How to Be a Frugal Friend (and still have fun)

group of friends (1)

How to Be a Frugal Friend (and still have fun)

Frugality gets a bad rap, but being frugal can be awesome. Being frugal frees you up to spend on what you want, when you want, on the things that actually matter. But being frugal isn’t for everyone and even the most thrifty of people can be tempted when out with a group of spenders.

As someone that is paying off a large and unrelenting student loan balance (currently at $40k), and putting over a thousand dollars a month to debt, I am left with very little wiggle room in the budget. Sometimes I get invited to expensive restaurants, trips, etc., and the first thing my panicked mind thinks about is: Can I afford this?

It’s a hard place to be in. When you get asked to do something, or are invited somewhere special, it’s really hard to say no. You don’t want to be rude, look like a flake, or act disinterested. I used to be really uncomfortable as I thought I had only two options: say no and stay at home, or agree to go, and spend too much money. After years of trial and error, I’ve found a balance, and discovered ways to be a great frugal friend among a group of spenders. Here is how I make it work:

At an Expensive Restaurant…

Don’t drink. Alcohol adds up quickly! You are paying so much for those empty calories. Opt to not drink when invited to an expensive restaurant. Instead order water with a slice of lemon.

Have an appetizer. If I get invited to an expensive restaurant that I know is out of my budget, I eat something beforehand. At the restaurant, I’ll enjoy an appetizer. You can always say you had dinner plans beforehand, which is why you aren’t having a full dinner.

Split a large meal with friends. This is a great way to cut down on costs and still enjoy a nice dinner.

Make the First Move

If you are constantly getting invited out to expensive places by your friends, it’s time to take some initiative and make the first move. When you make the first move, you choose where to go. Here are some suggestions for keeping things on the cheap.

Have a potluck. Potlucks are great for a variety of reasons. People can choose what they want to bring, and it offers a frugal alternative to eating out. It allows you to connect over food, while enjoying a diverse range of options.

Host a wine and cheese party. I suggested this to my girlfriends and it was a fabulous, frugal evening! I told all my friends to bring either a wine, or a cheese. With 10 friends, there was a variety of delicious cheeses, and robust wines to taste from. The best part? I asked everyone to keep it $10 or less. If cheese and wine are not your thing, try something else that you and your friends enjoy.

Go to happy hour. I am a happy hour connoisseur. I know the best happy hours in all neighborhoods. When a friend wants to go out, I suggest a place during happy hour where I know we can get cheap drinks and food.

Go for a walk. Friendship doesn’t need to revolve around eating, drinking, and spending money. It’s about spending time together and catching up. While those things are fun, you don’t need to spend any money to hang out with your friends. Go on a walk in your neighborhood, go for a hike nearby, or hang out in a park. Enjoy the delights of conversation with a friend, enjoy the moment, and explore your surroundings.

Say No Graciously

There have been times that I really couldn’t afford something, no matter which way I looked at it. Don’t let yourself agree to something that you can’t afford simply because you feel bad. Learn how to say no graciously. Whenever I say no to something, I thank my friends for the invitation, and say I can’t make it. Then, I immediately invite them to something else and set the next date. I have learned that if you say “no” too many times, and do not follow-up, you will stop getting invitations.

To keep your friends, it’s important to set the next date. This shows them you still care, and allows you to choose something more affordable.

Remember, friendship doesn’t have to be expensive. With these tips, you can be a frugal friend among a group of spenders, while still being hip and not compromising your friendship.

What tips would you add?

Melanie blogs about breaking up with debt at and invites others to write breakup letters to their debt as well. She’s accumulated a total of $81k in student loan debt between two degrees. Currently she puts more than 50% of her income towards debt, while living a frugal, fun life. Melanie enjoys travel, art, music, adventure, and of course, personal finance.