Saving money and sticking to your budget can be hard work when to comes to how to spend your free time, especially if you were used to big nights on the town and fancy dinners before you started to reign in your spending – but it’s not impossible.
Having adventures and a killer social life on a budget is easier than you think. You just have to adjust your way of thinking. Think of it like dieting. It’s not that you can’t have treats; it is just that you have to reframe your idea of what a treat is by keeping an eye on the bottom line.
WHAT YOU DRINK
Let’s start with what you drink. A glass of wine can easily cost $15 at a nice place and mixed drinks are in the same ballpark. Likewise, even if we aren’t talking about alcoholic beverages, specialty coffee drinks, like a frozen caramel macchiato, often cost over $5. You can cut your drinks budget in half by choosing a basic drink. You can usually get a plain coffee, iced tea, or Diet Coke for less than $2 and, if you are dining in, you may be able to get free refills.
This brings us to the second way you can save money – what you eat.
WHAT YOU EAT
Obviously, you can save money by living off ramen noodles. I wouldn’t recommend it, but it is a valid option. That said, you can apply the same principal when you are dining out with friends.
If you are saving money, you probably shouldn’t order the steak when you eat out. Instead, try ordering the soup or an appetizer. Alternatively, you could order a very large meal, like say pasta, and save half for later. This reduces your cost per meal, especially if the larger entrée comes with sides, like soup and salad. You could fill up on the sides and a portion of the main meal. Depending on the restaurant, you could even end up with enough left over for two more meals if you pair it with some veggies or bread.
HOW YOU SPEND YOUR TIME
Being social on a budget also requires some creative thinking with regard to how you spend your time. On the one hand, spending more time outside (e.g. walking, biking, hiking) or at museums (i.e. the ones with no entrance fee) can help keep more green in your pocket but if that isn’t where your interest lies where is the fun in that?
However, on the other hand, affording a $15 movie and the $10 for popcorn and a drink is probably going to be a little tight, especially if you are planning on eating out or getting drinks after. Similarly, cover charges could make club crawling a little more difficult.
It’s not that you can’t do these things. In the end, you just have to strategize and prioritize.
If you are going to have those dinner-and-a-movie or club-crawling kind of nights, plan them out so that you can enjoy them without worry – say maybe once a month or just when you really want to see the movie, band, or dj – or structure your evening so that you can have your adventures on the cheap.
PLANNING THE EVENING
Start with by researching the venue. Check online or call around. Find out what time happy hour starts, which drinks are discounted, if there are food specials, whether there is a time you can gain entrance at the bar or club before you have to pay a cover, etc.
Next, plan your evening to take advantage of the best deals. In the case of a dinner and a movie, can you schedule it so that you see an earlier movie and hit the restaurant when second happy hour starts? If so, you could get reduced prices on both ends. Alternatively, grab pre-movie drinks during happy hour, catch the movie with a small popcorn, and grab late night grub on the cheap at a favorite dinner or volunteer to be the designated driver for your club crawl – often times you can get in free that way or at least get free non-alcoholic beverages, either from the club itself or appreciative friends.
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