I spent my leanest years in some pretty rockin cities, and I didn’t let a shortage of cash get in the way of my social life. There are lots of ways to have a really good time without spending too much money- you just have to be clever about it. Here are my best tips about having an amazing social life while not going broke.
Keeping food/alcohol bills low
- look at the menu before you agree on the restaurant. If you can’t afford it, suggest an alternative
- sign up for Open Table and then make reservations for the group. You can earn dining points which add up to a free dining check when you have enough points.
- pay attention to food costs- soups, salads, appetizers, sandwiches, hamburgers and pizzas are usually cheaper and can be as filling as an entrée. I can’t even remember the last time I could finish a whole restaurant hamburger, so there is lunch for tomorrow, too!
- don’t drink to excess- learn to nurse your drinks. Alternating alcoholic drinks with nonalcoholic drinks will cut your bill in half, and you will feel better the next day.
- cocktails are (almost always) more expensive than wine, wine is usually pricier than beer, and craft/imported beer is usually more expensive than domestic beer. Think about how much you plan to drink, and order accordingly
- look for happy hour/appetizer specials
- try to get separate checks when in a large group- no one intends to short the bill, but even though you would like to believe your friends all know how to add….evidence has shown time and time again that they can’t. Avoid the stress when possible.
- avoid the extras- skipping an appetizer, dessert and beverage can cut your bill in half
- eat before you meet your friends and then order something small or just a drink
- look for Groupons or livingsocial deals for the restaurant you are eating at
Instead of going out, host at home
- potluck dinner parties are an inexpensive way to enjoy meals with friends
- having a barbeque and asking everyone to bring their own item to grill is another alternative
- learning to make fancy cocktails at home is much more affordable than ordering them at bars
- soups, tacos, vegetarian dishes and egg-based brunch dishes are inexpensive ways to feed crowds
- ask guests to BYOB for dinners or house parties to keep your alcohol costs low
- host a movie night with frozen pizzas, beer and popcorn to save on theater costs
- game nights are a great way to spend time with your friends without spending a lot of cash. I especially like winter game nights because I never feel like getting dressed up for cold weather and then navigating bars with a coat.
- if your house isn’t available for hosting, consider hosting picnics in public parks (check local laws before bringing alcohol)
Check out what is happening on weeknights
- There is usually great local music available with no cover when you go mid-week.
- Sometimes clubs/bars will have midweek theme nights (ie, Tuesday Funk Night, Thursday Line Dancing) that you don’t have to pay a cover for. They can be more fun than weekends!
- If you have clever friends, check out trivia nights. Trivia is fun, and the prize for winning is usually money off of your bill. Less popular trivia nights= more chances of winning for you!
*Don’t ever compromise your safety or the safety of others to save money. DUIs are expensive, hospital bills are expensive, car repairs are expensive, increased insurance is expensive, getting your car from the impound lot is expensive…and there is a lot more at stake than just money. Spend the tiny amount of money for a cab, choose a trusted designated driver before you leave home, or don’t drink. That is what adults do.
- being the designated driver will save you cab fare and a bar tab. Often bartenders won’t charge for nonalcoholic drinks if you tell them you are the designated driver (don’t forget to tip)
- if you know you will need a cab, consider taking public transportation there and then a cab home
- sharing a cab will keep costs low
- if your city has Lyft or Uber you can usually get less expensive rides than a typical cab, and they often offer promotions.
- If you take charge of planning events, you will have more control over how much you (and the rest of the group) spends
- Keep an eye out for free community events- concerts, outdoor movie screenings, festivals
The point of having a social life is to enjoy time with your friends, and it should never make you go broke. Follow these tips, stay safe, and have fun!