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We’ve all been there at one point or another, wondering how to keep our friends and maintain our budget at the same time. It starts with a friend calling to ask if you want to go to dinner. You look at that well-planned budget, and suddenly you are willing to toss the whole thing out the window, because you already spent your eating out budget this month, but you really don’t want to miss out on the fun.
As one who has started and not finished budgets and debt payoff plans in the past, I know firsthand how hard it can be to have a social life while on a budget, but there are several things you can do to make it easier.
It might take a small step of faith on your part but start with honesty. You never know when you’ll come across someone else who needs to keep their budget as well.
My sister and I both got married right about the same time. We both found out really quickly that the lifestyles we’d been used to, (i.e. dinners out with drinks and dessert) no longer fit into either of our budgets. It was a while, though, before we could actually admit that to each other, and I cringe when I think of how many meals went on credit cards just so we could have fun together and save face. It isn’t worth it, folks. We found that when we were honest with one another, all of the tension faded away and we were able to find an alternate, inexpensive activity. Truly, what we wanted, was just to spend time together.
Start with something simple: “I’d love to go out with you, but as a family we are working really hard to pay down debt this year, and I just don’t have the money in the budget to make it work this month. Perhaps we could find an alternative because I really do want to spend time together.”
Be honest, it’s worth it.
Suggest Your Own Plan
Perhaps you’ve been honest, and your friends still want to go out. If you have the money for it, suggest you meet them for dessert and drinks after dinner. It’s cheaper than eating out for a whole meal, and you still get the experience of being out on the town. Note to self: make sure to eat a full meal before you get there so you don’t end up giving in and ordering more than you planned on, thus ruining the budget and destroying any reason you had for meeting for dessert and drinks only. (Keep in mind the babysitting costs that you might incur if you have young children.)
Invite Your Friends Over
If your friends are willing, move the party to your place. Have everyone bring their beverage of choice and a snack to share (think chips and dip, veggies, and bite-size dessert items). Host a game night and bring out the board games or simply turn on a sporting event on television and have some fun rooting for your favorite teams. Have a BBQ and throw a football around the yard while letting the kids jump on the trampoline. The options are endless, but make sure that everyone contributes or it could end up being more expensive than that dinner out you so carefully avoided.
For us, it is cheaper to host it at our home not only due to restaurant costs but also because we don’t have to pay for a babysitter or find ways to entertain the kids. That’s a win-win situation in my book!
Choose Free Activities
Don’t want to stick around the house, but also don’t want the expense of heading out on the town? Check your local listings for free events in your area. Our area typically has free art shows and movie nights in the park, and with a box of candy from the dollar store, they can be a lot of fun for an evening out. You could also choose to make a day out of it and go for a hike or walk through city-maintained gardens. Take some good pictures to document the day and fun time spent together. I bet if you looked into it, there are dozens of fun (and free!!) things you can do with friends in your area as well.
Have a Fund for It
While I know it’s not possible in every budget, I highly recommend having a line item in your budget for this type of situation. We have an eating out budget, but we do our best to save that money for times when our entire family can go out to lunch or dinner or Justin and I can have a date night. In addition to that, however, (and due to the fact that we host a lot of game nights) I have a “Game Night Fund” with a small amount of money budgeted for each month. It’s typically enough to cover a six pack of beer, a bottle of wine, and some snacks or dessert-type items. Obviously, if we know we have multiple game nights coming up, we try to ration that money to cover each occurrence.
If your friends are set on going out to eat each month, perhaps your “game night budget” is, in fact, a “Night Out with Friends Budget”. Either way, to the best of your ability, plan ahead so you don’t have to scrap the entire budget to make a night out work for you. Don’t forget to add in childcare if you will need it.
Find New Friends
If you are constantly encouraged to make poor choices by the friends you have, it’s time to find new ones. Drug addicts don’t go back to the same situations they had before they were sober, and neither should debt and spending addicts. You wouldn’t recommend your teenage daughter keep the same friends that are encouraging her to make bad choices, would you? In the same way, if you’ve been honest with your friends, offered alternatives, and are still meeting resistance, you shouldn’t allow yourself to remain in a situation that is dangerous not only for your finances but for your long-term family goals. Ultimately, you have to protect the best interests of your family, and that may mean leaving relationships behind.
If that’s you today, I highly recommend you start once again with honesty: “I’d love to be able to hang out with you and do all of the things that we are used to doing, but for now I need to take a step back. I need to focus on paying off my debt/saving money so that my family can achieve our goals, and for the time being, eating out/partying/etc. doesn’t fit into that plan. I hope you’ll understand, and if you ever want to come over and play games or do something that doesn’t cost a lot of money, I’d love that. I really do value your friendship.”
Truthfully, if that person really is your friend, they are going to start taking you seriously, but if they don’t have your best interests at heart, they will be easy to let go at this point in time. Hang in there, dear friend. I promise it will get easier.
It’s Possible to Budget and Still Have Friends
Even if you had to say goodbye to a few friends in that last step, chances are you still have some that are now walking with you on your journey to maintaining your budget and finding financial freedom. Now, when you get together with your friends for a fun night, it won’t come with the stress of wondering where the money will come from after the fun is over. (And you might just find that you have more fun doing the things that don’t cost money.)
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