Ask an Expert·5 min read

How Do I Have a Social Life and Stick to a Budget?

Two women buying food with credit card
January 11, 2024

Happy hour Monday, dinner Wednesday, and can’t forget brunch. And that’s on top of an upcoming girls’ weekend and holiday hangouts. But a full calendar doesn’t have to equal an empty savings account. We spoke to Brittney Castro, a certified financial planner, to get her best tips for making sure your savings strategy aligns with your social goals. 


Brittney Castro

Brittney Castro - Certified financial planner and founder and CEO of Financially Wise Inc.

How do I talk about my financial situation with friends? 

Just be real. I know in my circle, any time someone says: "I'm on a budget," I appreciate it — and I’ve heard that a lot recently. You don't have to pretend. Just say: "I'm on a budget, let's find another thing to do,” and then suggest coffee or a walk. Or you could say: "Not this month, but next month I’d love to,” and then plan ahead. 

You’re not going to eliminate your social life, but you can do it in a budget-friendly way. For some people, that’s going to dinner — but maybe not every week. Have a number allocated toward that activity so you can do it and not feel guilty or stretch yourself too thin. For me, it’s dance; I have a line item in my budget for that.

How do I make my social budget go further? 

If budget is a concern, then come up with some solutions that make sense for you and the goals of the group. I remember one time I went on a trip to Miami with a foodie friend who wanted to go to fine-dining restaurants, and I wasn’t into it. Another friend was like: "Well, I'm on a budget. Do you think we could just balance it out and not have to go to a nice dinner every night, but maybe a few of the nights that we're there?" She found alternate restaurants that we could eat at. It worked. It was nice because she found a solution, instead of just saying that there was a problem and she wasn’t going to do it. It made it easy to switch plans.

I love a good old walk with a friend, and that costs no money. I also love coffee dates. I think it's just being creative with how you engage socially with others. Not everything has to be around a whole extravagant night out or all of this. Hopefully, the pandemic helped a lot of us see that. It's more about just connecting with somebody that you care about, that's your friend. That doesn't always have to require money.

How can I cut back on expenses without losing my social life?

Write down all your expenses for the month. Something about writing things out makes it a little bit more real for me. Then, look at what I call add-ons. What do you want to do? Sometimes, you have to sacrifice and realize certain things are not doable every month, but maybe every other month. Or cut back for a few months, and then get back to it. If you really don't want to give up certain items, think about how you can make more money to pay bills, save for goals, and do the things you want to do every month. 

Is it ever OK to itemize a bill, rather than split it? 

I would suggest assessing the situation beforehand. Maybe you’ll decide not to go to dinner and do something else. Or, you could have a side conversation and say: "Look. I'm just going to be on a separate tab. I'm on a very strict budget. I'm only going to order one thing. Hope that's okay." Being real about your scenario, but not getting into that scarcity mode is a balancing act.

How can I build a social life with friends across income brackets?

The reality is that everyone is different. Some people make more money than others, and maybe that will flip next year. But hopefully, the friends with more income are generous with it, and it’s not a tit-for-tat kind of deal, so you don’t get that “they're paying for me again” feeling. If you do feel that, have a conversation. You can say: "I just want you to know that I appreciate your generosity. I would love to do something." Maybe you find a way to give them something that isn’t monetary. In my friend circle, I have very wealthy friends who are generous with their money, and I have others who are on a fixed income because they have salaried jobs — they could feel just as generous with their energy.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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