Looking over my bank statements, I couldn't quite figure out what had happened. Where had my money gone? I'd been so well behaved, what with limiting my cash withdrawals, taking my own lunch in to work and buying things second-hand. But still I was broke. Again.
It wasn't as though I'd spent all my salary in one go – it had just sort of, well, trickled away. And not on café lunches or expensive birthday presents. No, the problem was my social life.
Funny, really, because it isn't even all that active. Sure, I've got friends – but I also have a job, a family and particular talent for lying on my sofa. I'll go out twice – occasionally three times – a week, hardly enough to warrant a cash crisis.
The thing is, there are very few ways to avoid spending when going out. A night at the pub means, at very least, covering the cost of my own drink and, all too often, the cost of others'. The cinema isn't any better with its £7 tickets and extravagantly priced snacks – and neither are most night clubs with their £10 cover charges. The worst, of course, is going out for dinner. A main course usually reaches at least £10, and then there's a tip to be paid – not to mention all those tempting appetisers, desserts and bottles of wine.
Clearly, I'll have to tone things down. But there's no way I'm prepared to chuck out my social life wholesale. What would I do then? Get up, work, go to bed... and never have any fun (not that the office isn't a thrilling place of permanent joy)?
The answer, I suppose, is to socialise at home. It doesn't take a genius to work out that staying in with friends is cheaper than going out with them.
Dinner parties, for instance, aren't the most economical option – when shopping for six friends, it's easy to forget that they've done the same to you – but so long as the entertaining is reciprocal then in the long term it'll work out cheaper than heading to a restaurant. It would be easy to become that one person who never invites anyone back. But then that would be mean – not to mention boring. And I for one don't have any friends who would tolerate it for long.
Cheaper still are drinks parties – if only because people tend to bring their own bottle, meaning that by the end of the evening you're left with almost as many drinks as you started out with. And they can be so fun – dressed up as cocktail parties, or down as a few beers in front of the TV.
In fact, there are plenty of activities which share the financial burden among the group. I'd always hated the idea of a pot-luck supper, with each guest bringing a different dish for everyone to share – it conjured up rather dubious images of 1970s fondue sets and bowls of carrot and raisin salad. But then I went to a friend's and it was brilliant: a bit like having dim sum except, instead of the char siu buns, there were three different types of chocolate cake and several plates of samosas. Afternoon teas, picnics or breakfasts share much the same concept. With each person bringing a small contribution, there's always more than enough food at minimal individual cost.
Apart from the money saved, staying in has a whole host of advantages. Smokers can smoke if they want, so the party stays where it's meant to be, instead of dividing and recongregating in a drafty doorway. There's usually a choice of music, something anyone who has been forced to tolerate the local bartender-cum-DJ would be glad of.
And, of course, it's invitation only. Everyone there knows one another – or at least knows someone in common – so there's much less jostling for a spot at the bar, ignoring the loud table in the corner or tolerating the lecherous stranger, and much more actual socialising. Real, enjoyable, genuine socialising.