How to Enjoy a Night Out Without Worrying About Money

couple enjoying a night on the town

When money is tight, it might be hard to justify enjoying a night out on the town. After all, there are bills to pay and looming debt to crush. But if you set a few parameters, you can still dine at fancy restaurants and enjoy a few rounds of drinks with friends. Here are some tips for enjoying yourself on a shoestring budget:

Budget for Fun

To live within your means, gauge how much a night out might cost. Some simple math can save your budget. Want to enjoy a nice date night with your bae? Scour the menu for that nice restaurant downtown beforehand, and estimate how much you might spend per person. Get granular. Figure out how much everything will cost, from appetizers to drinks. Don’t forget to include related expenses, such as Lyft rides and pet sitting.

You can also estimate how much you’ll be spending by looking at past outings. How many libations do you typically consume when you go to happy hour with co-workers? The truth lies in your bank statements. Check your transactions by logging on to your bank’s website, or through a money management app.

Remember: If we’re not being realistic with our financial situation, we might spend more than we can afford to. While it might feel fun and liberating in the moment to completely disregard our budget, it could offset money goals we’ve been working so hard to achieve. You’ll want to set boundaries so you can comfortably spend on the things you enjoy.

Create a Splurge Fund

The splurge fund is a total budget saver. If you’re trying to aggressively pay off debt, you might feel like you need to deprive yourself until your debts are taken care of. The thing is, if you don’t enjoy yourself every so often you’ll end up hating life, or you’ll rebel by going on an impulsive spending spree.

It’s important to carve out some room in your spending plan for fun. To start, revisit your spending plan, and see how much you can reasonably afford to set aside each week toward nights out. The easiest way to go about this is to set up auto-transfers into your fun fund. If you’d like $100 a month to spend on a night out, sock away $25 a week. Want $200? That’s $50 a week.

Knowing how much you want to ideally have is one thing, but saving for it is another. When on a shoestring budget, carefully look for areas where you can cut back on costs. For instance, how can you save on your monthly food bill? Or can you negotiate down on your bills? Next, consider side hustling and setting aside a portion of that money toward your splurge fund.

All work and no play, especially when you’re using that extra money to pay off debt, can cause debt fatigue. Or maybe allow yourself to spend some of your tax refund, overtime pay, or a job bonus.

Set Ground Rules

Ground rules are specific to what works for you and your family’s situation. I find it helpful to employ “when/then” statements when budgeting in some fun. For instance: When I pay off X amount of my credit card debt, then I can treat myself to a nice dinner at Y. Or when I set X aside in my emergency fund, then I can spend Y on drinks with pals. Think of these as celebratory markers or points of release from focusing on your money goals.

Find Ways to Save on the Costs

Discover ways to save on the costs of going out. Yes, you want to enjoy yourself and not have to worry about the bill. But it couldn’t hurt to snag up a deal on eating out by hunting on daily deal sites or looking for referral codes that could help you save on transportation.

A restaurant might have an early bird deal or a less expensive daily special. You can also save by sharing a few smaller dishes. Or, instead of going out for dinner, consider visiting your favorite fancy restaurant during lunch or happy hour.

If you find yourself overspending, revisit your budget and see where you might be able to cut back, or think of ways to earn more money. It’s not rocket science, but it will require a bit of diligence and discipline.

As the saying goes, you can afford anything, but not everything. Giving yourself permission to enjoy a night out on the town without feeling guilt or remorse means working that expense into your budget, doing a bit of planning, and employing tactics to afford it.

Want help with your spending plan? MMI's team of financial counselors can assist you in devising a budget that allows you to enjoy nights out while juggling your financial commitments and goals.

Tagged in Budget tips, Self care, Smart shopping

Jackie Lam is an L.A.-based personal finance writer who is passionate about helping creatives with their finances. Her work has appeared in Forbes, Mental Floss, Business Insider, and GOOD. She blogs at heyfreelancer.com.

  • The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) is an association of nonprofit consumer organizations that was established in 1968 to advance the consumer interest through research, advocacy, and education. Today, nearly 300 of these groups participate in the federation and govern it through their representatives on the organization's Board of Directors.
  • The National Council of Higher Education Resources (NCHER) is the nation’s oldest and largest higher education finance trade association. NCHER’s membership includes state, nonprofit, and for-profit higher education service organizations, including lenders, servicers, guaranty agencies, collection agencies, financial literacy providers, and schools, interested and involved in increasing college access and success. It assists its members in shaping policies governing federal and private student loan and state grant programs on behalf of students, parents, borrowers, and families.

  • Since 2007, the Homeownership Preservation Foundation (HPF) has served as a trusted, neutral source of information for more than eight million homeowners. They are partnered with, and endorsed by, numerous major government agencies, including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of the Treasury.

  • The mission of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. HUD works to strengthen the housing market in order to bolster the economy and protect consumers; meet the need for quality affordable rental homes; utilize housing as a platform for improving quality of life; and build inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination.

  • The Council on Accreditation (COA) is an international, independent, nonprofit, human service accrediting organization. Their mission is to partner with human service organizations worldwide to improve service delivery outcomes by developing, applying, and promoting accreditation standards.

  • The National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC®), founded in 1951, is the nation’s largest and longest-serving nonprofit financial counseling organization. The NFCC’s mission is to promote the national agenda for financially responsible behavior, and build capacity for its members to deliver the highest-quality financial education and counseling services.