Sweating the cost of summer fun.

thLate last week I suggested we drive to the Turnagain Arm Pit BBQ for supper. It wasn’t that there wasn’t anything to eat at home. It’s that the weather was too nice to stay inside.

Sure, we could have had leftovers at a table in the back yard. In fact, DF suggested we do that rather than spending $30 or more on ribs. But I wanted to take advantage of the splendid drive along Turnagain Arm, and then sit on the patio eating fried pickles and basking in the nonstop Alaska sun.

Summer can do a number on a frugalist’s finances – especially if your friends don’t play fair. Whether it’s beer and chicken wings after a pickup softball game or al fresco lunches with pals on a sunny Saturday, the next few months could lead to all sorts of uncomfortable money situations.

Suppose you take your BFF out for dinner and meet her for coffee the following week. “You paid last time, so I’ll get this,” she says. As if a couple of mocha frappuccinos were equivalent to pasta, wine and lavender panna cotta – and as if she didn’t know that you, too, are paying back student loans on an entry-level salary.

Ever agreed to temporarily cover a friend’s ticket to the outdoors blues festival (and his visits to the beer garden) but never heard a word about repayment? This is particularly annoying if this friend later posts on Facebook about his swell new game system.

Or maybe it’s work-related, e.g., lunches out or drinks after work on Friday. Socializing can build camaraderie and a sense of teamwork, so saying “yes” can have a real advantage even if you’re on a fairly strict budget. (Plus you might even have fun. Remember fun?)

But suppose your experience with the cubicle gang is that someone always says, “Let’s just split it evenly”? (Often the person who says this is the guy or gal who orders the expensive booze and appetizers.) Suddenly your carefully hoarded fun fund will be overdrawn.

‘It’s about relationships’

Should you say something? Maybe not. Carmen Wong Ulrich, author of “The Real Cost of Living,” says not everything is going to be “fair” when it comes to socializing.

“It’s not just about the dollars. It’s about relationships,” she says. “If it bothers you that much, don’t go. For me, it’s not worth (complaining about) the extra $10.”

To some extent I agree. Among good friends a few dollars here and there will ultimately even out. If you’re in a better position financially you might not even care whether everyone pays exactly his share or not. Treating a friend or relative is a great pleasure.

And if you really can’t afford to go the “$30 from everybody should cover it” route, especially if you stuck to a salad and a Diet Coke? Let it be known up front. As you’re looking at menus say, “I’m on a budget and can’t afford to split the bill evenly, but I will leave my share plus tax and tip.”

If you’d like more leeway, examine your budget for places from which to move dollars. Maybe you could turn your every-Saturday breakfast date with friends to an every-other-Saturday event, and use that money toward summer fun.

Picking your spots

Feel free to suggest less-pricey entertainment, too. A walk or bike ride, a day at the free town beach or lake, a picnic basket and blanket at an outdoor concert – all are good ways to enjoy the nice weather. Fly a kite from the dollar store. Catch fireflies (come on, you know you want to). Make ice cream at home and then sit on the balcony with big, drippy cones (and don’t forget the sprinkles).

You don’t need to pulverize your budget to enjoy the summer. However, you shouldn’t be afraid to spend a little extra now and then. The old me would have eaten those leftovers. These days I’m more inclined to pick my spots when it comes to saving money.

In fact, I insisted on paying for both of us. At the end of the evening DF said, “This was a great idea. I’m glad we came.”

It was a great idea. The ribs were smoky, the beer local and cold, the drive heartbreakingly beautiful. The Alaska summer is marvelous, and oh so fleeting. It’s against my religion to waste the sun if it’s out.

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  1. Rita Phillips

    So happy there is bliss in your life now. It has been time.
    I celebrate life with you. Your writings have helped me greatly. Thank you!

  2. Renée

    Lovely! And you are so right. Balance. Frugal where possible, but Carpe Diem as well… 🙂
    I also want to thank you. Great ideas both in a practical and in a philosophical way. I want you to write a book!

  3. jenny

    Thank you for the reminder to “stop and smell the roses”. Or taste the beer and ribs as the case may be.

  4. Danielle

    Maybe it’s just a Minnesota thing, but separate checks are common here. If I’m with a group, I just ask the server for one when I order. Nobody ever seems to mind. I always tip the full 20% in cash to make up for the hassle to the server.

    • Donna Freedman

      Generally when I’m with a group the server will politely ask, “Will this be separate checks?” Gives the folks who need separate checks the chance to say “Yes, please.”
      I don’t mind splitting a check if it’s done reasonably fairly. My best friend/lunch buddy and I solved this by just taking turns picking up the check on alternate days. Doesn’t matter if one day I got just a burger and she bought the chicken and dumplings — some day down the road I’ll have the brisket and she’ll be nibbling on a salad. It all evens out.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  5. Sharon

    Taking a beautiful drive, having a good meal and satisfaction afterward that the excursion was a wonderful idea is what life is all about. (I guess I better add if it fits into your financial situation too..) But operating as a former coworker of mine who at the end of her workday was always in a quandry over which KFC, Taco Time or pizza place she was going to stop at on her way home (several times a week) because she didn’t want to contemplate other possible meal options for her family is the wrong way.

    • Donna Freedman

      It’s easy to spend hundreds of dollars a month on fast food for the family because it’s so insidious. “We’re using the Dollar Menu.” “I have a coupon for a family chicken dinner meal.” But it does add up.
      We cook virtually all our dinners at home. I do go out to lunch with a friend at least once a week, sometimes more if I can swing it. I look at that as “supporting the local economy.” 😉
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  6. I hate hate HATE that person who says, “Oh, let’s just split it evenly” then the check comes. It’s a total d-bag thing to do, and I call them on it. I don’t care if I’m the “bad guy” for standing up to the person who wants to shame the rest of us into subsidizing his meal. I shouldn’t have to make it known up front; he’s the jerk for not saying in advance that we’re ordering family style and splitting the bill evenly, and he’s an even bigger jerk for putting everyone else on the spot like that. And to be honest, I usually choose not to be friends with people like this.

    I do like the idea of discretely saying to the server ahead of time that I would like a separate check, which was mentioned by another commenter. I will employ that in the future.

    As far as going out for drinks is concerned, I just get soda water with lime (which usually comes with free refills). I like the taste, and I don’t have to worry about spending too much money, a potential hangover, or potentially drinking too much – or the extra calories!

    My friends also enjoy doing potluck meals – we’ll gather at someone’s house and eat outside so we can enjoy the weather. It’s a great way to enjoy the season/weather that’s low-cost for everyone.

    And this may sound like I’m a miser, but I almost never treat [dinner] unless I’m “paying back” a friend, or it’s their birthday or a special occasion, because people very rarely [if ever] return the favor. I had a boyfriend who treated other people all the time, bought them dinner, bought them drinks. I asked him about it, and he said, “It’s scholarship – I’m paying now, and they’ll take care of me in the future.” Well, guess what? That never happened, and he was always broke, overdrafting his checking account and not having enough to money to pay his bills, and those “friends” were nowhere around to help him. Stupid is as stupid does, I suppose.

    What I WILL do is treat a friend who’s down on her luck or having a rough go of it, but I look at that as a gift/repaying the universe — I’ve had people do that for me in the past.

    • That should say:

      I hate hate HATE that person who says, “Oh, let’s just split it evenly” WHEN the check comes.

    • Donna Freedman

      I treat if I feel I can afford it — and again, I’ve saved where I can so I can spend where I want. (Which might be at Chuck E. Cheese.) But I’m with you on the folks who order two drinks, an appetizer, the most expensive entree and dessert and then expect the folks who ate modestly to cover way more than their shares.
      People don’t always pay you back, i.e., take care of you. They may not even pay back loans. Lesson learned: Don’t have financial dealings with those people.

  7. ImJuniperNow

    Donna – Didn’t you once write a piece about being in Philly and NOT having a Philly Cheesesteak because you didn’t want to spend the money and how much you regretted it?

    It pleases me that you decided to have the ribs. And the beer.

    Oh, I feel a craving coming on . . . .

  8. Lorna Huntley

    Dear Donna,
    I have been following you for several years and love your writing. I am of the same age bracket and I have found that most of the time I would rather eat at home if I can. Its cooked to my liking and costs far less. I save the going out for date night with my hubby of 35 years. I think that the fact that we pick our indulgences lets us savor each one .

  9. I worked with a big group of “Let’s just split the check” people. After a couple of times, I did speak up and say “Hey, guys, I really like eating out with you but since I don’t drink alcohol, get appetizers, cofffee and dessert, I’d rather pay for my own meal.” It worked out really well, and there were no hard feelings. The funny thing was that about a year later, we were all at a conference and the BIG boss joined us for dinner. He got the check and announced “OK, everyone owes $XXX.” Pretty much everyone at the table immediately turned to me and expected me to make a scene, but I just shrugged. Wasn’t going to argue with the person who signs my paycheck…

    • If you were at a conference, why didn’t the boss expense it? LoL

      Yeah, I wouldn’t argue with the boss, either.

      • Donna Freedman

        Me either, but sheesh…Shouldn’t he be leading by example?


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