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Socializing on a Budget

Hi there, Savers!

Are we in the same boat? January seems to be the month for catching up with old friends for me – how about you? I’m very happy to catch up with these great friends. But, they’re from different friend circles; so, having one meet up to save money isn’t an option (well, I suppose it is – but, it would be pretty impersonal, not to mention awkward).

Socializing typically means spending money. Whether it’s doing lunch or dinner, going out for a drink, or catching a movie, it usually costs money. My budget allows for this occasionally – but what about when my social calendar surges?

I’ve come up with 5 ways to save money when socializing.

1) Use up those gift cards. I know this seems common-sense – if I have a gift card, I should use it first instead of spending money. But, I’ve noticed that I tend to use my gift cards for pre-planned outing. When I’m invited for a more spontaneous meet up, I don’t consider what gift cards I may have on hand.

So, before you commit to a meet up with a friend – check to see if you have any gift cards laying around that you may have forgotten about. Have a gift card to the movies? Suggest catching a movie instead of going to a restaurant (plan to meet at the movie theater early so you actually have time to socialize!)

Recently, a friend asked to go to lunch. Before I confirmed, I checked my coupon box. I found an Applebee’s gift card that I had forgotten about (the best part, I had bought the gift card from Amazon using my Amazon store card – not only did I get the gift card but also earned 10% back on the purchase). So, guess where I suggested to go…we had an enjoyable lunch out at Applebee’s and I stayed within my social budget this month!

2) Buy gift certificates at a reduced price. One of my go-to websites for scoring discounted meals is Restaurant.com. Restaurant.com offers gift certificates ranging from $5-$50 at a seriously discounted price! What I love about using Restaurant.com gift certificates (besides the savings, of course!) is that the gift certificates aren’t just for chain restaurants. My husband and I often tend toward locally owned restaurants, when we do go out. So we were pleasantly surprised to see numerous gift certificates for locally owned restaurants available in our area. We’ve enjoyed several sushi-nights out over the years at a locally owned restaurant.

We spent $10 for the gift certificate and got $25 off of a dinner purchase of $50.

This particular restaurant’s gift certificate required a minimum purchase of $50 – so, we kept our bill as close to $50 as possible, and got $50 worth of food for $25! (This always leaves us with leftovers, always yummy and saves money on dinners that week).

3) Hang out by staying in. Who says you have to go out to meet up? When you get an invite to hang out, there’s nothing wrong with offering up your place as the venue. It saves you gas, it saves both you and your guests money on high food/drink costs, and it can serve as a relaxed environment to catch up.

An old friend recently texted me to meet up. I offered up my place to hang out (it was on a Wednesday so my husband was taking the kids to parkour anyway). She agreed to come to my house to hang out. I served up dinner that we already had on-hand (read: no extra spending!). We enjoyed dinner, lounged on the couch, and had a great catch-up.

But, when hanging out at the house versus going out, make sure you’re considerate.  Always inviting (or insisting) the same friends to your house can become daunting for your guests – especially if your house is quite a distance for your friends to drive. So, be willing to travel, too. After setting the example of in-home hang-outs, your friends might follow suit.

Even if it costs some gas, hanging at a friend’s house will likely be cheaper than going out.

Uncomfortable showing up empty-handed? Don’t run to the grocery store! Check  your pantry. You may be surprised what you can make with ingredients you already have. Check out what I made for Christmas and New Year’s parties using only what I already had in my kitchen.

4) Have a picnic. A picnic doesn’t have to mean sharing a basket of food on a blanket spread over the ground. What I mean by ‘have a picnic’ is simply bringing your own food to meet up at a public (free!) place. For example, I’ve met up with a friend at the food court in the mall. I let her know ahead of time that I’d be packing a lunch. She chose to pick up something at the food court. So, we both had a bite to eat and had a nice time visiting. Then, we walked the mall for exercise and to do some window shopping. Be creative when setting up your “picnic” meet ups. Think about the venues in your area that allow for BYOF (bring your own food) visiting. But, be sure to let your friend/family know that you plan to BYOF. That way, if they want to go somewhere to buy food, you and your company can choose a “picnic” place that meets all of your needs.

5) Timing is everything. When planning a meet up with family or friends – consider the time of day for the visit. If dining out just isn’t in your budget that month, suggest meeting up at an off-meal time.

Think 10 am, 2 pm, 4 pm, 7 pm.

Suggest meeting for a cup of coffee or a dessert. It will still cost money, but will be much less than going out for a full meal. These off-times allow you to eat breakfast, lunch, or dinner ahead of time so your stomach will be content going into the visit. Plus, if your company is hungry, they’ll still have the option to order a meal.


I hope these ideas help you keep your budgeting goals while catching up with family and friends.

Get social, Savers!


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