer at us for using a coupon for our meal. I know that probably wouldn't happen, but I have social anxieties. So that is really a me issue, not a groupon problem. I have used the site, however, for movies, plays, presents (groupon goods has some pretty good deals), and other events. There's a glassblowing and a trapeze lesson groupon that come up from time to time that I'd like to try. For me, it's a good way to try new experiences.
3. Making something special at home:
I'm a bit of a homebody anyway so this is one of my personal favorites. I love to scour the internet in search of a show stopping recipe that I can make at home. To date, my favorite has been caprese salad kabobs. It's such a simple (and pretty cheap) dish but it's elegant and tastes amazing. Here's a link to the recipe if you're interested: Caprese Salad Kabobs. My husband also gets in on this one. For our first date, he cooked me lemon chicken. To this day, whenever he makes it for me, it makes me a little nostalgic.
The bottom line is you shouldn't let your finances dictate your love life. You might not be able to jet off to the French Riviera or afford a new diamond this year, but that's not what romance is all about anyway. Spend time with each other. Find ways to show your mate that he/she is still important to you and that they make you happy. And if you aren't stressed out about the bill, it makes it that much easier to enjoy the evening.