When you’re in a thrifty mindset, you may start to feel like a hermit — to avoid spending money, you stick around at home. That is wise. You’re doing the right thing. But you’ve got to get out and socialize at some point, and it's not easy to start drinking on a budget. That’s when you need one of the world’s greatest inventions: happy hour.
How to Truly Take Advantage of Happy Hour
Yes, happy hour offers obvious savings on food and drink. Drink prices are often cut in half. There may be special food options or special prices on house cocktails. But to really optimize happy hour, you need to establish a relationship with a bartender at a place you enjoy regularly and probably attend at full-price times.
If you’re a nice, friendly person, bartenders typically want to keep you at the bar. They’re willing to buy you a drink or two to keep you there and coming back. (Another reason it’s good to not be a jerk!)
They know you have choices about where to go — and that you could easily stay home with friends and a bottle of wine (or otherwise find cheap and free things to do), leaving them with an empty bar from 5 to 7 p.m. or whenever their slow hours are.
So let’s say you’re at a bar where the glass of wine you love is $10. During happy hour, you can get it for $5, so you have two. Your tab is $10. Then the bartender buys you one more.
Voila! You just drank $30 worth of wine for $10.
How much do you tip the bartender? That’s up to you. But if you put down a $10 tip, you still get a bargain: Your total cost is $20 for what would have normally been a $30 tab. And remember, a 20 percent tip on a $30 tab would be $6, bringing your non–happy hour total to $36.
That’s a bare-bones example, without factoring in any food or taxes. And after three glasses of wine, it might be hard to do the math on a bigger bill. So take your time and consult the calculator on your phone if you need to. It's an easy way to start drinking on a budget.
How to Have a Cheap Night Out: Additional Tips
1. Embrace the Pregame
The notion of pregaming has a decidedly collegiate stigma, and I think that’s a little bit ridiculous. You don’t have to rip back shots like you did when you were 20, but meeting up with some friends to have a drink before you go to dinner can save you a ton of cash.
If you all split a bottle or two of wine before you catch a late bite, you’ll end up saving at least $15 at dinner without feeling deprived.
You can even make it fun by coming up with a new cocktail that you’ll to create each time you do it. That will save even more money, considering how expensive a specialty cocktail can be.
2. Bring a Flask
Okay, okay — you can’t do this just anywhere. Don’t bring a flask into a bar and then get arrested. But bringing a flask to an outdoor concert, a friend’s party, or a sports game is maybe the easiest way for you to put a lid on your budget.
Plus, a flask forces you to monitor what and how much you're drinking, which is always a good, healthy decision.
Flasks also make for amazing holiday gifts. There are countless designs and styles out there, and it’s an easy way for you to give your loved ones a thoughtful present.
Consider checking out the flask options on sites like Etsy. Prepare to have your mind blown by all of the options available!
3. Learn the Menu
Learn the various costs of drinks at your local haunts. Draft beers can range from $3 to $4, while bottled beers like Bud Light, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and Coors often cost $3 a pop. But you can take it further and keep an eye on what the bar considers to be “rail” liquor.
They might have an awful rail vodka that’s not worth saving money on, but bars tend to have higher-quality rail rum or whiskey. This will save you a few bucks rather than having to spring on a nice vodka option. These distinctions only save you a dollar or two, but if you apply them every time you order a drink, it adds up.
It's a lot easier to try drinking on a budget when the costs are lower from the start.
4. Join a Monthly Subscription Service
Do you enjoy hosting people or tend to buy the same type of alcohol each month? Consider signing up for a monthly subscription for your favorite spirits. If you subscribe to something like Winc or the Craft Beer Club, you can tailor to your preferences to get new flavors every month. Want to get really fancy with it?
There are even monthly clubs for liquor connoisseurs, such as the Taster's Club, that allow you to subscribe to get a whiskey, rum, or tequila of the month. It’s not cheap, but they save you money if you use them as your go-to source for events like dinner parties and holiday gifts. Plus drinking on a budget is a lot easier when you can pre-plan your drinking.
5. Keep an Eye Out for Local Events
Keep an eye on the status of beer festivals, bar crawls, and philanthropy nights. All of these events tend to offer heavily discounted drinks in exchange for an awesome night for a great cause.
Websites like Eventbrite provide a great way to stay on top of what’s going on near you. Plus, they allow you to do things like RSVP and invite friends so that you can make a day out of your trip!
The Bottom Line
For the truly thrifty who are drinking on a budget, there’s one more must-do move: Keep an eye on time. You don't want to overstay happy hour. If you don’t pay attention, you’re likely to stay deep into the regular-price hours as you enjoy the camaraderie.
This is when your friendly bartender’s buyback keeps you around and starts to cost you money. Now your $5 glass of wine is back to being $10, but you still have to tip generously to say thanks for the glass on the house.
If you’re watching the clock and thinking that you want to stay and party all night, maybe you give in. But remember that you have a choice. Take a moment. Go outside. Make a phone call. Think about your financial situation and your budget — and the hangover you’re probably going to face.
If you still go back and rack up a big bar tab, hey, have a good time. I’m not gonna judge. I’m still paying off bar tabs from 2014.