Think back to the last time you made a purchase or spent money and regretted it. For me, it usually involves a social situation where I felt pressured into spending a certain amount of money because “everyone else was doing it.” The culture of young professionalism in Washington DC is that of going out to hot new restaurants, grabbing happy hour with friends, and going out every weekend.
When I started noticing I was slowly bleeding my bank account dry without spending any money on travel, I realized I needed to significantly cut back on my spending. But how dare I, a young professional in Washington DC, not keep up with the social expectations of going out with friends?
So I devised a system. I decided I’d still make plans and go out with friends on the regular, but with a few key restrictions. Using these, I was able to significantly cut down my spending on food and drinks, without compromising my friendships and social plans. Okay, okay, I still cave sometimes and break my own rules, but in general I try to stick to them as much as possible so that I can keep up with my aggressive travel savings goals.
1. Eat before going to a restaurant
Unless it’s some rare occasion, I almost always do this when meeting friends for dinner. Before heading out to a restaurant, I’ll whip myself up something really quick at home, like a sandwich or a rice bowl, and then I’ll make my way to the restaurant. Then, when I get there, instead of ordering a full meal, I’ll order just a small side dish or a bowl of soup. That’s often a difference of $10 or more!
2. Order a sparkling water with lime at the bar
This is the ultimate fake drink trick, and a lot of the time, bartenders will give away sparkling water for free. If you want to *look* like you’re drinking a gin and tonic but don’t want to spend $12 on a beverage, the old soda water and lime illusion will certainly hit the spot.
As an added benefit, you’ll get more hydrated too (more on this later).
3. …Or just tell people you aren’t drinking
Usually, when I’m training for a distance race, my go-to excuse for not buying drinks is because I’m in training and I’m not drinking alcohol. Of course, no one should put pressure on other people to drink, but sometimes it’s really hard to say no. Instead, avoid buying expensive alcoholic beverages by simply deciding not to drink that day. Easy peasy!
4. Drink more water overall
Did you know that when people are fully hydrated, they tend to eat less? This is because sometimes our brains mistake thirst for hunger, so we end up scarfing down mouthfuls of food only to realize we were simply thirsty, not hungry. If you stay nice and hydrated all the time, you can avoid overeating and overdrinking, therefore avoiding (you guessed it) overspending.
5. On coffee dates, buy the drip coffee
As a young professional, you might be tempted to meet for coffee in the afternoon with colleagues or friends. It’s a great way to take a break from a tough day at work, but this habit can also be a HUGE money if you aren’t careful.
So here’s my advice: When you go to the coffee shop, don’t get the cappuccino. Don’t get a pumpkin spice latte. Don’t go for your extra large favorite nonfat almond milk rainbow unicorn dirty chai with two shots of espresso and a spoonful of pixie dust.
Instead, order the drip coffee.
Why? Because once you order your XL latte with all the bells and whistles, it can easily cost $5-6 OR MORE. Alternatively, at most coffee shops I’ve been to, the drip coffee is by far the cheapest drink ($1-2.50 in most places), and milk is usually free on the side. Get your caffeine fix AND save money by ordering a drip coffee “with room,” and decking it out at the condiments bar with all of your favorite add ons.
6. Plan a happy hour instead of a dinner
If your friends insist on meeting after work, plan a happy hour instead of going out to dinner. Often, happy hours can reduce the price of dishes and drinks by 25-50%, making your $30 food and drink tab as low as $15. Not only that, but by the time you finish your happy hour, it’s hopefully still early enough to walk home or take public transit – saving you even more money than taking an Uber or a taxi.
7. Meet somewhere you can walk to (or park for free)
Speaking of transportation, that’s another cost you can easily avoid by being careful about the places you choose to hang out. In DC, most people don’t have cars, so I try to make all of my plans at places I can walk to from work. That way, I save money on transportation all over the city, instead just paying for my Uber Pool or metro back home to the suburbs in the evening.
If you live somewhere where you drive often, be sure that you’re going to places where you can park for free. Be sure to avoid those pesky parking or transportation fees!
8. Don’t split the check
I know this one can be really hard, but if any meal was not 100% shared, don’t split the check. ESPECIALLY if you ate beforehand and only ordered a small side salad and a tap water, and everyone else ordered the surf and turf with a glass of cabernet. Usually it’s not this extreme, but you get the picture. If friends ask to split the check, request that one person pick up the bill, then offer to Venmo your portion (plus tip) to that person. This way, you don’t end up spending crazy money unnecessarily, but you also don’t look super stingy in front of a group of friends.
9. Invite people over to your house
This one is an easy solution. Want to grab a glass of wine? Split a bottle and hang out on your couch. Want to go out for dinner? Suggest heading to the grocery store and cooking together instead. Just want to hang out and talk to your friends? Instead of going to a coffee shop, invite them for coffee and tea at your place.
The more you make your home inviting to others, the more they’ll want to hang out there, and the less you’ll have to spend on lavish dinners and expensive nights out. There are few things more fun than a wine and board games night with good friends!
10. Suggest free activities
The other weekend, a friend and I walked from our neighborhood to the National Mall in DC and went to a free museum for an afternoon. We had a BLAST! After this, I realized there are a ton of free things to do in DC…so why should I spend money on outings with friends every time? Now, especially on weekends, I’ll try and take control of my plans, suggesting free activities for my friends to enjoy. How about a walk by the waterfront? Or perusing a farmer’s market? If you live in a city, there are probably plenty of free things to see and enjoy. Why not do so with your friends?
11. Combine friend groups
One of the biggest money sucking habits of all was the fact that I’d go out several days in a row. Sometimes, I found myself going out with friends up to 6 nights on any given week! This took a huge toll on my savings goals, because I’d spend lots of money every night I went out.
Why did I do this? Simply because I was trying to make time for multiple friend groups, and I felt weird about mixing them.
I quickly realized that this was totally stupid. We’re all young professionals doing some pretty interesting things, and I think my friends are all excellent conversationalists. Moreover, young adults love meeting other people. So, to try and reduce the number of nights per week I was going out, I started introducing my friend groups to each other. Now, I only go out 1-3 times a week max because I don’t feel weird about introducing my friends to each other. And most of the time, they get along super well (even to the point of hanging out without me!).
The Bottom Line
I often feel torn between saving money for travel and making the investment in my relationships. Using these couple of tricks, I have been able to strike a happy medium where I can do both. Instead of cutting out social outings completely, I’ve found that taking them in moderation and watching my spending within them can actually be more effective than completely depriving myself of social interactions. Next time you’re out with friends, try these tips to keep most of your money in your pocket.
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Do you have any hacks that help you save money without looking cheap while you’re out with friends?
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