A Millennial’s Guide to Being Social on a Budget

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A Millennial’s Guide to Being Social on a Budget

"Do you want to go out for dinner?" my friend asked.

It was a simple question, but one that carried a lot of weight. At the time, I was on an extremely tight budget, navigating life on a low income, and paying back my massive student loans.

"No, um, actually I'm busy," I muttered.

It was a lie, but I was too ashamed to say that I couldn't afford to go out to dinner.

As a millennial, it's easy to feel a lot of social pressure to go out and keep up with the latest trends -- and I'm not alone.

According to a 2013 study by the American Institute of CPAs and the Ad Council, 78 percent of millennials are influenced by their friends' financial habits.

But how can you navigate social pressure when you're on a tight budget? Here are five ways to make it easier.

1. Come up with a counter offer.

When I knew I couldn't afford a pricey dinner out, I wish I hadn't lied and said I was busy.

I've learned over time that the best strategy in this scenario is to come up with a counter offer. Using this method, you're still saying "yes" but offering a more frugal alternative.

For instance, using the example above, you could say, "That sounds fun, but how about you come to my place for dinner?" There are a variety of other budget-friendly counter offers you can suggest, such as going out for coffee, having a potluck, or going for a walk.

2. Initiate the invitation.

One of the hardest things to do is say "no" to your friends. So instead of feeling like you have to bail out of fun situations that may be out of your price range, you could try initiating the invitation. Doing so can give you more control over the situation and lets you set the terms.

Before you invite your friend, decide on an activity that works with your budget. Consider a low-cost coffee date, an art gallery opening or free community concerts. Even a picnic in the park with friends can be fun and relaxing. This way, you'll be proactive AND get to hang with friends on your terms.

3. Ignore FOMO and YOLO.

In today's ever-connected world, we get a front row seat to our friends' lives. But that's not always a good thing. One scroll through Facebook or Instagram can quickly lead to a bout of FOMO (fear of missing out). You might think, "that could be me on that scuba diving trip in the Bahamas" and feel like you're missing out on the fun.

FOMO can also lead to a YOLO-mentality (you only live once), where your budget goes out the window in the name of living life to the fullest now.

While it's normal to experience these things occasionally, it's key to ignore the pull of spending more in these situations. One way to combat the symptoms of FOMO and YOLO is by practicing gratitude for what you already have, not the things you think you're missing out on.

To start, make a list of things you are grateful for right now -- your health, your family, your apartment, a nice cup of coffee, a 5-minute break. There are no right or wrong answers.

In addition to practicing gratitude, you can give back to others in small ways -- a nice text, a handwritten note or a smile. If you have more time, consider volunteering with a local charitable organization such as a food bank. A 2010 UnitedHealthcare and VolunteerMatch survey found that 68 percent of respondents who'd volunteered in the past year felt physically healthier.

Giving back to others is proven to make us feel better, allowing us to focus on the good things and not on what we're missing out on.

4. Budget for it.

Even if you're on a tight budget, you can still budget for fun. Consider allotting a certain percentage of your income each month for fun activities and eating out.

Try saving one percent of your income and budget for fun activities like Netflix, happy hour, restaurants and more.

You can also invite your friends over for a living room dance party or bring-your-own-wine party. Ask your friends to each bring a bottle of wine under $10 -- it's a great way to enjoy conversation and try different wines without the cost of an expensive wine bar.

5. Look for the deals.

One way that I've been able to live on a low income, pay off debt and have fun is by always looking for deals. I try to make a game out of it: Never pay full price for anything. If you're planning on going out to eat or attending a concert or event, try checking online first for ways to save.

Groupon and LivingSocial are great deal sites for restaurants, while RetailMeNot, PoachIt and Shoptagr are good resources to get discounts on your online purchases. For big savings on concert tickets and theater productions, Goldstar is a good option.

Checking for deals online first can help you save your hard-earned money while allowing you to have fun on a budget.

Bottom Line

Navigating the social pressures of adulthood while living on a tight budget can be tough. It feels like there are many competing priorities vying for your dollars. However, it's still possible to have fun with friends and enjoy going out without breaking the bank.

Do you have any tips you can add?

About the Author: Melanie Lockert is a freelance writer and editor currently living in Portland, Oregon. She is passionate about education, financial literacy and empowering people to take control of their finances. Her work has been featured on Rockstar Finance, GoGirl Finance, The Globe and Mail and more.

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