Money Talks, So Should You

10 ways to drink on the cheap

Marie Gentile
by Marie Gentile, Staff Writer (@dimespring)

Sorry, baseball, but America’s real favorite pastime is drinking. Occasionally baseball and drinking, but really just drinking. The problem, however, is that booze isn’t cheap, and spending a night on the town can leave your bank account depleted. Luckily, we’ve found a few drinking hacks to help.

Do your research

Usually the goal of going out for a few drinks is to unplug and unwind, but putting in a little research beforehand can help you save. Search online for happy hours or daily bar specials in your area. If you’re a frequent bar-goer, or just a type-A personality, you can even create a spreadsheet or a schedule of weekly deals. Those with smartphones can download apps like Cocktail Compass or Happy Hour Finder to search for specials near you. You can also take the old-school approach by scanning local newspapers or magazines for happy hour ads.

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Go cash only

You may leave the house with every intention of keeping the spending to a minimum, but three vodka tonics later and you’re buying a round of shots for the bar. Alcohol lowers inhibitions, including financial ones, so do your bank account a favor and leave your credit and debit cards at home. Decide how much you want to spend before leaving the house and bring only that amount in cash. Consider it cutting yourself off  financially.

Consider a pre-game

No matter how great a special is, markups at bars are almost always way above what you’d pay to drink at home, so don’t depend on bar drinks alone to get you-know-what faced. Instead, try having a drink or two with friends at your place before leaving the house. You’ll save some dough and be significantly better equipped to handle the bar’s dubstep soundtrack when you walk in.

For liquor-drinkers, stick with well drinks

If you’re reading this article, we’re going to guess you’re not exactly in a position to be ordering Ketel One and Patron. Instead, do the financially smart thing and stick with well drinks, which are usually made with the bar’s cheapest liquors. If you’re drinking at a more upscale establishment, just make sure they don’t use a higher-end liquor for their house drinks.

Consider a pitcher or (wine) bottle

Depending how much you drink, you may save money by ordering a pitcher of beer or bottle of wine rather than individual drinks. The standard pitcher holds about 60 ounces, which is equivalent to five 12-ounce beers. If you and your friends are planning on having at least five or more beers altogether, pitchers are almost always the more economical option. Ditto for bottles of wine, which typically serve four or five glasses, depending on the size of the pour.

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Look for BYOB places

BYOB is the holy grail of cheap drinking. However, most places charge an opening or corkage fee for bringing in your own alcohol, which usually ranges from $5 to $15. To figure out whether a BYOB place is a bargain, add the corkage fee to whatever you paid for the bottle of wine and divide by five (the average number of glasses in a bottle). Compare the price per glass to what you’d usually pay for a glass of wine.

Stay away from shots

Shots are best left to 21-year-olds and spring breakers  they have no business being part of a regular Friday night. They also have one of the biggest markups of any drink. If you insist on drinking your alcohol straight up, opt for a double shot instead of a single. As the name says, double shots are double the quantity of a regular shot glass, but are usually just a few dollars more than a normal shot. While not exactly a steal, they’re certainly a better bargain.

Warm up to PBR

Beer snobs everywhere are cringing in disgust, but hear us out. Yes, PBR has been reappropriated by hipsters, and no, it isn't the tastiest option, but PBR is also almost always the cheapest beer at any bar. The sooner you learn the embrace the Blue Ribbon, the happier your wallet will be.

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Invest in some hangover prevention

The fact is, drinking cheaper alcohol usually means paying the price the next day, hangover style. Rather than upgrading to pricier booze, invest in a few items that may minimize your hangover risk. Some people swear by taking a multivitamin before bed, while others chug a Gatorade to rehydrate after a night out. Whether it’s aspirin, antacids, greasy food or good old-fashioned water, make sure you’ve got your hangover remedy on hand.

Don’t scrimp on the tip

We’re all about saving money, but tip your bartenders, guys. If you can’t afford the tip, you have no business going out drinking. In addition to the just-plain-common-courtesy aspect of it, there are some personal motivations for leaving a good tip, too. If you short-change a bartender, there’s a good chance he’ll remember your face and give you a slightly less generous pour the next time you come around. Food (or drink) for thought. 


Marie Gentile is a personal finance reporter and content producer at Dimespring. She has a bachelor's degree in journalism from Marquette University. A native Midwesterner, Marie is now living in Atlanta and adjusting to life below the Mason-Dixon.