The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops recently offered its one cent to married couples struggling through the current recession. (It used to offer two, of course, but everybody’s cutting back these days.) On its For Your Marriage website the USCCB lists “Ten Cheap Dates” that won’t cost you and your spouse an arm and a leg, which, incidentally, will be the new currency once the federal government runs out of bailout money and is forced to shut down the U.S. Mint.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Here are some of the website’s date ideas:

“Tech-free” night. Turn off your cell phones, computer, the TV, and the lights. See what’s left to do without electricity. Sing old songs, have a pillow fight, recount stories of how you met, plan for the future.

I’m not married, but if my girlfriend, Aimiee, and I were to turn off the lights and “see what’s left to do,” I doubt it’d be a pillow fight, which is a dangerous thing to do in the dark. I once read that most household accidents occur in the household, and that those accidents can lead to hospitals, which still charge lots and lots of money for their services. (Luckily, they’ll be able to pay for everything themselves once that arm-and-a-leg currency becomes the norm.)

Let me state the obvious: the Catholic bishops know you’re going to fool around once the lights are off, but you may recall that they’re not big on birth control. Condoms can be expensive, so they have a point, but keep in mind that once the result of your “tech-free” power surge pops out around Christmas, you’ll still be tech-free because of all the costs that come with a new baby. In other words, don’t expect to be lighting up your Christmas tree this year, let alone buying one.

Be a tourist. Pretend you’re a tourist in your own town. Visit a museum, a scenic overlook, or a quaint neighborhood. Discover something new together!

Aimiee and I tried this one on Friday, but we just ended up walking past our favorite restaurants and saying, “Ooh, look — we used to be able to afford that!” Besides, if you act like a tourist you’re going to be approached by homeless people, who can smell the just-visiting kind a mile away. Then again, you can often smell them a mile away. (Look, if you’re going to take shots at someone during a recession, you might as well be frugal and make them cheap shots.) But because you’re “nice,” you’ll end up giving them money, except none of them will end up being a “secret millionaire” like the ones on that Fox show who reward working-class people’s kindness.

However, there is money to be made on the poor side of town if you start up your own poverty tourism, or “poorism,” business. Since 2006 Christopher Way has conducted walking tours of the Dharavi slum of Mumbai, India, and now that Slumdog Millionaire has been crowned Best Picture at the Oscars, business is up 25 percent. Way told Gannett News Service that his company, Reality Tours and Travel, tries to “break down the negative image of slums, [and] highlight the industry and sense of community.” If he becomes a not-so-secret millionaire in the process, is that so bad? Start your own broke-sploitation business and it could happen to you (minus the Bridget-Fonda-falling-in-love-with-you part).

Down memory lane. Look through old photos and tell each other stories of your childhood and families. If you feel really energetic, begin to put those lose photos in albums or on a disc. Your children will appreciate it one day.

Even though I’m too lazy to meet weekly deadlines, I’m not so lazy that I have “lose” photos lying around. In fact, putting photos in albums is one of the things I do best when I’m avoiding writing. If you’re a married Catholic couple, you should know that your bishop thinks you’re about as organized as a five-year-old. Which is another reason why you shouldn’t fool around once the lights are off — babies shouldn’t be having babies.

“Evening at the Ritz.” Dress up and go to the lobby of an elegant hotel. Sit in the lounge and order a drink or snack. People watch and fantasize.

The bishops must be inhaling some tainted incense — this is not a healthy idea. My sources in Hollywood tell me that Robert Redford loved his role in 1993’s Indecent Proposal so much that he still goes around offering young married couples a million dollars if the wife will sleep with him. What kind of hotels do you think the Natural Condor hangs out in? Elegant ones, of course!

Shall we dance? Visit the local music store and pick up the latest hot dance CD (maybe your kids can help you choose). Buy a few snacks and plan your own party later that evening.

Now I know for certain that heaven’s most outsourced employees are clueless — what local music store? According to a 2006 Washington Post article about the downfall of Tower Records, there were approximately 9,500 chain music stores in the U.S. in 1991, compared to 2,000 in ’06, and it’s only gotten worse since then. Your kids may already have “the latest hot dance CD,” albeit in MP3 format, but that doesn’t mean they want you dancing to Ne-Yo. It’s like how you feel about them having sex — you know it’s going to happen, but you’d rather be far, far away when it does.

That brings me to some ideas of my own for cheap dates:

Go to the library. Check out a copy of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath and take turns reading chapters to each other. Then write your own novel inspired by the current depression. Or see if the library’s video collection includes Sydney Pollack’s They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Or help organize a dehumanizing dance marathon like the one in the movie! Or just shoot a horse and save on meat for the rest of the year.

Steal something together. Yeah, sure, your kids are angels, but they probably stole that Ne-Yo CD off the Internet. I bet even God has downloaded some old Judas Priest tracks for the sake of “research.” Seriously, do you realize how much free music is a click away on your computer? And do you realize how much the music industry ripped you off in the ’90s with overpriced CDs containing two good songs, which you were able to sell back to some judgmental hipster behind the counter at an independent record store for only a fifth of what you paid? (The answer is $480 million. I know!) And do you realize the Flaming Lips’ “Do You Realize??” is waiting for you at the end of this column — for free? (No, you may not skip ahead.) So don’t feel guilty about stealing music. Stealing can be fun!

Take a “trip” to your local pharmacy. How often do you clean out your medicine cabinet? Just because some of those pills are expired doesn’t mean the thrill is gone. Take a few, wait five minutes, and then describe your hallucinations — or whatever the bathroom floor looks like up close — in as many words as you can remember. Slurred ones don’t count.

Raise the stakes. If you’re like me, you have lots of old firearms lying around the house that aren’t being used much anymore, yet you’re hesitant to give them up or even donate them to needy gang leaders because then the President Obama will have won. Instead, why not use them to play Russian roulette with your sweetie? It’s a game that always gets the blood pumping, and you can make up your own unique rules, e.g. “Whoever loses has to pay for dinner.”

Get arrested and go to jail. Then hire a bad lawyer and go to prison. Why? Because prisoners get three meals a day, free gym membership, and unlimited access to books and tattoos, all at the expense of taxpayers like you (unless you’re famous or a politician and therefore not a taxpayer)!

Married or otherwise, we’ll all get through this recession. And if you are “otherwise,” you should know that according to another recent Gannett wire story, the U.S. government has launched a $5 million media campaign to promote marriage to men and women between the ages of 18 and 30. (Shh! Don’t tell Aimiee. Specifically, don’t tell her I’ve been lying about my age.)

As part of its campaign, the government is funding a website called, which includes its own list of activities that unmarried couples can do on a budget, including “Break a Sweat Together.” Similar to the Catholic bishops’ list, that kind of message could lead to pregnancy and a shotgun wedding if it were somehow misinterpreted by “reporters” such as myself. But it would also mean one more married couple paying fewer taxes each year, taxes that might otherwise be spent on misguided media campaigns like this one. (Shh! Don’t tell Washington.)

Sly & the Family Stone, “Babies Makin’ Babies” (from 1973’s Fresh)
Alex Chilton, “Lost My Job” (from 1985’s 19 Years: A Collection of Alex Chilton)
Simply Red, “Money$ Too Tight (to Mention)” (from 1985’s Picture Book)
Prince & the New Power Generation, “Money Don’t Matter 2 Night” (from 1991’s Diamonds and Pearls)
The Flaming Lips, “Do You Realize??” (from 2002’s Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots)

About the Author

Robert Cass

Robert Cass lives in Chicago. For Popdose he's written under the Sugar Water, Bootleg City, and Box Office Flashback banners and collaborated on the series 'Face Time with Jeff Giles and Mike Heyliger.

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