17 Budget-Friendly Friend Dates

Libby Kane
Posted

Friendships may be priceless, but maintaining them often carries a hefty price tag.

So many ways to connect with your favorite people are as expensive as they are fun: cocktails at that new bar, dinner at your favorite sushi restaurant, movies (complete with buttered popcorn, of course), cooking classes … and we won’t even mention shopping.

As sweaters come out, and it becomes just as much fun to stay in as go out, we thought it would be fun (and OK, frugal) to dream up a bunch of budget-friendly ideas for spending time with our friends.

Let our 17 affordable friend dates be your new go-to weekend planning guide. Even if you aren’t looking to save money (but come on, you are, aren’t you?) these ideas are just fun!

And please share your favorites in the comments!

1. Make brunch at home. Apple crepes, anyone? Whenever we host a friendly brunch, it’s totally BYOM (bring your own mimosa).

2. Visit museums with free or reduced admission. Plenty of museums have free days, no matter your city. For example, admission to the Frick Collection in New York City is “pay what you want” on Sundays before 1 p.m.; Chicago sights like the planetarium and aquarium have specific free days each year; some Houston museums like the Menil Collection are always free, and others like the Museum of Natural Science are free on specific days of the week (Thursdays, in this case). Look into museums in your area to find out when you can go at a reduced rate. Can’t find it online? Call and ask.

3. Reschedule girls’ night out. There’s a reason Friday and Saturday nights out are so expensive–that’s when everyone goes out! By rescheduling GNO to say, a Tuesday, you can take advantage of happy hour specials or trivia nights and save a few bucks. Plus, you have work the next day, so chances are slim that you’ll wind up splurging on eight rounds of drinks.

4. Assemble a sports team. We accept all definitions of “sport,” as long as you’re booking a time to meet up with your friends and play it. If you live in an urban area with a shortage of wide green expanses in which to kick a ball around, look into public park facilities or a low-cost membership at a community center like the YMCA. League-joining is optional, but a co-ed (or not) team can be fun—and there’s nothing like a little healthy competition to facilitate group bonding.

5. Hold a moviethon from the year you first met. Was “Beaches” the blockbuster at the multiplex when you first became friends? What movies did you used to serial watch when you lived together in college? Time for a cinematic reunion! If you can’t remember exactly when that was, feel free to revise history. We recommend the year 2004: “Mean Girls,” “The Notebook,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “The Incredibles,” “Anchorman,” “Napolean Dynamite,” “Garden State” …

6. Volunteer together. Searching for volunteer opportunities to strengthen your community and your friendship at the same time? Say it with us: awwwww. Plus, doing good together can be so much more rewarding than complaining about your office/other friends/why you really shouldn’t order dessert.

7. Throw an outdoor warm drinks party. It’s getting colder, so those drinks had better keep your guests warm. May we suggest mulled wineHot cider? Hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps (aka “Hot Schnnocolate?”)? Butterbeer? If you live in a warmer state (or happen to be inside with the heat turned up), try one of these refreshing cocktail suggestions. Although some cocktails require fancy ingredients, you can share the cost with your friends, and after a few hours of hanging out and sipping your Cuba Libres, you’ll have spent way less than if you were at a bar.

8. Host a clothing swap. We did it at the LearnVest offices, so we can definitively say that it’s both fun and a great pick-me-up for you closet. Gather any clothes and accessories you’re tired of or no longer wear, and have your friends do the same. Then, swap. (Here are some swapping ground rules we suggest.)

9. Make a workout pact. It’s two birds with one stone: If you promise to run/do a yoga video/play Wii Fit with a friend, you’re guaranteed to both socialize and exercise regularly. (Deciding what to do? We have a chart to help you find fitness that fits your budget and lifestyle.)

10. Throw a sushi party. Or a pizza party, or a dumpling party or any food-you-normally-get-at-a-special-restaurant-that’s-actually-fun-to-make-yourself party. As long as you get everyone involved in the making of deliciousness, you’re golden. (Sushi party ideas here.)

11. Network together. Networking events are a great place to score free appetizers–um, we mean make invaluable connections. If you and a friend are motivated to attend a networking event, here’s the trick: split up! For greatest success, agree to meet up every 30 minutes with a new person’s card in hand.

12. Plan a spa night. Yes, we know you can paint your nails, so we’re issuing a new challenge: Create a manicure like this elegant black-on-black or these fun tiger stripes. If you have friends with kids–or are friends with your kids–this is a great activity for them as well.

13. Taste wine. As long as you a) have a designated driver and b) resist the urge to buy a bottle or six, attending a wine tasting can actually make for a low-cost, fun afternoon. You can find wine tastings and events near you here and here, and if in doubt, Google your city’s name and the phrase “wine tasting.”

Or you can always host your own: A friend we know had a wine tasting to choose the best bottle under $10. Just ask each guest to bring one bottle, wrap them in foil, and have a taste-off. You’ll walk away pleasantly tipsy and with great recommendations for the tastiest vino for a ten-note.

14. Be tourists for a day. Yes, we know, tourists are inconvenient when they ask you questions during rush hour, but have you actually seen your town’s historic and noteworthy offerings? In Boston, following the Freedom Trail is free. So is seeing the Liberty Bell in Philly, and gawking at the handprints on Hollywood Boulevard in L.A.

15. Have a TV show date. If you’re paying for that TV anyway–not that you should, necessarily–you should make the most of it. Plus, shows are always more fun with friends! If you’re up for advanced friend dates, consider creating a themed viewing party, like this one for Downton Abbey. The best part is that, unlike movies, TV shows come on regularly … and make a great excuse to keep a standing date with your best friends.

16. Be adventurous. In the kitchen, that is. Bite the bullet and finally make a few of those recipes you’ve been pinning. Or go ahead and try one of ours, like this pepperoni pannini.

17. Get crafty. You can exercise those elementary-school friendship bracelet stitches (are we the only ones who still remember how to make those?). Or you can make something a little edgier, like this cool DIY rope bracelet. Alternately, there is always a holiday approaching, as evidenced by the themed aisle in the drugstore. Get together to craft decorations for the nearest one, whether HalloweenThanksgiving or Christmas (bonus points for doing that one in July).

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  • Jen

    I used to do “Tuesday Night Sports League” with some good friends- every Tuesday we would gather at a park and switch up the sport every time. Sometimes soccer, baseball, flag football, frisbee, capture the flag, volleyball- it was always fun, and since we changed it so often, no one would be terrible at every sport!

  • Engchik

    My friends and i do a swap party every year, I’ve planned one for next Friday actually! We are very excited, we get to see each other and get some goodies!!!

  • Erinosul

    Book club! Once a month and it’s magic.We even pick the books out two months in advance so we have time to grab them from the library.

  • KatyD

    For another take on a clothing swap, try a jewelry swap! If you have pieces of costume/non-heirloom jewelry that you don’t wear much anymore and/or you want to change up your jewelry look without spending money, organize a swap with friends whose jewelry you admire, or maybe do a joint clothing & jewelry swap. Your friends are likely have some pieces they don’t wear much that might be perfect for you, and vice versa. I’ve got some great jewelry this way!

  • Levent Islek

    Hi, my book “THE WOLF WITH A BELL” coming soon to all markets. You can ask from, (www.shaker-media.nl)
    Levent Islek

  • Kimberly

    My crafty friends (them, not so much me) have started a a monthly crafting night making christmas ornaments, turning oir favorite photos into canvas arr and decoraring glasses for toasting in the new year.

    Another group is a monthly book club where everyone brings an appetizer and swaps recipies then, over wine, chats about the book among other things.

    I like the wine tasting idea as well. Good advice on low cost social activities.