Budget Conscious Evenings and Outings With Style

 Date night.

Flickr Photo Credit: J.S. Lander

Trying to pinch pennies without oversacrificing in the lifestyle department? One of the more frustrating things about channeling your household monies toward responsible long term financial goals is how little seems to be left over to actually have a life. This is true for single folks as well as couples, but comes to the forefront particularly so with family transition. When you’re trying to maintain some sense of feeling like a couple, thirteen straight weekends of board games isn’t going to cut it. Here are a few ideas:

  • Tax Deductible Entertainment- Many theaters, museums and dance companies are nonprofit organizations. This means, or so I have been repeatedly advised, that tickets and other monies spent on their behalf (auctions, fund raising dinners, etc.) are tax deductible. If you have need of every possible tax deduction (and who doesn’t?), then this could be a way to hang on to more of your hard earned money and have some high quality entertainment at the same time. Even better, get together with some other couples or single folks to research when and if these establishments have free days each month. If there’s a special short-term exhibit at the art museum, get together at someone’s house for a pot luck brunch and hit the museum as a group afterward.
  • Snowshoeing and Snugglers - One of the most memorable afternoons I ever had was spent snowshoeing with a group of girlfriends in Maine at one of the state parks (another place where season passes are tax deductible). We all met up at one house, got armored up with warm clothes and gear, and headed off for some woodland exercise. After which, we all drove back to the meeting point house, built a fire and made “snugglers”, a yummy winter time drink made with hot chocolate (we used the sugar free packets) and a shot of butterscotch schnapps. Peppermint schnapps is another great addition to hot chocolate. I’ve seen these specialty liquors go on sale for as low as 5 dollars a bottle during the holiday season. Cases of hot chocolate packets can also be purchased reasonably at warehouse stores. Sitting around getting toasty warm after a morning of snowshoeing, watching the snow come down in front of a crackling with some yummy winter cocktails . . . it was a great day! This could also be the basis for a fun couples gathering or a romantic daytime date for two. Add dvd’s and popcorn or fondue fixings to extend the day even further.
  • A Coffee and Dessert Party - After a group outing to a free concert in the park or gallery opening, have some people over for coffee cocktails and dessert. Just as various flavors of schnapps make great additions to hot chocolate, there are several bar items that are great to have with coffee. For example, even bargain-brand Irish cream can be a bit steep by the glass, but add a shot to a cup of regular or decaf coffee and you have something affordable, delicious and decadent as well. Ditto with Kahlua or chocolate liquor. Having an “extras” buffet like the do at the high end coffee shops is also fun and affordable. Restaurant style shaker containers with cocoa, shaved chocolate, crushed peppermint stick pieces, cinnamon and sugar blend, and similar items add a ton of style for minimal cost. Biscotti and other deserts are equally as affordable and elegant to boot. This would also be a fun thing for the parents to do while the kids are out playing in the snow at a weekly play date, or as a follow up activity to some other cold weather couples activity. On a side note, if you are able to purchase one of those huge coffee urns (we picked ours up on sale around the holidays), they make hosting an event like this even easier. While money was tight that year, we’ve never regretted this purchase. Our urn gets used for large gatherings the whole year round, and we never run out of coffee unexpectedly.
  • A Book Club - It takes some effort to have a successful one, but if you have a committed group, it can be a guaranteed night out on a regular basis. Some tips I have heard from friends that host or belong to them: 1. Rotate the location each time so no single person feels “overhostessed”. 2. Consider having them once a month with the entire book read prior to the meeting. Having them once a week with chapter reading schedules doesn’t allow for individual schedules, family priorities and styles. 3. While having beverages, snacks and possible meals is a popular part of having a book club, going overboard in this arena can cause people to lose focus. One group I know has agreed that whoever is hosting will provide beverages such as coffee, punch, soda, cocktails, whatever. The others are responsible for bringing a light snack only. 4. Decide how you want the discussions let ahead of time. Will everybody come prepared with a couple of conversation points, or will it be the responsibility of that night’s host to lead the discussion for the evening?
  • Picnics and Parks - A nice cheese, a decent bottle of wine, a few other items of personal choice (fruit, fried chicken, etc.), and you have a recipe for romance-on-the-fly. If you have access to a national or state park with fabulous views and a body of water, this idea just gets better and better. We recently had a great daytime picnic at Petra during our around-the-world backpacking trip. Because we wanted to stay on the road as long as possible, affordable activities were high on our agenda. Acadia National Park is another possible destination that comes to mind.
  • Sangria and Spa Night - With the male spa industry taking off the way it has, I really think with the right group of couples, you could make this event a success. For the sangria, pick up a thrift – store punch bowl (if you don’t already have one), a reasonable quality of boxed wine (you won’t want to use the good stuff to mix with fruit), a compatible flavor of fruit juice and slice some citrus fruits. Combine and chill before serving. Some people add a little club or citrus flavored soda to make their sangria a bit more like a wine spritzer or punch. For the spa portion of the evening, pick one recipe idea for a homemade spa product, such as salt scrub (salt, soy or olive oil, and essential oil mixed to your preferred consistency and scent). Have copies of the recipe printed off for your guests and assign them to each bring their own take home container. You could also have each couple bring one bottle of a unisex scented oil for others to select from when making their spa product. If you think the gentlemen will really balk at this, try hosting it as a girls only event where you can all take home some sample product, a new recipe, and have a chance to brainstorm ideas for having a romantic spa session at home with hubby. You could make this a once a month gathering for as long as people are interested in learning to make new spa items. Or have a ladies only slumber party where you all have facials and deep conditioning treatments. If you’re interested in having these activities cross over into date ideas with your spouse, make a date for a husband and wife candlelight bubble bath where you play some nice music and try out some of your homemade spa products. David and I do this quite a bit. We also really enjoy massages and eventually splurged on a nice portable leather massage table so we could support each other with relaxation treatments at home. It makes for a nice at home date.
  • Manicures and Margaritas - This is an idea I got from a popular watering hole in Tucson, Arizona. It was designed to attract the female after-work business crowd. For 10 bucks, you got a frozen margarita and a basic manicure. It occured to me that if you had enough women, and 2 or 3 nail techs trying to establish clientelle, this could easily be an event you host at someone’s house. After work on Fridays would be perfect. Have the girls over to get dolled up with manicures, relaxed with margaritas and pampered when hubby picks them up as their designated driver for a romantic night out.
  • Champagne Brunch Party - Mimosas and breakfast foods make for an affordable and elegant daytime gathering. New Year’s Day would be a great time to host something like this.
  • Grown Ups’ Weekend Slumber Party - Having just purchased a lake cottage we’re hoping to expand / upgrade to a lodge, it occurred to me this is a great opportunity to incorporate destination parties into our lives. If someone has a cool pad and doesn’t mind taking their turn hosting, it could make for some really fun weekend events. Overnight astronomy parties with cross-country skiing and hot tub time the next day, spa and craft sessions, wine tastings, the list goes on. If you’re going to be serving alcohol, it’s nice if everyone gets a chance to relax and enjoy the evening, rather than worrying about a long drive home.
  • Pool Party - If you are at the point in your life when affording a nice pool is not a big deal, it could turn into more of a money saver than you think. It can keep the kids entertained for weeks on end, and at night time with tiki torches and a BBQ, you’ve got a fab basis for a grown-up gathering.
  • Theme or Event Party - Access your inner child with a theme party. Blue moon astronomy bash, Halloween blow out, carnival costume event, use your imagination. A friend of ours hosts an annual Jimmy Buffet party and everyone has a blast!
  • Glamour Shots - I did this one weekend night with a bunch of women in Kuwait. A local woman there made a living by photographing tourists and expats dressed up in traditional costumes with cultural props, makeup, back drops, etc. You could go to her home on your own or, if you had enough people, which we did, she would bring the whole event to you at the location of your choice. One of the teachers at the school compound hosted the event. The photo shoot spot was set up in her living room, the photographer and her assistant helped with the makeup, and everyone gathered in the kitchen for drinks, snacks and socializing while awaiting their turn. There was a reasonable flat fee (way less than a private session, so we were getting a bulk rate) and you got a specific number of 5 x 7 photos delivered in a few days. These pictures are to this day one of my husband’s favorite gifts that I have ever given him. To me, this idea is easily modified for other themes. Autumn shots with colored foliage and pumpkins, couples and families getting together for Christmas pics at someone’s house with a great winter garden . . . these are just a couple of ideas. I saw some really fun baby photos once. They were taken by my next door neighbor in Arizona with her family’s digital camera. They were of her farm style kitchen table topped with a large cooking pot, nicely displayed Italian cookbook, tomatoes and pasta. Inside the pot stood her baby holding a wooden spoon and wearing nothing but a chef’s hat and her birthday suit. They looked adorable and as professional as any art prints you would find at the mall. Whether you want to hire out the service for a bulk rate, or try to take turns shooting some pics on your own equipment, this could be a fun get together for singles, families, bride and groom showers, or families.
  • Co-Ed Wine Tasting Party - This is a great idea for a guys and girls wedding shower. Have everybody bring two identical bottles of a nice wine. One as a gift to the couple, the other to share at the event. Also assign everyone to bring an appetizer to share, along with its recipe. This will add to the couple’s entertainment repertoire. This idea would also work for a housewarming party, or a wedding reception for a more established couple who already has all of the traditional gift items. If wine isn’t this couple’s speed, you could do a similar theme and have people sign up to bring items to stock the homeowners’ bar.