Everybody likes hanging out with their friends! This is true for human beings aged toddler to grandparent (and hounds too!). We all enjoy carousing, playing, and fraternizing with our buddies. But what happens when you’re a devout frugal weirdo (à la moi) and you still want to spend quality time with your chums? Brace yourselves because the answer is pretty simple: you still do.
I’ve caught wind of a common misconception in our consumption-focused culture that socializing always entails spending money. To this I cry “false!” I think it’s true that the default, conformist mechanisms of socializing include the outlay of cash (going to a bar, restaurant, or coffee haus), but there’s a whole host of free friend activities that Mr. Frugalwoods and I partake in.
Far from being reclusive hermits, we’re actually more socially engaged now than we were before we began our extreme frugality junket. We’ve found folks with common interests, our time isn’t monopolized by shopping, TV, or other opiates of consumer culture, and we’re just generally happier people with more to share with our community.
With socializing, as with all things in life–and most especially things related to money–everyone’s mileage is going to vary and you, my frugal friend, will have to uncover the solution to mingling that fits with your budget and brings you delight.
How We Chill With Our Hommies
First and foremost, our preferred frugal mode of friend interaction is at one another’s homes. We have compatriots over for brunch, lunch, scones, coffee, dinner, drinks or any variation thereof. And they in turn invite us into their homes for the same. Spending time in each other’s homes creates a relaxed, casual atmosphere where we can kick back and converse.
In addition to being vastly cheaper, it’s easier than trying to go to a restaurant–everyone can bring their kids/dogs/visiting relatives and there’s no concern over a reservation time or if we’re being too loud or if a baby just smeared banana on the wall (these things happen). It’s all good when we’re at home.
Additionally, inviting people into our home harkens back to an earlier, simpler time when that’s what entertaining was: hosting and being hosted. There’s something quaint and comforting about this style of friendship-building. Sometimes we’ll have potlucks, other times we’ll cook the whole meal, and other times our friends will assume the feast responsibilities. Buying and preparing this food and drink barely makes a dent in our monthly budget, which is why we don’t have an “entertainment” line item. These costs are simply covered by our rather modest grocery bill.
Hosting also provides the opportunity to try out new recipes and enables us to hone our cooking prowess. There’s no personal fulfillment in going to restaurant and forking over your credit card. There is, however, a great deal of pride involved in Mr. FW making the perfect pasta puttanesca to serve, for example, or indulging in our friends P & E’s amazing home-smoked meats (which are beyond delicious, by the way).
The art of cooking for others is a demonstration of love and an outlet to enhance our culinary creativity. As with most frugal insourcing, it’s a win/win and there are dividends that reach far beyond the mere monetary.
When we’re not hanging at a home, we take walks or hikes with comrades or visit a free outdoor festival or fair. There are plenty of free entertainment opportunities in the Boston area and our friends are always game to not pay for diversions. Picnics in the park are another favorite pursuit of the frugal as are board game nights. We’ve had many a cutthroat evening of Ticket to Ride, Settlers of Catan, Risk, Canasta, Pictionary, Taboo… the list goes on.
Hypothetical Social Situations: WWTFWD?
We’ve established that socializing in the home is our preferred modus operandi, but what about those scenarios where the hobnobbing in question is out of our control and decidedly not occurring in a private residence? Fear not, we have frugal coping strategies for just such scenarios. I present to you hypothetical frugal friend situations with WWTFWD (what would the Frugalwoods do) answers:
1) Help! A friend invited us out to Chez Overpriced for dinner on Friday night!
When acquaintances ask us to accompany them to a restaurant, we simply counter with a cheerful invitation to dinner at our home. We’ve never once had someone turn down the offer of a free, home-cooked meal.
In the past we ate out with our friends, now, with those same friends, we’re in a pattern of dining at one another’s homes. Eating in restaurants is a relationship trope that’s easily changed.
2) Serious crisis! A friend is having a happy hour birthday party at a bar!
Great! Go and carouse! Happy hours are the easiest to frugalize, so I’m always thrilled when this is the choice du jour. There are a few options we’ve found work well for handling happy hours and bar outings in general:
- Just drink water. I do this all the time and no one has ever noticed, commented, or cared. Your friends want you there to spend time with you, not to monitor your beverage consumption. Also, much as we’d like to think we’re the center of time and all eternity (I know I fancy myself to be), no one really cares what you’re doing–they’re too worried about their own drink order.
- Just have one glass. I’ve done this too (obviously when I’m not pregnant) if I’m in the mood for a drink. I’ll scan the menu for the cheapest–but still tasty–option (don’t order without checking first, lest you wish to accidentally land on the $15 glass of merlot) and then savor my one drink all night. It’s healthier and cheaper to imbibe a single drink, so pick something you crave and truly relish it. There’s no happy hour rule that you need to get sloshed on four drinks. One is just fine, thank you.
3) My office is going out to lunch to celebrate a colleague’s birthday/promotion/baby shower!
This is a case where you’ll want to ask yourself a few questions: am I expected to attend this gathering as a part of my work team? Will my absence be conspicuous? If you answered yes to either of these, then it’s probably wisest to attend. But if it’s not a close colleague of yours and you get the sense that it’s not a required event, perhaps skip it in lieu of writing a card and congratulating your colleague individually at another time.
If you determine you do need to attend the luncheon, I follow a strategy quite similar to my happy hour plan. It’s rude to just drink water, so I simply order a very inexpensive item–such as a small salad–and eat my lunch from home later at my desk. Again, no one gives a rat’s booty what you order for your lunch, so don’t stress.
A Note On Romantical Dating
One glaring omission from my current life experience is that of dating. And I don’t mean dating your spouse, which I’m a huge fan of–I mean dating in order to meet a partner. I’m fully aware that Mr. FW and I have known each other for over 13 years and got married at age 24; thus, dating as adults isn’t something we ever had to navigate.
The one thing I will say on this topic is that if you’re frugal and that’s an important part of your life–say you’re working to pay down debt or reach financial independence or merely wish for the security and options that frugality provides–then I think it’s crucial to find a partner who feels similarly. The overwhelming majority of our success as a couple is attributable to the fact that Mr. FW and I share the same worldview on our finances. Without a joint financial goal, approach to our spending, and appreciation for what encompasses the good life, I think we’d have a tough time functioning as a joyful and productive unit.
Being transparent about your financial tendencies and dreams from the outset is the best way to ensure you meet a partner with similar values. Your power together–as two people committed to financial security and the awesome life it begets–will be unstoppable. Don’t shortchange yourself by pretending to be someone you’re not. After all, if you start a relationship with extravagant spending, then it’s only natural for the other person to expect that extravagant spending will continue.
And I’m not suggesting you invite someone over for dinner on the first date–they might think you’re a stalker. Instead, perhaps suggest something cheap but romantic like a picnic, a walk, or a cup of coffee. Again, I’m no expert in this arena, so I won’t pretend to know how the intricacies of dating as an adult work, but I do know that finding someone who shares your goals will foster great happiness. Starting a relationship on a false financial premise isn’t going to yield a fulfilling partnership. For more on this topic, check out a guest post my frugal friend Sam from Frugaling.org wrote: A Single Person’s Guide To Frugal and Happy Living.
Being Old Helps
Another thing I’m no longer knowledgable about are the youths. Mr. FW is 32, I’m 31 and honestly, we’re old folks. And, most of our pals are old folks too (no offense pals, but you know I’m right). As we’ve aged, transitioning to socializing at home is a natural progression for us and our cohort. With the addition of kids and dogs into our lives, there’s not much desire to close down the club anymore (although it is a shame my dance moves are going to waste… ). In general, we all just try to stay awake until 10pm on the weekend (success in this venture varies).
When we were younger, Mr. FW and I did go out a great deal more than we do now. However, we were crafty about incorporating thrifty principles. We’d find drink specials, nurse a few cheap bevies, and we’d always eat at home before going out. Spending $10 on a night at the bar with buddies is a lot more palatable than drinking away $50.
Do What’s Important To You
While Mr. FW and I generally adhere to a $0 entertainment budget, we also spend money on the things that we value most in life–and relationships with friends and family top that category. We’ve traveled all across the country to attend weddings (including purchasing requisite bridesmaid dresses), bachelor/ette parties, and family gatherings. We don’t hesitate to participate in these life milestones with our friends and family–though of course we do travel on the cheap (check out our frugal vacation to attend a friend’s wedding and our thrifty trip to my sister-in-law’s high school graduation).
The key is to prioritize and–I’m sure you’ll be shocked to hear me say this–spend on events and gatherings that are truly meaningful to you. Consider if the standing Tuesday happy hour with your work colleagues is something you care about enough to spend money on weekly, or, if you’d rather save those funds in order to make attending your best friend’s destination wedding in Mexico easily affordable. Life is about trade-offs and it’s rarely an all or nothing scenario for palling around (or anything else, really). Bring consciousness to your social spending and determine if you’re allocating your resources in ways that are personally rewarding.
And if your cronies are hosting a party at an expensive restaurant and you really want to go–then go! It’s not like a few restaurant meals per year are going to implode your budget. Just make sure that you’re thoughtfully making the decision to eat out for rare, special occasions and not defaulting to restaurants for every other meal.
Make Friends With Fellow Frugal Folks
But, frugal companions do come armed with a slew of fabulous benefits. Mr. FW and I appreciate the ability to brainstorm, collaborate, and share ideas with our frugal friends–they get what we’re doing and they’re doing something similar.
Having people to bounce frugal hacks off of, discuss investing strategies with, and swap tips for everything from free baby-and-me classes in Cambridge (huge thanks to reader L for hooking me up with a comprehensive list!) to removing stains from laundry (props to my friend C, whose children always look spotless, for the gift of some Fels-Naptha) is a rich aspect of frugal confidantes.
My frugal friend, Mr. 1500 from 1500 Days to Freedom, wrote this wonderful guest post for us about how to meet a frugal tribe. It’s rife with suggestions on how to build out your network of frugal relationships.
Your Friends Should Respect You And Your Choices
Real friends who are worth spending time with will respect your life choices. Mr. FW and I have discovered over the course of our extreme frugality quest that being honest with our friends and family about our financial proclivities goes over very well.
Our friends are clued into what we value in life, and they’re respectful of the decisions we make. We take a non-judgmental approach to discussing finances and our friends–many of whom spend money very differently than we do–have no problem with the choices we make. They respect the journey we’re on and we, in turn, respect the journey they’re on.
In the same way that you wouldn’t tease a vegetarian friend for not eating a burger, friends shouldn’t make fun of you for your thrifty determination. You wouldn’t heckle a friend who is on a diet for avoiding dessert–it’s the same story with someone electing to aggressively save their money.
There’s nothing shameful about being frugal and it’s not something you need to hide. I’m not out to convert my friends to frugality, but I do communicate with them why we’re on this path. They get it and they’re fine with it. And you know what? If a friend hassles you for your frugality or pressures you to spend or doesn’t respect your financial goals, then they’re probably not a very good friend to have. Friends should uplift you, bring you happiness, and provide support and encouragement. There’s enough negativity in the world as it is, no need to bring that drama into your life through damaging friendships.