Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Having a Social LIfe on an Extreme Budget

I often hear on various boards or discussions the fear that being frugal means "not having fun". There are so many posts about having to stay home, not having a life or being bored when you are watching pennies or have very little money.

While you probably can't eat at the Ritz, or go barhopping every night, I'm here to tell you that being on a low or limited income doesn't mean you have to give up and sit home in front of the square box for the rest of your life.

So what will you do for entertainment on your limited budget? The short answer is, whatever you like doing, within reason. Money, or at least a lot of money,  is not a requirement for enjoying life. SOME money is necessary for certain hobbies or interests (golf, travel , or gourmet dining out come time mind, and I'll talk about that another time), but often the money required in this day and age is not nearly as much as you would imagine. I enjoy a variety of hobbies and social activities, and most of the time I manage to do those things with a minimal amount of money. Although I am not the expert on social lives of the less than rich or famous, here are just a few tips, from my experience:
  • Join up. If there's something you're interested in, there is probably a group listed in your local newspaper or magazine, a meetup, or some other way to find like minded people. Most of the activities in a group like this will be inexpensive or free, and often at a low cost place or people's homes. Here in Dallas, there is a Washington Redskins Group that meets at a bar every Sunday or Monday night. Yes, it's a bar, but the important think is not the drink. You can get one drink and nurse it all evening. The point is that if you are from the East Coast and know no one, you can have friendship and social contact for the price of a soda. I belong to a small quilting group that takes turns meeting at someones house each week. That person provides the lunch, but it's sandwiches and salads. And although we say its a quilting group, there have been days when everyone has sat around and talked for the five hours. I found this group online, doing a search.
  • Search for and join a church or house of worship of your choice, if you have a faith. This is a variation on the idea mentioned above, I grant you. Most churches have a variety of adult gatherings or organizations. Some will be for men, some for women, and some for anyone. It gives you a chance to meet people with whom you are likely to have some things in common, and a chance to develop long term relationships. In general the larger the church, the more choices, but you may have to experiment to find your fit.
  • Turn disadvantage to advantage. If you're unemployed, work only part time or off hours, or are retired, take advantages of the entertainment discounts that are available simply because of that fact. At my local first run theater, tickets for the first show of the day are three dollars. If you MUST go to an evening movie, try to make it before seven. If its date, hit happy hour and have the munchies and one drink first.
  • Volunteer for a social cause that jives with your interests and concerns. You'll meet like minded people, it will keep you busy and you will be helping where you are needed. You may even develop new job skills in the process if that is important to you.
  • Become a "friend" of an organization the interests you, or volunteer to serve in whatever capacity they need. At the local community theater, if you volunteer to usher or take tickets, you then get to see the production for free. If you have the funds, become an "angel" at the  lowest level available of your local zoo, theater, museum and so on. You'll get notices about special deals tickets and other opportunities. There may also be parties for openings of various events. (By the same token, if a retiree really really loves movies, he or she may want to see if the local theater can use them for a few hours a week).
  • Become a "registered" customer. Just as you get discounts and deals for food with a Kroger card, there are many preferred customer savings to be had at entertainment or hobby venues. Cinemark, AMC and Regal all have programs where you swipe a card and earn tickets and food as you go along.  I also get emails for  free snacks because I am on their email lists. My local quilt shop gives me ten percent reward on craft supplies, and has a special show twice year showing new trends and ideas. Although I'll talk about more expensive entertainment and hobbies at a later date, I earned a Chili's card for staying two nights at Best Western on my way to and from relatives this summer.
  • Be willing to be the first person in your group to step out of the box. If everyone in your circle wants to go out after work for two hours of drinks and snacks and then go further, or if they only way they know to socialize is an upscale restaurant, you can go along and cringe, or you can not go. Instead, think about a third alternative that is less costly and more personable. You'd be surprised how many people might go for drinks and snacks on the patio or int he back yard instead. Maybe no one else is willing to take that first step.
  • Although article is not about meeting people, when possible, search out about people who want or enjoy the same things as you do. I'm not talking about a financial level here. I belong to a gourmet dinner group and the ten members are from all economic (and age) levels. But they would all rather be having a nice dinner and leisurely conversation where they can talk in someones home than in a restaurant. The cost is a byproduct of that thinking.
  • Look to your city, county and state. During the summer my suburban town had free concerts on the park, where friends and I can go sit on a blanket, bring our own drinks and hear some really good music. They also have spring and fall festivals. While lots of things are sold at these events, spending money isn't necessary for a good time. The good time is the wandering, looking, and sharing of a single hot toddy perhaps. My city has a natatorium that includes pools, workout rooms and aerobics. The cost is $100 a year, so a health club never entered the picture.
  • Consider learning a hobby that has the option of saving money or making money. I add this with some hesitation. I truly believe that you should pursue what interests you, and that that is how you make new and keep old friends. That said, if you think you have an interest in an area that meets one of these qualifications, you may want to pursue that when choosing where to go next  in the development of a new hobby or interest.
  • Library, Library, Library. Can one have a frugal entertainment discussion without the library? Book club. Reference books on your interest.s Reference books on saving money. Movies. Music. Need I say more?
Hopefully you've gleaned a few ideas. I am not a social butterfly, and I enjoy being at home much of the time. I moved to my local area three years ago with little money for the kinds of things we are talking about on my pension. Prior to that my husband and son and I were home bodies who enjoyed puttering more than partying, so we have never been huge on out of the house socialization, other than for the groups we belonged to or the children participated in (the exception being travel).  I manage to have two social events that meet for a few hours each week, two that meet twice a month, and one that meets monthly. I also pursue quilting, card crafting, gardening, enjoying the movies, reading, and daily exercise on a limited budget.

What do you do, or what would you like to do with your time?


  1. They always say "The best things in life are free." I am having more and more fun visiting with neighbors believe it or not. I was even invited to an informal coffee hour at our local deli. This group of women meet once a week. I would not even need to have coffee. It is just fun to get to know people!


  2. I just added your blog site to my blogroll, I pray you would give some thought to doing the same.


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