Since graduating college, saving money has been one of my main goals. Sure I have a LOT of debt, but I’m not trying to work in an office until I’m 70 and have nothing in savings. Although I go hard on saving money, I also don’t want to be a hermit who never goes out for fear of spending money, i.e. I avoid the sunken place.
In this case, I refer to being so much of a penny-pincher, that you never go out and actually enjoy life, as being in the sunken place. If you can’t remember the last time you’ve been out with friends, gone to the movies, taken a trip to a nice restaurant, or done anything nice for yourself that requires spending money, I’m sorry to say, you’re in the sunken place. Here are some tips on how you can avoid the sunken place and still save money.
Going out to restaurants is a great way to bond. Not only do you get to spend time with your besties, you also get to eat (YUM!). But the average cost of dinner at a restaurant can typically range from $16 to $30, including tip, per person. $30 is enough for me to buy two weeks worth of groceries. The next time your friends want you to go to a restaurant with them, here’s what you can do.
Scope out menus in advance
If your friends ask you where you want to go, you have the upper hand. Of course, you can always make suggestions if they don’t ask you. But it helps to look up a few restaurant menus in advance. This way, you can compare prices and pick out your favorite dish at the least expensive restaurant. Try using allmenus.com.
Have lunch instead of dinner
Most restaurants have a lunch menu and a dinner menu. Guess which one is usually cheaper. Restaurants have cheaper meals during lunchtime, even if the menus are the same. This is surely the case for one of my favorite restaurants, Red Bowl.
Choose an appetizer as a meal
Appetizers are meant to be shared between 2-4 people before getting their main course, just to take the edge off the hunger. However, if you’re eating a huge appetizer by yourself, you’ll likely be full. In addition, appetizers are generally less expensive (about 20-50% less) than entrees.
If you and your friends just want to get together and eat, not necessarily dine out, try having a potluck at someone’s home where everyone brings something different to contribute to the meal. Another trick you can try is ordering takeout (maybe Chinese food or pizza) and having a picnic in the park. You can bring your own drinks and blankets.
Sometimes, going out to dinner is not the cure for your cabin fever. Maybe you want to hit the club or avoid the sweaty people stepping on your shoes by going to the movies. Either way, save a little bit.
Take it back to college
Do you remember in college, when you would go to the party before the party where there were usually libations (alcohol) and a small group of people you would later go to the party with? Yah, keep doing that. By drinking at home before going out, you can save so much. A six pack of Mike’s Hard Lemonade (any flavor) cost about $8 at the grocery store. A bottle (just one) at the bar can be $5 or more. You tell me what’s the better deal.
As always, designate a sober driver or take an Uber — be safe!
Get a little sneaky
Movies are a great way to bond with friends, but those concession snacks are SO pricey. So get a little sneaky. I’m ‘guilty’ of doing this myself, but I bring my own snacks to the theater in an inconspicuously sized purse. I like to pop my own popcorn, season it with a little butter, salt, and cinnamon sugar (because they don’t have THAT at the movies, now do they), and put it in a ziplock bag. You can also just stop by the gas station to pick up a few snacks before the movie starts.
It also helps if you can find discount tickets online before purchasing at the theater. You can try a site like Gift Card Granny. Some theaters also give student discounts with a college ID; two years out of college, and I’ve kept my ID solely for this purpose (just kidding). Matinees also tend to be cheaper than later shows and some theaters will offer discounted tickets for weekday shows.
Or be a bit more wholesome
If you don’t feel like breaking the rules, that’s totally understandable; why not have a movie night with your friends in your living room? You can show your favorite movies that you already own or, put that library card to use and check out some free movies from your local library.
Getting out and actually doing stuff with friends is one of the most meaningful life experiences. However, concert tickets and day trips can get expensive. A few ways to combat those expenses include finding free events or discounted tickets.
Search for discounts
There are a few different resources online that can help you find discounted tickets to special events. Groupon.com is probably one of the most well-known sites for discounted events; you can get up to 70% off on events near you. Other websites include Glodstar.com, ScoreBig.com, and RetailMeNot which offers coupon codes for Ticketmaster. You can also Google search an event with the word ‘discount.’
Search for FREE events
I’ve mentioned this before in 13 Habits to Adopt to Build Up Your Savings, but most cities have events every day that you can attend for free. Googling the phrase ‘Happening in [insert your city here]’ gives you a bunch of events and calendars in your city that you can check out.
There are also sites like Meetup.com that connect you with different groups of people in and around your city with similar interests. These groups have recurring events that, if you join the group, you are always welcome to participate. And joining is often free.
Facebook also has a feature, called ‘Events,’ that will help you search for upcoming free (and paid) events near you.
What are some of your favorite ways to escape the sunken place without sacrificing your whole wallet? Leave a comment below.