traveling simply + the top 3 hospitality items I wish hotels would provide

Hello, friends! During this holiday season when many of us are traveling, Fairmont Hotels reached out to me about doing a post on the topic of favorite travel amenities. I thought it sounded like a fun idea, plus I am curious to hear your comments on the topic! Please play along in the comments section. 🙂

A big theme for me of late has been trying to simplify and streamline my life. This relates to travel, too! Back in college, I traveled around Europe for three weeks with two of my best friends, each of us bringing nothing more than a backpack as luggage. It was an amazing trip and serves as a reminder for me that you do not need to bring a lot of STUFF to make life-long memories you will treasure always!

backpack

Now my only real “must haves” when I travel are: my contacts/glasses; my favorite face-wash and sunscreen; cozy socks; portable snacks like granola bars and fruit; and a good book or two!

Fairmont Hotels also asked my ideas for the top three hospitality items I wish hotels would provide on the West Coast, such as the Claremont Hotel. Mine are a liiiiiiittle out there creative, but see if you agree — I think it would be SO awesome if hotels would provide these things:

Yoga mat

After a long car trip or plane ride, my body is aching to be stretched out. In the past I have tried to do some yoga moves in my hotel room, but it is never very peaceful or comfortable. Bringing my own yoga mat from home is inconvenient; it is bulky and takes up too much space. If a hotel chain provided yoga mats in their hotel rooms, it would definitely persuade me to stay there! Also, by doing so, hotels are sending the message that they care about their guests’ health and peace of mind. Travel can be stressful, especially when you are traveling for business purposes. When I am feeling stressed out, nothing centers me and calms me down like a quick yoga session.

Compost bin

The more I learn about composting our food waste, the more convinced I become of its importance. All of the hotels I have stayed at have little trash bins in the room, but what if one of these was a compost bin with a lid? If emptied every day, this would not smell at all, and it would make a big difference in the amount of waste sent to landfills! When I travel, I often bring healthy snacks such as apples and bananas; it always makes me sad to have to throw these in the garbage instead of composting them.

Why does composting matter? Food waste in landfills decomposes in an anaerobic environment {without oxygen} which produces the gas methane. When it enters our atmosphere, methane is a much more potent contributor to climate change than carbon dioxide. All of this can be solved by composting, because when food waste decomposes in a natural environment with oxygen, no methane is produced. Plus we produce compost to fertilize our future food products. It’s a win-win!

compost bin

photo credit: Sac compostable en place via photopin (license)

Recipe card

This idea was sparked by my recent visit to the Penzey’s Spices store in Cleveland. One of my favorite things about the store was the tear-off recipe cards scattered throughout the aisles. It was really fun to take home recipes from different parts of the world that featured various spices, many of which I had never before used. Trying out these recipes when I got home was a way to relive my trip a bit and also expand my repertoire in the kitchen. I think it would be neat if hotels adopted this idea and had recipe cards in the room that guests could take home with them. Perhaps hotels in different regions could feature recipes local to that region, or maybe all of the hotels could feature the same recipe and it would change each month or so. This would be a neat way to highlight local restaurants and chefs. The recipes could even be collected in a cookbook at some point that could be available for guests to purchase.

Questions of the day:

  • Your turn: what amenities would improve your stay at hotels?
  • Do you have any travel tips to share?

fabulous friday #42

Happy Friday, friends! Hope you’re having a good one!

It’s a typical Friday for me… this morning I headed to one of my fave yoga classes, now I’m getting some work done on the computer, and later this afternoon I’m tutoring a few great kiddos.

We have been getting LOTS of rain here the past couple days… they say it’s one of the biggest storms we’ve had here in five years! Fortunately we are all safe and sound here. If it’s stormy and bad-weathered where you are, please be safe!

Here are 5 things I’m loving right now:

1. The Lucy Hale song “Mistletoe.” It’s been bopping around in my head off and on since I heard her sing it on the “CMA Country Christmas” TV program, and this week I finally went and ordered it on iTunes. Love it!

2. This interesting and thorough article Allyn sent me with tips for staying calm and managing stress {especially useful in this often-stressful holiday season}: https://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20140805002649-50578967-how-successful-people-stay-calm

3. Speaking of the holidays, here are two socially impactful, beautiful gift ideas if you are doing some holiday shopping:

4. I’ve been craving veggies — carrots, celery, bell peppers, kale — even more than usual lately. For example: last night, I sliced up half a bell pepper as part of my dinner, and ended up going back to the fridge and polishing off the rest of the pepper later that night as a snack! I’ve never craved bell pepper before, but there you have it! I believe our bodies tell us what they need, so I’ve been riding the veg-tastic train all week. This is an interesting NPR article about how what you eat affects your mood: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2014/07/14/329529110/food-mood-connection-how-you-eat-can-amp-up-or-tamp-down-stress?

5. This quinoa veggie salad from Costco. Tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper, lentils, beans, quinoa — healthy, light and filling. It’s made a great quick lunch on a couple days this week when time got away from me and I was a little rushed to get out the door.

quinoa salad

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone! I’m gonna leave you with this beautiful John Gardner quote my brother sent me:

greg quote

Questions of the day:

  • What are you loving right now?
  • What are your plans for the weekend?

why I lied to you on friday

Happy Monday, everyone! Hope your day is off to a lovely start. I’ve been nursing a big mug of huckleberry tea all morning… this is the stuff I got on my trip to Seattle and I only have one tea bag left in the box! So I am savoring it.

huckleberry tea

I’ll be back with this week’s year of Wooden post tomorrow, but for today I wanted to pop in with a quick weekend recap because it was a pretty fantastic one around here!

So, remember when I said that I was heading into San Francisco on Friday night for a dinner date with my sweetie to celebrate his birthday?

I lied.

Well, half-lied. Because it wasn’t really a dinner date for just the two of us. It was a reservation for 30 people! I had to keep it quiet here on the blog, because Allyn reads my blog {hi, honey!} and he had no idea… I was throwing him a surprise party!

Here we are getting ready to take BART into the city for our "nice, quiet, date night just the two of us..."

Here we are getting ready to take BART into the city for our “nice, quiet date night just the two of us…”

I’d thrown a couple surprise parties with my roommates in college, but this was my first time ever throwing one by myself, AND it was my first time organizing such a big event! I learned a lot and had a blast. I kept thinking of Coach Wooden’s saying, “The journey is better than the inn.” I definitely enjoyed the month-long “journey” of planning this big surprise! 🙂

Allyn’s friends and family were so helpful — I could not have done it without them. Different people from different areas of his life helped me get the word out and invite his various social circles. I originally made the reservation at the restaurant about a month in advance, and as time went on I had to keep calling them back and increasing the amount of people in my reservation, because the RSVPs were rolling in! One of the best things about planning a surprise party for someone you care about is connecting with all the other people who care about that person, too!

Some things I learned about planning a surprise party:

  • If you’re going to have it at a restaurant, Yelp is your friend! I wanted to find a venue that was not too expensive, was close to public transportation, and was accommodating for big groups. After a bit of searching, I settled on Unicorn Pan-Asian Cuisine, which ended up being perfect.
  • Make your reservation as early as possible! I also think it’s better to over-estimate your attendance and then call back as the date approaches and lower your reservation number. I did it opposite, but I was lucky that they had the space for me to keep increasing my reservation!
  • I’d also recommend checking out the venue in person ahead of time, if possible. It was really helpful for me to be able to picture the restaurant when I was planning the party and describing to guests where they should go when they arrived.
  • Ask the restaurant if they are able to do individual separate checks for a large group. In our case, they were only able to do three separate checks {one for each table} so I asked everyone to bring cash if possible to help making splitting the bill easy. Some people also recommended the VenMo app, which sounds really neat, but we didn’t need to use it — everyone brought cash and it all worked out fine.
  • Delegate! People love a surprise and they love to help. An unexpected benefit of planning this party for my sweetheart was that I grew closer to his friends and family as we engaged in deception together, haha.
  • Have guests arrive 15-20 minutes earlier than the guest of honor does. That way, you have some wiggle room if people are running late. Also, it gives some time for guests to mingle and get to know each other — something I could tell everyone was really happy about.
  • I gave Allyn’s stepmom a big poster card that she had everyone sign while waiting for me and Allyn to arrive. It gave people something to do, plus it is a meaningful memento for Allyn to have from the party, to remind him of all the people who care about him.
  • Keep things as simple as possible! Especially where alibis are concerned. Allyn knew where we were going, when we were going, and how we were getting there. He knew that we were going to dinner to celebrate his birthday. The only thing he didn’t know was that there would be 30 other people there to celebrate with us!

One thing I didn’t take into consideration is my sweetheart’s early bird tendencies! It’s something I love and admire about him — he is always punctual {often early} and hates to keep people waiting. So I should have guessed that he would want to leave for the BART station early to make it into the city for our 7:20 reservation! He said, “If we’re early we’ll just catch an earlier train.” I tried to hide the panic on my face and said, “Then we’ll be too early for our reservation!” Then I camped out in the bathroom for a while to “get ready” 🙂

Other stalling tactics if you’re trying to delay the guest of honor:

  • change your outfit
  • “accidentally” spill something on them so they have to change their outfit
  • go to the bathroom one more time
  • decide to wear a different pair of shoes instead
  • “forget” something and have to go back inside to get it
  • get gas on the way there
  • get “lost” or go the wrong way

Fortunately, none of these stalling tactics are really out of character for me, so Allyn was not suspicious when we left later than he suggested. We ended up hopping on the 6:50 train into the city just like I had planned, which got us into the city at 7:15. Walking to the restaurant, I felt so excited it was hard not to skip! When we got there, I dragged him past the bar area at the front, because I knew everyone was waiting a little further back into the restaurant. My legs were shaking. Everyone jumped up and yelled, “SURPRISE!”

I will forever cherish the memory of that moment. The look on my sweetheart’s face was absolutely priceless. He said later, “I wasn’t surprised…. I was stunned.” He just stood there for a few moments, looking around at all the people from his life — his parents, sister, childhood friends, grad school friends, roommate, mentor — and he kept repeating, “Oh my god. Oh my god.” I could tell he was blown away. It was absolutely wonderful!

The rest of the night flew by. I had so much fun talking and mingling with all these terrific people from my sweetheart’s life. We ended up closing the restaurant down! It was a perfect night.

us and laurel

justin and fawn

allyson and her dad

surprise party

surprise party

surprise party

surprise party

surprise party

surprise party

Happy birthday, Allyn! I love you so much.

Questions of the morning:

  • Have you ever thrown a surprise party?
  • Has anyone every thrown a surprise party for you?
  • What was the highlight of your weekend?

perfect pumpkin pie

Happy weekend, everyone! Sorry that I didn’t get a pumpkin recipe up yesterday … with Greg coming into town and my GRE test this morning, it kind of slipped by the wayside. But I’m happy to report that Pumpkin Week is back today!

I shared in a post last month that I made a delicious pumpkin pie … and that I also made a disaster of a pumpkin pie! Seriously, it was pretty gross. It never seemed fully cooked, so I kept putting it back in the oven for longer and longer, and then the top started to kind of peel away from the rest of the {still-uncooked-seeming} pumpkin mixture. Imagine a creme brulee or pudding sort of thing happening, only on pumpkin pie.

Not. Good.

I was so disheartened I didn’t even take pictures of it. The bad embarrassed blogger in me just tossed it into the trash. I wish now I would have taken pictures so I could have shown it to you. {Thanks to Bonnie at Recipes Happen for encouraging all of us to embrace our mistakes, laugh about them, and learn from them!} Alas, I did not take pictures, so you’ll just have to imagine it and take my word that it was baaaaad.

Here’s what I think happened: I tried substituting truvia for the sugar, and something about that mixture didn’t work out. I don’t know if I added too much of it, or too little, or if just my pie happened to be unlucky, or what. Have any of you tried baking with a sugar substitute like truvia or splenda? Any tips or advice? As you know, I’m always trying to find ways to make recipes healthier! But maybe sometimes, like in the case of pumpkin pie, it’s best to stick with the basics. 😉

I’ve also tried making pumpkin pie with both evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk, and I must say that I like the sweetened condensed version better. It’s a little creamier texture-wise, and has a good balance of sweetness and pumpkiny goodness. My latest experiment has been trying reduced fat sweetened condensed milk, which I’m happy to report tasted just as delicious with fewer calories! Hooray for small victories.

In the past I’ve always used pre-made graham cracker crust from the grocery store  but in the future I’m hoping to try making my own graham cracker crust {or even my own graham crackers after being inspired by this post by Jill at Reini Days!} I’ll keep you posted! I also am very generous with spices, particularly cinnamon. If you’re not the biggest cinnamon fan, you might adjust the spices to fit your tastes.

perfect pumpkin pie

– 1 graham cracker crust {I like the reduced fat version just fine}
– 1 can pumpkin
– 1 can reduced fat sweetened condensed milk
– 2 eggs
– 1 tsp vanilla
– 2 tsp cinnamon
– 1/2 tsp nutmeg
– 1/2 tsp cloves
– 1/2 tsp ginger
– 1/2 tsp salt

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

2. Combine pumpkin with spices and vanilla.

3. Beat eggs and add to pumpkin mixture.

4. Add sweetened condensed milk and beat well.

5. Pour pie filling into graham cracker crust.

6. Bake for 15 minutes at 425 degrees, then turn oven down to 350 degrees and bake for another 40-45 minutes, until a knife inserted in the center of the pie comes out clean.

Serve with whipped cream on top for the perfect pie experience!

YUM! I love pumpkin pie.

I’m in the mood for celebrating now that my GRE exam is over … hooray for the weekend! 🙂 Hope you are having a wonderful day!

-Dallas

marvelous monday: making the most of long car rides

Hi everyone! Hope you had a nice weekend! As I mentioned on Saturday, Mike and I spent the weekend visiting his family, who live in the Chicago suburbs, about a 2.5 hour drive away from us. I miss my family — it is difficult living so far away from them! — but Mike’s family is warm and welcoming and I always love seeing them.

It was a fun weekend! Home cooking, lots of laughter and long conversation, and a visit to the pumpkin patch! Yesterday was a beautiful autumn day in Illinois and we took advantage of it!

If there is one thing I dislike about visiting Mike’s family, it is the long car ride there and back … I am not the biggest car person and five hours in two days feels long to me! I get carsick easily and can’t read or write in the car. I am someone who hates feeling unproductive and I get antsy sitting still in a confined space for so long. But it is obviously worth the drive to get to see Mike’s family, and also I’ve found that by shifting my mindset and implementing some easy car-ride strategies, it has actually become time I look forward to and enjoy! Here are some tips that work for me that I’m hoping might make your next long car ride or even your daily commute more enjoyable:

  • If you have company, savor it! Take the opportunity to have some nice uninterrupted conversations. I love the long, wandering conversations Mike and I have during our car trips together — serious, silly, deep, insightful. It’s quality time we get to spend together, just the two of us, talking. It reminds me of when we first started dating and spent so much time talking-talking-talking, soaking up each other’s stories.
  • Driving solo? Why not take the time to call up a friend or family member for a catch-up chat? {Of course, make sure to use a hands-free headset and drive safe!}
  • Listen to a comedy album. My current fave: the insanely witty Demetri Martin! {You can check out his new album here.} The drive goes by so fast when you are cracking up the whole way there!
  • Listen to an audiobook. I got this idea from my dad, who often runs to audiobooks. {He’s made his way through quite some impressive tomes this way, such as East of Eden and Huckleberry Finn!} Audible.com is a great resource for downloading audiobooks. Or go the free route and check out CDs from the library! When I drove cross-country with my mom to move from California to Indiana for grad school, this is what we did. The CDs are admittedly a little clunkier than your iPod, but they still do the trick.
  • Scan the radio for new-to-you stations. Mike and I found a station that plays Irish-inspired music, which we both love. It felt like a special treat to listen to songs we’d never heard before, and I was scribbling artists’ names down in my notebook to look up later.
  • If you’re not the one driving, spend a little time being productive: pick up any trash that’s found its way onto the floor or between the seats, write checks to pay some bills, etc. One car trip, I organized Mike’s glove box. {Which I will share in a later post!}
  • Do something crafty. I have found long car rides to be an ideal time to knit! I am halfway through a new scarf for Mike right now, thanks to car-ride knitting time.
  • Gaze out the window and daydream. Sometimes we all need some time to reflect and let our minds wander. Tap into your imagination and see where your thoughts take you!

Anyone else have any tips to share? How do you make the most of long car rides or daily commute time?

Have a marvelous week!
-Dallas 🙂

tips for selling things on craigslist

When I first moved to Indiana for graduate school, all I brought with me was what I could fit in my Ford Taurus — mostly clothes, books, small kitchen items, and pictures/special trinkets/mementos. Which means … almost all of my furniture I bought on Craigslist. I had not used Craigslist much before, but I decided to give it a shot because 1) I was on a tight budget; and 2) I try to be as eco-friendly as possible — I love the idea of buying something that might otherwise end up in a landfill and giving it a new home.

All in all, I have been so happy with my purchases! Since then, I have even sold a couple things on Craigslist myself and helped Mike sell some things he no longer needs or uses.

In my experience, often the best first step to organization is getting rid of stuff! Is there any unneeded, unused stuff cluttering up your life? One of my favorite quotes is by Henry David Thoreau: “Simplify, simplify!” He continued, “As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness.”

Go through your closets, kitchen, dresser, etc. and see if there is anything you no longer need or want. Have you used it or worn it in the past three or four months? If the answer is no, maybe it’s time to let it go! And if the item is in good condition, you might be able to make a little money by putting it up on Craigslist.

Now, the cons to Craigslist is it does take a little time to get things posted up there. If your items are not very expensive or in-demand, it might be more worthwhile to donate them to Goodwill instead of spending time putting them up on Craiglist. That said {especially as a grad student on a tight budget} every little bit helps!

Here are some tips from my double-perspective: a savvy Craigslist scourer in the days when I was first furnishing my apartment, and a busy sometimes-Craigslist seller of items I no longer need.

How to Use Craigslist to Simplify your Surroundings & Make a Little Extra Moohlah:

1. Include a photo of the item you are selling! When I was looking for furniture for my apartment, I pretty much only contacted people who posted photos of the item. I wanted to be able to “see” what was being sold before I decided if I was going to drive out and look at it in person!

2. Make your title straight and to the point. What are you selling and for how much? Titles that are too long or have a ton of capital letters and exclamation marks scream desperation, which can attract people who want to bargain you down to the bare bones. On the other hand, as a Craigslist buyer wary of being scammed, long titles that seemed too “sales-pitch-y” often turned me off; they made me feel like the seller was trying to pull one over on me. Let your item speak for itself.

3. Use proper grammar, spelling and punctuation. If you come across professionally {even in relatively informal settings like Craigslist} people will see you as more trustworthy and reliable. And people want to do business with trustworthy, reliable people!

4. Don’t list your items for too much. Don’t expect to get back what you paid for the item. Think garage-sale prices. Think about how great it will feel to get this item out from cluttering up your space. When I sell items, I often take my first-thought price and knock it down by $5 or $10. I would much rather sell the item for $5 less than I originally thought and get it out of my house and at least get something for it, rather than ask $5 more for it and not sell it at all. At the same time, however…

5. Don’t list your items for too little. Expect people to bargain down a little with you. If you list your item for $10, and that is as absolutely as low as you are willing to go, people will likely want to only pay $5 for it. But if you had listed it for $15 originally, someone might be happy bargaining you down to $10. If you list your item for a certain price and it doesn’t sell for a week or two, you can always knock the price down. I think it’s better to start too high and bargain down than it is to start too low, because if you’re too low you’re stuck there.

6. Show you have done your research. I think the most successful Craigslist post I did was when I sold an ice-cream maker that Mike had never even used. It was still in its original box, just collecting dust in his closet. Before I posted an ad on Craigslist, I went onto Amazon and found how much it was selling for there. Then, I was able to reference this in my post: I listed the original price, the reduced price Amazon was selling it for, and the further-reduced price Mike was asking for it. I received an email within a couple hours and the next day a super nice lady came by and bought it to use with her kids. She paid the price we asked, no questions, and I could tell she was thrilled about it. She got a great deal, Mike got a great deal — everybody wins!

Hope those tips help you make the most out of Craigslist — and organize your space and make some extra moohlah in the process! I would love to hear what other tips you would add. Does anyone have a great success story, or lessons learned, about selling or buying items on sites like Craigslist?

Have a great day!
-Dallas

marvelous monday: the magic of to-do lists

There’s something about the way my brain works that makes me really drawn to lists. These lists permeate my life and range from the motivating {goal lists, markets-to-submit-my-writing-to lists} to the mundane {grocery lists, thank-you-notes-to-write lists} but no matter what the topic, it all boils down to this: lists make me a happier and less-stressed person.

And the mother of all lists is the to-do list, which I write pretty much every day. I kinda feel bad for the to-do list. It gets a bad rap. People complain all the time about their to-do lists. {Sometimes I feel like people compete on the lengths of their to-do lists just to have more complaining leverage!} But I think the to-do list can be a really wonderful tool to boost your feelings of motivation and accomplishment, not to mention your sense of organization over your time, work and daily life.

The trick is to use the to-do list in a way that helps you, not hinders you. You want the to-do list to make you feel good about yourself, not stressed out or overwhelmed.

I think the first step in coming up with an effective to-do list system for your life is to take an honest look at how you spend your time. Is there something you wish you were doing more of? Is there anything you feel like you waste time on that you wish you wouldn’t? How much free time do you feel you have every day/week/month? Honesty is crucial here! I think the biggest mistake people make when writing to-do lists {and believe me, I am guilty of this too} is putting waaay too much on the list, more than anyone could possibly get done in a day, and then feeling bad about themselves when the day draws to close and there are still a lot of un-crossed-off items on the list.

So, Tip #1: Be honest and realistic with yourself.

Another thing that works for me is to break to-do list items up into categories of “big” and “small” … sometimes these categories morph into “things I need to do but keep putting off” and “things I need to do and actually like doing.” Then I try to even out these tasks throughout the week. In a perfect world, I’d do at least one “big” task every day, and one or two “small” tasks. When life gets hectic, a good balance for me is to aim for three “big” tasks every week, and maybe 6-8 “small” tasks.

Here are some examples of “big” tasks on my list this week {i.e. things I want to keep putting off but shouldn’t}: get my car in for an oil change; put some items up on Craigslist that I’ve been meaning to sell; go through my closet and weed out clothes to donate.

And here are some examples of “small” tasks on my list this week {i.e. things I should do and don’t mind doing}: go to the Post Office to send out play submissions with upcoming deadlines; try a new recipe I found for Morning Glory Muffins; write & mail a couple thank-you notes; order prints of photos from a recent trip Mike & I took to Chicago; hang up a new picture I got for the guest bedroom.

At the beginning of every week, I jot down a list of the “big” tasks and “small” tasks I want to get done that week, and then every day or every other day I choose a big task and a couple small tasks to tackle. This works for me because:

  • It really helps me focus on one thing at a time and not get overwhelmed by all the things I want to get done
  • It helps me structure the week {for example, maybe one day I’ll focus on running all my errands to save on gas & car time}
  • It makes it much harder for me to put off or procrastinate on certain tasks because I’m just focusing on one per day or one every two days.

There are also a few tasks on my to-do list every day! These relate to bigger goals I want to accomplish in the year. For example, one of my goals is to read 52 books this year, so reading time is on my to-do list every day. I also have a goal of writing at least 400 words every day {which I track on this super-motivating free website www.joesgoals.com — can’t recommend it enough!}

Chores I designate on a weekly basis, and I go through phases. Sometimes I like having a “chore/cleaning day” where I try to get all my cleaning/laundry/dishes/housework stuff done in a single swoop. Other times I’ll go for a few months when I prefer splitting up chores into smaller tasks that I will do day-by-day. I think it’s all about what works for you, how you’re feeling, and what your free time/schedule is like.

For years I’ve saved envelopes and written my to-do lists on the backs of them. Then Mike got me this pretty notepad from the $1 bin at Target — isn’t it adorable? How can you not be excited to tackle your to-do list when you write it out on paper like this? I still save envelopes though because I am always writing lists and I like to be eco-friendly!

It can also be helpful to keep a pad of paper somewhere you pass by every day so you can write down ideas or reminders when they first strike you. {If I don’t do this, half the time I completely forget!} I keep a notepad on the fridge where I jot down items to get at the store, reminders to myself of things to add to my list or places I need to be:

Do you write to-do lists? What sorts of tips work for you? What do you find helpful when organizing your daily or weekly tasks?

Have a marvelous week!
Dallas

10 ways to save money on date night

Happy Friday, everyone! For many people {including my sweet parents!} Friday tends to be date night. Date night is a wonderful way to have some special one-on-one time with your sweetie and remember what it was like when the two of your first started dating and you walked around with butterflies constantly flitting around in your belly.

The downside to date night is that it can get pretty expensive! However, here are some small ways to save money while still having a super fun and romantic time together.

1. Instead of dinner then a movie, try going to a movie first and then having dinner. Most movie theaters offer matinee prices, and a late-afternoon movie rather than a nighttime movie can save you a few bucks a pop. Over the course of a month or a year of movie outings, those few bucks add up!

2. Cook a romantic dinner at home and rent a movie to watch. Because I tend to cook tried-and-true, quick-and-easy recipes during the busy workweek, date night in is a fun time to try making a new recipe I’ve had my eye on. A recent favorite was turkey enchiladas updated with green chile enchilada sauce and bell pepper. And for movie rentals, Redbox charges only a dollar or so for a night’s rental {extra money-saving tip: there are one-time-use free-rental codes available online for most major retail chains that have Redbox kiosks}

3. Whether having date night in or out, an inexpensive bouquet of fresh flowers is a guaranteed way to make the night feel special.

4. Going out to eat? Instead of ordering wine or beer at the restaurant, why not order water instead and have a glass of wine or beer when you get home? In college, my roommates and I had fun concocting homemade margaritas or Kalua milkshakes or fruit-filled sangria. This can also be a way to tweak the ingredients of your drinks to be slightly healthier, and also to ensure that you don’t order one drink too many and then get behind the wheel when you shouldn’t.

5. Same goes for dessert — get more bang for your buck by making something to satisfy your sweet tooth at home rather than splurging on an expensive dessert in a restaurant. I am a huge fan of Betty Crocker mix brownies — it only takes five minutes tops to pour the mix and water and oil in a bowl, crack in an egg or two, mix everything up and pour it into the baking pan. Then curl up on the couch with your honey to watch a movie {maybe in your jammies with a glass of wine, too!} and in about half an hour the brownies will be ready!

6. If you do get dessert out somewhere — like, say, ice cream — why not split a medium size instead of getting two small sizes? For example, at my local Cold Stone, the “love it” size is only about a dollar more than the “like it” size, so getting one “love it” instead of two “like it”s saves a few dollars … which, like the matinee movie tickets, does add up over time!

7. You don’t need a restaurant for a special date night… at least, not in the summertime! Why not pack dinner in a cooler and go for a picnic?

8. A lot of restaurants, especially chain places, will occasionally offer gift card deals — most often I’ve seen them around holidays. As an incentive to buy their gift cards as gifts for people in your life, restaurants will throw in something extra for you — say, a free $10 gift card when you buy $50 worth of gift cards. If the restaurant is a place you go often, and the gift cards don’t expire, this can be a great deal for you to buy and then use yourself.

9. Google the restaurant to see if they have coupons available online — many do!

10. Be on the lookout for fun, alternative date-night ideas. Groupons are often terrific deals! In the past, I have gotten amazingly discounted deals for dates like dinner and a magic show, a murder mystery dinner, and an art museum.