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Tip #15: Forget going to a bar — ask people over for dinner

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This is Tip #15 of of the Save $1,000 in 30 Days Challenge. (See past tips.)

Today’s tip is to have people over to your house instead of meeting at a bar or a restaurant.


I would enjoy this dinner party

When I thought of this tip, the first thing I thought was, “Oh god, my mom is going to lecture me about how she’s been doing this for years.” But most people in their 20s who I know don’t have dinner parties. There’s not enough space, not enough furniture, and not enough dishes — not to mention that I don’t know how to cook worth a damn. But that’s when the haunting echo of my mom came into my mind, as she wordlessly forced me to ask myself one question: WWAID?

What Would An Indian Do?

This is one of the most cost-effective things you can do this month — even if you only do it once or twice. Let’s assume you spent $50 each time you go out, including gas, drinks, food, tips, tax, misc (valet / lending money you’ll forget to get back / buying gum). Changing your spending pattern for just one of those can save you hundreds per year.

When you go out, the point is to hang out with your friends. Think back to just a few years ago, when you would drink out of a decomposing milk bottle and live in a 75-square-foot box with another human being. I’m sure you can suck it up and sit on a folding chair. But we have a bunch of excuses in our head as to why we can’t invite people over, so I thought I’d highlight something I read that opened my eyes.

Here’s an excerpt on hosting people at your house from Never Eat Alone (the best book on building relationships and staying in touch with friends and business contacts):



The author goes on to offer some great tips for having a few people over (check out the book).

It can be a potluck. It can be a dinner party. It can be ordering pizza. But by staying home, you’ll avoid the ravages of tips, taxes, cabs, and marked-up drinks.

One last thing to make your life easy: If you’re supplying the food, don’t try to be Mario Batali. Just buy some pre-packaged foods and take it one step at a time. On your fourth or fifth event, you can try cooking. Also, if you have a Trader Joe’s near your house and want see what kind of stuff you can make with their ingredients, go here:

Reader tips on saving money on eating out with friends:

“Pre-eat. Before going to out to dinner with friends, I eat from what I already have at home. Then, when I go out with friends for dinner, I order soup or an appetizer. This way I’m still being social, and I get my fill, but I’m not blowing my budget. Or, instead of making dinner plans w/friends, make dessert plans. You’re still going out and being social, but again, not spending $14 + on dinner.”
–Natalie Bradley, Washington DC

“As an office, we decided that we were all spending too much on eating out, so we have been taking turns making things like casseroles and soups, and crock pot dishes to share. We have been doing this one to two times per week, which keeps us from eating out on those days, as well as this being an awesome opportunity to get new recipes and sample all different foods. There are 6 of us in the office, so we rotate, and it works out well. We even have recipes now that people look forward to because they are so delicious.”
–Ashley Witmyer, Toledo, OH

Total savings: $50 to $200 per month

Links of interest
Official USDA Food Plans: Cost of Food at Home at Four Levels

Last thing to do
1. See other tips in the Save $1,000 in 30 Days Challenge
2. Leave a comment on this post describing how much you’re saving with this tip and any unusual techniques you use to make this tip work.

If you liked this tip, check out my Premium tips — one long, tactical tip per week. Save money or get a 100% refund.


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  1. Well, the 30-day challenge finally saved me something. Not money, but guilt. Every week I work and struggle to try to save us as much money on food as I possibly can and feel guilty that I can’t do better. The link to the FDA Cost of Food info sheet says I should be spending $2232.50 a month to feed my family of seven. In October I spent $991.42 and wrung my hands over every penny. I’m gonna stop that.

    As for this tip, when we entertain we do it at home, “stretch” our meal by adding a few more beans to the chili or a nice loaf of home baked bread and hope that what we lack in food is made up for in fellowship and hospitality.

    Today’s Tip: $0
    Cumulative: $90.75

  2. Dude, I would enjoy that party too if those three fine looking ladies were coming over.

    Unfortunately, this tip requires friends. Since college, my friends are now hours away so unfortunately this tip doesn’t help me too much.

    So today’s tip $0
    Total: A few hundred, probably. I haven’t changed my insurance yet so I’m not 100% sure.

  3. I love this idea! I am one of those 20-somethings who feels like I wouldn’t even know how to go about hosting a dinner party. Even though I’m technically not implementing this tip this month, I did stock up on ground beef and chicken earlier this month, so I can keep my freezer full and practice cooking at home! Also, a girl from work and I were just talking today about trying to get together after the holidays (when things slow down) to practice cooking, maybe we can invite a few others and turn it into cooking/dinner parties!

  4. Peggy, I’m with you.

    I started having people over for dinner when I was 20. None of us had enough money to eat out, except for fast food. We just sat real close together and ate off mismatched dishware. It was fun. (Especially when the chicken took 3X as long to cook as expected and we drank an entire jug of wine waiting…)

  5. I’m with Peggy and Nikki! I’ve never had the money to eat out very often, but have had great times and many memories having people over. Dinner turns to dinner and movies, or dinner and a games night — or into nice long talks without the wait staff pressuring us to leave!

    I also agree with Peggy about this challenge only saving me guilt. I find it really funny that people with “lots of money” are discovering the tricks that those of us with less knew all along. I suddenly don’t feel so bad about my own finances when I see how much money other people are wasting!

  6. We have recently started doing this with a group of friends. Only we turn it into an Iron Chef competition at someone’s apartment within walking (running) distance of the grocery store. Everyone has a blast – three judges reveal a secret ingredient, then two teams of 3 each have two hours to come up with recipes, buy supplies not already in the cupboard and prepare a drink, appetizer, entree, and dessert. (Buying supplies still costs much less than going out). Secret ingredients so far were beer and honey. Bragging rights go to the winning team, and everyone gets to try each dish. It is a fun twist to the dinner party.

  7. Even without interior accommodations for a dinner party, if you have some outside space, you can set up for a group cookout during mild weather. Make it a potluck event by asking your guests to bring a side dish or their beverage of choice. If you can combine your cooking fire with a campfire, you’ll have the perfect environment for a successful get together. Who doesn’t like sitting around a fire, poking sticks at it, and chatting with friends? And of course, you can’t get much cheaper of a “dessert” than roasted marshmallows.

    I do these kinds of events a couple times a year with my neighbors, and they are the hit of the neighborhood. I can’t claim any direct savings in comparison to going out (because I probably wouldn’t go out with all my neighbors). But by being on friendly terms, I am comfortable with borrowing a food processor if I need it, or asking my neighbor to help me pick up a new water heater with his pickup truck. So if I count those recent savings, I could claim a savings of $95 a year. Also, if you host a party or cookout, you greatly increase your odds of being invited to someone else’s (resulting in additional savings).

  8. I did this 3 times in the past week…would have done it twice anyway, but the third time was a “sorry I couldn’t come to your expensive birthday party at a 5 star restaurant, so have dinner at our place instead” dinner. We had sushi. Splurged on half a pound of sashimi-grade tuna and I figure we still saved $30+.

    If I count the dinner parties from last night and the night before, that’s at least $100 saved in just 3 nights.

  9. I had a regular monthly dinner party routine going in my first 2 years out of college. Those I used to throw were pretty rockin’.

    Useful tricks:
    Bring the outdoor plastic patio table inside to add seating.
    Unless it is potluck, cap the guest list at 8.
    Invite 10-12 to get 8 responses. Use e-vite.
    Serve appetizers you can pre-prep hours ahead of time. For example, I made mini fruit skewers and served them with strawberry yogurt dip.
    Anything oven-roasted looks like you slaved all day but doesn’t require as much active prep time as stir-fries and other on-the-stovetop entrees. If it can be left alone during the last 20 minutes of cooking, you’ll have more time for your guests.
    Let your guests bring the drinks, or have a theme cocktail.
    Your tailgating cooler makes an excellent impromptu ice bucket for multiple bottles of wine.
    If you’re over the age of 23, don’t use disposable plates. They’re flimsy and make it more likely someone will spill food. Use regular plates and serve it at the table.

  10. hmm… i never quite understood people that go to a bar to spend the night talking to people they already know. when i go to the bar, i usually go alone to socialize and meet new people. i’ve made a good number of friends that way as well as business contacts. Not to mention it’s helped improve my social and soft skills.

    Then again, maybe i’m just a barfly acting defensive.