It’s that time of year again—when our fridges fill up with enough graduation announcements, baby-shower invitations and save-the-date magnets to book every other weekend through Thanksgiving. And that’s not even counting your everyday commitments: dinners out with friends after work, birthday parties and the occasional weekend getaways.
While it’s tempting to RSVP “yes” to everything—particularly that bachelor party in Cabo—the truth is, your budget probably isn’t big enough to accommodate thousands of dollars worth of social blowouts. Well, not if you want to avoid credit card debt, stay on track with your student loan payments and hit your emergency savings goal anyway.
Shouldn’t there be a way to balance both priorities: having fun while being financially responsible?
“It’s totally normal for there to be competition among your values,” says financial therapist Amanda Clayman. “A little tension between them isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it can mean we’re being efficient in how we direct our resources toward the things that are important to us.”
The good news is there is a way to enjoy the best of both worlds: by turning your social network into a support system that helps you achieve your goals. Telling your friends about your priorities—to save more or pay off debt, for example—fosters increased accountability and gives you something to celebrate, and people to celebrate with, once you reach the finish line.
“To enlist allies…ask your friend if they have a goal they could use your support on,” Clayman suggests. “Even if it’s not financial, if you’re ‘goal buddies,’ you add a positive dimension to your friendship, and you can be specific about how you both want to be supported, too.”
Of course, just because your buddies are behind you doesn’t mean you’ll suddenly be able to afford every (full-priced) event you’re invited to. So try these 15 ways to enjoy a social life—without sacrificing your savings.
2. Look for specials. Whether it’s two-for-one drinks and an appetizer during happy hour, a late-night menu or ladies night, chances are there’s a special somewhere. Apps like Happy Hours, DrinkOwl and Loople can help you find them.
3. Negotiate a group rate. If your friends are planning a big affair—say, a dinner cruise, bowling party or a night at the theater—volunteer to help them plan it. This gives you a chance to shop around—by researching multi-pack discounts or calling up the business or ticketing offices—and negotiate cheaper group rates on behalf of everyone’s wallets, including yours.
4. Find the freebies. Beyond park picnics and library dates, check your city’s event calendar to learn what other activities you can enjoy for free, like outdoor concerts, movie screenings and yoga classes at lululemon stores. And make sure to look for “free days” at your local zoo (Wednesdays at the Bronx Zoo, for example) and museums.
5. Play host. The more responsibility you take on for coordinating the social calendar, the more you can propose budget-friendly events like potluck dinners, book clubs and game nights.
6. Bunk up and crash. Whether it’s a destination wedding or a Memorial Day weekend beach trip, don’t obsess over checking into your own hotel room. Instead, shack up with a friend who’s willing to split the bill. Considering hotels cost an average of $124 per night, your pal will probably be happy to share the expense.
7. Volunteer. There’s nothing quite like serving a common cause to get your endorphins flowing. Spend time with loved ones while doing good for others to experience an ultra high that doesn’t cost a thing.
8. DIY. It could be a night of DIY tacos and margarita-making or mani-pedis—either way, you’re getting social without racking up much of a bill. Just remember to designate who’s responsible for bringing which supplies.
9. Use your network. Get cool insider perks through your job, like free swag, movie or sports tickets or discount clothing? Be generous in sharing them, and you’ll be more likely to benefit from the generosity of your friends’ insider connections in return.
10. Shop second-hand. Rather than meeting at the mall for your next group shopping trip, scout unique, second-hand finds at more cost-conscious locations, like thrift stores, consignment shops and flea markets.
11. Organize a social swap. Speaking of second hand, don’t forget to share with friends first. Save second-hand clothes, jewelry, books and home goods for your loved ones, and make an evening out of trading them with one another. Whatever doesn’t get claimed can be donated.
12. Take a class together. Whether it’s a free iMovie workshop at the Apple Store or a discounted introductory week of spin classes found on a deals site, it’s more fun with friends. Plus, as you already know: Keeping your self-improvement social provides accountability for whatever you’re trying to learn or accomplish.
13. Explore your city. Social adventures don’t have to be limited to exotic, international locales. Make a commitment to play tourist in your own city. Explore local parks and trails; take time to actually stop and read the plaques at historical monuments; or visit an art gallery or open mic night at a local bar.
14. Make it a “Mastermind.” Spend time with friends while helping each other reach your respective goals by organizing a “mastermind group.” Masterminds are a combination of brainstorming, accountability and support to help you succeed personally and professionally. Not only are they inspiring, they’re fun.
15. Plan for priorities. You might not be able to make it to every social occasion. But when you spot a personal priority on the horizon, planning ahead, saving up and figuring out ways you can hack the cost in advance can make all the difference—like banking credit card points and airline miles to cover roundtrip airfare for that destination bachelor party. Cabo, here we come!