Being Frugal Without Giving Up Your Social Life
Whenever I write a frugality post, I get comments asking some version of, "That's fine if you're happy being a hermit in your cheap apartment, but what about people who have friends?" (See also: Not Driving Your Less Frugal Friends Crazy)
I think there are three general strategies for dealing with the issues around having a social life while still being frugal.
1. Consider That Extreme Frugality Doesn't Have to Be Total Frugality
Part of the answer is just to go ahead and budget some money for socializing with friends who do stuff that costs money.
You won't want to eat out every meal, but you could join them occasionally — when it fits into your budget. Similarly, you can go to an occasional movie or an occasional concert or an occasional night out drinking. In fact, you could take a once-in-a-lifetime cruise, if it's what you want to do, and if spending your money that way is aligned with your values.
The whole point, after all, is to align your spending with your values. Doing things with your friends almost certainly aligns with your values — at some level of spending. That level of spending may be much lower than what they spend, but it's probably above zero.
2. Consider That Even Friends Who Usually Spend Money Appreciate Variation
Another part is to gradually and subtly educate your friends on the attractions of frugal entertainments.
If your friends always meet at a coffee shop, invite them over for coffee instead. If you keep coffee on hand anyway, you can probably make coffee for six or eight friends for no more than you'd spend on just your own drink at a coffee shop. The upshot is that you spend less and all your friends spend zero. (A pleasant zero-cost hour over great coffee is just the sort of thing that can open a friend's eyes about the advantages of choosing frugal alternatives.)
Having them over for coffee only makes sense if you're a coffee drinker, of course. If you drink tea, have them over for tea — again, for the cost of one mug of tea at a tea house you can make tea for a whole crowd of friends. You can even, if your friends socialize by going out drinking, invite them over for cocktails — more expensive than coffee, but still cheaper than drinks at a bar.
There are cheap alternatives for all sorts of otherwise expensive outings — watch a DVD at home (popcorn is cheap), play board games, go to a free event at the library or the park. (Wise Bread has a big collection of posts of free and cheap things to do in cities and towns all over the U.S. and here and there in a few other countries as well.)
Don't present any of these as "cheap" alternatives that you'd rather do to save money. Instead, present them as "more interesting" alternatives.
Better yet, present them as "superior" alternatives. If you're a serious coffee drinker who buys locally roasted coffee and brews it in a French press, there's every reason to expect that your coffee is better than they'd get at the coffee shop. Ditto for tea. If you keep up with the local music scene, you can identify the bands that are national quality just before they get too famous to do free concerts in the park. A documentary shown at the library with the filmmaker in attendance to lead a discussion after may be better than the third remake of some action-adventure blockbuster.
3. Consider That It's Also Good to Make New Friends
Finally, remember that your stock of friends isn't fixed.
You don't have to drop your old friends — you may have great friends whose only flaw is that they don't know how to have fun without spending money. Just make some new ones who appreciate getting together for the company more than for spending money.
As you make new friends, consider introducing them to your old friends. The ones who fit in and hit it off with your old friends will be in a great position to suggest new activities for the new, expanded group — activities suggested because they'll be fun, that just happen to be frugal. It turns strategy #3 into a variation on strategy #2.
Being frugal is not about being a hermit, just like having friends is not about spending money.
How are you socializing frugally?