Ask a Money-Challenged Person: To Bar Or Not To Bar?

Dear Money-Challenged Person,
I have no money, and everyone keeps telling me that I have to stop going to bars with my friends. Do I really have to stop going to bars? Because I kind of like it. HELP.

Before you cross the threshold to any bar, please consider: Will you feel better about yourself tomorrow if you enter this bar with your friends, or will you feel better if you go home right now and administer your daily lashes for being broke and bad with money?

(The bar, is the answer to that.)

Staying home to mope about your lack of funds does not help you, and it does not help your bottom line. Has anyone ever charmed a would-be benefactor while at home watching Doctor Who? No. Has anyone ever met the future-CTO of their sick startup while reading Mary Higgins Clark books in bed? Also, no.

So, it’s settled: It’s okay that you’re at the bar. It’s good for your body and soul. But, let’s do this right. What has worked for me (what has worked for me twice), is to know before I even enter a drinking establishment what my plan is.

For example! Last night, I had a $10 bill in my wallet, and so the plan was pretty easy: I would use this $10 bill to buy a $7 cocktail and leave a $1 tip, and then after I finished my drink, I would go home. (Going home after one drink is an advanced move, but you can do it. Say: “I’ve had so much fun but I also have so much work to do, so I must run.”) (This is easiest if you actually do have work to do.) (So maybe start a novel.) (Or a blog.) (Or reconsider your personal definition of work to include going to watching Law & Order marathons.) (Or maybe even get a second job.)

But! Curveball! What if your friend tells you to stay and wants to buy you a drink! Should you say that you’d love to, but you really have to get home to your lashings? Do you shake your head and run away? No! You do not! You say: “That’s so generous, thank you so much, but I can’t afford to reciprocate right now.” Your friend will say: “I know. I read your blog” (Or something similar), and they will buy it for you anyway. Let them! Say thank you. Drink your gifted drink. And then get out of that bar. Two drinks is the danger zone for being at a bar while being a money-challenged person. Get out before it’s too late.

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32 Comments / Post A Comment

YES. Thank you. I tire of the puritans who are like “if you are broke, you must THINK ABOUT IT at all times, and then feel bad about yourself, and then think about it again, and you can only drink at home, so that you feel lonely when your friends are at a bar, and so on and so on.” Seriously, whoever these people are, they are no fun.

Mike Dang (#2)

You know, you don’t have to go home and feel bad about your situation. You can also go home and feel good that you’re making an attempt to be good with your money. You can feel good knowing that you are resilient, and that sometimes you have to make sacrifices to become the financially stable person you’ll be some day.

I’m not saying you should always say no to the bar. Go to the bar! Especially when it’s happy hour and well drinks are $3! I’m just saying you can sometimes say no, and that you don’t have to feel bad about it.

@Mike Dang My comment was a little tongue-in-cheek…of course you’re not always going to feel bad about yourself for being frugal, but that seems to be the self-flagelatting (sp?) attitude of many that equate going to the bar when you’re not quite flush with some sort of heinous crime. I think my $40 a month bar bill (which is not outlandish, especially in Chicago, and is factored into my budget) helps me maintain sanity just by the sheer socializing I do when I’m at the bar, but I was previously taken to task by a commenter for it. $40 a month comes out to a little less than $500 a year, and is well worth it for the happiness that it brings to be out in the sunshine of a patio laughing with friends! (Now cue the people who say you don’t need alcohol to hang out with your friends. Sigh.)

mishaps (#65)

@Mike Dang yes! and also, sometimes you can go to a bar and get two non-alcoholic drinks instead of one alcoholic one, or even one of each, because you are there to see your friend, which is the important part. Still put down that $1 tip each time though.

And when someone offers you a gift, whether it’s a diamond or a round at the bar, you don’t have to say “I can’t reciprocate,” you can just say “thank you!” The second time they offer to buy, then you can demur. But accept some generosity! Did you expect all of your friends to reciprocate every time you bought something for them? No! Because it is nice to do nice things for people you like. Accept it.

sony_b (#225)

@mishaps Yep. You don’t actually have to drink in bars. I’ve never had a bartender give me side-eye for ordering a diet coke or ice water. I always tip well, and half the time they wave that away. I have had a few bartenders actually be glad I’m there and not drinking. They like having sober conversations every once in a while. :)

sony_b (#225)

@Jake Reinhardt Taken to task? Seriously? It wasn’t about $40. It was about ‘two drinks five times a month’ without any numbers attached IIRC, which to me would be a hell of a lot more than $40 and is what I initially commented on. Live your life. Drink what you want. I cannot imagine the bar where that math works out, but have fun with it.

Paying attention to what you spend and setting your priorities around it isn’t “puritanical”, and I stand by my statement that I see bigger issues in Logan’s spending posts and some of the follow up comments. Forget alcohol, I think something like 30-40% of her last hundred bucks post was for beverages of some kind. A brita filter and a nalgene bottle would save her a ton of money if she was interested in making that a priority, and wouldn’t put a ding in her social life.

To me PRIORITIES are the real issue. People tend to forget that you only get one top priority at a time in life. By definition. If you have more than that, you’re not taking any of them seriously. (General you, not YOU you.) Merlin Mann says it way better than me: http://www.43folders.com/2009/04/28/priorities

So when I read a post like this one, or Logan’s last hundred bucks post, my take is that she puts drinking flavored beverages in the presence of others ahead of saving money. Maybe she’ll flip that around, maybe she won’t. As a person who used to live my life the way she does, I empathize.

Excellent podcast that covers topics like this frequently (priorities, not money – also knowledge work, mac stuff, random hilarity) and serves as inspiration for me here: http://5by5.tv/b2w

@Jake Reinhardt What I don’t understand about the people who hate bars is how they don’t understand that other people *like bars*? I spend at least $100 a week going to bars and it is great. If I were spending that on rock climbing or kayaking or taking cooking classes, nobody would give a shit, but with bars it’s always a lecture.

ETA: Though, as my comment below shows, I could use a little more self control. Or friends who drink at cheaper places.

MuffyStJohn (#280)

@stuffisthings Because people are puritanical judgmental assholes. Kayaking and rock climbing and cooking are “productive things,” but spending $100 a week drinking at bars is seen as a luxury with an element of unseemliness to it. A disciplined person would be doing something more productive with their time and money than drinking – like rock climbing!

smack (#307)

@MuffyStJohn especially when it comes to alcohol! Where people diagnose you as an alcoholic if you have more than 2 drinks a week!

madrassoup (#929)

I like the one-drink solution PROVIDED you drink it very, very slowly. There is skill involved in that. Like, maybe having a big glass of water nearby? It was easier when cigarettes were legal, because it was just a matter of “puff puff sip, puff puff sip,” but now I guess you can just tell long stories. I don’t know. I’m only good at this in my head.

Coach T (#1,240)

@madrassoup If I only want to have one drink, I’ll get something stiff, like a Manhattan or whiskey neat. Takes a loooong time to sip on one of those.

Genghis Khat (#584)

I’m not sure I understand Logan’s goal right now. Is she just tracking how money is spent now that she’s given over her credit cards for the moment? Is there a getting out of debt plan yet? Or a saving plan? Is there a plan for how to spend less, or is she just evaluating how well “trying to spend less” is going.

No judgment, just curious where the project is.

@Genghis Khat I think part of the problem is there needs to be a make more money plan in order to have a getting out of debt plan. Logan and Mike have talked a bit about how this site isn’t making them (any? much?) money yet. Also, the “spend money I have instead of money I don’t have” plan!

One drink is indeed an advanced move. Especially if you haven’t been out all week, then the first drink goes down pretty quickly. Unless you starve yourself all day. (Bonus money saved on food.)

But here’s a tip that actually helps me a lot: Have MOAR DRINKS waiting for you at home! It can be a cheap bottle of wine or BYOB leftovers in your kitchen. If I’m out at a bar and I need to save money (or drive home sober), the anticipation of a more relaxing drink on the couch really keeps me in line.

And water, water, water.

smack (#307)

@Scarlton Banks yes this. A reasonable bottle of liquor, like I prefer martinis because it takes me forever to drink, like one martini on the couch in like an hour and a half but it’s also still Fancy and ritually.

I think I might have a martini tonight.

maebyfunke (#292)

This is very relevant to me, because I really cannot say no to going out with friends ever, be it to the bar or elsewhere. I’m not broke but I sometimes think of allll the money I’d have if I didn’t going out four days a week on average?? I probably need a non- bar hobby.

ImThraxx (#1,237)

I hate to be a crabapple here, but: I get that The Billfold was going for a general sitewide good-cop bad-cop dialogue about personal finances. And I still think is a good idea.

But presuming that readers on the site want to know about how to IMPROVE their personal finances, it’s irresponsible to continually expose them to a person whose bad advice, even if it is bad advice delivered with a wink, has passed the “fun-loving financial free spirit who wants to improve” stage and graduated to the “full-blown financial pathology” stage.

Logan! At first I thought this was just a cheeky pose, but it’s becoming apparent that you actually think it’s a good idea to go to bars when you don’t have money for drinks. That’s insane! You can’t responsibly advise people to do that!

And also, I am actually a nontechnical startup exec, and I can say with near-complete certainty that a bar is a really bad place to meet a CTO. CFO, CMO, yes: for a CTO you’re way better off trying #Anon_Ops or like the Carnegie Mellon cafeteria.

@ImThraxx Yes–I say this without malice or anything, but I’m not really clear why Logan is answering these questions if these columns are meant to be taken seriously at all. It seems very unfair to someone who is genuinely looking for good financial tips.

Now, I agree that it makes total sense to have someone who’s like, “I’ve been there, and I’ve manage to sort it out, and you can, too.” But Logan, although she has been taking amazing steps, is still very much someone who is in need of help, not someone who should be trying to GIVE help. It would be like me working for a nutrition site and trying to help people who are struggling to, like, learn to eat less ice cream. I’m afraid that’s just not an area where I can be of help.

My usual bar plan is to have twenty bucks in my wallet, drink whatever that will get me, then water until it’s time to go home, but it probably helps that I don’t go to bars all that often. Being someone who likes my social outings in small, occasional doses is one of the best things I have going for me, money-wise.

“Staying home to mope about your lack of funds does not help you”

Here, right here, is a huge part of the problem, I think. Why the hell does “not going to the bar” have to equal “staying home to mope”?? This is a very strange attitude, and it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, really. If you equate not going to bars with some sort of admission of personal failure, then yes, it will be a negative experience. But when the hell did going to bars become the only way to be a normal, social person? If getting drunk is the thing, try changing the pattern a bit, like hanging out in someone’s apartment semi-regularly. If meeting new people is the thing, you can do that in any number of places. And then, yes, maybe once in a while, just every so often, you just need to bow out and stay home, but surely you can think of something SEMI-amusing to do once a month that’s not just sitting around moping about it.

I’m not saying never-ever go to bars, but come on. It really does not take THAT much creativity to come up with cheap fun.

I think this is good advice. Obviously you don’t always have to go to bars but this person was specifically asking about bars! It’s great that other commenters are bringing up non-bar options.

Personally I think bringing a cash limit to the bar is a great idea. And also accepting generosity from your friends sometimes. And then you can go home and feel that you were able to be a social butterfly and now you can relax by yourself!

I think the general question is, how do I stay social when all my friends have more money than me. That’s a tough question to answer! Especially if your friends don’t know they have more money than you. So putting a limit on how much you will spend on being social is good advice. And it allows people a tiny bit of leeway.

@redheaded&crazy You’re right that this is good advice on How To Deal With Going to Bars When You’re Broke. And I don’t mean to knock that, because it’s useful, and because no matter how broke we are, we will never simply stop going to bars (nor would I give that advice, because it’s unrealistic and terrible).

But I feel that it’s just a tiny band-aid on the problem. The question wasn’t “how can I deal when I’m in the bar?”, it was “SHOULD I go to the bar?” And the honest answer is “weeelllll… not if you can help it.” There are so many other suggestions to be made on how to do this less often, and things you can do so you aren’t missing out on fun, and most of all, NOT wallowing in sorrow as you do these things. And it’s not as if Logan is stupid or a terrible advice columnist. It’s just that it’s clear from her answer that she hasn’t quite figured this out herself yet. Which is why I questioned her giving this advice.

sony_b (#225)

@redheaded&crazy It may also be an assumption that all of her friends have more money than she does. It may be true. It may also be true that they too are living beyond their means.

…if you guys couldn’t tell I really like Logan’s posts. Logan your posts are my favourite!

Or do what I do: go to the expensive bar that you used to go to because the bartender would give you free/steeply discounted drinks, because your housemate drinks there every day. That bartender left but you heard he’s back in town, so even though payday is tomorrow and you have like $20 in your account, decide that’s probably enough for a few drinks. Realize that bartender isn’t working. Order two cocktails. Say you’re going to leave. Housemate says he is leaving, too, after another drink, so stay and he’ll buy you one. Say OK. Get the check and realize the “actual” price of two cocktails is really $23. Ask if your housemate can pick up the whole tab for you, since you need to buy cigarettes. Promise to order pizza at home. Get to 7-11, and realize that you can’t afford to buy cigarettes AND order pizza, so housemate buys you the pack. Try to order pizza on your phone on the bus, but it’s not working. Try again at home. Finally realize that the bar put a temporary hold on your account that hasn’t cleared yet. Housemate orders the pizza: two large pizzas for the price of one. Delivery arrives, but the order was messed up and you only get one pizza. Eat half of it while feeling extremely guilty.

Coach T (#1,240)

In my very recent quest to start being more conscious of my spending, I’ve found most of my non-essential money goes towards eating out and bar-hopping. My warm-weather solution has been to invite friends over to hang on the roof of my building. We grab some wine, maybe some hummus or cheese if we are hungry and just gab. If people want to go to a bar after, there are plenty right downstairs. It it a great way to have a few drinks, catch up, enjoy the weather and save money. I give drinking on rooftops 5 stars!

@Coach T I am a huge fan of the party at home and don’t see why it’s not part of this conversation! If you and a few of your friends each throw in $10, you can probably get a decent bottle of liquor, a mixer, and even a pizza/snacks. Or a case of beer or some wine. Also: Costco has amazingly huge bottles of liquor for REALLY cheap prices. I stock up everytime I go.

by the way, my actual advice would be a) shot gun a tallboy in the alley behind the bar before you go in or b) have drinks in the park instead of a bar

so at least the advice above is, y’know, legal. it could be worse! :D

um, or c) sometimes i drive to the bar and don’t drink. there, that makes me sound less like i have a drinking problem. or i mean, walk to the bar and don’t drink. whatever.

genkiliz (#683)

God, I love this article! This is truly, truly, my biggest money dilemma (besides student loans. Hahaha. Of course, the best thing is to go to the bar, look super hot, and see if some cute person will buy you drinks! (or, if that isn’t your style, bring a flask, buy a soda, and make your own, as long as you don’t get caught!)

schmuhl (#472)

Just wondering how many people have actually met benefactors and CTOs in bars? I guess I am old (I’m coming up on 29) but I just got to a certain point where I realized I’m only interested in talking to my friends so there’s not much point in going to bars when we can have cheaper drinks and snacks in the comfort of home. I still love bars and enjoy going out from time to time but I mainly only go to happy hour with coworkers now and infrequent special occasions in the nighttime hours with friends (on one of these recently I nursed a seltzer water all night because I didn’t feel like spending cash and had to drive home – I still had a lot of fun).

In my younger days, when I lived in NYC, a friend and I would fill water bottles with white wine and wander around the city talking and drinking. Much more fun than sitting in a bar, especially on a beautiful warm evening.

schmuhl (#472)

Also! When I am low on funds and go out anyway I often just spend the evening with a nagging little voice in the back of my head that says “you shouldn’t be spending this money.” In those instances I definitely would have more fun staying home with my DVRed episodes of Real Housewives.

One thing I like to do is to show up at the end of happy hour and get one drink. I used to be the person that would show up early and wait for people, which meant MORE DRINKS.

Also, have one drink, a glass of water, then another. It’s a little healthier as well.

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