Budget dating is not uncommon for MU students. "Cheap dates?" laughed 20-year-old senior Megan Langland, "Oh, I’ve done a lot of those." And she’s still with her boyfriend.
To start you off in the right direction, here's a list of places around Columbia to find good but inexpensive meals, embark on an adventure and enjoy low-cost — or even free — entertainment.
If you’re looking for a place to satisfy your appetites, "It’s gotta be McDonald's, baby," grinned Chris LeSure, 18.
The campus dining halls are another option for students, especially Plaza 900 and Rollins, which sophomore Andrew Austin calls "the place to eat." Main dishes, the salad buffet, made-to-order wraps, desserts and more can be purchased by swiping a meal card.
Scattered within easy walking distance from campus to downtown Columbia are trendy, date-worthy eateries.
At the corner of Elm and Ninth Street, you’ll hit Shakespeare’s with its coral-colored terry napkins and pizzas large enough to take you from breakfast to lunch and maybe dinner.
Prices range from $5 for an 8-inch up to $13 for a 16-inch, and toppings are $2.50 each.
If you’re into ethnic food, soak up the rich Thai aromas at Bangkok Gardens on Cherry Street just off Ninth. Here you can sample the exotic flavors of Pad Thai for less than $11.
Close by at Ninth and Cherry streets is Panera Bread Co., which serves fresh sandwiches for less than $7.
"It’s a deli-type place," Matthew Garcia, 19, said. "Most girls really like it."
Not your cup of tea? Check out Kayotea at 912 E. Broadway, halfway between Ninth and Tenth streets, where you can sip papaya and mango tea and munch on the “world’s best egg sandwich” for $4.15.
For the sweet tooth, there’s much to choose from.
"An ice-cream date?’ wondered 18-year-old Shaye Jackson. "Coldstone. Honey, that makes my toes curl."
Junior Ashanya Indralingam recommended Sparky’s Homemade Ice Cream at 21 S. Ninth St. with its assortment of quirky flavors such as coconut, chai and lavender honey. Expect to pay around $2.56 for a regular and $3.73 for a double scoop without extras.
Couples with a car can drive northeast to Applebees at 2601 E. Broadway or the location at 2010 I-70 Drive.
Jessica Walter, 20, described it as "a reasonable sit-down place." Lunch combos start at $5.99, or try their “world-famous, can’t-get-enough-of-’em riblets” for $10.99.
The well-known pancake house IHOP on Conley Road is open 24 hours if you’re on a late date. Split the fluffy butterscotch rocks pancakes for less than $10.
About two miles south of Mizzou you can find Big 12 Bar & Grill at 10 W. Nifong Blvd.
"I’d take my date there – they’ve got dollar burgers on Sundays," junior Nick Gerhardt said.
Exploring the region
Contrary to what students might think, cheap dates don’t need to involve food. Close to Columbia are spots for hiking, fishing, picnicking, camping and just hanging out.
"Go to the Big Tree," 26-year-old Keith Carmichael advised. ‘There’s a big oak tree out in the Missouri boonies. It’s completely secluded there."
To find it, drive about 15 miles west of the MU campus to Burr Oak Road near McBaine.
Steven Le, 24, suggested a fishing trip to Finger Lakes State Park, and if you’re lucky, a freshly caught dinner of black bass.
Finger Lakes was built on an old coal strip-mining operation and also offers camping, picnicking, swimming and mountain biking on 70 miles of all-terrain vehicle trails. It's a 20-minute drive north of town on U.S. 63.
South of town, drive 10 miles on Highway 163 to find Devil’s Icebox in Rock Bridge State Park.
"They’re caves, and a lot of fun," junior Sudie McCaslin said.
Walk the half-mile Devil’s Icebox boardwalk to see the rock bridge, then explore Connor's Cave and see an underground stream, small spring and sinkhole.
Fifteen miles of trails are open all year to hikers and conditionally open to bicyclists in Rock Bridge State Park. Horseback riders can use the 750-acre Gans Creek Wild Area.
Hitting the right notes
Music fans have plenty of places to chill out.
"Mojo’s has free open mic nights on Mondays, and there are comedians there, too," Jamon Kimbrough, 19, said. It’s situated north of campus at 1013 Park Ave.
The Blue Note on Ninth Street does free concerts every month — go to thebluenote.com to check for upcoming events.
A popular place tucked away on Cherry Street is the dimly lit Cherry Street Artisan with plush couches, board games and a mini stage.
"It’s a really cute place," 20-year-old Ayla Kremen said.
Immerse yourselves in live tunes and drink an enormous mug of coffee for $1.25 most evenings, or learn sexy Latin dance moves on Wednesday nights
What might appear sappy to some can seem adorably charming to some, so perhaps you can dazzle your significant other with an inspired idea.
"Have a picnic by the columns," senior Chris Shannon suggested, "or go to Peace Park."
According to legend, if a couple walks together over the Peace Park bridge, they are destined to marry. Might be slightly creepy for a first date, though.
Danny Nabelek, 19, had this notion: "Go to a parking garage and watch the sunset – it worked!"
And Kyle Lauren, 19, described what he’d do to surprise his girl: "The dorms are loaded with kitchens, so I’d go to Root Cellar (on E. Broadway), pick up some fresh vegetables and make a nice meal."
Don’t forget Ragtag Cinema, 10 Hitt St., for offbeat, independent films. It was the first in town to show "Slumdog Millionaire" and screens documentaries in conjunction with the True/False Film Festival every spring.
"They’ve got pretty cheap movies," 20-year-old Brian Davis said, "and good ones, too." It’s $6.50 each for a student ticket.
Uprise Bakery in the same building sells baked goods, sandwiches and beverages. The video outlet next door has a sizable collection of indie and foreign movies.
Of course, if you’re both into sports, Columbia has a game nearly every week.
"Baseball games are free, and soccer games as well," senior Sam Karson said.
MU students can get into all games except basketball and football without having to pay a single cent.
If all else fails, try the obvious. "Even a walk around campus is fun," Melissa Reed, 21, said. "And it’s definitely a cheap date."