November 9, 2010 8:08 PM   Subscribe

How do you temper or tone down your entertainment/recreation spending?

I have just moved to a new, large North American city. I work with a large group of people in their 20's and 30's. The people I work with are interesting and smart and I enjoy spending time with them. But between getting drinks after work, spending time with my other friends, and trying to keep up with my personal hobbies I am finding myself stretched pretty thin financially.

How do you decide how much money to spend on going out? Sometimes I wish I were interested in less things! During a typical week, I will go out for drinks 1-2 times, go to a concert ($10-$25 price range), attend a festival or cultural event, and go out for dinner 1-2 (sometimes 3) times.

I do enjoy spending time at home with my roommates but I really like going out. Help me figure out how to stay above water!
posted by Small Pockets to Work & Money (21 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
i could have written a very similar question. the issue of cutting back is something i'm struggling with at the moment. i find it difficult to say no to invitations and events because i'm a social person, and there are so many things i like doing!

here are some things i've been trying over the last little while:

- since i am one of the "planners" in my circle of friends, i try to stick to activities/events that are inexpensive or free.
- if i am going to a play or concert at night, i opt out of meeting early for dinner to save myself the extra $10 or $20 that might cost.
- i try to stay home 2-3 weeknights per week. although that seems like a lot of weeknights to me, it gives me time to catch up on other things i like doing, like reading.

hopefully there will be some good advice in this thread! i could use it.
posted by gursky at 8:13 PM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Drink less? Host dinners instead of going out to eat? Buy cheaper drinks?

I think these kind of reductions will only go so far. There'll come a point where you'll need to decide whether you want to have more money and less outings or vice versa. It sounds like you're not doing anything outrageously expensive or extravagant (I'm presuming 'drinks' doesn't mean Dom Perignon), so there's only so far you can trim costs before you're not doing things you enjoy any more (which is fine, if you really want to save a bit more).
posted by twirlypen at 8:19 PM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Budget everything before hand. But that's easier said than done, of course. But it's really the only thing that I have done that works.

My one hint: when I go out drinking and I am worried money (just about all the time), I make sure to only bring enough large bills to cover the number of drinks I want to have. (This also helps me not drink too many cocktails.) Then, I pay for every drink with one of those large bills, so when I'm out of $20s, I know I've had enough without paying that much attention. This also leaves me with more money so I haven't wiped myself out -- allowing myself maybe one more drink or to go home feeling like I have spent my money responsibly.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 8:21 PM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Don't get alcohol when you go out - not more than once a week, anyway. Get a soda or tea or something instead. (Not a comment about the virtue or lack thereof of drinking, just its expense.) It doesn't sound like you're likely to really suffer the "being around drunk people while sober sucks" problem, so that's an easy way to cut back a surprising amount.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:21 PM on November 9, 2010 [3 favorites]

There is, unfortunately, such a thing as not being able to afford an active social life in the city.
posted by Nomyte at 8:22 PM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Eat before you go out and then just get a cheap appetizer and water at dinner. Drink pop or water at bars. Then you can still be social without incurring all the same costs.
posted by Jacqueline at 8:25 PM on November 9, 2010 [3 favorites]

I have a pretty active social life in NYC on a grad school stipend by:

-only bringing a set amount of cash with me when I go out, and then not opening a tab at a bar, ever.
-figuring out ahead of time where the best happy hours are (unless you live somewhere without them [I'm looking at you, Boston], happy hour should be your best friend)
-not going to restaurants for dinner unless it's a special occasion (I'm much more likely to go to brunch, which is cheaper than dinner. Other meals I cook myself for the most part.)
-only going to concerts when I really, really love the band, and if I do go, not buying the overpriced drinks at the venue

Also, depending on which city you're in, some/many/all museums will have at least one day or night a month when admission is free to the public.
posted by oinopaponton at 8:29 PM on November 9, 2010

Ultimately you can try to save a little here and there, and you absolutely should, but what will really make a change is either A. doing something to make more money or B. just not spending it.

Those are really the only two options. So while you may feel you don't have as much fun, you don't HAVE to go to a concert every week. You don't HAVE to eat out multiple times a week.

If those things are REALLY that important for you, you may need to look at your living situation and see if you are living somewhere you can truly afford for the lifestyle you want.

Also, try making lunch every day to save cash and if you buy Starbucks every morning, stop right now. You will save a small fortune.
posted by Elminster24 at 8:33 PM on November 9, 2010

One thing that helps is that when you go out with friends, drink OR eat OR go to an event that costs money. It's easy to end up doing all three on the same evening, and honestly? Do you really have twice as much fun having drinks AND going to a concert as you would doing one or the other?

If friends are going for dinner too many nights for you, sometimes say you'll meet them after dinner for a drink instead. Or meet them for dessert at the end of the meal.

When you do go out for drinks, learn to drink slowly. I can make one drink last all evening. (Followed by a slow free glass of water). If I was after a good drink, or a lot of drinks, I could buy them at the liquor store and drink them at home. Instead, the reason I am out is to socialise with my friends, so the drink is just like the tax you pay to hang out at the bar.
posted by lollusc at 8:35 PM on November 9, 2010

In terms of concerts, I now only go to shows where I really am interested in the bands playing, and not just to 'hang out' or what have you. Also, I no longer buy any of the merch they offer, which can add up quickly! (I have quite a few shirts that I've only worn a couple of times, i don't need any more)

Also, if drinks at bars are expensive, drinks at shows are going to be even more so. Again, stick with water at soda at these events.
posted by spinifex23 at 8:53 PM on November 9, 2010

Cut down on your alcohol expenses. It sounds silly, but if you translate an average of 2 drinks two times per week at around 9$ a drink (assuming, hell, I don't know, tax and/or a tip, etc) it comes out to 36$ a week. A month runs you 144$ - a year runs you 1728$. So it's not an astronomical amount, but it's still an amount that could go towards a car payment or some really awesome purchases that don't go through your digestive tract quite so quickly. (From a personal standpoint, I managed to save up for 4/5ths of my motorcycle while getting my degree by pretty much wiping out my alcohol budget. I was way too sober all the time and ended up being Drunk Person Caretaker more often than not, but at the end of it all: beautiful shiny gorgeous two-wheeled machine of joy. And it was so, so worth it.)

If you like going out, figure out what you like about it, and try and translate that into cheaper methods at home. If you're a bit of a foodie, arrange for you and your friends to get together at your place, everyone bring ingredients for a dish they think everyone else hasn't tried, and unleash the chaos into the kitchen. Or set up a potluck with themes. If you like not having to cook/clean, try and search out an awesome restaurant you like that's as cheap as possible in places you've never been. There's a pho place I love that makes the absolute best pho with fresh soup stock made from beef bones, gorgeous crisp bean sprouts and it's only 7$ for a large bowl. It's just tucked away and very unassuming, and I'd have never found it if it weren't for being exceptionally tired and sick of eating limp sandwiches from Subway that day. Lots of places often offer a discount for takeaway (at least where I am), so count that as an option too - it the weather's good, you could even get takeaway, get a group of friends together and have a leisurely dinner in a local park or public space.

Try not to think, I'm depriving myself of this or this or that - you're saving money you could put to good use elsewhere, be it an item you're wanting to purchase or a down payment on a bigger investment. Consider each outing carefully or set monthly limits - if you've already gone to a concert by This Group before, do you really need to go to another one again? Is there a concert that you're really looking forward to instead of the one coming up on the weekend? You've already run through your limit for This Month, so it won't kill you to miss This Group this time.

tl;dr: alcohol expensive, make wonderful food at home/become an awesome cheap food hunter, set limits, change your thinking.

Good luck!
posted by zennish at 8:58 PM on November 9, 2010

If cutting out alcohol altogether isn't a good option for you, take a flask.
posted by carsonb at 9:24 PM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Get a soda or tea or something instead. (Not a comment about the virtue or lack thereof of drinking, just its expense.)

If you go this route, you should try to do it at a place that isn't a bar, and definitely not a nightclub. I remember once feeling all virtuous and shit for cutting myself off and switching to water. The water was $5. It was a nice-ish place, but that was still only $1 less than a beer would've been.

Other ideas that might be helpful:

- pregame more before going out, and nurse only a few drinks over the course of the evening.

- pay in cash rather than setting up a tab. My tactic is usually to show up at the bar with $20 in my pocket. Here in New York, that's 3 beers. When I run out of cash, it's time to go home. Another benefit to this is that I am rarely hungover anymore.

- at a certain point you have to decide where your priorities are. Assuming you are making ends meet, that means deciding which extras are important to you. You will never be able to do every activity. If you are concentrating on building new friendships, put your hobbies on the back burner. If you are into cultural events and concerts right now, maybe go out to bars and restaurants less often.

- I don't know which northeastern city you're in, but here in New York there are a lot of free concerts and cultural events. Usually in the summer I'll declare a moratorium on paying for shows, because so many good ones are free. I also don't pay covers - there are way too many perfectly good bars that don't charge them. Similarly, I will only go to the movies if it's something I'm desperate to see; Netflix is $15/month.
posted by Sara C. at 9:29 PM on November 9, 2010

I'm in NYC too, which is the obviously *so* expensive. As I type, I'm drinking some post-group-friend-dinner Two Buck Chuck and watching X Files at home with my best friend. (We're on a smoke break, hence the availability for typing.) Nthing what others have said: have *either* dinner or drinks. My delicious blue cheese restaurant burger cost me $14, solo; the wine cost me $5.99, divided by two people. BAM!

That said, I do let myself free on weekends. During the week, it's dinner OR drinks.

On preview, the pre-set cash idea works pretty well too.

(Also following this thread for new ideas.)
posted by functionequalsform at 9:33 PM on November 9, 2010

If you like to drink, pre-flight at home before you leave for the bar. What that means, is drink a beer or four at your residence before you go out.

I've noticed that the place where I like to go drinking charges $5 for a beer. That same $5 covers most of the cost of a six pack of that same beer at the grocery store. So, I get the beer before hand, drink a couple before I walk to the bar, and voila, I'm already slightly buzzed without having to pay through the nose for booze.
posted by AMSBoethius at 9:49 PM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm just gonna throw this out there, even though Austin isn't a large city: CoolinAustin.com.

I'd like to believe that a larger city would have a higher demand for availability of this kind of information.
posted by and1 at 12:34 AM on November 10, 2010

See if you can get a few friends interested in starting a dinner party gang. I did this when I was married and not only is it a lot of fun, it's much less expensive than eating out. Basically members of the group take it in turns to lay on a meal at their place. They provide the food; everyone else brings the booze. Say you get about six or eight people into this: laying on a decent meal for that number doesn't have to be very expensive. Factor in that once you've done this, the job passes around everyone else before it comes back to you, and you can easily see how you're getting four or more great evenings with friends for the price of maybe one night out at a decent restaurant.

Of course, you need to be at least okay about cooking (it's fun, and it doesn't have to be difficult) and you need to find a few friends who feel likewise but if you do, I recommend this. I don't get to do it any more now I live alone and I really do miss it.
posted by Decani at 4:55 AM on November 10, 2010

How do you decide how much money to spend on going out?

How much money do you have each month after you've paid your bills, rent, and put money into savings? That's the amount you have to work with for fun stuff like saving for a vacation, going out, and working on your hobbies. That's the amount you can afford to spend. Don't make the mistake of deciding what you want to do and then spending accordingly--know how much money you can spend, as a real number not just a general running tally you keep in your head, and plan your social calendar accordingly. Keep track of your entertainment spending throughout the month, and cut back if you see that you're in danger of going over-budget. I don't mean for this to sound scolding or anti-fun--I really just mean that whatever money you have leftover after your obligations are met (and that includes putting money in savings) is the money you can spend. You can spend it all, if you want, but you can't spend more than that and be above water financially.

Suggest alternative places or events if your friends are inviting you to things you can't afford. Take the lead in inviting your friends out, but take advantage of happy hours, promotions, cheaper venues, etc. (Sort of related: a friend of mine goes to at least a concert a week, and seems to get most of the tickets by winning radio/Internet contests.) Maintain relationships in different ways, like lunch or coffee with coworkers during the day sometimes rather than after-work drinks. And learn to decline invitations when there's no alternative and you can't afford to go.
posted by Meg_Murry at 6:57 AM on November 10, 2010

Racking up thoughtless dinner and alcohol will get you. Go out to dinner less--do things like have people over for popcorn and snacks and movies or something instead, or even little cocktail parties at home, or urban picnics involving cheaper food in a non-sit-down you then take somewhere together. Go out to lunch or breakfast instead; it's cheaper. Take half the food home so it's another meal, too.

When you go out for drinks, I recommend the portioned-out cash only approach mentioned above, as well as drinking full glasses of water between drinks to slow you down (good for your health, too).

And yes, take the initiative inviting people to things you've already found that are more budget-friendly--happy hours or off days, that one free day at the museum, public park type freebies, stuff at home like board game night, etc.
posted by ifjuly at 10:15 AM on November 10, 2010

If cutting out alcohol altogether isn't a good option for you, take a flask.
posted by carsonb at 9:24 PM on November 9

If you are going to a place that sells alcohol, don't do this. Don't be THAT guy. If you can't afford to drink at a place that sells alcohol, stay home or don't drink alcohol, don't bring your own booze.
posted by BryanPayne at 11:45 AM on November 10, 2010

Entertaining at my apartment has been the best route for me. That and joining groupon, blackboard eats and lifebooker for deals around the city.
posted by spec80 at 12:06 PM on November 10, 2010

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