Friends of Cinch: Jackie Lam on Saving Money at the Bar

7 Ways to Save Money at a Bar

(When Not Drinking Isn’t an Option)


It’s your friend’s birthday. And of course, because she never worries about figuring out ways to save money at a bar, she picks the new bar downtown. You know, the one where finance bros and hipsters mingle and a couple signature drinks cost more than a month’s worth of lattes. And while the thought of skipping the soiree has certainly crossed your mind, you resign to going. You don’t want to be pegged Miss Wet Blanket of your social circle, after all. So how can you come up with ways to save money at a bar?

It doesn’t take a genius to realize how much of a bastard drinking can be to your wallet. Knowing how to spend less on any other night is child’s play—opt for the divey watering hole, check out the happy hour. You know the drill, but getting through your gal pal’s birthday bash without spending a small fortune requires a bit of smooth navigating.

Here are some clever techniques that save you money when you just can’t skip out on a night at the bar.

1. Reverse Engineer the Night
It helps to figure out exactly how much you want to spend and stick to it. You also want to know what state of drunkenness you want to enter before you attend the party (light, medium, or heavy lush) and work backwards. Figure out how much you’re willing to spend and how many drinks you can get on that budget. Then put on your creative thinking cap and brainstorm how to hit that lush level.

2. Rethink the Mixed Drink
Try going for a less-expensive alternative to your favorite mixed drink. Instead of ordering a tequila and soda, get a tequila on the rocks with a splash of soda. Just be sure not to go overboard (especially as you enter “lush” mode). Set a limit and stick to it.

3. Down Water between Shots
Space out your boozing (and your booze money) throughout the night by ordering a glass of water or tonic between drinks. Pro tip: A great tasting option is tonic water with a splash with orange juice. It’s something a kid would drink, but it’s not half bad.

4. Partner up with a Fellow Rogue
Do you know someone else who’s attending and is also pissed the birthday girl has chosen a bougie locale? If that’s the case, suss things out beforehand and come up with a game plan to save money at the bar. It’s easier to stick to your spending limits if you have a partner in crime.

5. Pregame at a Nearby Dive Bar
It’s an old trick, but a solid one. By pregaming, you won’t miss out on the socializing. Bring your partner in cheapness with you and have some bonus fun. There may also be areas at the fancy bar that offer a special menu—just check Yelp beforehand. You can also see if there are any specials you can get in on post-happy hour.

6. Sneak in Your Own Booze
Be it with a flask or “bag over bottle,” the key here is to be discreet. There’s no shame in bringing your favorite flask filled with your alcoholic drink of choice. You can try out some bum wine for size. With so many trips to the ladies’ room, your friends may wonder if your bladder shrunk, but who cares? You’re having a blast and didn’t shell out an arm and a leg for it. Just make sure you don’t get caught!

7. Only Bring Cash
With mobile payments apps, there are plenty of ways to spend your money without really noticing it. Leave the plastic at home and uninstall Venmo for the night. Instead, take out some cash and use it until you run out. That way you can’t go overboard. These days, you can make do with just a bit of cash in your wallet and Uber on your phone.

By trying out these offbeat tactics, you’ll have a good time without your wallet getting sucker-punched.

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