Kent Hernandez/Fusion

Dear Fusion Money,

I enjoy going out at night, having a few drinks with friends, it’s fun. But the problem is that when I do that, I lose my ​financial​ inhibitions. And so not only do I end up spending more money on drinks than I intended, I often also end up getting something to eat with my friends at a local restaurant, and that can end up being ​much​ more than I had mentally budgeted for the evening. How can I have fun with my friends, and even get a bit drunk with them, without always waking up with a financial hangover?

—Drungry McBrokerson

Dear Drungry,

Many, many people I know encounter this problem. You go out expecting to have a couple of drinks with a friend and, $96.57 later, you’re wondering how you possibly did that much damage to your bank account in a few hours’ time. (By you, I mean me, last week. And I didn’t even eat! But it could easily have been you, apparently.)

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Anyway, whether it’s your friend shirking on the tab—as happened in my case—or you tabbing a little too much, the problem is a pervasive one, especially in big cities. But here’s the trick: stop drinking all your drinks at fancy, or even middle-of-the-road, bars and restaurants. Embrace the dive bar, the greasy spoon, the 99¢ pizza.

For the most part, people like to drink and eat simple things. Some people like their Bud Lights, some people like their pinot gris, some people like their vodka-crans, some people like their whiskey, straight-up. Very few people routinely swig expensive novelty drinks like $15 John The Baptists, much less $1,500 Platinum Passions.

That doesn’t mean you should never have fancy cocktails at fun bars—especially if it’s something you enjoy! We at Fusion Money encourage you to have fun, even if it costs you some money or requires some debt in the near-term. But one or two of those drinks should be enough to sate your swanky cocktail appetite, before you and your friends leave the high-end bar and head somewhere cheaper.

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When it comes to food, the same is true. After that drink or two, it might be tempting to dive into those $3 oysters and $20 apps, and have a few more drinks. But financially, it's a lot smarter to hit the local diner, or even a fast food joint, between stops.

The broader question here beyond “Should I gorge myself on bougie bevs and tasting menus?” is whether what you spend on your night is worth it to you after you’ve woken up the next day. For you, it sounds like it isn’t. And what’s worse: it seems to happen more often than you’d like.

The only way to spend less drunk than you’d want to spend sober is to either go out less frequently (which would reduce your fun), or ensure you are in a cheap place by the time you and your friends are at the frivolous drunken spending stage. You can do that by:

  1. not going to expensive places at all, which would inhibit your experiences if you like that kind of thing 😢
  2. going to those places, but making sure you leave before inebriation, as difficult as that may be 😬
  3. hanging out with friends who are even more broke than you are, and can only afford to drink Narragansett when it’s on sale at the local beer distributor 😞

You’ll have to make a change, because it's impossible to be a lush on the cheap. But if you plan your night with an eye to the evening's bill, and stick to that plan, at least you’ll know what you’re getting into before you wake up the next day.

I oversee Fusion's money section and have spent most of my time as a journalist writing about banks and finance. I live in Brooklyn with my partner Geoffrey & our two dogs, Captain & Tallulah. Favs: leopard print, Diet Coke, gummy candy, Ireland.