Swap It, Don’t Stop It: How to Spend Less on Things You Love
Jackie Lam
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If you’re prone to blowing your fun budget, you might have tried it all—from bailing on social plans with friends to going on a full-out spending fast—only to eventually fail miserably.

Why? Because deprivation budgeting can lead to serious burnout, and potentially even worse spending behaviors. “If you stop spending entirely on things you enjoy, that could really set you up for binge-spending,” says financial therapist April Lane Benson, PhD, author of “To Buy or Not to Buy: Why We Overshop and How to Stop.”

Enter the “swap it, don’t stop it” strategy, where you trade in your priciest spending pleasures, like eating out or exotic getaways, for a less-expensive variation that offers similar enjoyment and value. That way, you’ll never feel deprived or guilty about how much you spent.

Here are 11 ideas to get you started.

Dining Out

If dining out is one of your spending weaknesses, you’re not alone. In 2015, the average U.S. household spent more than $3,000 eating out, and the average dinner out costs about $36 per person, according to Zagat—and even more in places like L.A. and New York. Fortunately, there are a variety of ways to spend less while still getting your foodie fix.

  • Eat at the bar. Some local and national chain restaurants offer a special menu for bar patrons with happy hour-esque deals. For example, sit at the bar at TGI Fridays and get day-of-the-week drink specials and $5 appetizers anytime.
  • Stick to side dishes. Another way to lower your restaurant tab is to order a few side dishes or small plates, or a few apps and a main entree, to split. You’ll pay less overall, while still getting a taste for what the restaurant has to offer and enjoying a meal out with your friends.
  • Try the lunch menu. If you have some flexibility in your schedule, dine at your favorite spot for lunch instead of dinner. Restaurants usually have similar, but smaller—and therefore less expensive—portions at lunch.

Drinks

Find yourself spending the most on drinks? Scouting out happy hours—which you can easily do through apps like Happy Hours, DrinkOwl and Loople—isn’t the only way to shave money off your bill.

  • Take a flight. Some restaurants, like The Green Lady in Chicago, which offers a robust selection of craft beers, offer flights, where you can sample several beers at once for about $10. This allows you to taste several drinks for a little more than the cost of one beer.
  • Look for seasonal specials. Oftentimes, restaurants and bars will roll out seasonal offerings, like pumpkin ale for fall, that are priced lower than other menu items in order to encourage patrons to give them a shot. For example, Miller’s Ale House (which has 75 locations in the US) offers a pint of a seasonal Leinenkugel’s brew for just $4.25.

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