I’m sure many 20-somethings are familiar with the pang of regret that can follow a wild night out on the town. I know I am — when I check my bank account balance the next day. How did I end up spending $45 on Philly cheesesteaks at 2:30 am? Did I really tip the cab driver $10 for a three-mile ride? I know I can’t be the only person who wakes up on Sunday morning with these questions.
Even so, some would say if you’re not going out and having fun in your twenties, you’re wasting them (and I would agree). Yet many of us youngins are on a budget, and it’s nearly impossible to go out for a dinner or drink on a dime. That’s why I have compiled the best money-saving tips I’ve picked up over the years, as well as those contributed by who I call the “frugal but fun” community, for going out with friends every now and then without devastating your savings in the process.
9 Ways to Save Money on a Night Out with Friends
1. Plan your cash needs ahead of time.
Kinelam Bolgaire, a music manager and publicist in New York City recommends asking yourself what the maximum amount is you’re willing to spend that night. “Do this while sober to ensure you are thinking clearly, and make sure you are factoring in the possibility of taking a taxi home,” he advises. Once you’ve decided on a number, pull that amount out of your bank’s ATM ahead of time (to avoid paying fees at a bar or club’s ATM) and leave your cards at home. Once you’re out of cash, you’re done.
2. Eat before you leave.
Whether or not you and your friends are planning a meal, eating at home will ensure you don’t succumb to the munchies when you can’t afford it. Even if you are heading to a restaurant, eating an apple or bowl of soup before you head out allows you to tame your appetite and order a less expensive appetizer as your meal, rather than an entire entree.
Ordering alcoholic drinks at restaurants is a surefire way to increase the bill significantly. However, if you must have a grown up beverage with your meal, you can save a lot of money by choosing a restaurant that allows you to bring your own.
Many restaurants will allow patrons to bring bottles of wine from home for a corkage fee of perhaps $10-$15 — much cheaper than paying that for a single glass from the establishment. And even if your tastes aren’t quite so refined, you might be able to find a restaurant to accommodate them. Meg Favreau of Wisebread.com says, “For a while, my friends and I met every Friday at a delicious, inexpensive Mexican restaurant where we could bring our own beer.”
Any diner on a budget knows how annoying it can be when members of the party order expensive appetizers, drinks and desserts, then expect everyone to split the bill equally.
“In my job as a comedian,” Dan Nainan tells me, “there is a tremendous amount of socialization and going out with friends. As someone who doesn’t drink, I have frequently been left with splitting a huge bill for alcohol, which honestly incenses me. Also, there are many times when people have appetizers, dessert, coffee, etc., which drives up the bill…a great way to save money is simply to ask for a separate check, which I always do in large groups.”
5. Buy tickets at the box office.
If you’re going to a concert or theatrical performance, buy tickets directly from the box office rather than a ticketing service like Ticketmaster or Stubhub. This works best if you live close to the venue and won’t cancel out the savings by driving far to pick up tickets, or if you’re sure the event won’t sell out so you can buy tickets when you get there.
6. Or check Craigslist.
“If you’re on the fence about going to a show, check Craigslist close to the show date,” Wisebread’s Favreau advises. “If the event hasn’t sold out, there’s a good chance you’ll find people who can no longer attend the show trying to sell their tickets below face value.”
7. Get on a list.
Teresa Mears, editor and CEO of Living on the Cheap, says if you’re looking for ways to save money when going out, you should “Subscribe to the e-mail lists of your favorite bars, restaurants and entertainment venues so you’ll be the first to know when they are offering discounts.” Additionally, daily deal sites like Goldstar, ScoreBig and Groupon also run specials on local events. Finally, Mears suggests you “‘Like’ your favorite restaurants, venues and teams on Facebook and follow them on Twitter to find out about deals and last-minute specials.”
Not only will you be the first to know about special deals, but this is also a great way to build rapport with the management at popular spots, often helping you avoid cover charges.
8. Be the designated driver.
Offering to be the designated driver for the evening is your most healthy, responsible and cost-effective option. Sharon Rosenblatt of Accessibility Partners, LLC agrees, “I always offer to be the designated driver. That way, I’m not forking out $10 for beers and cocktails at clubs just to fit in, and I get to have the perfect excuse of why I’m not drinking. I’ve saved a ton of money this way, and who knows, maybe a couple of lives.”
9. Recreate the experience at home.
When you seriously can’t afford to leave the house, don’t! One night of partying isn’t worth remaining young and broke, and you can have just as much fun at home with your friends as out on the town. Split a pizza order, stream hilariously terrible movies on Netflix, host a game of Dungeons and Dragons (all of which occur in my home on a regular basis). I guarantee everyone will have a good time, with no regrets — at least not financial ones.