Whether it’s going to the movies or checking out a new restaurant, I’m always looking for an excuse to get out of the house and explore the town. However, if I don’t keep my personal budget in check, my spending can easily spiral out of control, and paying off my credit card bill at the end of the month becomes an unpleasant experience.
Between unemployment and higher gas prices, I can understand why some people might cut entertainment entirely from their spending. But before you swear off fun altogether, consider ways to trim your entertainment budget without sacrificing it.
Even the best cooks enjoy a night off. With these simple tricks to help you save at restaurants, you can eat out once or twice a week without breaking the bank.
1. Share an Entrée
If you’re having a date night or hanging out with friends, consider sharing an entrée and splitting the bill. Restaurants typically serve larger portions when you split an entrée, which provides more than enough food for two people. Have a small healthy snack before going to the restaurant and you’ll likely get full from half of a meal.
2. Sign Up for Restaurant Deals
It only takes a few minutes to sign up for email alerts from your favorite restaurants. Visit the restaurant’s official website and enter your email address – you’ll receive periodic coupons for discounts, as well as offers for free food. I’m currently signed up to receive emails from four restaurants, and there isn’t a week that I don’t receive a “buy one, get one free” coupon. You can also follow their social media accounts, including Facebook and Twitter, for additional restaurant coupons and discounts.
3. Buy an Entertainment Book
The Entertainment Book is well worth the money. They are fairly inexpensive – approximately $35 – and they pay for themselves as the year progresses. You can find “buy one, get one free” offers for hundreds of fast food and upscale eateries in your local area.
4. Skip the Cocktail
Flipping through a restaurant’s drink menu presents a host of delicious and interesting creations. However, these beverages come with a hefty price tag, as ordering one alcoholic beverage can set you back $7 or more. Enjoy a free glass of water, and save the cocktails for home.
Hosting a Get-Together
There’s no rule that says you have to go out to have fun. In fact, you can stay in and plan a great evening with family and friends.
5. Have a Game Night
If your friends and family are also trying to save money, skip the bar and host a low-key get-together at home. There are plenty of inexpensive things you can do with a group. For instance, have a game night and break out a deck of cards or a collection of classic board games. Break into small groups and spend an evening of fierce competition.
6. Host a Potluck
Preparing a meal for a group of people can create a financial burden. Instead of shouldering it alone, ask your invitees to bring a dish. You can prepare the main dish and then ask your guests to bring their favorite side dish, drinks, or desserts. There are many great potluck dinner recipes you can choose from.
7. Plan a Dessert Bar or Serve Finger Foods
If you’re hosting a party and would rather supply the refreshments yourself, keep it simple and only serve appetizers, or perhaps dessert and coffee. Notify your guests in advance that the menu will be simple so they don’t expect a meal. Light selections can include chips and dip, mozzarella sticks, fresh fruit, or a veggie tray. Cheap, easy-to-prepare desserts you can serve include cupcakes, brownies, cake, and ice cream sundaes.
Going to the Movies
Being on a tight budget doesn’t have to mean skipping the most popular flicks – it just means you might not be able to catch them opening night. There are many ways to save money at the movies.
8. Visit a Second-Run Theater
Movie ticket prices seem to increase every couple of years – and if you have a family of four, you can pay upwards of $50 for one trip to the cinema. However, if you wait just a few weeks, you can see the same movie for less at a discount movie theater, which shows second-run movies. Not only can you save money by waiting, but the theater is not likely to be as crowded.
9. Watch a Matinee
If you simply can’t wait for a movie to hit a discount theater, you can save money by attending a matinee. Since matinee showtimes cost $3 to $5 less than the later showings, you might even be able to spring for a small tub of popcorn.
10. Look for Free Rental Codes
Skip the theater altogether and wait until movies hit Redbox – by renting a DVD, your entire family can enjoy a movie for $1.50 or less. Moreover, the back of your rental receipt will often contain a discount code valid for one free movie rental. Keep track of your receipts, and you may be able to rent every other movie for free.
All work and no play leads to burnout, so don’t let a hectic life and a bad economy kill your recreational needs. And don’t think that you need a ton of disposable cash to have a good time. Whether you’re staying in or going out, there is no shortage of ways to enjoy a good time on the cheap.
What steps have you taken to trim your entertainment budget?