It’s easiest to be frugal when you’re flying solo. When all you have to think about is yourself and your own internal demands, it’s easier to make frugal choices. Often, the desire to be social or the desire to keep up with social demands can really eat into our finances, because the financial cost of things like going out with friends and eating out with friends add up really quickly.
Because of that, many people who dabble in frugality tend to take that path of least resistance and find themselves engaging in a lot of solo activities. They spend more time at home and less time with their social circles, which works okay for a while when the excitement of trimming back your spending and getting your bills under control is still burning bright, but when that glow cools off, frugality can end up feeling pretty lonely – and, for some, lonely often feels boring, too.
Frugality winds up creating a lot of anti-social feelings and stereotypes. People who are new to frugal living – and even old hands, sometimes – can feel like antisocial weirdoes and worry about being unwelcoming.
I’m an introvert. I like having lots of solo time. However, even for me, there are times that doing the most frugal thing can end up feeling a little lonely.
It’s during those moments that I turn to a healthy handful of frugal strategies that also happen to be pretty social strategies as well. Here are eighteen social things that I really enjoy doing that also happen to be quite frugal. Don’t be afraid to pick and choose among these and suggest some of these ideas to your friends for feedback.
Strategy #1 – Go to a Meetup
Meetup.com is an invaluable tool for frugal people with varied interests who want to explore those interests and easily meet others who share those interests in the community. Effectively, Meetup is a directory of interest groups in your area – clubs or organizations that are focused on a particular shared interest among its members. You might find groups for origami or board gaming or storytelling or woodworking or anything else, depending on the area you live in.
Simply head over there and browse what’s available within, say, a 25 mile radius of your home, and then make a conscious effort to visit all of those meetups that are of interest to you. Try diving into things that you’re unfamiliar with but that you might find compelling, or even things that are just completely outside of your typical areas of interest, just to see what they’re like. At worst, you spent an interesting afternoon or evening and know more about the topic in question and perhaps met a few interesting people; at best, you found a new social group and a new hobby to boot.
Strategy #2 – Host a potluck dinner party
A potluck dinner party is simply a gathering of friends at your home where each invitee brings some sort of contribution to the meal. Perhaps they bring a side dish or a couple bottles of wine or a dessert. Each person should bring enough to contribute meaningfully to the meal, which reduces the cost for the hosts and adds a lot of variety to what’s on offer.
Not only is a potluck dinner party a super-inexpensive way for a group of friends to spend a great evening together, it can also become a rotating thing, enabling different people to take on the chore of hosting (as the host does have to handle cleanup and dishes and such).
Potluck dinner parties are the backbone of our social life. We have them fairly regularly, inviting several friends to bring themselves and food and beverages to our home for a great shared meal and a lot of laughs. It works incredibly well for families that are quite busy and can’t always find time to plan a perfect dinner party or find babysitters for a night out.
Strategy #3 – Check out your community calendar
The website of almost every city and town in America features some sort of community calendar feature which lists upcoming events of interest in the community. These calendars often include civic government things like city council meetings, but they also include things like community band concerts (which are often free), town festivals, city-wide garage sales, and other events that are either free or extremely low cost to participate in. Those events are usually well-attended and, if you’re willing to be outgoing, they can often be a place to meet interesting people in your community.
Find an event or two of interest and attend it. Be friendly and open to meeting people at the event. If you find it compelling, find out who organized that event and get involved with planning the next one. It usually won’t cost you a dime and you’ll definitely meet some new people in that process!
Strategy #4 – Host a “game night” or a “movie night” (and ask people to bring a snack or drink)
In addition to our potluck dinners (mentioned in #2, above), we also regularly host game nights and occasionally host movie nights (though our movie nights usually center around collectively roasting a bad movie rather than quietly watching a good one, as a good roasting is far more social than a quiet viewing in the dark).
We simply ask everyone to bring some sort of snack to share and, if it’s a game night, bring a game they’re interested in playing and are willing to teach. If the group gets too big, we set up a table in the living room for an additional game running in parallel to the one in the kitchen (one is usually a very open social game, while the other one is usually more complicated and strategic).
Neither of these events cost anyone much money at all – you might bring $5 or $10 worth of food or beverages in exchange for an evening of snacks and entertainment.
Strategy #5 – Organize a soccer game or a basketball game at the park
If your community has open soccer fields (as ours does), all you need for a game of soccer is a soccer ball and enough people to form two reasonable teams. That’s it. You just go out there, run around like fools, kick the ball a bunch, and have a good time. It just requires one person to have a soccer ball, and some communities will even loan them out for a tiny deposit.
Even if your community doesn’t have an open soccer field, you can still go out there, find an open space, define some goals using natural landmarks, and play soccer. It’s a great way to get some exercise, hang out with friends, and not be in a competitive league that might be above your skill level. I’m awful at soccer, but I still enjoy doing this every once in a while.
The same thing holds true if your community has open basketball courts. All you need is a ball and a willingness to play.
Strategy #6 – Make something useful with your friends, like soap or
Just invite some friends over to make something frugal together and have them bring some of the ingredients they’ll need. With soap, for example, have them bring whatever unique ingredients they might want in their soap along with maybe a snack or something and you’ll just supply some of the basics (like lye and molds).
Making something together is a great way to bond socially and if it’s centered around making something you can actually use, it’s a pretty frugal way to spend an afternoon, too. You can make things like soap or homemade dishwashing detergent tabs or bread or anything else. The goal is to just hang out together for a while and then, at the end, everyone has something worthwhile to take home. My wife sarcastically calls this strategy a “Tupperware party without making people buy stuff they don’t want.”
Strategy #7 – Organize a block party where everyone brings a food item or some beverages
A block party is simply one in which you get together with a bunch of neighbors, spread out a bunch of food, hang out together, play some music, and get to know each other a little. It can be a great way to meet people in your neighborhood, especially if you’re new or if you have a lot of new neighbors.
If you know any of your neighbors very well, stop by and talk to them about organizing such a block party together. Then distribute flyers and tell people to bring a side dish, some chairs, and their own grilling materials (and buns if needed). On the day of the event, all you have to do is get together a bunch of grills and then turn on your social side. People will come.
Strategy #8 – Organize rotating babysitting with another family
If you would like to occasionally go out but the cost of child care is prohibitive, see if you know another family with children close to the age of your own children and consider talking to them about rotating child care amongst the families. This is a great solution for two families that have several children each, because the burden can be intense and expensive for a babysitter but a family with several kids can handle an afternoon or an evening with a few more quite easily.
What this does is it makes date night for a married couple much less expensive than before and makes it possible for them to attend parties without the children in tow on occasion without having to spring for the additional cost of a babysitter. The only real cost will be one meal for a few extra kids on a future night, but your own children are being provided a meal as part of the equation, so it balances out.
Strategy #9 – Invite good friends to do normal life activities and errands with you, such as jogging or buying a planned item
If you find that many of your activities that you’re filling your life with aren’t inherently social, make them social anyway. Invite a friend to go jogging with you. Invite a friend to binge watch a show on Netflix. Invite a couple of pals to help you go buy a mattress.
Those are normal, everyday activities, but with friends, they become much more fun than they would be if you just tackled them alone. I’ve invited friends over to just play video games. I’ve invited a friend over to help me sort through a mountain of books (and he brought along some books to swap). I’ve gone on ordinary bicycle rides with friends. I’ve gone grocery shopping with friends. It’s just normal stuff, but if you do it with someone, it becomes inherently social.
Strategy #10 – Look into social groups at your local library
Many local libraries have a number of groups that meet within its walls. You’ll find things like book clubs (usually a bunch of them on a bunch of different topics), political discussion groups, speaker series, workshops, and lots of other surprising things. One library in our area has an open D&D group, a board gaming group, multiple crafting groups, and a group that apparently finds some place to do tai chi, although I have no idea where exactly that works in there.
Just check out the library website or stop in for a bit and ask the librarian about their programs. Put aside some time and check out all of the groups that seem interesting. They’re almost always loaded with interesting people and I’ve wound up with a few pretty good friends from events like these.
Strategy #11 – Go on a picnic and take a small hike at a nearby state park with friends
If you’re looking for a special excursion with your friends, just plan on spending part of a day at a state park with them. Pack up a picnic lunch, then find a spot to meet up. Go on a few trails of a difficulty that won’t overwhelm anyone, stop for lunch, and then just explore the offerings of the park.
It’s a great way to get outside with friends and explore lots of new environments without spending much money at all. A day at a state park with trail walking and a picnic is actually one of the things Sarah and I enjoy doing the most with friends, so we often suggest the idea.
Strategy #12 – Join a civic group like the Lions Club
Many communities have civic organizations that are open to all interested community members or a broad cross-section of community members. These organizations often help organize community events and step up when charitable efforts are needed for the town, and many of them build a strong community within themselves of like-minded people who take pride in having a great town to live in.
See what civic organizations are in your town and which ones you might be able to join, then look into those organizations and choose one or two that might fit your needs. Doing so will provide an opportunity to get to know many people in your town, build some relationships, and spend some of your time and energy making your community better for everyone.
Strategy #13 – Get involved with a volunteer project, like your local food pantry or Habitat for Humanity
If you’re more interested in project-based volunteer efforts, look into volunteer organizations in your area such as Habitat for Humanity or the local food pantry. Such opportunities are still social in nature, but they tend to have much more of a service orientation to them.
I will personally vouch for working for the local food pantry or food bank. I have been a regular volunteer at such organizations in the past and continue to do so when family scheduling allows it. Helping with local food distribution to the poor has been one of the most profound experiences of my life and it’s helped me to build several valuable friendships. I can’t recommend it enough.
Strategy #14 – Take a frisbee and some friends to the park
This follows along with the idea of taking a soccer ball to the park or a basketball to a playground, but a frisbee has a different set of advantages. First of all, tossing a frisbee around is about as low impact as you can get in terms of exercise. However, you can escalate things into all kinds of games, with games like ultimate turning into a pretty serious workout.
Another advantage of a frisbee is that it works almost anywhere and you can easily toss one in your backpack or keep one in the trunk of your car. We keep a frisbee in both of our vehicles just in case the opportunity comes up.
Strategy #15 – If you’re adept at a musical instrument, invite musical friends to jam or even to form a band
If you own a musical instrument, enjoy playing it, and are even remotely adept at playing it, invite friends over to jam with you. The simple process of playing music in a group is one that is almost always enjoyable for everyone involved, as it often turns into a collective that’s greater than the sum of its parts.
If it doesn’t go all that well, then you simply had a few hours to hang out with friends and jam a little. If it does go well, you can take it further than that and form a band, working on pieces of music and even performing shows. I have a friend, for example, who taught himself how to play the banjo and eventually turned that into a standing gig with a band that basically consists of some old friends playing a guitar, a banjo, and some woodwinds.
Strategy #16 – Attend a religious service and join in social events after the service or during the week
If you’re already religious or are curious about religion, attend a religious service of a faith or denomination that is interesting to you. Pay attention, then talk to the people afterwards and find out more about the organization. Religious organizations often provide a wonderful community to be a part of and typically have lots of social events throughout the week.
This tends to be a good idea if you are in spiritual agreement with most of the tenets of the organization, but if their beliefs are far away from your beliefs, this is a poor idea as you’ll often end up in conflict with the rest of the group. If you’re unsure where you stand, explore your own ideas a little before diving into a religious group.
Strategy #17 – Have a “home improvement project” party and encourage friends to host them, too
This is a frugal activity that was very popular in the area where I grew up. Whenever people would be facing a major home improvement project, like replacing a roof or moving to a new home, they’d often host a party and divide the work amongst everyone who came. This would often turn home improvement tasks from something that would take weeks into something that would take an afternoon for the cost of a group meal.
These parties were very social and they were hosted by people on an at-need basis. If someone was moving, they’d host a party at their new home with friends and family helping them to bring boxes and furniture to the new place. If someone was refinishing a basement, they’d have a big party for everyone after a day of hanging drywall and painting.
Strategy #18 – Organize and have a large meal prep session with friends
This final strategy is another clever one if you have busy friends and can line up a weekend afternoon together. It’ll provide a great social gathering and also save everyone involved a ton of money and time.
Essentially, what you do is plan out a make-ahead meal of some kind – like, say, a pan of lasagna – and then plan everything out so that everyone will get to take home four pans to stick in the freezer. If you have seven people show up, that means 28 pans. How many noodles will that take? How much sauce? How many reusable containers?
Divide up the shopping for all of that stuff among all attendees, averaging out the cost to the best of your ability. Have one person bring several jars of pasta sauce. Have another person bring a ton of lasagna noodles. Let someone else bring the cheese. Have two guests split the purchase of 28 reusable pans for the lasagna.
Then, just get together and assemble all 28 pans as a group. The whole thing is a giant social endeavor, allowing you to all spend some time together and enjoy each other’s company. Perhaps you can even make an extra pan and eat it together when the meals are completed.
Being frugal does not have to mean being anti-social. It just means being a little more selective in terms of the social things that you spend your time doing. There are still infinite options for spending time with friends, even if you put a tight cap on your spending, and there’s no reason you can’t mix and match the ideas above with some of the activities you used to do.
You might be surprised to find that some of your friends really embrace the lower-cost options, too. Many people secretly balk at the idea of spending a lot going out every night but are afraid to buck their social group’s norms. You might just find that by suggesting some lower cost things, you’re pleasing many more people besides yourself.
Not only that, making intentionally frugal choices can sometimes help you build new friendships. When you take the initiative to check out a social organization or go to a meetup, you’re likely going to meet new people who share at least some interests and values with you, which is a wonderful way to expand your social circle.