A cousin of mine moved to New York at the age of 18 to attend college. His first month there, he spent $500 going out to bars and clubs. He spent so much on going out that he had to get a second job to pay his bills, and a few months later, ended up transferring schools to live somewhere cheaper.
I love my cousin, but this has to rank up there with the dumbest financial moves I've ever heard of. $500 is a lot of money. $500 is a plane ticket to Europe, a big pile of clothes, or, for many people, a month's rent. I believe that people should spend their money on the things that are most fulfilling or important to them, even if those things seem frivolous to others. I also believe it's extremely unlikely that anyone could get $500 of fulfillment out of a month's worth of dancing, drinking, and cabs.
For many young people, especially college students and singles, having a social life seems to be synonymous with spending large amounts of money every weekend. How can you avoid spending an entire paycheck on cover charges and overpriced fruit-flavored "martinis"?
Rule 1: Don't Go Out Unless You Really, Really Want To
If your friends are in the habit of going out every weekend, suggest more creative pursuits once in a while (Whirlyball? Themed movie night? A potluck where everyone brings an intentionally bizarre dish to share?). If they really can't see beyond the bar scene at all, they're probably not all that interesting to begin with.
If you're looking to knock back a few, drinking at your place or a friend’s place is much cheaper, safer, and often more fun than going out to a bar or club. Discover, or rediscover, the joy of the house party. Personally, I much prefer the atmosphere of a few friends and a bottle of whiskey to a club full of pounding backbeats, sticky floors, and sweaty drunks.
Rule 2: Go out for the right reasons
Good reasons to go out:
1. To dance (especially if the kind of dancing you want to do requires a partner).
2. To see a particular band or hear your favorite type of live music.
3. To meet other women, if you're a straight woman.
4. To find a short-term romantic interest.
Bad reasons to go out:
1. To get drunk (much, much cheaper to do this at home--and no worries about how to get home afterwards).
2. To meet the love of your life, or your next boyfriend/girlfriend. The first one won't happen. The second one might, but eventually, you'll probably wish it hadn't.
3. To spend time with your friends. It's too loud in most clubs and bars to carry on anything resembling a decent conversation.
Rule #3: When you do go out, don't drink at the bar.
Do everything you can to avoid buying alcohol at inflated club and bar prices. If your goal is to get buzzed, do most of your drinking at home or at a BYOB restaurant before going to the club or bar (using public transportation, a designated driver, or a cab to get to your final destination). If you're drinking just to be sociable, limit yourself to one alcoholic drink and go dry the rest of the night (Coke is more expensive at bars, too, but not as expensive as vodka). If you need something in your hands, make it water or soda--alcohol is an expensive social prop. Better yet, if you're not planning on drinking anyway, volunteer to be designated driver, and many places will subsidize your soda, or even virgin cocktails.
Rule #4: Don't use guys as drink dispensers
A bonus rule just for the women. While it should go without saying, I've seen some of my best friends engage in dubious behavior in this area. Obviously, if you're already on a date, let the guy buy you a drink or five. But when it comes to accepting drinks from guys you don't know, please be a) safe and b) kind.
Safe acceptance of drinks is self-explanatory. Don't accept drinks from guys who seem creepy, sleazy, or are too drunk to stand straight. Avoid anyone who gives even the slightest indication that if you accept a drink, they will expect something from you. Even if the situation doesn't turn nasty, guys in any of the above categories will inevitably get seriously annoying after a while.
Kind drinking behavior is easy to ignore, but just as important. A guy buys you a drink because he's interested in you. Period. Decent guys will not expect any sort of physical reward for buying you a drink, but they DO take your acceptance of the drink as an indication of interest. If he doesn't stand a chance with you, do him a favor and don't accept the drink. You may have to buy your own drinks, but you get to retain your self-respect. And when the planets align and a cute, coherent guy offers to refill your glass, you can say yes with a clear conscience.