One of the hardest parts about being broke (aside from not being able to buy food or pay your bills on time) is that it becomes difficult to find activities to do while spending time with your friends. Coffee, dinner, drinks, movies, shopping - all of the things that we might normally do with our friends are suddenly way too expensive. It can be embarrassing sometimes when your friend asks you if you want to get together for dinner, and you don't have a dollar to your name. But the truth is, being broke doesn't mean that you can't go out and have a good time with the girls.
First, be honest with your friends. There's nothing wrong with saying "I really want to spend some time with you, but I'm pretty short on cash. Can we do something cheap or free?" Your friend wants to spend time with you, and chances are, she won't care if you do an inexpensive activity. She might even appreciate it - most people are pretty cash strapped these days!
Here are a few ideas of fun ways to spend an afternoon or evening:
Discount Movie Theaters: Discount Movie Theaters are a great way to go out to a movie without breaking the bank. They are usually slightly older movie theaters that show slightly older movies - ones that are out of the regular theaters, but haven't made it to DVD yet. The theater in my area costs $1.25-$2.00 per ticket. You can google "discount movie theater" to find out if you have one in your area!
If you absolutely must see a new movie before it gets to the bargain theater, many theaters have a reduced ticket for the first show of the day. At the full priced theater in my town, the adult evening ticket is $7.50, but the early bird special (first matinee of the day) is only $5.00!
Cool, refreshing freebies: Keep your eyes peeled for deals on food and drinks. Right now you can print up to two coupons for a free sparkling limeade at Taco Bell HERE - no purchase required! You can also grab a coupon for BOGO frappachinos at Barnes & Noble. And of course, as I talked about HERE, you might be able to earn yourself a FREE coffee through Starbucks Rewards. I plan on using my free drink coupon tomorrow when I get together with my friend Morgan. Also, if you buy packaged Starbucks Coffee, you can bring your empty bag in for a free tall drip coffee. There are lots of ways to get free or cheap drinks, and you may even be able to treat your friend to a free drink!
Happy Hour: With the recession taking a hard hit on the restaurant industry, I am seeing great happy hours popping up all over the place. P.F. Changs has a great one. During their happy hours, all of their appetizers are half off. You and your party could split a few half price appetizers and leave feeling full and happy (and not broke!). You might want to call your local location to make sure they are participating and find out what time their happy hour runs.
I also just discovered a web site called happy-hour.com - you can enter your zip code and a list of local restaurants will come up with all of the happy hour info. The info includes what time the special is running, the prices of drinks, and whether or not free food is offered. I am not sure how accurate this site is, but the phone number of each restaurant is listed, so you could easily call to confirm.
Host a "girls dinner": My girlfriends and I take turns hosting a monthly "girls dinner". Not only is it a great way to make sure you keep in touch with people after everyone's lives have gotten so busy, but it can also be a great way to have a fun night without spending alot of money. Each month, the hostess will chose a theme or main dish, and then the guests will bring everyone else. For example, the hostess might make lasagna, and one guest will bring bread, one will bring salad, one will bring drinks, and one will bring dessert. There is less work for the hostess to do, and everyone chips in a little. Just make sure everyone communicates so that all of the parts of the dinner are covered and you don't end up with 5 desserts (although that might be OK).
Research some free activities in your neighborhood! Now that spring is here, there are lots of free outdoor activities like hiking or even just taking a walk in the park. What about planning a fun picnic to a local park? Also, many art museums have free admission, either all of the time of on certain days. The Portland Art Museum has free admission on Friday nights from 5-9pm. Check with your local museum or art gallery to find out if they have free admission at any time.
When you start to look, there are plenty of free activities out there. What it's really about is spending some quality time with the people we care about. So get out there and find some fun and free stuff to do!