Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Socializing on the Cheap(er)

One of the most difficult things about making the shift to a frugal(er) lifestyle is the hit to your social life. If you are friends with a lot of people who like to go out every night for dinners/drinks/shows etc., and you make the conscious effort to trim down your entertaining costs, you may find yourself a bit lonely.

It sucks, but it's not hopeless. Just like everything with frugality, employ a little ingenuity, and you can figure out a way to have fun with your friends without breaking the bank.

Pot Lucks-- Pot lucks are awesome because they give you a chance to sample a bunch of different food without having to cook it all. Each guest brings one dish to share, and everyone has some. You can ask people to announce what they're bringing beforehand so you don't wind up with five salads and five desserts, but I usually just leave it up to the guests and it always works out. Hosting a pot luck is an excellent way to introduce different friend groups i.e. work friends and college friends, and also a pretty sweet way to score loads of leftovers.

  • a place big enough to hold the number of people invited
  • seating for about 3/4 of those people--not enough seating encourages mingling, which makes everything a lot more interesting.
  • Enough dishes and silverware for everyone. This part is always a bit tricky. It's not economical to buy a bunch of paper plates and plastic silverware, but it's also hard to gauge exactly what you need as some people may take a new plate for dessert, etc. I have a lot of dinner and dessert plates, and I put out all of my silverware. I have plastic silverware for backup only, and I made a point to buy the really sturdy stuff so I can wash and re-use it.
Groupon-- I love Groupon, I am a Groupon fan. What it is, if you haven't heard of it, is every day there is one local deal. You get an email outlining that deal, and if you like it and the price is right, you take the deal and agree to the price listed. If enough people take the deal, you get it! Your credit card is charged the amount listed in the deal, and you print off a groupon that functions as cash when you bring it to the business. Usually the daily deal is for more then 50% off goods or services, and often it's for restaurants. Get a Groupon for a restaurant you would go to anyway, and have a night out (cheaper) with your friends.

Local Deals-- Some areas have other local deals similar to Groupon. In my part of the country, there are discounted gift certificates that you can buy through one of the local radio stations, and one of the news stations. Often, you get a $50 gift certificate for a business for only $25. Sometimes if they don't sell as many was they want, they drop the price down to $12.50. Presently, I have $100 worth of gift certificates for a mid-priced restaurant within walking distance of my house, and I'm pretty pumped about it. Look around to see if you can find something similar for your area, or ask other frugal friends. I found out about the radio deal through a thrifty co-worker.

Happy Hours and BYOB-- Even if your friends aren't budgeting, they probably won't pass up a kick-ass happy hour deal. Just do the research in advance and make the suggestion to your friends and they probably won't even know that you're angling to save money. Often, you can get cheap appetizers and drinks, which winds up being a nice meal without all the leftovers.
Sadly, BYOB does not exist in all states, but where I live, there are plenty of restaurants that can't sell you alcohol, but don't mind if you bring some with you. Alcohol is where most restaurants actually turn a profit, so prices are exorbitant. Usually you can get a six-pack of beer off-sale for what a restaurant charges you for one glass or bottle. If this is an option where you live, find the places and ask your friends along.

Free activities-- Yes, some activities out there are super lame, but there are also some good ones too. Do a bit of scouting in your area and see what you can find.
  • Local libraries often do evening programs where you can learn something or just be entertained. Often, local authors will do readings or sign books, and it's a free way to feel smart.
  • Free movies or discounted movies. In my area, there is a weekly free movie screened on the side of a building downtown. You just bring a blanket or chair sit back, and enjoy. Many libraries show free movies as well, and a lot of movie theatres have late-night cheap screenings or a bargain night where regular run movies are cheaper.
  • Discounted or free museums. Our local libraries have museum passes that patrons can borrow. These passes give you free of discounted admission for a number of regional museums and parks. Sometimes the passes are all checked out for peak holiday weekends, but with a little advance planning, you can snag one.
  • Free events around town. If you live in a decent-sized city, there is no excuse for not finding free things to do. Live music, independent theatre, gallery openings--there's plenty of stuff out there, you just have to find it.
  • Local tourism. Often we live somewhere for so long that we stop appreciating it. Try to re-visit your town with the eyes of a tourist. Take an organized tour, if your area has one, and you may learn a bit more about the place you call home. If you go to your local National Parks office, they often have walking tour brochures, take one, and learn while getting some exercise.
One of the hardest things is just being honest with your friends about your budget. Yeah, it may be embarrassing, or you may feel like a buzzkill for bringing it up, but if they're your real friends, they'll understand. After all, socializing should be more about spending time with people who's company you enjoy than it is about spending money.

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