Frugal Fun: Not as Lame as it Sounds

During the recession, most of us are either trying to sock away some emergency savings, or struggling to keep the bank account above zero. When you’re pinching pennies, it can be tough to keep your social life going. As a species, we have a natural inclination to eat, drink and be merry when we gather, and these things cost money. Going out without breaking the bank is a challenge, so here are a few tips for saving money without being a hermit.

Prioritize. Think critically about what events or activities you like best. It’s about efficiency: spending your money where it will bring you the greatest enjoyment. So, what are the things you like to do most? Go out to dinner? Drinks at a bar? Concerts? Strip clubs? Seeing the latest movie? Anything you’re ambivalent about can be cut to make room for your favorites.

Budget accordingly. Everyone hates the b-word, but you can keep it really simple. If you have decided, for example, that dining out is a priority for you, you should decide ahead of time how much you’ve got to spend on meals out per month. Then, spread the wealth. Conventional wisdom states that one monthly expensive dinner may not have the same impact as several nights of takeout or cheaper eats. That’s because eating out isn’t about seashell-shaped pats of butter. It’s about not having to cook, trying a new kind of food, or spending time with someone you like.

Take control. Have you ever noticed that people seem to crave a leader to make plans? (I dunno, what do you feel like eating? or What’s going on this weekend?) You don’t need to become a dictator, but you can try to guide your friends or family toward more affordable activities. A good trick is to host a group event at your place, then say something like “This was fun. We should try to make this a monthly thing!” only less stilted and awkward. Or, suggest events you know of that are cheap, or even free (see below).

Get creative. It goes without saying that hanging out at someone’s house or apartment is cheaper than going out. That’s why everyone loves potlucks: each guest is responsible for a food item and a bottle of wine or six pack of beer. But, you can mix it up to keep things interesting. Host a co-ed or ladies-only poker night. Start an “awesomely bad” movie series. Take note of happy hours at your favorite spots, and get your bar fix during the week when drinks (and food) are cheaper. Join email lists or Facebook pages for places you like to make sure you hear about specials or discounts. This way, you’ll always have a few cheap ideas on tap at any given time.

Be a grandma. What I mean is this: bring some rations with you when you go out. Mildly embarrassing, maybe, but it works. Impulse-buying snacks or a bottle of water gets added to your social budget, and it adds up quickly. If you know you’re going to be out all day, or all evening, see to it that you’ve got a few things with you to stop you from unnecessary spending. Fill up a water bottle and toss it in your purse. Keep some little snacks in a baggie to tide you over until it’s time for an actual meal (or better yet, until you get home). I draw the line at eating purse food in an actual restaurant, but hey, it’s your life.

Reevaluate. Maybe you’ll get a raise or new job, or your living situation will change. For whatever reason, at some point you might find yourself feeling more comfortable financially. While there’s no need to give up on your planning or budgeting, you can reexamine your priorities and monthly budget to see where you can make some concessions.

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