Regular get-togethers at various local restaurants with friends was killing our monthly budget. Not only was the price of gas rising, but restaurants were responding to the economic downturn by raising menu prices as well. And as a former waitress, I always felt compelled to leave a 20-30% tip whenever possible.
Soon, it was usual fare to drop $25 for a snack or dessert and $60 for a meal with the gang. I didn’t want to skip out on spending time with some of my favorite people, but this habit was making us all digestively miserable and soaking up all our funds.
Here’s how we solved the dilemma.
1. I volunteer to bring over refreshments to a centrally located friend’s home.
Or invite the whole gang over to my house when someone suggests we go out for a bite to eat or drinks. I keep a few prepared meals in the freezer that can be defrosted or tossed in a crock pot for easy meals or snacks. I stock a few bags of tortilla chips in the pantry at all times, and canned my own salsa this summer for poker nights and informal gatherings. Celery and peanut butter and Trail Mix are also big quick favorites for impromptu gatherings.
2. Instead of heading to a restaurant on nice days, we do covered-dish picnics in the park or at the lake.
These work well for days when you want to get out of the house but don’t want to spend a lot of money.
3. I learned to make gourmet coffees at home.
I received a cappuccino machine as a Christmas gift many years ago and never really used it until recently. I started looking up gourmet coffee recipes and experimented with my own ingredients. One of the more inexpensive books I like to use for recipes is Cappuccino Cocktails & Coffee Martinis – Specialty Coffee Recipes & A-Whole-Latte-More! found on Amazon for $4 (less than the price of a specialty coffee).
4. Because some of my friends are die-hard restaurant lovers, I looked up copycat recipes for a few popular dishes.
Top Secret Recipes is a great free resource for recreating those restaurant favorites at home. We use fresh ingredients prepared in a healthy way, and alter the recipes when needed to avoid ingredients that we know cause our family discomfort, such as MSG. My husband also likes to sneak a dollop of peanut butter into most dishes when I’m not looking so he can claim his own”Top Secret Recipe.” It’s a running joke with our friends and is always a conversation starter when someone new tags along for the first time.
5. We keep one area of the house as clutter-free as possible for entertaining.
This creates a safe environment for kids to romp a bit and adults to relax without worry of knocking over an antique collectible or spilling wine on the good rug. Adding low-level music and indirect lighting also helps recreate the comfortable atmosphere of most restaurants.
6. We plan themed get-togethers.
I like to add structure to get-togethers when anyone outside of our core group of close friends visits. It helps reduce the anxiety of visiting someone’s home versus meeting in a neutral public place, like a restaurant. We plan Techie Days where technologically challenged friends get together to play games on the iPad, and learn how to set up filters in Gmail.
We have Web search games to see who can find trivia info the fastest or find the strangest picture of a cat wearing pink socks. Other times we do traditional movie nights with fresh-popped popcorn, homemade SnoCaps, and a favorite movie selection from each couple.
Entertaining at home is far more inexpensive than hanging out at a restaurant, pub, or bar, and gives you the freedom to truly enjoy your time with company. You don’t have to have a big, fancy house or immaculately maintained rooms. In fact, we live in a 200 year old farmhouse with about 800 square feet of living space and “kid clutter” everywhere. Yet our friends feel at home here and visit often.
Good friends make the time together special, and we all save money in the process. It’s a win-win situation.
Editor’s Note: Did you know about the service called $5 meal plans? For $5 a month, they send you recipes of delicious, healthy, yet cheap food that costs just $5 a meal.
Several of my friends signed up and they are able to eat at home more because the instructions are easy to follow, making everything convenient. The deal also comes with grocery shopping lists, which saves them so much time. Check it out yourself by clicking here and you too may be able to save more and become healthier at the same time.
Originally posted at https://moneyning.com/frugality/entertaining-on-a-budget/