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

Ramit Sethi

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.


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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 found this post helpful you’ll probably like my new Ultimate Guide to Personal Finance. This is an excellent place to learn more simple ways to improve your personal finance and money management.

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  1. Peggy

    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. Battra92

    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. stephanie

    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. Nikki

    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. Beth

    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. S

    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. Denise Fisher

    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. Rachel

    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. Margo

    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. lordskip

    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.

  11. Louisa

    While I love this tip, I fail to see how hosting saves money. The only opportunity for saving here, I feel, is with a potluck – and even then, the opportunities for actually saving are limited.

    Purchasing food (especially meat) for multiple people (even in quantities for “only 8”) is much more expensive than purchasing and cooking food for one or two, any way you look at it (and more expensive than buying food at most restaurants for one or two). The average restaurant meal costs $20-$30 per person. I’m not sure what sort of meal a person could prepare for 8 people that would be less than that.

    When I cook for myself, I can get almost a week’s worth of meals out of one recipe (which I can freeze if I don’t want to eat it every day for a week – ick!). If I serve all that to a group of friends, then I’ve spent the same amount, and used it in one evening instead of spreading it out over a week.

    On the other hand, if each person brings one item (at $5-$15 per item, $5 cheese vs. $15 wine), it works out to be a little less expensive for each of the guests than if we were all going out to eat, but the host still winds up with the majority of the cost depending on the “main” ingredient or dish (meat is much more expensive than pasta, for example).

    I really like the iron chef idea, where each person brings one ingredient – that sounds like something that could possibly save money and offer extra entertainment. 😉 It’s kind of like the Stone Soup story, and in concept I think it could be money-saving.

    Another option for saving would be to host a dinner party with a “cover” – the host provides all (or most) of the food, and each guest brings a cover fee, equally divided. This would require that everyone who RSVPs actually comes (but when does that happen anyway, even without a cover?), and that you have friends you don’t mind asking $$ from (vs. a food item).

    The double-edged sword of most potlucks is that inevitably there is always someone who provides $2 chips while another person is stuck buying $30 of meat or $15 of wine. On the one hand, it allows everyone to decide what they can afford – on the other, it means that *someone* is always stuck paying more…either that, or you have 8 bags of chips.

    I’m sure there are meals that are inexpensive to cook – even for 8 people – but most of them involve lots of pasta and canned veggies, and that would feel like just as much a sacrifice as not going out at all. Pizza could also be a cheap option, especially if it’s the $5 kind from Georgio’s. 😉 But again, if I spend $20 on pizza for a small group of friends, I’m certainly not saving more than if I went out and paid for my own meal, and *definitely* not more than if I cooked for myself at home.

    I guess I’d need to see this idea quantified to feel that it’s a feasible money-saver. My experience tells me otherwise – though it’s certainly a FUN idea!

  12. Kat


    My friends and I used to do Thursday dinners, until we all moved to various corners of the world. We rotated houses, usually had a varation of pasta or a taco bar. Everyone brought something. The host told who to bring what. It was cheaper than going out and easier. If we wanted something like a good steak, we would do that. Lobster season, we would go once and then go back to eating at each other’s houses.
    It is always more about the people than the food itself.

  13. Craig

    I agree with you, this is a great way to save some money, have some great times, and to be honest, be more comfortable. I have suggested doing more apartment parties to my buddies but with no success. For guys the downfall is a few reasons. One it’s nice to get out of the apt and change location. 2. Girls. Being new to a new city, it’s difficult to set up this type of party with guys who don’t always think with their heads. House parties are so much less expensive, and you can have some really good times.


  14. Sara

    I’ve thrown girls’ dinners mainly to practice my cooking skills, which somehow always gets rave reviews. Thanks to my Mom! It did save money, and I probably could’ve saved more had I not attempted ultimate hostessing and insisted that my gfs not bring wine or dessert. Then I realized, I am buying organic for my friends and I’m the only one spending on these dinners, so I stopped to their dismay. But if we rotate, each person spends $10 and we eat a great dinner. Trader Joes has this excellent wine for $5…tho I forget the name.

    Ramit, Ditto on the prioritization! I decided to splurge on my dance lessons, which to me is life & potential career, and skimp on electricity bills by handwashing dishes. I now save $ & time by keeping a stainless steel drink holder at work & make multiples teas, instead of running to Peet’s. Bringing food to work not only saves tangible dollar amounts, it also saves time & discourages me from WANTING to spend $. Psychologically, since I’m working hard for my food/drink by bringing it in, I don’t emotionally shop for more food during the workday.

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  16. Pat

    Trader Joes has some meatballs–frozen party meatballs. Pop a bag of those in a 32 ounce jar of your favorite marinara sauce. Heat the sauce and the meatballs cook while you get the water going for the pasta. By the time the pasta is done, everything is ready at once! I sometimes saute onions and mushrooms before the marinara is started.

    Pop some garlic toast in the oven. A salad or veggie on the side, and it is all good!

    Another easy one: enchilada casserole (layered like a lasagna, NOT the time-consuming rolled option), rice, and a salad. The casserole can be assembled ahead of time! If you want to use pineapple and tropical fruits or refried beans as sides, that works as well. Margarita time!

    Guys, if you can do chemistry, you can cook. Besides I think women appreciate when a man can put something together in the kitchen or…well, never mind.

  17. Jules

    During my undergraduate days my friends would do the “dinner party” thing every Sunday… people would take turns hosting the dinner at their home… those were some of the best meals and the best times.

  18. Dianna

    Game night is also a cheap fun way to spend an evening with friends. Not video games unless it is Wii. I am talking board or card games. Try not to get overly competitive – some games “apples to apples” are great conversation starters. Start after dinner time – so you are not obligated to feed everyone and encourage people to bring their own drinks or an appetizer/snack.

    Dinner parties and game night are great ways to build your social network AND per “Never Eat Alone” a great social network can pay off in your career.

  19. Judie

    Buy wine by the case (mix + match). Not only do most liquor/wine stores offer a 10% discount on a 12 bottle case – but the 10% off equals approximately one FREE bottle. In addition , consider all of the gas and time you will save by avoiding last minute wine shop runs for yourself / gifts /dinner parties.

  20. Judie

    Make all of your parties BYO (but offer sodas/water/coffee/tea). Most guests prefer to drink what they bring. You can’t please everyone. If you choose to serve alcohol, simply settle for beer/wine – even if you’re having a wedding. If you make a mental check list of your pals most are beer or wine fans anyway.

  21. Debbie

    These are great ideas. My fiance and I are a bit shy and definitely homebodies but we do eat out a couple of times a week…by ourselves.

    I think I can convince him to try a simple dinner party. This may save use money – I don’t know – but it surely will help us build out friend/network base and have fun too.


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