How To Stick To A Budget — While Still Being A Social Human Being

Designed by Seung Won Chun.
Most of the time, it feels like we're stuck choosing between what's best for our wallets and what's best for our social lives. If we're frugal, we know we'll end up with major FOMO. And if we attend every happy hour, birthday brunch, and weekend trip, there's a chance we won't be able to make rent. But according to the author of The Broke & Beautiful Life, Stefanie O'Connell, there is a way to have both — and it all comes down to how you budget.
In order to learn how to actually maintain a full social life and wallet, we partnered with Citi and tapped O'Connell to create a foolproof guide to discretionary budgeting. The overall goal? “Let's find other places to cut back, create some more flexibility in our budget, [and] actually enjoy the things that matter to us,” O'Connell says. Ahead, seven ways to manage your social expenses, whether you're bar-hopping on a Friday night or just trying to be a good host to out-of-town visitors.
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Create a “fun money” account.

Instead of feeling ashamed of your social spending, O'Connell suggests embracing it as a natural part of your monthly budget. “If we value social spending and if we value those small indulgences, then that's where our spending should be going,” she says. Just like how you have separate accounts for your checking and savings, try making a linked account for social spending where you can manually transfer money over each month. If this method doesn’t work for you, you can always try giving yourself a monthly cash allowance (yes, just like when you were a kid). Once all the cash is gone, you’re done with your fun expenses until the next month.
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Be a part of the weekend planning committee.

There's nothing quite as freeing as a Friday night out with friends, but it can also be an expensive weekly habit. According to O'Connell, an easy way to ball on a budget is to be as hands on with the planning as possible. Find a bar with a solid happy hour, research BYOB restaurants, and look for free pop-up events. “Everybody wants to have fun and get a good deal, so you're doing them a favor when you take the reins,” she says. Another way to contribute to the planning committee is by setting the nightly budget before you even go out (and before your judgment starts to wane).
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Know when to DIY.

It's hard to say no to a lazy, Sunday-morning brunch. But between bottomless beverages and towering stacks of pancakes, the bill can add up almost as quickly as your mimosa intake. Before you make a spending mishap, consider moving brunch to your apartment. “Truly bottomless brunch is DIY,” O’Connell says. “There's no time limit; they're not going to kick you out after an hour and a half. And you can buy the Champagne yourself.” It’s not just brunch, though. Consider DIYing a girls' night or a big potluck with friends. For an added bonus, use the American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp credit card; the card lets you earn AAdvantage miles on daily expenses, including 2x miles on groceries. Win-win.
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Learn when to put yourself first.

As we get older, birthday parties seem to get bigger and more expensive than any other social activity on the calendar — and it's easy to feel obligated to attend. But before you blow your entire budget on your coworker's roommate's birthday dinner, take a second to focus on your own needs. “You're not going to be in a position to be a great friend if you're in a state of constant financial stress and worry,” O’Connell says. If you don’t want to overspend, try eating before you get to the party or starting a separate tab at the bar.
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Utilize your social network.

Despite how much you may want (and need) a relaxing weekend away, it can be hard to bite the bullet when looking at prices for lodging and transportation (not to mention, dining out multiple times a day and any costly activities). But there's one important tool you're probably overlooking: your social circle. O'Connell suggests posting on Facebook for out-of-town recommendations. Your friends might offer you insight into the best local-approved spots, suggestions of cheap (or free) events, and — if you're really lucky — a place to crash. “It doesn't work every time, but generally speaking, people want to be helpful. Your network is your net worth,” she says.
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Set boundaries with out-of-town visitors.

Having friends in town is always a fun experience, but it also means you're likely to get sucked into drinks, dinners, and activities that can add up. The key, O'Connell says, is to remember, “They're on their vacation life, but you're in your real life. You have to be very clear about setting boundaries on what limits are for your time and your money.” Make sure they know when you're at work and if you can (or can't) go out for a fancy dinner. Maybe they'll even pick up a bar tab in exchange for your help as a tour guide or host.
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Keep dates casual.

Your biggest fear when it comes to dating might be getting ghosted, but the idea of spending on pricy drinks and dinners multiple nights a week can be even scarier. According to O'Connell, the key to budgeting for dates is all about keeping it casual. “It's not about being cheap. It's about maximizing value,” she says. Setting money expectations early on (even as early as the first date) will not only help out your budget, it might also help to establish money transparency if the relationship gets serious. Plus, “You don't want to be planning an extravagant dinner for a first date [if the] relationship isn't going to go anywhere.”

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