Oh, friends: They’re one of the best parts of life, but after your third dinner invite this week, you might be feeling their impact on your budget. Never fear! You can pretty easily plan social expenses in order to balance your active social life (you social butterfly you!) with your money situation, whether you’re rolling in it or just barely making rent.
These strategies work whether you’re working on building friendships in a new place or trying to find budget-friendly ways to hang with your BFFs. And serious bonus: Most of them work in the world of first dates, too.
Scope out the free stuff
This is such an obvious example that it almost doesn’t need to be said, but let’s say it anyway. No matter where you live, there are always cool free things happening (and if there aren’t, you can always organize some).
A quick Google search of “free things to do in [insert your amazing city here]” will likely pop up tons of ideas you’d never considered. When I’ve put this to work in my own life, I’ve found everything from an outdoor African drumming competition to free admission to every national museum in my city on Thursdays.
While I hands-down believe you’ll find at least one cool free thing to do with your friends, if you don’t, there’s always the option to make one up. Pack up a potluck picnic for the most scenic area in town, or find a local hiking or biking trail to explore. Or hey, do both! The world is literally your oyster.
Make your activities do double-duty
If you’re absolutely stumped for free activities, another great way to make your socializing fit into your budget is to make your dollars work harder: use them to do two things at once.
Whether you’ve got a hobby you’re really into, or a fitness goal you want to reach, or just a list of craft beers you want to try, see if your friends would be up for joining you in the activities you want to do anyway. That way, you’re spending money, but you’re getting the double whammy of exploring your passions and quality friendship time.
And if you’re new to the city, this approach can be a great way to track down new-to-you friends in the first place. Scope out group classes or Meetups that focus on your Thing, whether it’s running or rock climbing or knitting.
Be up for suggesting alternatives
No matter who’s in your friend group, there will always be someone who makes more money, and someone who makes less money. Since discussing salary isn’t usually topic #1 over beers at the bar, you might find yourself in situations where higher-earning friends are tossing out plans that leave you sitting there, wondering how anyone can afford to go to that restaurant and still swing their rent payment every month.
If that’s you, don’t sweat it. Instead, the best way to navigate this particular budget-busting friendship scenario is to get good at suggesting alternate plans – and when the situation calls for it, saying no. You don’t have to make it about money, either. This exact approach – word for word – has gotten me out of many a too-expensive meal with friends.
“I’ll have to pass on [insert event or dinner plans here], but we definitely need to get something on the books to hang out soon! Would you be up for [much more budget-friendly event] next week?”
This works for everything from turning down fancy dinner invites, all the way up to declining an invite to join them at Coachella. That shit ain’t cheap.
Yes, you can rock this on dates, too
You might be thinking sure, my friends will be up for this, but how is this going to curb my insane dating budget? Well, almost all of the same tricks apply – especially if it’s a first date.
That list of free things you found could be hiding the perfect first date idea, especially if it relates to a mutual interest. The same goes for activities you’d want to do anyway; if they’re not up for participating in something you already like, or at least giving it a shot, do you really think you’ll have that much in common?
Personally, I’m also a big fan of the suggesting-cheaper-alternatives when planning a first date. And no, it’s not because of my budget: grabbing a coffee or a drink is way less commitment than sitting down to a shared fancy-pants dinner before you’ve had a chance to scope out this stranger (who, let’s be serious, is probably From The Internet anyways).
Bottom line? Know how much you’re spending
At the end of the day, how much or how little you spend on activities with friends is entirely up to you. If spending big on nights out with friends is your #1 priority, and you can swing it without subsisting on ramen noodles all month? Stellar. You do you.
The only thing that is universally applicable when it comes to your friend-budget is that you need to make sure you’re tracking how much you really do spend on those activities. While you might think that $70 bar tab is a bit high when you settle up, it’s easy to forget about the five other nights out that month unless you’re keeping track of your spending.
Tallying up that number might be just the kick in the pants you need to revisit that list of free activities.
This article was originally published on GenFKD.org.