When you’re on a budget, it’s important to slash your spending on nonessentials. But how do you balance the need to save with the equally serious need for fun?
You can do it with planning, creativity and some easily adopted habits. Following are some ways to save money while having fun.
1. Dine out strategically
Eating lightly can help you both enjoy restaurant meals and save some serious money. It’s easy to overeat at restaurants anyway, and ordering less has become a widely accepted means of maintaining health. So:
- Take the edge off your appetite by having a healthy snack before leaving home.
- Share an entree, halving the cost of the most expensive part of the meal.
- Order appetizers and dessert and skip the main course. Or simply enjoy a drink and appetizers.
- Try pricier restaurants at lunchtime, rather than dinner. Often, they offer much the same menu but with smaller portions and lower prices.
2. Embrace the happy hour
Happy hour — when bars and taverns offer discounted drinks and cheap or free food in the late afternoon — is enjoying a resurgence in many cities. Search online for the name of your town and “best happy hour” for reviews of the best local spots. Happy hour prices are offered during limited hours, so order moderately and keep an eye on the clock.
3. Check restaurant websites
A restaurant’s website is a great place to learn about dinner deals, happy hour specials, coupons and promotions. Sign up for restaurants’ emails for special offers and notices of events.
4. Purchase dining certificates
At Restaurant.com, purchase certificates that can significantly reduce the cost of dining out. Pay $4 for a certificate worth $10, for example. However, read the fine print carefully. There may be catches — for example, a minimum purchase may be required.
Also, watch local newspaper ads for restaurant coupons.
5. Order to go
Buying a restaurant’s entrees to go can save you half or more on the cost of restaurant food by eliminating the cost of the tip, drinks, appetizers and dessert. Take the food home and build around the entrees to make a meal.
6. Attend matinees
Nothing can replace an electric performance by professional actors in a resident theater company.
But the price of live theater can be steep. Depending on the company, the seats and the performance, ticket prices can range from less than $20 to more than $100. You can enjoy live theater for less by attending cheaper weekday matinees.
7. Find cheap movies
So much free quality entertainment is available online that you hardly need to leave the house. But sitting around in your sweats eating homemade popcorn gets old.
You can enjoy a movie house without the pain of high-priced tickets by patronizing matinees. And many cities have “dollar theaters” that play second-run films at bargain prices.
Volunteering at local events gets you into the concerts, festivals and plays you want to see free of charge. Offer your services to the sponsoring organization as an usher, ticket-seller, coat checker or program distributor.
9. Check out the library
Local libraries are a rich source of free reading, listening and viewing. Well, not entirely free: Our taxes support them, so getting your money’s worth is another reason to use the library.
Among the many money-saving perks:
- Ask a library to borrow from another library for books not in the local catalog.
- Find sales of cheap used books and sources of free books and periodicals at library fundraisers and free book bins.
- Check out library bulletin boards for free and low-cost local events.
- Download electronic books and music.
- Use electronic database subscriptions that let card-holders read popular and obscure newspapers, periodicals and journals online.
10. Find free e-books and audio downloads
There are many ways to get e-books and audiobooks for free. To learn more, check out:
11. Get a (cheap) hobby
Find the right hobby, and you’ll have hours of entertainment at your fingertips. The trick is finding one that doesn’t eat your budget alive. Hobbies that fit the bill include:
- Ballroom dancing
- Herb gardening
Do you have more tips for having fun on the cheap? Share them in comments below or on our Facebook page.