How one simple food-related decision saves me $3,600 a year

How to split the check with friends when you're on a budget

When I moved to New York City after graduating from college, I found a seemingly endless number of bars, restaurants, museums and shops to explore. It was easy to combine my love of food with inherently social nature of going out to eat.

After work, going out to dinner with friends or grabbing drinks with coworkers became the norm. And usually, setting out to do one led to doing both. Instead of drinking on an empty stomach, we ordered food. Or, we reasoned, what's the harm in having a margarita or two with dinner?

The harm is that the tab quickly adds up. After more than a few expensive weeknights, I knew I needed to rein in my spending habits. So I implemented a simple rule: I could either order alcohol or food, but not both.

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Now, if I choose to go out to dinner, I skip the wine. If I head to the bar, I commit to cooking dinner myself when I get home.

I usually make plans around three times a week. If I choose to forgo one $10 drink each time, that saves me around $120 a month. But since, more often than not, one drink turns into two, skipping two drinks three times a week saves $240.

Deciding to do happy hour instead of dinner saves me even more. Looking back on what I've typically spent on dinners out in New York, it can run anywhere from $15 to $40. If I skip three $25 dinners a week, that's $300 in savings for the month.

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Of course, I could save a whole lot more by not going out to eat at all and cooking dinner at home every night. And a lot of days, I do. But the combination of exploring the culinary options New York has to offer and sharing a meal with friends is a win-win in my book, and one I'm happy to pay for — especially since I save by packing my lunch every day.

My food-or-alcohol rule forces me to prioritize and choose what's worth it in the moment. I'm able to continue enjoying the city I love with the people I love without blowing my whole paycheck.

This is an updated version of a previously published article.

From splitting the check to DIY adventures, "Young Money" helps you navigate tricky financial situations.

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How to split the check with friends when you're on a budget
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