When you’re trying to cut back on your spending it’s easy to say that you won’t go out and that you’ll save money by eating at home and avoiding some costly activities that you enjoy. And that’s great and all but it’s never going to work to the degree you want it to. Budgeting is like dieting. A life of restriction and denial is only going to lead you to crave the things you love even more. Add to that the pressure from your social group to participate in their events and you’ve got a recipe for money splurge disaster. So, how can you avoid this? Go out, go out and have fun, just go out smart. It’s not always what we’re doing that gives us the satisfaction we crave; it’s that we’re doing something, anything, at all. Change a few of your habits and do things a little differently and you’ll be amazed by how much fun you can have while still keeping your wallet in your pants.
Hack One: Do your research. If you're reading this blog chances are you've got more than a passing acquaintance with the internet. It is your friend. It will teach you things. Almost every venue, restaurant, museum, and bar has a website these days, not to mention your mom. If they don't, you can find their *gasp* phone number somewhere. Look for happy hours (if you're lucky enough to live somewhere where they still have happy hours), most museums have a free night or weekend. For those of you who are students the likelihood of museums having a free or reduced price day for you is pretty high.
Hack Two: Plan ahead. If you drive, try to carpool. If you take mass transit be sure to leave while the buses and subways are still running. This is going to come as a shock, but cabs are expensive. If staying an extra 30 minutes is worth $30, that's great and I'd like to go to the parties you're at, if it's not, leave. No one will judge you, and if they do perhaps they would be willing to spring for the cab. If you have a couple friends who live near you splitting a cab three or four ways can make it affordable.
Hack Three: Go to movies during the day. There's always something surreal about leaving a movie theater while it's still light outside, but most theaters have a matinée price on movies that start before noon.
Hack Four: Take advantage of any deals available through your work or school. Re-read your benefits package. Sometimes there are surprising things there like cheap membership passes to museums or discounted tickets on movies released more than two weeks ago.
Hack Five: Go out for lunch instead of dinner. Most restaurants have a reduced price menu for lunch so that way you can also have a martini and not break the bank. Also, having a martini before five is much more fun than having one during respectable drinking hours.
Hack Six: Be the instigator. If your friends are always inviting you out to expensive bars avoid the issue by inviting them out first to a locale that fits your budget. Kitsch is hip.
Hack Seven: Eat before you go out. If you’re meeting people out for drinks and it’s anything close to dinner time you know someone is going to order food, and then someone else is going to order food and then you’ll want food too. However, if you have just eaten, your ability to resist the call of $11 stuffed jalapeños will be infinitely greater.
Hack Eight: Get hobbies that are free, or very close. Join a soccer league, a walking club, a book club (pssst, libraries are the places with books, just in case you’ve forgotten), tryout for a play, etc. You're smart you know what you like doing.
Hack Nine: Volunteer. It's free, it's fun, it's a great way to meet people, it's socially responsible, and it's good for your résumé.