January 25, 2024

How to balance a budget and a social life

It’s hard to afford both a social life and just a regular life with the high cost of living these days. We look at ways to balance both a budget and a social life here.

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How to balance a budget and a social life

A man, on a budget, carries plates through a restaurant

After the pandemic, we all came to appreciate the value of a healthy social life. Now, three years later, the cost of maintaining a healthy social life is threatening our ability to have one. It’s simply becoming too hard for many Canadians to balance a budget and a healthy social life.

But it doesn’t have to be hard if you change your definition of “heathy social life.”

If you agree that the point of a social life is to connect with people you love and who make you feel good, then it shouldn’t matter where you go or how much you spend

In fact, if you start every month with a budget set aside for your social life, you’d be surprised by how creative you can get.

Why budgeting is necessary for a social life that makes you happy

Beginning a week short on money is never worth what you did on the weekend, regardless of how much fun it was. 

Eventually, your guilt, and lack of funds, will catch up to you. You may be forced to stop going out until you’ve saved enough money to do so again.

But, with a social life budget that (a) you can stick to and (b) leaves you feeling good on Monday, you can have all the guilt-free fun you want. 

How to speak to friends about your new social life budgeting plan

BDO’s most recent Affordability Index showed 89% of Canadians would speak up if friends or family were making plans they couldn’t afford. That’s a surprising number when we all know how hard it is to decline when everyone you know is going.

There are a few ways you can speak to someone you know about your finances. 

The short answer is “just tell them, they’re your friends.”

The longer answer is to offer alternative suggestions where appropriate. 

If, for example, your friends want to do a dinner at a swanky restaurant, you could say something like, “That place is a bit out of my price range. But what about this place? The reviews look great.” The key is to put in the work of finding a new plan.

How to say “no” if you can't do something

When suggestions for alternate plans wouldn’t be appropriate, the best way to decline an invitation is the way that feels most comfortable for you. 

If you’re okay telling the truth, you could say something like, “I’d love to come, but I can’t make it work financially this time.” If you’d rather not share too much, keep it short: “Ugh...I wish I could be there, but I can’t.”

But don’t lie to your friends with a made-up story like, “I have other plans,” or, “I’m going to be out of town.” Lies like that have a habit of coming out. Then you’re left with a different kind of guilt.

Are money issues stopping you from doing what you want?

Say yes more frequently

Say yes to seeing your friends. Say yes to laughing and making memories and trying new things.

Then do it all, but differently.

5 tips for making a night out less expensive

1. Pick a cheaper restaurant

A recent report by RestoBiz, Canada’s source of foodservice news, showed the year-over-year price increases for what you might find on a restaurant menu:

  • Dessert (+10.7%)
  • Non-alcoholic beverages (+10%)
  • Beef dishes (+9.8%)
  • Chicken dishes (+8.2%)
  • Add-on items (+8.6 %)
  • Kids’ menu items (+8.4%)
  • Senior menu items (+7.7%)
  • Appetizers (+7.2 %)
  • Side dishes (+5.9%)

Add tipflation to those costs and it quickly becomes a huge bill.

So, if you’re thinking about dining out, you’ll pay for the privilege. However, a bit of online research can uncover less expensive alternatives in your area — and maybe give you a chance to get adventurous with friends.

2. Limit yourself to one drink max

If you’re out for an event where you know a toast is going to happen, you don’t want to be without a glass for the big moment. But you can stick to water for the rest of the evening, with the added benefits of being healthier and in a much better state the next morning.

3. Grab coffee and/or dessert instead of a full meal

You don’t need to spend $80 on dinner to catch up with a good friend. You just need uninterrupted time. You can get that in a park, a ravine or in the back corner of a coffee shop or restaurant. Eat at home first and meet up afterwards. Bonus: getting a table will be way easier.

4. Hit the thrift shops for your outfit

Make a splash for less cash. Spend a few extra hours hunting for affordably unique at the thrift shops. It’s not like the paparazzi will be out front of the event asking you for the name of your designer.

5.  Find discounts on activities

Search online for “free stuff to do around me,” and you’ll find bands, plays and artists you’ve never heard of. This would be your chance to hear about them. Alternatively, search for “deals on stuff around me” and try new things every time. 

And 5 ideas to make nights in cheaper and more cheerful.

1. Be the event planner

When it’s your shindig, it can be whatever you want. Games night at your kitchen table. Movie night on your couch. Maybe just a chit-chat on your back porch with an inexpensive bottle of wine. 

If you’re hosting dinner and your social budget is squeezed, make it a potluck so everyone contributes something to the evening and you save on hosting costs.

2. Make a pasta

Filling. Delicious. So much less expensive than a meat or fish entrée. You could whip up a beautiful lemon and garlic pasta with bacon, broccoli and cherry tomatoes, spend next to nothing on it and leave your guests wanting more.

3. Use what you have for a signature drink

It’s nice to greet your guests with a cocktail in hand, but you shouldn’t have to restock your fridge or liquor cabinet to make it. With a bit of legwork, you can find a unique libation to mix up before your meal using what you have. For example, a Gin Fizz needs nothing but gin, two lemons, soda water and sugar.

4.  Do a murder mystery with your friends

It’s unique. It’s super fun. It gets a big group of people together. And all it will cost you is time to plan it out. Online, you can find all kinds of resources to help you set up a killer evening for your friends. This one is particularly good because it has checklists you can download to keep you and the story organized.

5. If you’re going to someone else’s house, either drive there or use public transit

Sure, you won’t be able to drink if you drive. But you also won’t have to spend money on cabs or rideshares, and a cheap evening at a friend’s place can stay that way. 

If you take public transit there and back, you can drink and lower your transportation costs dramatically. 

But before you start planning, set aside money for your social life.

You know how much you can afford to spend on good times. You also know how good those times have to be, and how often you need them, for you to feel balanced and emotionally nourished. 

Where those lines intersect is where you need your budget to be.

Whatever that monthly amount is, the best way to make it last is to take it out as cash and use only those funds for your social life. You’ll know what you can and can’t afford as the month goes on, and you’ll be able to plan (and ideate) accordingly.

A final point about budgeting for your social life

Regardless of your financial situation at the beginning of the month, always set some funds aside for your social life, even if the amount fluctuates over the year.

Because dedicating money, however little, to laugh, cry, sweat, dance, sing, read, compete, and get into trouble with the people you love is among the healthiest choices you can make.

Do you have more questions?

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January 25, 2024

How to balance a budget and a social life

It’s hard to afford both a social life and just a regular life with the high cost of living these days. We look at ways to balance both a budget and a social life here.

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