Guidelines for Going Out on a Budget

going out on a budget

Whether paying down debt or saving up for something special, a budget can help you get what you want — and despite popular belief, you don’t have to suffer in the meantime. It is possible to be both socially active and fiscally conservative — in fact, it’s highly encouraged. Universal law (or was it a fortune cookie?) states that if we deprive ourselves now, we’ll surely blow it later. So, go out and have fun. But use these strategic pro tips so you can have a fabulous time tonight…and no regrets — at least financially — in the morning.

SMARTinis, Anyone?

Oh, Happy Hour. The wonderful window of time when restaurants and bars lower the cost of libations. With the after-work crowd in mind, this usually happens around 5-7 p.m. Consult Yelp or an app like Happy Hour Finder to locate the best specials in your town.

Half as Much, but Twice as Good

Restaurant portions are often generous enough for two to share. If no one in your group will bite, split it with yourself. Make the boxed half of tonight’s dinner tomorrow’s lunch and you get to savor the flavor for one more day.

À La Carte Evening

If an entire night of revelry is on the agenda, consider opting for the second half. Skip on dinner and tell your friends you’ll meet them for the after-party. You’ll spend less, and might even eat healthier, too. If your presence at the table will be sorely missed, grab a quick bite at home before heading to the restaurant. You’ll be less inclined to cave and order a starter or dessert.

It’s All in Good (and Free) Fun

Look for low-cost or even free opportunities for fun in your community. Find festivals, concerts, plays, and other budget-friendly events on Meetup and Facebook. You can also consult your local newspaper — in print or online — for a calendar of upcoming events detailing venue, time, cost, and other pertinent info.

Paper or Plastic?

No matter where you go, one sure way to keep from breaking the bank is to bring only as much money as you are comfortable with spending. Leave your debit and credit cards at home and let cash treat. Whether the item in question is movie popcorn or a mojito, this method will make you mindfully choose every purchase. This little trick will keep you from overdoing it at the bar, too. Open tabs and budgets are not friends.

In It to Win It

If you dream of not having a car payment, spending a month in Europe, or buying that designer bag you’ve had your eye on, making (and sticking to) a budget is a smart way to make it happen. If you can look at the whole budget process as a game, where self-imposed (and self-made) restrictions are the rules, every win is a reason to celebrate. Keep it interesting. Wins don’t always have to look like a lower credit card balance. A win can be a thrilling staycation day in your own city for the incredible price of FREE.

You make the rules for your game of financial freedom and it’s up to you to follow them, but there are plenty of tech tools designed to help you succeed. Check out easy-to-use apps like Dollarbird, Goodbudget, and Mint. These budget trackers provide an at-a-glance picture of your finances and let you designate a specific amount of money to a specific category — like eating out — each month. Most are free, with options to upgrade to premium for fancier bells and louder whistles. And some, like Mint, come with a free credit report.

The Bottom Line

With a little planning, you can save money and spend some, too. There’s no need to waste your weekends binge-watching Netflix when you’d rather be living it up in the city. Finance guru Dave Ramsey says, “A budget is telling your money where to go instead of wondering where it went.” Look at budgeting as a game, then play to win. See? Adulting CAN be fun.

Follow Erin on Twitter: @grinsnow | Instagram: @grinsnow

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