Dating at a distance – MSE Becky's four-step MoneySaving plan

Dating at a distance – MSE Becky's four-step MoneySaving plan

Including free dating apps, where to 'meet', and free or cheap fun date ideas

Reports suggest there's been a boom in online dating over the past couple of weeks – after all, following your heart needn't take you further than your front door if you can find it on your screen. Virtual dating may seem like something out of an episode of Black Mirror, but since bars, a picnic, or Nando's are off-limits for a date, it's going to be the new norm for many for a little while.

Of course, this dating lark is a whole lot harder when you can't actually meet in person, so like Cupid with a computer, I've come up with some fun MoneySaving tips to help combat that – so you and your date can create that virtual spark and keep it burning.

In this guide I'll cover the below four steps. Please feel free to skip over step one if you're already in a relationship – if you don't, you might get in a spot of trouble.

1. Find a date for free
2. How to virtually meet for free
3. Prepare for the date
4. The date itself (the fun bit)

Step one - Find a date using free trials for paid-sites and free apps

First thing to say is... being single isn't a bad thing – I once dated a guy who wore boxers with his own face on them who made me realise that. It wasn't even one giant face, it was many, many little faces. But poor underwear choices aside, if you are looking to date, here are some free ways to help you find someone to hook, line and sync together.

Normally to use dating site/app eharmony, you'd need a paid subscription, but we've blagged a free – no strings (or credit cards) attached – seven-day trial*, which you can claim until 11.59pm on Mon 20 Apr (extended from the original end date of Mon 13 Apr). Let this be the only no-strings-attached relationship in your life right now.

What's different about eHarmony over many other dating tools, is it uses an algorithm to match you to potential suiters via a compatibility quiz. Once you've filled it in (it takes about 20 minutes), you'll be matched from day one.

The trial will work on both the website or mobile app (get it on Android or Apple). Also, see its 18 first date questions if you're having trouble finding the right Q's for your potential beaus (or belles).

To the left, to the left... no Beyoncé wasn't singing about popular dating app Tinder (in fact it didn't launch till many years later) but if you want to take a swipe at love, it could be worth a go. The premise of Tinder is simple (if not a bit superficial)... you'll see photos of other singles within a local radius – swipe left if you don't like the look of them, right if you do – if both of you swiped right for each other, then you're able to message.

While Tinder's localised search is free, you normally have to pay £8.99 a month for its premium 'Passport feature' which is included in the Tinder Plus subscription. This allows you to connect with anyone, anywhere in the world – not just those local to you. However, it's made the feature available for free until Thu 30 Apr. Remember to consider that if they are on the other side of the world, meeting up down the line could be tricky (and expensive) but if you're willing to go the long distance, go get some Tinder loving care.

A free app that its makers say is “designed to be deleted” – challenge accepted (I'm still challenging it). What separates Hinge from most dating apps is rather than a profile, you're asked a series of quirky questions to get to show-and-tell a little more about yourself besides your height, a load of emojis explaining your hobbies, and how much you go to the gym.

Everyday I'm bumbling. Bumble is a free mobile app that turns the tables on modern dating. In order to ignite a conversation, it's women who have to make the first move. Some women can find it a bit intimidating, but like the saying goes, 'just imagine everyone in the room naked' and you'll be grand. If not, 'Hi' is a good place to start.

Step two - How to virtually meet for free

Here's a positive spin... Social distancing can be a good opportunity to really get to know each other. Some time ago, a date asked me if he could lick my face mid-date, so feel lucky you won't get those sort of questions thrown at you.

Obviously not having that face-to-face connection can be incredibly hard, so it's important we get creative in how to recreate eye contact and body language through the camera lens – see how to look and sound better on camera.

While you may have heard of the below services, I'll give you the lowdown of what they’re best for to help you choose the one to use. These free extensions should all be able to share screens which is essential for some of the dating ideas in this guide. Here's how to turn meeting IRL to URL:

The only house party you're currently allowed to have. You've probably heard the name pop up a few times and wondered what is this party you've not been invited to. Well it's a free social networking service that enables you to connect via video chat through desktop or mobile apps and allows both group and one-to-one chats.

It works on Android, iOS, Mac or Chrome – although you won't be able to use all it's funky features on a computer/laptop. Phones and tablets can use it to play multi-person games such as Heads Up, Trivia and Quick Draw.

If you do use it, remember to 'lock the room' (select the key lock icon in the menu bar so it turns from unlocked to locked), otherwise anyone can join in and gatecrash your date... awkward.

Zoom 

If Sandra from accounts can get herself, her many cats and a houseplant on a chat in Zoom, you can surely organise a date on it. Zoom is more known in the business world to set up meetings with teams for free, but that doesn't mean you can't turn business into leisure (or pleasure) with a one-on-one convo. Here's a tweet from @hollyshortall using Zoom to its full potential (see how you can add backgrounds like these with Snap Camera):

Skype is like that ornament your mum has sitting on the cabinet shelf, it's been around for ages and you're not quite sure why it's there, but it definitely has its uses. Skype is free and easily accessible for most people if you don't fancy demanding your potential date to download something lesser-known they're not comfortable with.

Other free alternatives that you may already have on your device to connect via video are Facetime (if you both have Apple devices), Whatsapp, or Google Duo, but not all these will be able to have the same screen sharing features as the above tools.

Step three - Prepare for the date

I think getting ready for a date is just as important as going to it. Even though we can’t physically step outside to socialise, if we can get ourselves dressed up to the masses, it will give off that feeling that you're actually going out on one.

For a laugh I always like to look at Wikihow's ‘How to get ready for a date’, but check out these helpful free hair, make-up and grooming tutorials:

Hair and makeup tutorials 💄

Grooming tutorials 🧔🏻

Lights, camera, hack-tion 🎬

Lighting is everything when it comes to looking your best. You can spend hours on hair and make-up only to be sitting in a dark room for no one to see it. Here are some tips and hacks you can use to trick the camera:

Order dinner for your date 🍕

A lovely suggestion by MSE Ant's wife (hi Kayleigh!) is that before the date, you could both order a food delivery for each other's dinner. Of course this should be for dates you know the partner well enough to trust giving over your home address to (and know of any allergies).

Delivery companies such as Deliveroo, Uber Eats or Just Eat, or the direct websites of takeaways might be a fun way of picking your other half a surprise meal for them to enjoy. Make sure you order in plenty of time as delivered food is in high demand during these times, especially evening. On a budget? Why not cook a meal together and make that your date.

Step four - The date

Most of these will require you to use 'share screen' on your chosen social networking service, but feel free to adapt or dare I say add to it. 

Watch a movie together 🍿

While you can't go to the cinema, or visit each other's homes to watch a movie together, if you both have Netflix then there's a free Google Chrome extension which takes 'Netflix and chill' to a whole new level. Chrome extension Netflix Party enables you to synchronise the same movie, so you can watch it simultaneously. There's no need to hand over your Netflix password, just go to Netflix and click on the extension, then hit the 'Start the party' button and boom your chat has begun.

Cook the same meal 🍳

If you opted out of a takeaway, you may want to cook from home which will likely be more MoneySaving, and it can be just as much fun and slightly healthier (though that's up to you). You can make the date cooking the meal itself. Why not pick a theme or particular recipe you both could give a go and enjoy eating together. A few suggestions on where to find free recipes are BBC Food, Miguel Barclay, Jamie Oliver, Joe Wick's The Body Coach and popular video tutorials at Tasty.

Go on a blind date ❤️

If you watched the recent Love is Blind series on Netflix, then you may want to give this go.

Snapchat's free Snap Camera has entertained me for hours, even without anyone on the other end. It allows you to apply lenses to your webcam that 'disguise' you as all kinds of weird objects from a potato to an egg to a piece of bread. It can be used for desktop and mobile and will need to be changed in your video settings to the 'Snap camera' for it to work.

For a fun first date, you could both turn up in disguise, get to know each other's personalities and best chat, and then reveal your faces (hopefully they still don't look like a potato).

Here are a few examples of what I've become in my finest hours (obviously angled at my good side):

Make a collaborative music playlist 🎶

Like a mixtape but with less rewinding, why not make a shared music playlist? Add in your favourite songs to make the perfect background noise to your date. If you don't already have music streaming service Spotify, it has a free version – see how to make a collaborative playlist.

Do some stargazing together 🌠🔭

There's a starman, waiting on the screen. That's right, romance isn't dead. Head online to Stellarium-Labs and see the sky like never before. It's free to use, and you can zoom in on stars, galaxies and nebulas as well as viewing what kind of planets are visible that night.

Look at all those stars (and Uranus)

Google map your home town 🌍

Take a trip down memory lane and hop on to Google Maps. Use Streetview to point out where you first rode a bike, where you went to school, your first kiss, your first break up, where you nearly fell into the canal in front of all those people and no one came to help, and then finally your lovely grandparent's cottage by the seafront. Think of all the petrol you'll save not going there in person.

My local pub 'The Beehive' in the area where I grew up

Visit culture from around the world like never before 🎨

I've recently discovered Google's Arts & Culture and I'm in love. Over 2,000 museums and archives have partnered with Google Cultural Institute to let you explore collections and projects for free, including some out of this world 360° videos, such as Nasa's 360° on the Orion Nebula, meeting a prehistoric Sea Dragon and coming up close and personal with the artist of the world's largest 3D printed sculpture.

You can also visit the British Museum, Van Gogh Museum, Frida Kahlo Museum, Munch Museum, Georgia O'Keeffe MuseumMusée d’Orsay, Paris, and so many more for free. 

For more virtual holidaying you can do together, see MSE Oli's Free virtual globe-trotting, tours & experiences.

Frida Kahlo Museum

Paint a picture together 🖌️

You don't need to be Leonardo Di Vinci to make a masterpiece. On Aggie.io, you can paint the town red (but there are other colours available) and get your creative on by sharing this free online software that allows you to draw together. Just copy and paste the URL link so you both can share the same art space.

Painting suggestions include:

1. What's outside your window
2. Start a drawing and let the other person finish
3. A portrait of each other (could be risky)
4. Your dream house
5. Your future children (too much?)

Self portrait: Think I've really captured my blonde box hair and smaller right foot

Play an escape room 🗝️

Who wouldn't want to escape a room right now? I thought these escape rooms only existed in socially awkward team-building work outings, but now you can do them online for free. There's plenty to play at 365escape and it's a great way to keep the date moving forward if chat may be going backwards. Be warned not all the games I tried worked, but there are a few on there you can lock and key into if you catch my drift.

Sing some karaoke 🎤

Digital karaoke service Singa allows you to sing three songs a day completely free (or a 30-day unlimited trial via a cancellable subscription) – and there's a playlist for duets. Some duets I recommend are Bradley Cooper & Lady Gaga's 'Shallow', Grease The Musical's 'You're The One I Want' and Tammi Terrel and Marvin Gaye's 'Ain't No Mountain High Enough'. Not quite a duet, but I had a go at this one:

Watch some comedy 😂

Not funny? This should help. We've blagged a free two week comedy streaming subscription at NextUp (norm £9.99/month or £57.48/year), until 11.59pm on Tue 14 Apr. NextUp is meant to be the "Netflix of UK stand-up", so it'll feel like you've popped down your local pub to watch some comedy gold. If you really want to recreate that open mic night feeling, sprinkle a few salt 'n' vinegar crisps around you and make the floor extra sticky.

Watch a live stream of baby otters 📷

Sea otters hold hands while sleeping so that they don't drift away – if that's a fact you don't know, you otter know now. The Monterey Bay Aquarium has hooked up a free live webcam that watches its otters from Midnight to Midday UK time. There's a pre-recorded video of the sea otter exhibit if you don't quite catch the real time.

Go through old holiday snaps 🌴

Maybe not for the first date, but perhaps those in long-distance relationships right now. There couldn't be a better time to reminisce over those hundreds of photos you took on holiday. You'll need to share your screen for this, but if you want to jazz it up you can add it into a presentation. I recently did a PowerPoint of my whole holiday to Thailand to the MSE team over a video call and I'm pretty sure no one hates me for it, although they have been rather quiet ever since.

Have you had a date that was incredibly fun or one that you wish you'd pulled the plug on? I'd love to hear your stories and suggestions, especially if you've tried some of my ideas out and they worked!  Let me know in the comments below, or on Twitter @MSE_Deals. Stay safe and spread the love.