Save money and feed friendships by entertaining at home

By Jennifer Hale

One of the hardest adjustments to make when living within a budget is cutting down on evenings out. If your social life revolves around dinners, drinks and movies, reducing the amount you spend each month can be a tempting cut to make…on paper. In reality, it may feel like you're saying goodbye to friends, food and fun.

Reducing the "Entertainment" line item in your budget doesn't have to be an antisocial life sentence, however. If you're willing to open your home for the evening, you can realize big savings and still maintain your social circle and your life.

Consider the cost differences between an evening out and an evening in.

Spend big on dinner and a movie out

First, let's look at the average cost of a dinner and drinks out with friends--a group of four.

  • Drinks: $24.20 for four drinks
  • Appetizer: $7.76
  • Entrees: $55.52 for four entrees
  • Desserts: $10.14 for two
  • Tip for total food bill: $19.52
  • Total: $117.14

(Restaurant entree and drink prices are based on Intellaprice's 2010 figures for casual-dining restaurants, reported by the Nation's Restaurant News. These are averages; if your tastes run fancier or you live in a metropolitan area, your numbers can be much higher!)

Now consider the average total cost of a movie out for four people:

So the very conservative total for the evening is $172.64, and the per-person average is $43.

Feeding your savings account by staying in

Now, let's say you invite these same friends over and make pasta, salad and garlic bread with a bottle of wine. You pop in a DVD from Netflix…or watch something from the instant selections.

  • Pasta, bread, salad, popcorn and dessert: Depends on whether you like Ragu or Rao's, noodles or gnocchi, but you can buy these at the local grocery starting at about $20
  • Wine: $0 (ask your friends to bring it!)
  • Netflix: Varies, but if you pay $10 a month for the one-disc-at-a-time service, and you get one disc a week…let's say $2.50
  • Total: $22.50

You've now entertained your friends, and had a good night yourself, for about half of what you would have paid for the evening out. And, if you've played your cards right, your friends will invite you over next time--when you'll pick up the wine!

MasterCard was right: Some things are priceless

What do you get for the evening at home, besides a happier savings account? Comfortable conversation and the ability to press "pause" on the movie. What do you miss? Long waits, parking hassles, and the morning-after regret when you remember what's going to show up on your credit card bill.

Put the difference in a savings account with high interest rates, and you'll maintain your budget along with your friendships.

Need more ideas for entertainment on a budget? Consider these 25 free entertainment ideas. And figure out if you're still spending too much--and what to do about it.