It’s a common cycle: you work hard all week, soaking up stress and trying to power through. Then when the weekend comes, you blow off steam at your favorite bars and restaurants. After spending all your hard-earned money, you wake up on Monday to start the cycle all over again.
If that sounds familiar, it might be time to consider a new strategy. Here are some of the best ways to de-stress and socialize on a budget.
If you have local friends, meet up at a nearby park. Make it a picnic and have each person bring a snack to share and their own beverage. Some parks even host brewery or food truck nights, which are usually less expensive than dinner at a restaurant.
You can even make it a game and try to walk at every park in town. Plan a hike or a day trip to a state park, lake or beach.
Host a Potluck
Instead of always meeting for dinner or lunch at a restaurant, try hosting a potluck with your friends. You can even pick a theme, like Italian or Mexican food. If you have a core group of friends, pick a time every month to meet at someone’s house for lunch or dinner. You can rotate who brings the main course, sides and drinks so it’s fair for everyone.
You can also take turns hosting a cocktail night, where you learn how to make a fancy cocktail together as a group, or host a wine tasting party, where each person brings a different bottle of wine to try.
Plan After-Work Activities
If you’re always stressed after work, schedule low-key and inexpensive hangouts with friends. Find a donation-based yoga class or get a friend to play tennis or disc golf with you. Some movie theaters offer discounted tickets during the week.
Look for Restaurant Savings
Eating out with friends is fun, but it can also take a huge bite out of your budget. Before you meet up for dinner, look for restaurants with a happy hour deal or a coupon on Groupon. Some warehouse clubs also sell gift cards to restaurants where you can save between 20% and 30%. Many cities also have restaurant weeks, when restaurants offer fixed-price meals at a significant discount.
Before you go out, eat a snack at home so you’re not tempted to order too much food. And always be the first one to order. Studies show that people always try to match what everyone else is eating.
For example, if your friends are ordering steak when you just want a salad, you might feel pressured to order something more substantial. If you want to save money, insist on ordering first. Who knows – you may inspire everyone else to spend less too.
Check for Free Days
Most museums, botanical gardens and other attractions offer free days to the general public. These days are almost guaranteed to be more crowded, but it’s still a great chance to get out of the house without spending any money.
Pick the place you want to visit and check their schedule to see when their free days are. Some institutions also have special discounts for certain professions. For example, if you’re a teacher, first responder, service member or healthcare worker, you may get a discount every day.
Also, if you search for event listings online, you might find free events happening nearby. Many local publications have online newsletters devoted to local events.
“Most towns, no matter how big or small, tend to offer events for their residents and guests who are visiting the area,” said Michelle Schroeder-Gardner of Making Sense of Cents. “This can range from free live concerts, to book readings, to festivals, and more.”
Check Out Your Local Library
If you haven’t been to your local library in a while, it might be time to stop in. Most libraries have a wide range of DVDs, video games and other non-book forms of media. If you have an e-reader, you can also check out ebooks for free. Many libraries have stopped assessing late fees, so you can take your time finishing whatever you check out.
Some library memberships include access to Kanopy, a site where you can stream movies and documentaries. My local library even has a puzzle and board game section.
Volunteer to Get Free Admission
If you can’t afford to attend events, you can volunteer in exchange for free admission. For example, if your town is having a film festival, you can volunteer to take tickets or run the concession stand. In exchange, they may offer you free admission for the other festival days.
Get your friends to sign up too so you can hang out together while you’re volunteering. You may even meet other people who also have a passion for volunteering and saving money.
Get Ideas from Your Friends
If you’re struggling to find ways to save money and hang out, talk to your friends. They may empathize with your financial situation and have more suggestions. For example, maybe your friend can get free or discounted event tickets through work.
If your friends know that you’re on a budget, they may take that information into account when planning outings.