Updated on 03.07.07

Are Your Friends Always Spending Money? Ten Frugal Activities – And Advice On How To Suggest Them

Trent Hamm

One of the biggest challenges I faced in my college and early professional days was dealing with friends who were always encouraging me to be involved in expensive activities. We’d go out to eat at expensive restaurants, go to the new release movies (two or three a weekend), and go electronics and book shopping on an extremely frequent basis. It didn’t take much of this for my wallet to be drained.

When I finally recognized that I needed to get my finances together, I was worried how this would impact my relationships with my friends. I won’t kid you: it did have a negative impact on some of the relationships, but I was able to easily maintain most of the valuable friendships and have built up new ones since.

So how can you start convincing your friends to do less expensive activities? Here are five tips for bridging the gap.

Start some discussions. Many people say that it’s not polite to talk about your finances, but you can easily get around that if you frame it the right way. Ask about what everyone plans to be doing in five years, then state what your goals are (like buying a house) and why you need to save for it.

Drop hints. When you see opportunities for being frugal, talk about them. I found this worked especially well when eating out – “I just learned how to make that myself at home! How about you guys come over some time and I’ll make it?” – or when indulging in entertainment shopping – pick up a DVD you’ve already got and say, “This was really good and I’ve already got it… I think I’ll watch it again.”

Set an example. If everyone goes shopping, you can tag along, but don’t buy anything. If they ask you why, tell them, but don’t bring it up on your own.

Be a leader. Most groups are like sheep; the first person who champions an idea usually winds up getting his or her way. So be the first to suggest something, and suggest something that’s easy on the wallet.

Don’t be inflexible. It’s okay to splurge sometimes; don’t be completely inflexible on occasionally doing expensive things or else you’ll drive people away.

Need some ideas of fun things to do that aren’t expensive? Here are some ideas to try.

Have them over for dinner – and suggest a rotating dinner. Instead of eating out, have a rotating dinner at home, where each person cooks something at home for everyone. If that won’t work, start having rotating pot lucks where everyone brings a dish.

Play a game. We do this with friends about once every two weeks or so. We just pull out one of our board games and play it along with conversation and drinks. Lately, we’ve been enjoying Ticket to Ride a ton; it was originally given as a Christmas gift, but we’ve played it with friends over and over again.

Go on some model home tours. These are fantastic fun for a day out with the gals; these places are loaded with home decorating ideas, plus it’s a great way to talk about what you like and don’t like in home decor.

Start a book club. Book clubs are cheap ways to have a lot of fun if the people in your group have a similar mindset. Have a weekly meeting to talk about the book – but let that conversation evolve from there. A friend of mine got a book club started with a bunch of her friends; they read one book a month, but meet weekly to talk about it on a rotating basis at each of their houses. The only costs for an afternoon a week of great conversation with people with similar interests is a book once a month (which can be checked out from the library or shipped to you for pennies online) and snacks for a small group about once every two months.

Go for a drive. Look for interesting local places to go that might be free or cheap. Ever been to the local art museum? How about to the top of the mountain outside of town (a great place for a picnic)? Is there a local historical place of interest? Instead of going to worship at the shrines of consumerism, take a drive to something else that’s interesting.

Watch an old movie. There are so many great films I haven’t seen, so we’ve started having evenings where we watch a bunch of great old movies, like Lawrence of Arabia and Goodbye Mr. Chips and such. These can be rented for pennies at the local video rental store and they provide hours of entertainment.

Plan a camping trip. We started doing this with friends a few summers ago. A whole pile of us would converge on a state park over a long weekend (some of us would take Friday off) and we’d camp together, eat together, and enjoy the outdoors and catching up with people who live out of town. Best of all, with everyone chipping in on costs, it was pretty cheap, too. Here’s a great list of cheap camping tips.

Get involved in a youth activity. My oldest brother has gotten really involved in coaching a youth baseball league – and he got a lot of his friends involved, too, coaching other teams. It fills up a lot of time on the weekends with his friends, plus he’s actively involved in helping the community and improving the lives of a lot of children.

Go high-end window shopping. If you really must go shopping, try window-shopping at really expensive stores. If you like electronics, focus on the high-end gadgets that you can’t possibly afford and drool on them; if you like clothes, go to the most expensive clothing stores and marvel at the cuts. This way, you’re much less tempted to drop $500 on a single item than, say, $30 on an item.

Have a giant yard sale together. All of you have extra stuff, right? Get together and have a single giant yard sale or else get together to take a whole lot of extras to consignment (if no one owns a home or has a place to do the yard sale). You’ll be able to spend the weekend together, clear out a lot of junk you no longer want, and come up with some extra cash. Be sure that you have a clear plan for how to split up the income, though, before you start.

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  1. Oleg says:

    I’m especially fond of the “Be a leader.” point. With some thought, frugal ideas will come, all it takes is suggestion and a good sell.

    …I’ve found that no matter where we are, the best times are had when a good group is together, just having quality conversation, maybe with a drinks, maybe with a hooka, maybe not. Talk is cheap, even free!

    Have any good tips for starting and maintaining a book/poetry discussion group?

  2. Nathania says:

    This is a great post because with so many people in debt these days, I’m sure people will get on board with less expensive entertainment ideas.

    One of the reasons it can be so easy to fall into debt is to try and keep up with other people – or our perception of other people. So yeah – bring on the power of suggestion!

  3. alibrarian says:

    You can often get classic movies (and new releases too, though at my library there’s usually a wait) at the library for free. Your library (and more specifically your librarian) can also be a great source for book group suggestions, discussion questions, etc.. Publishing company websites also often provide book group tips, questions, etc..

  4. icup says:

    Here’s one that I do with my friends yearly: Rent a beach house and go there for vacation. This is always a super cheap vacation and lots of fun. The house we rent is about $5000 for the week, but 13-14 of us go making it around $400 per person. Add gas to drive there and groceries for the week and your talking a weeklong vacation in a 7 bedroom mansion at the beach for under $500.

  5. NatureNut says:

    a couple more:
    you don’t need to go camping for a whole weekend to enjoy the outdoors. Throw some bikes on your van or take hiking sticks and cameras, binox.
    Walking vs riding gets you closer to nature, is easier to stop an digg the wildflowers, capture pix. Biking is exhilarating and gets you to farther viewpoints much quicker.

    Sierra clubs and Audobon, plus local hiking/ biking clubs are good places to start. They can often get you into nature reserves that are closed to public except on group tours. And they’ll often go for pizza after the hike. If you join Audobon, join some of the local small groups, they go on alot of unpublished hikes.

    Garden shows are great too. Pick up some plants or just enjoy the flowers; take your camera. there are orchid shows, cactus shows, rose shows, epiphyllum (orchid cactus), camellia, and other flower shows.

    Goto the library for a few hours. read up on the latest tech, or world events, environment, etc. We’re luck in HB as the lib is in a park with great views, and has a food cart in basement eating area.

    We walk around the park after, as sitting too long isn’t good, exercize the nanobots , and feel better, enjoying happy people walking their dogs or kids, concerts in the park, weddings, etc.

    Join a club; gardening, crafts, etc. dirt cheap and like minded people and comraderie.
    Some of those hikes we make to local botanic gardens and zoos, usually quite inexpensive.

    When we visit San Diego Zoo and gardens, we pack a picnic lunch, take a beach towel and eat under huge the 100 year old Moreton Bay fig tree.

  6. Laura says:

    I went on a fun double date this weekend with some friends of ours: we went ice skating for an hour followed by hot chocolate at a coffee shop. Total cost per person was $8 and it was really fun!

    You know another interesting idea? If you have great friends who are also trying to get their finances in order, form a “debt diet club” or something like that and much like a book club, meet once a week or once a month to discuss financial strategy. It worked so well for a group of girls in Vancouver who formed a group called The Smart Cookies that they were recently featured on Oprah. They had a blast by doing things like:

    -they lived in walking distance of each other so for special occasions or evenings out when they felt like they had “nothing to wear,” they didn’t go shopping at stores, they went shopping in each other’s closets and borrowed clothes regularly to save money.
    -they did a potluck dinner once a week with a couple of bottles of wine from the liquor store
    -one girl sold her car and carpooled with her pals

    They had excellent results – one girl has now bought a condo and another paid for her recent wedding in CASH. All 4 were originally in debt and had out of control spending habits. Check out their website http://www.smartcookiesmoneyclub.com/

  7. jake says:

    My co-workers ALWAYS eat out at lunch, and for the longest time I went along because I simply did not want to be left out.

    When my finances got extremely tight, I just simply told them that I couldnt keep up with them. I explained that I need to save up money. They had no problem whatsoever, they even encouraged me. They say if you can save money that’s a good thing.

    Now I chose the days that I go out to lunch with them, usually when its somewhere really cheap. I keep it to only about 1-2 lunches a week. Some weeks I don’t go out to lunch at all.

  8. Mary says:

    Tell your friends … “Let’s play a game!” (or “How about a challenge? !!”) to think up something fun to do that costs $5 or less … then sit back and watch the fun happen. My husband and I used to trade this challenge back and forth for our date nights. One night he told me to dress up because we were going somewhere special! He was wearing a suit (so not like us) so I donned a little black dress and off we went. He pulled into a nearby rest stop off the Interstate and took a picnic basket out of the trunk after helping me from the car.

    He unpacked a white tablecloth, some simple flowers, candles, and two place settings of our china, silver and crystal. He had fixed a casserole and brought some grape juice which was poured into our crystal wine glasses with all the flair of a fine wine. We had the best time dining by candlelight and watching weary travelers trying to figure out what the heck we were doing.

    It was truly a memorable evening and the only cost was the gas to go a few miles up the road.

  9. great ideas. — being leader the key. I find the most expensive options happen when we simply go along just because we don’t have the time or enery to drive a less expensive activity for the group.

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