How to save money when your friends only know how to spend

A night out with friends is all fun and games until the check arrives.

While you might’ve ordered a basic entree and single beverage, your pals got multiple appetizers, desserts, and round after round of drinks. Now you’re being asked to evenly split a monster tab. Sound familiar?

There’s no doubt you treasure social outings with your squad, but it can certainly put a strain on your budget. Plus, we all have those friends who drop the big bucks for a night on the town without thinking twice, resulting in a sticky (and expensive) situation for you. Do you splurge and wreak havoc on your budget? Or should you opt out, but risk ruining the fun?

To avoid those thorny social situations, you’ll need to be strategic about having a good time with your pals while still staying on a budget. These five tips will show you how:

Dial back the bar bill

Dining out on a budget? Research some restaurants that let you bring your own alcohol. Studies show that restaurants can mark up their alcoholic beverages by 500 percent or more, so this hack can save you and your crew a small fortune.

And what about that uncomfortable situation where all your friends are ordering drinks, but you’re not? Diane Gottsman, a national etiquette expert and owner of The Protocol School of Texas, says you can tactfully deal with that dilemma in a way that preserves your friendships and your wallet.

“You can say: ‘I’m not going to drink, but you guys go ahead. I’m going to take a separate check for my food,’ “says Gottsman. “It’s upfront, friendly, and confident. You’re owning your own truth, setting an example, and establishing boundaries.”

Entertain on the cheap

Some people in your social circle may believe plunking down large sums of cash is the only way to ensure a great time. Take the lead in showing your friends that you can also enjoy free or low-cost events, suggests Sonya Smith-Valentine, the owner of Financially Fierce LLC.

Smith-Valentine recommends hosting a comedy night at your place, where you stream movies, and everyone brings a dish.

Want to leave the house? A museum outing on a day when admission is free, or a volleyball game in the park are fun alternatives that won’t burn a hole in your wallet. After all, you can’t put a price on making memories with your friends.

Politely bow out

The truth is, there will inevitably be dinners, vacations, and nights on the town that are out of your budget. Instead of leaning into the peer pressure, do your budget a favor and bow out. But how can you say no without hurting anyone’s feelings? Well, you have some options.

According to Gottsman, a simple, “I’m sorry, but I won’t be able to make this outing” is direct, but doesn’t step on anyone’s toes.

Alternatively, if you have a close group of supportive and understanding friends, you can tell them that you’re watching your budget in order to build your savings.

“True friends don’t make you feel bad about your finances,” she says. “They’ll understand.”

In fact, Gottsman says some friends may even be grateful for your candor because they might be thinking the same thing.

Entertain yourself

It’s easy to feel left out when you cannot hang out with your typical crew, but there are plenty of fun, productive ways to enjoy your spending hiatus. While catching up on documentaries, movies, and TV shows is a no-brainer, you can also carve out some time to organize your financial records or create a new budget. It’s not the most glamorous activity, but you’ll be thrilled to finally get those looming tasks off your to-do list.

If you’re looking for some rest and relaxation, have an impromptu spa night by making a face mask with yogurt.

With a little creativity and dedication, you can save a lot of money, especially if you make a habit of doing this once a month in place of what previously would’ve been a night of spending.

Expand your social horizons

While you shouldn’t let your financial differences drive a wedge between your friendships, it wouldn’t hurt to find a second squad that’s also on a budget.

To open up your social horizons, consider volunteering in your community, joining a local sports league or club, or participating in area meetups that you can find online.

“Meetups are a great way to make new friends,” notes Smith-Valentine. “They aren’t just for business or educational topics. Some meetups are arranged strictly for fun, and they can help take the fear out of trying to meet new people.”

While it can be difficult to have friends who love to spend, there’s no reason you have to let other people’s choices dictate your own spending behavior. So plan accordingly, suggest more wallet-friendly alternatives, and warm up to the idea of entertaining yourself as well as finding other cost-conscious friends who appreciate serious fun on a budget.