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It's suddenly cool to be a cheap date

Oct. 19, 2012 at 2:51 PM ET

A lackluster economy plus ubiquitous mobile technology are behind a surprising date-night trend: More than a quarter of people say they’ve used a coupon to pay for a first date.

A survey conducted by Harris Interactive for CouponCabin.com found that 26 percent of people have brought a coupon to a first date. A voucher or discount code is no third wheel, though; 26 percent also said they would react positively to a coupon-financed first date, up from 18 percent last year.

Nearly three-quarters said that using a coupon wouldn’t prompt them to walk out or deter them from seeing the person again. Only 1 percent of people said they’d walk out on a date who proffered a coupon, while 3 percent would vocalize their displeasure and another 12 percent would keep quiet, but turn that first date into a last date.

“After the past recession and with the recent state of the economy, people definitely have to start educating themselves on how to save money and do what they can to put some extra money in their pockets,” said Jackie Warrick, president of CouponCabin.com. “It’s definitely become a part of people’s everyday life and it’s not seen as taboo.”

According to the survey, 49 percent respondents said they’re more likely to use a coupon on a date because of the economy. (The survey was conducted on a random sampling of more than 2,300 adults, not necessarily CouponCabin users, which might have skewed the results pro-coupon.)

More than seven out of 10 respondents said it’s okay to use a coupon on a date anytime, while 37 percent said it’s acceptable for married couples and 31 percent said students can get away with pulling out a coupon when it’s time to pay. Only 4 percent said it’s “never” acceptable to use a coupon “on any kind of date.”

While the economy is the catalyst, the growing use of smartphones is what makes date-night couponing so prevalent, Warrick said.

“With the rise of digital and mobile technology, people can access coupons on their phones on the go,” she said. Technology makes it possible to use coupons without pre-planning: Merchants use location-based services like Yelp and Foursquare to push offers to people in the area, and mobile apps mean it’s not necessary to print up a paper coupon or gift certificate at home.

The ubiquity of daily deal sites like Groupon.com and LivingSocial.com, which frequently offer discounts on date-friendly activities like bike rentals and sunset cruises, also contributes to the growing acceptance of cut-rate dates, Warrick said. “It’s definitely allowing people to get out there and do more.”

But you don’t need to take your date rock-climbing. Couponing has been incorporated into that old standby of dinner and a movie, Warrick said. Sites like Fandango and Restaurant.com let restaurant and movie theater operators reach customers who want a traditional night out without breaking the bank.

Rather than viewing a coupon as the mark of a cheapskate, Warrick said it’s actually a desirable quality to display on a date in these economic times. “It definitely conveys that you’re smart with your money,” she said. 

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