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No Check, Please 

Have you forgotten? Date night is more fun without money.

Fox News in the background. Light jazz in the fore. Rivulets of speech wash over the click click click of keyboards, are then swept aside by the announcement. "You are approaching a very sensitive metal detector," the voice warns. I am in the Sacramento airport sporting a laptop, an accoutrement of my new job, listening to Jack Gallagher explain the finer points of security checkpoints.

This latest career move promises challenge, controversy and a salary that will keep the bills paid somewhat more reliably than my seven-and-a-half year stint as a journalist. But the gap between last paycheck at the old gig and first paycheck at the new calls for restraint, responsibility and careful planning.

Ugh. That sounds so boring.

Admittedly, this tendency to rebel against even my own authority signifies a lack of maturity on my part -- and therein lies my downfall. Perhaps you, too, can only follow the straight-and-narrow so far before the desire to gorge on life's juicy ripeness sends you dancing off the path and into the trees. Which is all so fine, to be a free-spirit, reveling in pleasure, no boring banking business damping down your joy. High-yield savings account? Credit score? Who cares? Why say "no" to indulgences when life should be one great big fat, "Yes!"

Except at some point, one grows tired of the short-term gratification forever pre-empting long-term satisfaction. Money, food, booze -- without some discipline, you'll end up broke, fat and perpetually hungover. (Well, some of you are probably quite sensible, but not all of us are born with the restraint gene intact, it seems.) So how to continue cultivating moments of delight while stepping up to smarter money management?

After all, just because California's unemployment has hit an all-time high, our environmental crises continue to worsen and we face the elimination of all state services that matter most is no reason to turn dour and sour. Now, more than ever, we need to find fun where we can. This is no, "Go shopping or the terrorists have won!" philosophy; more a nod to the classic Latin motto "Illegitimi non carborundum" -- don't let the bastards get you down. If you need to, look at it like this: you're an amazing, beautiful, good-hearted person who deserves to be financially secure, so don't sabotage yourself. Keep having fun, but do it for less. I asked around for some good cheap date ideas. What can two people do for $10 or less that doesn't suck?

First up: Arcata Theatre Lounge's Sunday matinee movies. Four dollars each before 6 p.m. Buy some of that 50-cent popcorn at the snack bar, then snuggle up in the swankiest spot in Humboldt and marvel at the majesty of old movies. This Sunday it's "My Man Godfrey," with William Powell and Carole Lombard, touted as "the definitive screwball comedy."

Also in Arcata, the sweet new Arcata Scoop. If they serve ice cream in heaven, it might be almost as good as this. The strawberry, the Earl Grey, the chocolate-covered grasshopper?! Spend $5 on a couple kid-sized cones or upgrade to the regular single-scoop for under $4 each, then stroll on down to the Marsh. When's the last time you visited the Marsh? If you can't remember, you're overdue. The Marsh is particularly fabulous because depending on the weather and tide, the experience changes dramatically -- but always manages to calm and inspire. (Except when your car gets broken into. That's why you should walk from Arcata proper.)

Continuing the outdoor theme, hop in the car and head toward the South Spit, stopping at Eureka Natural along the way. Get strawberries. Or watermelon. Or whatever in-season, sweet and juicy fruit tickles your fancy. You'll need to get at least 30 mpg and live in Eureka to keep this under $10, but if that's you, the 20-mile drive out to the end of the South Spit passes more quickly than expected. Once there, you'll be amazed how far away you feel, how big the sky suddenly becomes. If you're on the northern side of things, try College Cove (don't leave valuables in the car -- might as well not lock it, either) or a hike around Trinidad Head. The wind exhilarates. Duck down a spur and make out.

Have a bike? Spend $10 at Farmers' Market, then cruise somewhere pretty for a picnic. The only limit is how far you're willing to pedal. (One of the best dates my husband and I had over the winter involved riding bikes down the peninsula to watch the big waves at the Harbor Entrance. He packed a thermos of tea for us to share. We fought the wind on the way and were caught in a downpour on the way back. Despite the cold and wet, the euphoria of being in the elements together left us grinning.)

On the flipside, stay in. But instead of the usual rent-a-movie fallback, drag out the chess set, the backgammon board, the mancala, naughty Pictionary. The games engage your mind and keep you paying far more attention to each other than yet another copycat comedy.

Go to, hit "Calendar" and do a search for keyword "karaoke." Pick one and go. Note: This might be especially challenging to keep under $10, though, as I imagine the temptation to order up some liquid courage would be too strong to resist. Alternately, figure out how many people you need to split the cost of renting a karaoke machine from The Party Place and host a potluck at your house. (You provide low-cost pasta with zucchini sautéed in olive oil, a little salt and pepper. Easy, yummy, cheap.)

Go to Arts!Alive. Nosh. Stroll. Admire the creativity of your fellow citizens. Immerse yourself in the river of energy that flows through Old Town the first Saturday night of each month. Hold hands so you don't get washed away.

And, of course, the cheapest date of all (assuming effective birth control is part of the plan): de-clutter the bedroom, cut some flowers to pretty it up, set a pitcher of lemon water and your finest glasses to the side and spend a few hours in your homemade love nest.

None of these make the hard times go away, but any of the above activities will cause the stress to recede, albeit briefly -- and when you feel as though you're drowning, even the smallest breath is a miracle. And you might, accidentally or deliberately, end up with a lifeboat of your own crafting.

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Jennifer Savage

Jennifer Savage

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