Spending Too Much at Restaurants and Bars? Try These 10 Alternatives

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A man handing his credit card to a waiter at a restaurant while sitting at a table with his friend.

Image source: Getty Images

There are plenty of other exciting things you can do when you want to go out.


Key points

  • Restaurants and bars are good places to hang out, but they can be expensive.
  • More affordable alternatives include hiking, checking out the local art and museum scene, and hosting a game night.
  • There are plenty of other options that are easier on your finances and a break from the usual routine.

Restaurants and bars are usually the default option for going out. If you want to spend time with friends or family, you can always grab a bite or a few cocktails.

This can definitely be fun, but it can also take a big bite out of your budget, especially if you do it several times per month. And let’s be honest, it starts to feel repetitive when you’re always doing the same thing. To freshen it up, here are 10 other activities that are just as fun and more affordable.

1. Go hiking

Most people spend lots of time indoors, so an outdoor activity like hiking is a great change of pace. You get fresh air, it’s relaxing to be around nature, and hiking is a good form of exercise. It’s also a flexible choice of activity. You could hike alone or with a large group of people, and you can do it for as much or as little time as you want. Best of all, it’s free, so there’s nothing better from a personal finance perspective.

2. Host a game night

There’s no good reason why kids should get to have all the fun. Adult game nights are a blast, and there are tons of board games to choose from. You could go with a classic like Parcheesi or Monopoly (if you have several hours to spare), or something newer that you found on BoardGameGeek.

Museums are popular tourist attractions, but you don’t need to wait until you’re on vacation to visit one. There could be some amazing art or history museums in your area. Art galleries are another option, as even smaller cities may have interesting exhibitions to check out.

Tickets usually aren’t too expensive, and there are often discounts for locals, students, and senior citizens. In addition, some credit cards can get you free tickets to certain museums. For example, Bank of America has a program offering free museum access to more than 225 institutions.

4. Visit a cafe

For those of us who love coffees, teas, and all things caffeinated, a cafe is a much cheaper alternative to dinner or drinks. At a typical cafe, you can get a beverage and a pastry for no more than $10 to $15. It’s the kind of thing you can do once or twice a week without a big hit to your wallet.

5. Join a book club

Reading is a solitary activity, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But it can be nice to chat with others in a book club about what you’re reading. You could start one yourself, if you have friends or family who like to read. Or, head over to your local library. A trip to the library is another great way to spend some time, and you’ll likely find book clubs there. It’s one of the many perks of a library membership.

6. See a play

You don’t need to live in New York City or Los Angeles to go to the theater. Most large and midsize cities have a theater scene, and even small towns may have a local art group that puts on shows. Tickets for big shows can be pricey, but there are plenty of smaller theater companies with budget-friendly plays. In my experience, those smaller shows can be just as good or better than what’s playing on Broadway.

7. Explore a new neighborhood

Another touristy activity that you can also do near home is exploring a new neighborhood on foot. Walk around and you might find some cool stores, a nice park, or unique local attractions.

8. Play pickup sports

Sports are perfect for getting some physical activity and having fun in the process. Many cities have sports fields that are open to the public, where adults can play basketball, soccer, or football, to name a few examples. It’s easy to get a pickup game going when there are other people there, or you could look for adult sports leagues in your area.

9. Try an escape room

I’m a big fan of escape rooms. If you haven’t tried one before, you and your friends are locked in a room where you need to find clues and solve puzzles to escape. The best part is that you can find escape rooms with all sorts of different storylines themes, such as haunted houses, spaceships, and jailbreaks.

These normally cost around $25 to $40 per player. They’re not the cheapest activity, but you’ll still likely end up paying less than you would going out to a nice restaurant or bar.

10. Learn a new skill

Think about whether there are any skills you would love to learn, if only you’d have the time. Maybe you’d like to learn a new language, take up indoor rock climbing, or try out salsa dancing. Odds are you can start taking classes, either in person or online, for a fun and rewarding experience.

There are lots of exciting activities to try when you feel like doing something different than going to a restaurant or bar. Once you’ve picked out a few that are of interest, you can give them a try and potentially make them part of your routine.

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