How to Save Money and Still Have a Social Life

Aliyyah Camp

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, socializing is the second most common leisure activity in America — after watching TV, of course. But spending time with friends often comes with a pricetag. The cost of event tickets, meals, and drinks can easily add up and break your budget.

Some may think declining invitations is the only way to avoid overspending while socializing, but that doesn’t have to be the case. You just need to get creative in order to stay within your budget. Here are a few activities to help you save money while still spending time with friends:

1. Activities

Find Free Things To Do

This may seem obvious, but the absolute best way to save money while socializing is to find free things to do. This way, you avoid pricey tickets and admission fees.

Every city has a number of no-cost activities — from seasonal festivals to local band performances, historical sites to botanical gardens. Simply visit your city’s website or do a quick Google search for free things to do in the area.

Avoid Shopping As An Activity

If you’re used to calling up your friends to take a trip to the mall, now is the time to rethink your idea of entertainment. Shopping should be for picking up essentials and not turned into a social activity. Unless you have a strong willpower, avoid casually window shopping with friends as well. This could turn into an unexpected, yet budget-breaking, shopping spree.

If you must go shopping and would like to bring a friend along, consider shopping at less expensive (or even discount) stores first. Then, head to the more expensive shops only if you can’t what you need at the cheaper ones.

Find Special Admissions

Special admissions can get you into your favorite spots for a lot less than regular price. Take, for example, movie theaters. The average price of a movie ticket is around $8 (though, it’s a lot more where I live!). If you take advantage of matinee prices and go to the movies during the morning or early afternoon, you can get tickets for much less. If you’re a military member, dependent, student, or senior, you can often pick up discounts on admissions tickets, too. It won’t always be listed, so be sure to ask.

Museums are another place where you can save big by finding special admissions. Museums typically offer free or reduced admissions during certain days or hours. For example, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City normally sells tickets for adults at a price of $25. On Fridays after 4pm, though, admission is free!

Bowling alleys also tend to offer special admissions based on dates and times. For example, New Roc City Bowling in New York charges $6.95 per guest per game Monday-Thursday after 5pm. If you bowl before 5pm, that price is reduced to $4.95.

Search around online or call before showing up to figure out which locations offer special tickets. Then, plan your activities around these days and times.

Use Coupons/Deals

Coupons and deals can greatly offset the price of socializing. Groupon offers plenty of coupons and deals on local activities.

You could get discounts like 50% off a kickboxing class or admission to a painting course for $15. Often, you can find discounts on restaurants, too, such as spending $15 for a $30 meal credit. LivingSocial is another website that offers coupons and deals on activities.

2. Meals

Lunch Instead Of Dinner

At the same restaurant, even ordering the same entrée, you’ll find that lunch is less expensive than dinner. This is for a number of reasons: portions are usually smaller, business is usually slower, and service is usually faster. Because of this, it’s worth making your plans around lunch rather than dinner, in order to save a few dollars.

Restaurant Week

Most cities offer restaurant weeks. During restaurant week, establishments put together special menus, such as three-course meals for value prices. Select restaurants — even those that are typically pretty pricey — give those on a budget a chance to experience their menus. Although the menus are limited, it gives you the opportunity to go somewhere new without breaking the bank. Examples of cities that offer restaurant week are Indianapolis, New Orleans, and Washington, DC.

Order Takeout Instead Of Being Served

If you want to save even more money, you can skip the service altogether and order takeout instead. You’ll still get the same tasty restaurant food, just without the added costs of service. Not having to pay tip can often save you anywhere from $15 to $30 dollars.

Skip The Drinks

If you must eat in at a restaurant, skip the drinks. Cocktails are pricey. In fact, there’s a hotel here in New York City that charges $22 for one Manhattan! Adding drinks to your bill can easily make you go over budget.

Instead, opt for water, which is free at most restaurants. If you still want a drink afterwards you can head to a less expensive bar. Or you can even stop at a nearby liquor store and invite your friends back for a gathering at your home.

3. Nights Out

Happy Hours

Start your night out early to save money on socializing. Plenty of restaurants offer happy hours, usually starting around 4pm. During happy hours, restaurants sell drinks and food at a highly discounted rate — sometimes even offering specials for an even greater deal. This is the perfect time to meet up with friends after work and socialize.

Pre-drinks

You can save money by imbibing at home before you even go out. Invite friends over for a few drinks, then split the cost of an Uber and everyone saves.

Drinks at bars, clubs, and lounges are highly marked up. Having the majority of your drinks at home will save you a lot, especially if you buy the liquor in bulk beforehand. Even with the shared cab fare, you’ll still come out ahead.

Rail Drinks And House Wine

Once at the location, you’ll probably still want a drink or two. To save money on your bar tab, opt for rail drinks and house wine. Rail drinks are made with the bar’s cheaper liquor brands. They are kept at the bartender’s rail and not displayed behind the bar with the more costly brands. House wine is a similar concept. These options tend to be less expensive than their higher dollar counterparts.

Cheap Transit

There are numerous ways to get around during a night out on the town. A traditional cab is probably one of the more expensive options. To keep your expenses down, consider alternatives like Uber or Lyft, if they’re available in your city. These ridesharing services tend to be cheaper than yellow cabs and towncars, and often easier to book.

Or you can save even more money by taking public transportation. With public transportation, just make sure you stay safe and follow familiar routes, especially late at night. If you’ll be out into the wee hours, ridesharing is probably a better option.

Wrapping Up

There are plenty of ways to socialize on a budget. You don’t have to cancel your plans or avoid going out completely in order to keep your budget intact. With just a little ingenuity and some planning ahead, you can save save money on activities, meals, and nights out.

Whether it’s finding free things to do, eating out during restaurant week, or taking cheap transit, you’re sure to find ways to save with this list.

What things to do you do to save money while spending time with friends?

Published or Updated: September 28, 2016

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