The following is a guest post from Emily as part of Yakezie blog swap. Emily is an engineering graduate student in North Carolina and blogs about maintaining financial sanity through life transitions at Evolving Personal Finance. Please welcome Emily and enjoy the post. You can read my post at Emily’s blog.
I’ve been there myself: to meet my savings goals while still paying my other bills, I needed to reduce my spending on going out – but I didn’t want to sacrifice time with my friends. Before making small changes here and there, I encourage you to reflect on what you like and don’t like about your current social life and what is within your ability to change.
How Do You Prefer to Socialize?
What are your favorite modes of interaction with your friends and acquaintances? Here are some possibilities:
- just talking
- playing pickup sports
- enjoying a meal together
- consuming entertainment together
- cheering side-by-side at sporting events
- physical adventures such as hiking, skiing, rafting
- playing (video) games
How Do Your Friends Prefer to Socialize?
How do your preferences actually match up with how you’re spending your social time? Perhaps your social circle has fallen into a rut of frequenting the same restaurants or bars and spending lots of money every time, or the same people are always planning the activities and their tastes are a bit more expensive than yours. Would your friends be open to trying out some modes of interaction that are more cost-efficient or is there a way to shift the mix of activities more toward low-cost alternatives?
Perhaps you realize that your social circles could use a boost – you’d like to make some additional friends. The quick fix is to seek out the activities you enjoy with new people. For example, if you’d like to play more pickup sports, ask around about soccer, Ultimate, or basketball groups. Meetup.com can be very helpful in finding some new potential friends through your common interests.
Can You Modify the Setting or Activity?
Now that you know what you like to do and what your friends like to do, is it possible to get the same utility from your activities by shifting the setting in which they take place? Here are some examples from the list above:
- If you frequently go out to dinner with friends, suggest a potluck or a rotating dinner hosting schedule so you can enjoy each other’s cooking for a fraction of the restaurant cost
- If you enjoy just talking, you can do that absolutely for free at home or in a public place instead of paying an entrance fee such as for coffee, food, cover charge, or tickets
- Instead of attending every home game of your preferred sports team, arrange to split a season ticket with someone and watch half the games with your friends at a bar
- If you love movies but can’t afford to go to the theater every week, invite your friends over to watch classics or old favorites
Changing the setting or activity is made much easier if you take over a bit more of the ‘social director,’ ‘party planner,’ or especially ‘host’ roles in your social circles. If you are hosting your friends, you have control over the activity and you can suggest ones that are easier on your wallet. Having people over doesn’t have to be expensive – we’ve found that our friends always contribute food or beer to our evening activities whether we ask for it or not, so the entire burden of snacks doesn’t have to fall on your shoulders.
What Can You Cut with Minimal Impact?
Perhaps you’re already doing what you enjoy with whom you enjoy to do it and the answer is simply to cut back. Often I won’t order food or drinks. When out at a restaurant or bar – I can talk with my friends like I want to without spending any money. Even without going to that extreme, there are a myriad of ways to cut back when out at restaurants or bars. You can even meet up with your friends halfway through an evening for the part of the agenda that you enjoy the most.
Another example is whether you should prioritize small, frequent expenditures or large, infrequent expenditures. My husband and I happily skip some local activities with people we see all the time to be able to attend the out-of-town weddings of close friends and family members. But perhaps in your case skipping the annual ski trip will mean you can spend tens or hundreds of more hours with your friends enjoying your everyday activities.
You might also not realize how much money in your “going out” budget might be spent not furthering your social agenda – like buying lunch at work or eating out alone for convenience. Resist adding extras – if you went bowling to bowl, don’t get sucked in by the concession stand. Don’t participate in activities you don’t enjoy or people you don’t really care for if you’re trying to free up some money!
How Budgeting Can Help
Here’s a basic budgeting principle: Pay yourself first! Set the savings goals you want and then work out your discretionary spending levels. I recommend splitting the discretionary spending you have earmarked for your social life into two parts: a monthly cap and a savings rate for big expenditures. Open up a savings account just for a big-ticket event like a trip or a season ticket so that you can say ‘yes’ when they come up without compromising your saving goals.
Just like with any budget category, hitting your monthly limit is a imperative to sop spending – but if you ever come in under, you can throw the excess into your savings account.
What are your favorite modes of social interaction? What substitutions have you made to spend a little less while having just as much fun?