Swap It, Don't Stop It: How to Spend Less on Things You Love


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.


Find yourself spending the most on drinks? Scouting out happy hours—which you can easily do through apps like 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.


In 2013, Americans shelled out $2,482—or about $200 a month—on entertainment alone. If you’re a sucker for an awesome amusement park, concert or comedy club, these alternatives can help you save.

  • Visit a local fair. Instead of shelling out pricey amusement park entrance fees, which can cost anywhere from $50 to more than $105 for a one-day pass, check your city calendar (and nearby cities, too) for local county fair schedules. They typically offer rides, games and shows for a fraction of the price—usually around $10. If your schedule is flexible, visit the fair’s website for mid-week discounts.
  • Check out local talent. If live music is your thing, take a break from $47+ big concert tickets and try smaller shows sponsored by bars or local radio stations. Tickets are far cheaper—usually a $5 to $10 cover—and the food is usually better, too. Some restaurants and hotels also host monthly music residencies, where you can listen to the same singer or band play on the same night each week for free.
  • Opt for open mic night. Whether you love poetry readings, comedy acts or rap battles, look for open mic nights in your city. While some are free, others may ask for a small donation or require a drink minimum, but it’s still likely to be a relatively low-cost outing.


According to a Travelex survey, Americans planned to take at least one vacation in 2016—and spend a total of $2,041 on it. If vacations are how you most love to spend your cash, that figure may be even higher. Outside of taking advantage of tweets and apps that scout out travel deals, there are a few ways to enjoy a fun-filled getaway for less.

  • Research budget-friendly destination alternatives. For just about any locale on your bucket list, there’s probably a more affordable—yet just as satisfying and memorable—destination worth visiting. For example, if you’re craving a city getaway with lots of old charm and culture, skip Paris this time in favor of Montreal. Or if you’re after a tropical beach vacation, consider the Dominican Republic or Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, instead of Hawaii. Thanks to cheaper accomodations and plane fares, you may even get to stay longer.
  • Take an epic train trip. If you like cruises because you can visit multiple destinations on the same trip, try a land-based alternative and go by train. For instance, on Amtrak’s Cardinal route, you can explore Chicago, Cincinnati, D.C. and New York City on a single train trip. Bonus: Since cruises usually have set rates for package deals, with an average of $1,799 for an eight-day cruise, you’ll also have more control over how much you spend.
  • Go on a staycation. How often do you get to be a tourist in your own city? To unplug without spending much at all, challenge yourself to an eventful staycation. Ride along that new city bike path, hit up all the best ice cream shops in town or spend hours in a museum you’ve never visited before.