Friends at a bar

Photo by Glenn Harper

So you’ve decided you want to go traveling and you need to find a way to come up with the cash to make it happen.

Perhaps you’ve even read my tips on how to save money and are implementing some of those ideas.

But there’s just one problem.

Saving money is hard. Painful even.

Sure, you’re willing to make a few sacrifices here and there, but when you’re only going on vacation for one or two weeks out of the year, there’s a limit to the kind of sacrifices you can make.

After all, there are still 50 other weeks in the year that you want to make the most of. That means dinners out, concerts, and parties with friends – all things that suck up cash.

So how do you find a balance between doing the things you want to do now and contributing to your travel fund?

The way I see it, you have two options.

Find ways to cut the cost of doing the things you want, or find a cheaper activity to replace the one you’re giving up.

Here are a few of my suggestions on how to do just that.

1. Eat at restaurants early and on weekdays. Everyone wants to eat out at 7.30 p.m.  on Friday and Saturday, so guess what? You’re going to pay a premium to do it. But if you’re willing to be flexible, you’ll find many restaurants have deals for diners that eat before 5 p.m. or after 9 p.m. – essentially any hours that fall outside of their peak periods. Moreover, a lot of places have food or drink specials on certain days of the week. And don’t forget about lunch either – top restaurants will often offer a fast, affordable set menu to draw in nearby office workers. It can be a great way to eat someplace you couldn’t normally afford.

2. Along the same lines, enjoy happy hour. Not all bars put their happy hours at an awkward or early time slot. At the very least, it’s a cheap way to get the night started.

3. BYO whenever you can. Alcohol quickly adds to the cost of your meal so pick restaurants that allow you to BYO to save on drinks. Make sure you check whether there is a corkage fee first – some restaurants will have a “per bottle” charge, while others may charge by the number of people drinking. Occasionally I’ve found the corkage fee is so outrageous (like $20, really!) that it’s not even worth it, so you kind of have to play it by ear on this one.

4. Join the mailing list. Many pubs offer free drinks and nibbles for their regulars on certain “customer appreciation” nights, as do some food joints. But really, this idea extends to just about anything you might be inclined to purchase on a semi-regular basis, be it clothes, makeup, sporting gear or whatever else – just sign up and watch the discount coupons roll in. If the emails start clogging up your inbox, just filter them into a separate folder and check them on a needs basis.

5. Swap the premium liquor for a cheaper variety. This especially goes for mixed drinks where you’re unlikely to taste the difference. I know some people are going to disagree with me on this point, but there have been plenty of studies, particularly in the case of vodka, that found our brand preferences (for what is essentially a tasteless, odorless alcohol) are all in our head.

6. Party at home. There’s no reason you have to go out to drink and have fun with your friends. Poker nights, potlucks, barbeques and random drink-fests in your own house can save a ton of money. If you prefer to go out because you like to meet new people, try to simulate this by asking guests to bring along someone you’ve never met.

7. Swap cinemas for DVDs. Why pay to see a movie on the big screen when it’ll be out on DVD in a month or two? Use a service like Netflix or Redbox, make your own popcorn and invite your friends over. If you must see a movie as soon as it comes out, go before 5 p.m. to get the cheaper price or purchase bundles of tickets sold at a discount. Also, if you’re into documentaries or older films, check for screenings at museums, art galleries or universities – these kinds of showings are often free.

8. Find new and cheaper hobbies. It won’t cost you anything to start up a weekly soccer or beach volleyball match with friends.

9. Wear sensible shoes. Six-inch stilettos might seem like a good idea as you leave your house, but a lot of money gets wasted on cabs because you don’t want to hobble from one Friday night destination to the next. At the very least, keep some of those foldable ballet flats in your purse.

10. Don’t overlook free events. A lot of cities will have free festivals, concerts, comedy and so on, especially during the summer months. Don’t assume they’ll be bad just because they’re free – sometimes these events are put on for PR reasons or funded by the local council or tourism authority and can actually be really amazing.

11. Look for cut-price theater tickets. Most theaters will offer reduced-price tickets to students, but even non-students can find good deals if they’re willing to attend a matinee performance or a dress rehearsal. Some venues will also sell standing room tickets, last-minute “rush” tickets or seats with partially blocked views (not a problem if you’re going to hear an orchestra, for example) at a steep discount. Also, if you live near a university, it’s worth investigating their shows. Many have great ballet troupes, orchestras, drama groups etc., that are super cheap to see.

12. Volunteer at events. If you are short on cash but have time to spare, consider volunteering to work at a festival, performance or other event. You’ll generally have to do a few simple tasks like tear tickets, usher guests or man a stall but you’re usually free to enjoy the event afterward. I once volunteered at a music festival where all I had to do was walk around handing out temporary tattoos. It was actually a lot of fun interacting with people and I got to enjoy amazing bands absolutely free. I also know of language schools that offer classes in return for hours spent volunteering at their cultural events (great if you want to brush up on your language skills before your trip!). You can find plenty of opportunities like these by searching online.

13. Go as a group. Some places like amusement parks and sporting venues will offer discounts to groups. You’ll generally need a fairly large group and you may have to call in advance to organize it (particularly for the sporting tickets), but it’s one way of bringing down the sticker price.

14. Clip coupons the high-tech way. Services like Groupon offer deals on all sorts of entertainment including concerts, restaurants, sporting events, wine-tastings and just about anything you can imagine. Sure it may not always be the exact event or activity you would have picked, but it’s a nice way of trying out new things on the cheap.

What do you think? How do you balance spending money on things that make you happy now versus the travel you hope to do in the future? What other suggestions do you have on scoring deals or replacing habits?

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