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How to Have Adult-Level Fun on an Entry-Level Budget

One of the things that most surprised me about post-grad life was how much time I suddenly had on my hands. Don’t get me wrong: I wasn’t complaining about not having to spend my weekends writing essays or scrambling to catch up on an endless stack of reading. The problem was that it wasn’t just the workload that faded: most of the things I did for fun did, too. Club meetings and bonding events were over. Living within a few blocks of my friends was no more. I even started to miss the ease of Friday night plans consisting of nothing more than drinking cheap beer in a frat basement. 

To further complicate things, I’d gotten an entry-level nonprofit job in an expensive city. How was I supposed to fully embrace being an adult when I hardly had more cash than I had as a student? 

But fear not, recent grads: I’m here to tell you that being an adult can be fun on any budget. Here are eight things you can do with your friends that won’t break the bank.

1. Instead of brunch, plan a picnic 

people picnicking at a park
Photo by Sand Crain from Unsplash

I love brunch as much as the next person, but even I have to admit that it’s more or less an excuse to pay $50 for eggs. So, instead of blowing your weekly food budget in a single go, throw together a spread of snacks and hit your local park or beach. There, you can lounge and people-watch on your time (and budget). You can even pre-mix some mimosas — I won’t tell.

2. Instead of a vacation, camp or staycation

s\'mores at a campfire
Photo by Autumn Mott Rodeheaver from Unsplash

So, your friend who works in finance wants to plan a group trip to Hawaii? Cool, but probably unrealistic for most of you. Instead, consider staying closer to home while still cashing in on that sweet, sweet PTO. Look online for a nearby Airbnb — preferably one with some fun amenities, like a hot tub — and head out for a long weekend. You’d be surprised how affordable rental houses can be when they’re split between a group.

Or, if you’re more the outdoorsy type, suggest a camping or backpacking trip in your nearest state or national park!

3. Instead of late-night drinks, hit up a happy hour

beer cheers happy hour
Photo by ELEVATE from Pexels

PSA: Happy hour is your friend. If you work in the same city as friends who want to meet up for drinks after work, scout out the bars and restaurants that offer the best happy hour deals. Many places extend their happy hour windows into the early evenings on certain days (Taco Tuesday, anyone?), ensuring you’ll only regret the hangover, not the bill.

4. Instead of a restaurant, throw a dinner party

three women hosting a dinner party
Photo by Kelsey Chance from Unsplash

Between the apps and the tip, going out for dinner can get pricey. Skip the reservations and lean in to how mature you’ll feel by inviting people to a real-life dinner party. Whether you attempt to cook everything yourself or do things potluck-style, go all out to make the evening feel classy. Tell your guests to dress up, put out name cards, and grab a set of real, grownup cloth napkins. It doesn’t take much to turn the evening into one to remember.

5. Instead of shopping, construct a craft night

Woman knitting
Photo by Rebecca Grant from Unsplash

Decorating an apartment isn’t cheap. Luckily, there are lots of ways to upgrade your space if you’re willing to get a little bit crafty. Invite friends over and tell them to bring DIY supplies so you can work on your projects together. You can decorate pots for your plant babies, frame photos, or make custom candles. The possibilities are endless. 

6. Instead of a show, look for free museum days

Woman at art museum
Photo by Gilber Franco from Unsplash

What’s more adult than getting your culture on? Museums can be expensive, but most offer free and discounted days that you can take advantage of if you’re not down to pay the regular ticket price. (The same goes for zoos, botanical gardens, and the like!). All you have to do is plan ahead.

7. Instead of a sports bar, host a watch party

Group of people sitting in livingroom
Photo by Kevin Turcios from Unsplash

Whether your friend group is more interested in the NBA playoffs or The Bachelor (or both!), your apartment can easily compete with a local sports bar as the best place to watch. Just throw together a charcuterie board and invite people to pile into your living room for the show. If you want to take it up a notch, all you need to do is add a theme. Watching the Oscars? Tell people to show up as their favorite movie character or in their best red carpet look. 

8. Instead of a class, organize a skill-share

Women doing yoga on the beach
Photo by Kaylee Garrett from Unsplash

Feeling educational withdrawal? There are plenty of fun classes to try, but they’re rarely affordable. Luckily, you don’t have to go to a professional to learn a new skill. Chances are, your friends have tons of special talents they can share! Ask the friend who’s a great cook to teach a group of you how to make some simple meals; get the artsy one to organize a wine and paint night; and, if you dare, invite your athletic friend to lead a group workout. Not only is it free to learn from your friends, they’ll appreciate getting to show off what they’re good at!

You don’t have to go back to your old college ways to keep yourself entertained — and you don’t need to drop lots of money to make the most of your free time. With an open mind and a bit of creativity, you’ll have plenty to do, and maybe even some extra cash to put away for later.

Zoë Randolph

UC Berkeley '15

Since graduating, Zoë's served as a content marketer for non-profits and tech startups. She worked remotely and traveled the world full-time with her fiancé before becoming a freelance writer and settling (at least for now) in Montréal, Quebec. She likes reading good books, learning new things, and watching Real Housewives argue on TV. You can keep up with her writing over at zoerandolph.com.
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