7 Things To STOP Wasting Your Money On

Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
I love going out. If I had unlimited finances (and a killer metabolism), I would probably spend every night trying a new restaurant, ordering three courses, and washing everything down with a big bottle of wine. I love the back booths of lounges and the dance floors of concert halls, downtown dives and chic uptown hotel bars. I love moving through the city and discovering it all in the most clichéd, Carrie Bradshaw way, full martini in hand.      

But, going out is expensive. And, I run a blog called The Financial Diet, so saving money is kind of my thing. I realized when I started the blog about six months ago (though I mostly knew it all along) that a crazy portion of my monthly spending was going towards eating and drinking out, sometimes nearly as much as my rent — and, yes, I am totally embarrassed by that. Since I started the blog, though, I have managed to whittle down my going-out budget through a combination of cooking more, finding free alternatives to costly activities, inviting people over, and having things to do at home that aren’t Netflix (although I do love Netflix).      

There were a lot of factors that went into my reckless spending, though. It’s not that I went out (everyone does, and should), it’s that I was really dumb about what I did while out. There’s simply no rule that says an evening or afternoon on the town has to cost a ton of money. And, generally speaking, writing the blog has taught me that there were seven primary reasons why my spending was out of control. 
Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
1. When drunk/tired/way too full, I took cabs. No matter how diligent I was about public transport or walking most of the time, when the clock struck a certain hour (and I reached a certain level of tipsiness), like Cinderella, I called my overpriced pumpkin to take me back to Williamsburg. The solution to this was simple: Plan my evening with my transportation in mind, and become the person who suggests the subway instead of waiting for someone else to propose a cab. I went out of my way to make plans in places where I would want to walk to, or that were on my train line (at least in the beginning stages, when I was getting used to my no-cab life). Then, I would prompt my going-out partners with a quick "Anyone taking [my train]?" I managed to cut down to around two shared cab rides a week, which typically ranged from $10 to $15, and saved nearly $100 a month. I still take cabs from time to time, but it's no longer my default.

2. I was not diligent about finding deals, nor scheduling my evenings around them. In a city as big as New York, you can find specials for (nearly) every kind of food or drink, often on a weekly basis. There is no reason not to take advantage of these — as well as awesome happy hours — to save money on things you were going to get anyway. Everything from mussels to mimosas has a special night, and you end up getting to indulge yourself without going financially crazy. To make a meaningful mark on my budget, I like to pick something that would typically be a part of my social schedule — like brunch with drinks — and find fun ways to do it for less. One of my go-to spots has become Lexington Brass, which offers a four-course, sweet-and-savory tasting menu, coffee or tea, and a bottle of cava with mixers for about $27 per person. The same thing — two (and a half!) mimosas, a cup of Joe, and two main dishes — would cost me at least twice as much at most of the eateries around my apartment in Williamsburg.
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
3. I didn't check places like meetup.com or local event websites to find free things when trying to plan a day with a friend. We always just sort of winged it, and then would wind up falling into something really expensive, like bars with no happy hour specials, a trip to the movies that ended up costing $40 between tickets and snacks, or restaurants that looked cheap until you factored in the cost of wine, a shared appetizer, and dessert. Even spending just 20 minutes to search the Internet can result in finding great events — from Spanish lessons to craft-beer tastings, which can each typically cost upwards of $50 — that often come with free drinks and snacks!

4. I often got a glass of wine with dinner when out, even if I didn't really want one, just because I had this weird idea that "being an adult" meant "I should be enjoying a glass of wine with a meal." It took a while, but eventually, I was able to convince myself that, more often than not, water is just fine. If you count on having three meals out per week (where indulging on a glass of wine would cost roughly $20), cutting out the drinks two of those three times will easily save you $160 a month. Or, $1,920 in a year, which is money you could use to fly to Italy and have a good glass of Sangiovese in Rome.
Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
5. I rarely scanned the Yelp single-dollar-sign section for awesome gems of cheap, delicious food, like roast pork or huge burgers. Since then, I've found that proposing the idea "Hey, there is this great place called Corner Bistro in the West Village with cheap beer and awesome burgers" to my friends is never difficult. In fact, they will thank me for taking some pressure off their wallets for once, instead of defaulting to the same pricey places.

6. I discounted the idea of weekday lunches (instead of drinks and dinner) for hangouts, especially professional ones. You can get amazing lunch specials across the city, in every type of cuisine, for literally seven bucks. This is one of my favorites.

7. I didn't pregame, which is dumb, especially if you're going out on a Saturday night. A nice at-home cocktail hour before going to a bar is a really fun option, and allows you to nibble cheese and olives for a fraction of the cost. Just think, for the price of two $12 cocktails, you could have a bottle of wine, a block of cheese, a bunch of grapes, and a box of crackers — with a few bucks to spare on a drink later that evening.

Since I’ve started really paying attention to these problems and working my hardest to fix them (as well as simply going out less during the week), I’ve found that I save hundreds of dollars a month and have more energy throughout the week from not being weighed down by oily restaurant food and wine. Of all of my life changes, these steps have probably had the biggest impact on my finances, and they don't even require that I cut anything out, really. I just had to alter my definition of what constitutes going "out."
Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
I spend a lot of time cooking and trying new recipes, and aim to have friends over at least once a week. I have even started to re-create some of my favorite restaurant dishes for a fraction of the price, like my beloved dandan noodles from Han Dynasty, or the lemon loaf cake that I would always pick up at a coffee shop near my old office. I've even found better (and cheaper, healthier) versions of my favorite Seamless dishes. And, when friends bring a bottle of wine each, the whole evening ends up being about $12 per person, for what would have cost us nearly $50 each at a restaurant.

I don't never go out, but I do generally try to look at it as a special treat and work on making my evenings home (or even the free events I go to around the city) count for way more. And, when I consider saving over $3,600 a year by simply cutting down the number of cabs I take, or being more mindful about the places I eat at or activities I participate in, that certainly counts for a lot. All of these changes, taken individually, may not seem like a lot, but together they give you an entirely different outlook on life: That you can create your own fun; you don't have to buy it.
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