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9 Ideas for Hanging Out With Friends on a Tight Budget

Ignoring a friend’s phone call is a terrible thing to do, but I’ll admit I’ve done it for financial reasons. It wasn’t because I borrowed money I couldn’t repay, nor was I worried a friend was calling for a loan. The problem is that friendships are often like expensive subscriptions – it feels like you only get access when you pay your dues. And in the case of friends, dues come in the form of spending money.

Socializing is one of America’s favorite pastimes, second only to watching TV, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But spending time with friends usually involves spending money to go somewhere or do something – and whipping out your wallet for the sake of being around people takes a serious toll on your finances.

Instead of spending a lot of money going out to eat, order takout instead. You won’t need to buy drinks and you eliminate the urge to splurge on appetizers. Order through DoorDash and you’ll receive $0 deliver fee on your first order.

It’s sad to contemplate whether it’s worth hanging out with friends, but it’s even worse when you want to socialize but stay home, bored and lonely, to stay within the constraints of your personal budget. If you feel like you’re constantly weighing your friendships against your finances, it’s time to reconsider your approach.

Tips for Going Out

According to Gallup, in 2014, Americans’ personal spending averaged $94 per day. We’re not talking about paying bills – that figure refers to pocket-money that was spent eating, drinking, buying clothes, and indulging in hobbies. When we leave the house, we often spend more than we realize, which is why it’s smart to start planning and setting guidelines that give you better control of your spending.

1. Slash Your Bar Bill

Drinking with friends is a common but quick way to eat through your entertainment budget, especially if your crew likes to go out. Cutting your spending on alcohol is an excellent way to start concentrating on tactics to save when socializing.

Bars and restaurants often mark up alcoholic beverages by as much as 600%. When you consider the inflated prices passed on to consumers, advice to “drink wisely” takes on a whole new meaning.

To save money, do most of your social drinking in someone’s home. Even if you have to catch a cab to go out afterward, splitting the fare is cheaper than a bar tab for several people. Try to select a beverage or two that everyone will drink, so each person isn’t buying alcohol individually.

If you drink with friends regularly or have a party or other event planned that requires a lot of alcohol, buy it in bulk. Cases and kegs are far cheaper than repeatedly running to the store for another bottle or six-pack. And don’t forget to shop where the prices are best, which not only means finding the cheapest store, but also the cheapest jurisdiction.

If you live near city, county, or state lines, prices can vary significantly, so make sure you get the best deal. For example, a Washington Post comparison found that a 750ml bottle of Jack Daniels costs $24.48 in Virginia, and $25.06 from the largest retailer in Washington, D.C. However, at stores in Maryland, the bottle costs only slightly over $20.

When you do go out drinking, do it sooner rather than later, especially if you frequent a place that offers happy hour. Many establishments try to attract an after-work crowd and offer drink specials and discounted food on weekdays between 4pm and 8pm. By the time prices go up, be ready to move out.

In some locations, such as New York, it’s legal to bring your own bottle of alcohol to restaurants. So if you’re going out to eat and want to drink, select BYOB restaurants instead of buying drinks on-site. Be aware of corkage fees, which are generally charged per bottle, and give preference to restaurants that don’t charge at all.

Slash Bar Bill

2. Avoid Retail Shopping Trips

Absolutely refuse to turn to retail for entertainment. Adding to your wardrobe for the sake of it is wasteful and raises the risk of buyer’s remorse. Window shopping is an equally horrible idea, as being in a retail setting encourages impulse buying, especially when peer pressure is involved.

Shop with friends only when you need something or if they really need your advice. Even then, be smart about it. Begin your search at outlets and discount stores, such as T.J.Maxx, Marshalls, and Burlington Coat Factory, and go to more expensive retailers or specialty shops only if you can’t find what you need. Also, check out street vendors, flea markets, and consignment shops to find good deals and unique items.

3. Seek Special Admission

Have you ever been to a restaurant that’s cheaper at lunchtime than at dinner? One reason why restaurants slash prices early in the day is to attract customers at times when business is below peak levels. Peak times are a business’s busiest hours, days, or seasons, and avoiding activities at those times is a simple way to drastically reduce spending.

Off-peak or special prices are often listed on a company’s website, but you may also find offers in newspapers, city guides, and on the radio. Offers may be extended by the following types of businesses:

  • Amusement Parks. Admission is often deeply discounted in the evenings, on weekdays, and during pre- and post-season months. Not only can you save money by visiting during off-peak times, but you can also reduce the amount of time you stand in lines.
  • Museums and Tourist Attractions. Such businesses commonly offer reduced or free admission for certain hours or days. Take the Guggenheim in New York, for example: Adult admission is $16 unless you visit on Saturdays between 5:45 and 7:45pm when it’s pay what you wish. The Studio Museum in Harlem is free all day on Sundays.
  • Movie Theaters. Movie tickets are more expensive for evening shows, so catch a matinée. You may pay nearly 50% less than you would at night.
  • Bowling Alleys. Some bowling alleys extend offers to bowl a set number of games or hours at a reduced flat rate. At the AMF in Mechanicsville, Virginia, normal rates range up to $20 per two-hour session. But Sundays after 6pm you can bowl two hours for only $6, and on Thursdays, college students can indulge as much as they like from 9pm to closing for only $7.
  • Clubs. Many clubs offer free or reduced admission, often before 10pm. Granted, ladies get these offers more than guys, but all clubbers should take advantage of the opportunity whenever possible.
  • Outdoor Activities. Canoeing, whitewater rafting, camping, ziplining, cycling, and other outdoor activities are generally most expensive during the warmest months and on holidays and weekends, so look for better prices on weekdays and when it’s cloudy, drizzling, and cool.

4. Find Special Offers

Coupons aren’t only for grocery shopping. Use services like Groupon and LivingSocial to find limited-time offers and discounts for restaurants, clubs, and shows. Use travel sites such as Expedia and Travelzoo to find deals on activities, excursions, and dining and entertainment packages in your home city. And look in city guides, regional magazines, and newspapers to find grand openings, which provide a great way to try new things at discounted rates.

5. Use Memberships

Purchase memberships or season passes to take advantage of multi-visit discounts at places you visit often. Just be sure to do the math to ensure that it works out to your advantage.

For example, a weekday ticket to Busch Gardens in Tampa costs $75, but the $99 Ride, Dine, and Slide pass entitles you to two admissions and two meals. It’s clearly a wise deal for anyone who plans to visit the park twice during the operating season. Plus, having memberships gives you options for days when you don’t want to spend more money but are looking for something to do.

Also, take advantage of resources you already have, such as access to your community’s clubhouse or your gym membership. Inviting your friends for a 60-minute stint on the treadmill may not sound too attractive, but meeting up to play racquetball, enjoy a sauna session, or try a new hip-hop fitness class may be much more enticing.

Purchase Membership Season Passes

6. Find Free Activities

Believe it or not, there are still free activities left on Earth. Art galleries, parks, festivals, beaches, community days, and local band performances are great examples. Look on your city’s or town’s events calendar, or do a Google search for free attractions in your area.

7. Watch Out for Sneaky Costs

Remember, small changes can make a big difference over time, so keep your eyes peeled for sneaky costs that eat into your budget, such as parking. Instead of meeting up and paying to park multiple cars, ride together so you can split the expense.

Staying In

You don’t have to go out to enjoy time with your friends. Making use of amenities on your property, such as a pool, jacuzzi, or fishing pier, and planning weekly in-home entertainment are great ways to socialize without breaking the bank.

8. Enjoy Cheap Indoor Activities

If you have several friends with diverse interests, you can set up multiple weekly dates, which can help you fill more of your spare time with cheap activities.

  • Sporting Events. Take turns hosting game day get-togethers instead of hanging out in pricey sports bars.
  • TV Night. If you and your friends are addicted to the same series, watch it together. And if you aren’t a TV fan, take turns renting movies or watching films on Netflix, Hulu Plus, or Amazon Prime.
  • Game Night. Get together and play board games or plan a casino night.
  • Eating Events. Plan potlucks, cookouts, and theme-based cook-a-thons instead of spending money eating out.
  • Clubs. Start a photography, book, knitting, motorcycle, or any other type of club.
  • Swap Meet. Reduce clutter and get new stuff without spending a dime by organizing a trading session where you and your friends swap unwanted items.

9. Cultivate Better Friendships

It’s odd how we look for things to go out and do while there are so many things we need to get done at home. Being available to socialize with friends doesn’t mean you can’t do anything productive while they’re around.

It’s nice to have company while you’re washing the car or tending the vegetable garden, and it’s even better when friends are willing to lend a helping hand. You may be able to save yourself or a friend money if together you tackle projects that you considered hiring someone to handle, such as painting a room.

Be a better friend yourself by breaking the habit of having to do something that requires spending money. You shouldn’t need money every time you want a friend around, and your friends shouldn’t feel they have to buy something or pay to go somewhere to get access to you. Real friends can vent, share advice, and enjoy each other’s company while walking around the neighborhood or sitting on the couch.

Cultivate Better Friendships

Final Word

Changing how you socialize can add much-needed variety to your life, boost the quality of your friendships, and save money. And the benefits extend beyond your personal finances: You’ll also be contributing to your friends’ financial betterment, and they may be equally relieved by your efforts to reduce the cost of socializing.

Don’t be afraid to say you are trying to get together more but spend less. Encourage your friends to contribute ideas to make it happen. Challenge them to design an outing that includes only free events and to find new ideas for staying in- but be prepared to lead by example.

What are your favorite ways to socialize without spending?

Michelle Smith is a highly driven freelance writer who loves to follow the trail of money, especially when it flows in her direction. She stays up-to-the minute on financial news and trends and is dedicated to helping others obtain and maintain financial security. She has written for numerous business, finance, and investment outlets, such as Dig Media, where she served as a Resource Reporter covering the precious metals, select minor metals, and diamond markets.