Champagne Taste on a Beer Budget

Advice & Stories, Living & Spending
on November 29, 2013

I know I speak for many of my peers when I say that senior year of college is a confusing, angst-filled time. One night during my senior year, with graduation just a few weeks away and still no prospect of a job, I found myself sitting in my apartment, listening to an angsty Adele song and grappling with existential questions such as, Where am I going? What am I doing with the rest of my life? Why didn’t I major in something more practical, like business?

Okay, I might be exaggerating just a little, but the job search is an undeniably cruel and soul-crushing process—you shoot out something like 20 résumés into the gaping void and are lucky if you get a single follow-up. And to make matters worse, you’re constantly ruminating the fact that your carefree college days are numbered. No more 2-for-1 drinks on Tuesday nights at the seedy college bar; no more skipping 10 am Friday lectures to sleep in; no more swiping your student card at the campus Munchie Mart like Monopoly money. I envisioned life after college as a cheerless time, devoid of Long Island Iced Teas or dancing or fun.

But now that I’m in the swing of my postgraduate routine, I’m happy to report that life after college isn’t all that bad. I’m actually—dare I say it?!—having fun…and still imbibing in the occasional Long Island Iced Tea. However, I quickly realized how darn expensive it is to be social. Cocktails, cab rides, restaurant bills—if you’re not careful, all of these things can burn a big hole in your pocket.

During college, my parents always joked that I had a “champagne taste with a beer budget.” Most likely, they were alluding to my excessive champagne consumption at family weddings, but they were also striking at a deeper point: That once I was cut off, I would be in for a rude, rude awakening. Admittedly, I’ve always been somewhat of a foodie, the type who’s been watching the Food Network singe age 12. Every time I go home, for example, my dad always peers in the fridge and shakes his head at all the expensive “girly” food I’ve purchased: “Anna, what in God’s name is hemp milk?!”

Now that I’m supporting myself, I’ve drastically scaled back on things like dinners out and pricey cosmos. But because I’m not willing to completely renounce my foodie ways, I’ve discovered strategies for eating and drinking without burning a hole in my wallet:

1. Go halfsies. In most cases, restaurant portion sizes are big enough to feed a small family (Cheesecake Factory, I’m looking at you). Rather than putting all that food (and money) to waste, see if you can enlist a friend to split a plate with you. Most restaurants are totally willing to accommodate split plates, although there may be a small split-plate charge associated. Plus, the halfsies tactic ensures you won’t overeat, so both your wallet and belly will leave happy. It’s a win/win situation!

2. Be a happy camper. Research happy hour specials in your area. Many restaurants attempt to curb the mid-week lull by sponsoring weekly drink and food deals. For example, one of my favorite Nashville eateries—which, on a normal day, would be outside of my budget—hosts a half-off-sushi-and-drink night every Monday, allowing me to get my sushi fix on the cheap.

3. Get cooking. In lieu of girls’ night at your favorite restaurant, why not suggest that you and your friends convene for a potluck instead? Everyone can contribute a dish of their choosing, and you can all chip in for a bottle or two of wine. Not only are potlucks more economical than eating out, they’re also a great excuse to flaunt your cooking skills (or lack thereof, who knows—but at least you can say you tried).

4. BYOB. Restaurants really jack up the prices of alcohol. If you’re quick to toss back a few drinks at dinner, you’ll easily wind up spending most of your bill on booze alone. Bring-your-own-booze restaurants are becoming more and more common in many cities, and they’re a great way to slash your dinner bill, while still getting your drink on. Before dinner, simply duck into your favorite liquor store, scope out your favorite vino and schlep the bottle with you to the restaurant. (As it turns out, my go-to neighborhood liquor store is named “Frugal MacDoogal”—fitting, right?)

5. Bring cash. Nothing squanders financial self-discipline like alcohol. If I’m heading out on the town, as a precautionary measure, I’ll often leave my credit card behind and tuck at $20 bill in my purse. This forces me to reel in my spending and ensures that I don’t succumb to drink-fueled purchases (aka the late-night pizza joint strategically situated down the street from my favorite bar).

And finally, it bears mentioning: No matter how strapped for cash you may be, never, ever skimp on the tip. As somebody who spent two summers waiting tables in high school (for the record, I was the most incompetent waitress of all time, but that’s a story for a different day), I can tell you that waiting tables is hard work. Unless your server puts on a Miley-worthy trainwreck performance, there’s no reason you shouldn’t give them at least a 15% tip. There’s a difference between being frugal and being cheap, you know. “Frugal” is buying on-sale boxed wine at Frugal MacDoogal. “Cheap” is giving your server a crappy tip. Don’t be cheap. Always tip.

Read more of Anna’s adventures in I’m Cut Off: The Series.

If you enjoyed this article, you’ll also like What to Get Your Boyfriend for Christmas [via YourTango].

%d bloggers like this: