Go Out on the Town on the Cheap

I love going out on the town with friends, but when I was a younger man, I found that going out every night with pals was a sure way to suck my wallet dry. I’d spend $30 before I blinked and doing that every night was a sure way to drain my wallet.

Over time, I gradually began to develop a toolset of skills that reduced the cost of going out on the town with friends. I’d just use one or two of these tactics each time – the ones that seemed the most appropriate – and would find myself saving 50% or more on one of these little after-work excursions.

With that being said, here are sixteen tactics you can use to save some cash while going out on the town with friends. When you go out, just choose one or two tactics to use – don’t be a cheapskate and try to do all of these at once. If you can save 30% of your normal spending and still have all the fun of going out, that’s a real start.

16 Ways to Go Out Without Over-Spending

1. Do the research

Spend some time researching the options available to you and know where the good deals are. What places have stellar offers for the after-work crowd? Which places have no cover charge on Monday or Tuesday nights? What restaurant has a great deal on its website? Know what kinds of places are available and what some of the best deals are. That way, when you’re out and about, you’re equipped with some knowledge.

2. Be the one that makes a suggestion

With the group I used to hang out with, the first person that made a concrete suggestion about where to go that evening usually got their way, as everyone else just went along with the flow. Thus, if you know where the bargains are, suggest that place (and you don’t have to mention the bargains, either). That way, you’ll effortlessly save money when the rest of the crowd follows along.

3. Clip some coupons

My Sunday newspaper always contains tons of coupons for restaurants – things like “save $4 on two lunch entrees,” for example. Clip these coupons and then bust them out when a lunch opportunity comes along. Another great place to look: local “free” newspapers (like Cityview and Juice in the greater Des Moines, Iowa area).

4. Buy (and use) an “entertainment book”

Around here, “entertainment books” are a common item that you can buy to help a charitable organization with fundraising. These books are loaded with coupons for restaurants, golf courses, clubs, and so forth – in other words, entertainment coupons. If you go out with the gang on a very regular basis, these books can quickly pay for themselves – just take it along wherever you go and see if any coupons match up with what you’re doing.

5. Take advantage of special local events

Many communities offer interesting local events that can easily eat up a social excursion or two. See what the community festival is all about, or check out restaurants that are participating in any big cross-promotional events (like “restaurant week”, which some communities have).

6. Pay per drink – don’t start a tab

Never start a tab when you’re out at the local watering hole. A tab makes it incredibly easy to rack up purchases without really thinking about it, leaving you with a stunning bill at the end of the night. Instead, buy each drink with cash – and tip each one individually. If you take in only $10 or $20 in cash, you’ll be capped at spending that much and thus won’t be shocked at the end of the night with a huge bill.

7. Catch happy hour

Many dining and drinking establishments offer a “happy hour,” usually timed to catch the after-work crowd. These usually offer cheap drinks and usually very cheap (sometimes free) appetizers. If you know of a place that offers a great “happy hour,” offer up that place as a suggestion as to where to go after work, then eat up on the free appetizers (meaning you’ll only need a tiny supper you can easily fix at home for pennies, saving you even more).

8. Don’t be the only person buying rounds of drinks

It’s fine to buy a round of drinks for your friends, but only if everyone does it on a regular basis. Otherwise, you’re throwing money away needlessly. Don’t feel obligated to buy a round, especially if you’ve recently bought one.

9. Take advantage of any “members club” offers

At a few of the drinking establishments in Des Moines and other nearby towns, there are “members clubs” that offer deals if you buy so many drinks. For example, at one place, if you buy 10 different drinks, you get one free – they use a “wooden nickel” system to do this. Take advantage of it, especially if it coincides with other deals like cheap appetizers or a great happy hour.

10. Meet friends for lunch instead of dinner

If you’re looking to meet up with friends for a meal, consider going out for lunch instead of going out for dinner. The lunch menu is always cheaper and you can still have a great time together. Plus, there’s less temptation to drink heavily (and thus spend more than you should) over lunch than over dinner.

11. Eat plenty of the free appetizers

At many places (especially Mexican-themed restaurants), free appetizers are given to you before the meal. If they are, order a light meal and chow down on the appetizers – and if you feel bad about this, just tip strongly. There’s a Mexican restaurant I love near where we live that has $4 lunch specials with unlimited chips and salsa – I always leave $6 behind just because the meal is good, you can eat as much as you’d like, and the service is great.

12. Order a glass of water (if it’s free)

If you can, always order a glass of water before ordering food. Drink that glass of water quickly, then evaluate the menu. The glass of water will not only hydrate you (a real bonus), but will fill you up a bit and encourage you to order a smaller portion off the menu, thus saving you a bit of cash.

13. Split an entree with a friend

If you’re going to a place with large entrees, suggest splitting an entree with a friend and also splitting the cost. This is sometimes frowned upon with small parties, but with large parties, it’s fine. Choose a meal that’s easy to separate into equal portions (soup’s bad, sandwiches are good) and pay an equal portion of the bill.

14. Drink some beverages and eat a snack before you go

Another way to keep your eyes from overloading your wallet while studying the menu is to eat a snack or drink some beverages before you go. This way, when you arrive at the restaurant or club, you’ll already be partially full and won’t want to order as much food or as many beverages, thus saving you money.

15. Don’t be ashamed of the doggy bag

If you order an entree, focus on cleaning up the side dishes first. That way, if you start digging into the entree and can’t finish it, it’s very easy to package up into a doggy bag for lunch the next day. Don’t be ashamed of the doggy bag, either – it’s an incredibly smart (and non-wasteful) thing to do.

16. Join the group after dinner

Another clever strategy is to simply agree to meet up with the gang after their dinner. Just meet them outside the restaurant an hour or so after their reservation and then hang out with them afterwards. Meanwhile, you can either skip the meal or eat something inexpensive by yourself (likely something at home).

Using one or two of these tactics in an evening is not a social intrusion
It just ensures that you spend your money in a sensible fashion – and doing that over and over can mean many evenings of fun without many nights of worrying about making ends meet.