Just when restaurant porch drinking is becoming accessible again, bacteria and cold-weather conditions are creating a kerfuffle in your Friday afternoon plans. The price of limes, for example, has jumped over 150 percent since 2013, according to the USDA. Even the price-per-pound of those oranges for Saturday morning mimosas have increased 27 percent since last year.
What’s a responsible boozer on a budget to do in the face of this crisis? Read on for tips to save cocktail hour without overindulging your bank account.
Stick to Happy Hour
Even if your cocktail craving starts at 4:30 p.m., hold off until happy hour to indulge your booze tooth. Half-price drinks and appetizers are one of the best ways to enjoy a good buzz on a budget. Plus, you’ll have plenty of time to stroll the promenade with a bottle of water before you drive home.
Check Your Phone
Track down local deals easily through your smartphone with apps like DrinkOwl and Foursquare. DrinkOwl offers a detailed list of specials, coupons and happy hour deals in over 75 cities, making it a must-have app for nomads. Foursquare often provides exclusive deals to users who “check in” to a bar or restaurant, so check the app ahead of time to find the best offer.
Host at Home
After a few weekends out, the bar scene can get a little old and leave your bank account drier than a remote county in Mississippi. Mix things up by hosting a Saturday night BYOB bash at your place and ask friends to bring their favorite bottle of booze to cut down on costs. You can also mix up a signature cocktail for the evening and have attendees pitch in on the ingredients.
Buy in Bulk
Stock up your at-home bar by hitting up the local warehouse club liquor store. Most of these stores don’t require a membership to buy booze and you can save up to 30-percent off liquor store prices. Many grocery stores also offer bulk deals like 10-percent off your purchase of six bottles or more.
Use a Built-In Discount
When it comes to saving money on bar tabs, timing is everything. Sometimes the mood strikes at the wrong time, like three minutes after happy hour has ended. For these moments, use discount gift cards to your favorite restaurants and create a built-in discount of up to 20-percent off. Websites like GiftCardGranny.com offer gift cards for less than face value to Dave & Busters, Elephant Bar and more, making it easy to celebrate for less during peak times.
Mixers containing one percent fruit juice and 99 percent sugar will quickly go to your head and your waistline. Avoid all of the added sugar and make fruit juices, bitters and other mixers yourself. A general Google or Pinterest search should yield tons of tasty recipes, but this tutorial from The Kitchn is a great starting point.
Drink on Sunday
There’s nothing better than a late brunch filled with polenta, people-watching and a few Bloody Marys. Restaurants are increasingly latching onto this modicum of paradise with bottomless Bloody Mary bars on Sundays. It’s a win-win for budget boozers, offering one flat fee for everyone’s favorite breakfast cocktail.
Pregame Before the Big Game
Most of us chalk up the exorbitant cost of beer (craft and domestic alike) and cocktails at the game to part of the experience. With prices on the rise, however, it’s time to rebel and channel your inner college coed. Invite friends over before the game for a little pre-game indulgence and keep the buzz going through the third quarter. Just make sure you’ve got a DD to get you to the game.
Get Friendly with the Bartender
Trying a new place is all well and good, but sometimes we crave the charm and comfort of our neighborhood watering hole. Get to know your local Sam Malone and get rewarded with free or discounted drinks. Do him or her a solid by inviting friends and acquaintances from time to time to drum up business and bar tabs as a thank you.
If you’re known among your group of friends as the Absolut Aficionado, it might be time to branch out for the sake of your reputation and your budget. Sticking to one brand of wine, spirits or beer limits your ability to take advantage of sales and promotions. For example, gin lovers can alternate between Tanqueray, Bombay Sapphire and even Hendrick’s depending on what’s on sale that week. Check the Interwebs for a digital version of your liquor store’s circular and shop accordingly.
Don’t Throw It Out
We all have that last shot or two of coconut rum from last summer or Bailey’s Irish Cream leftover from the holidays. Before you purge your collection for the new season, remember most liquors and liqueurs have a long shelf life (if they have one at all). Avoid pouring that liquid gold down the drain and search online to find fresh recipes for these remnants, like the Irish Malibu featuring Malibu Coconut Rum, Bailey’s Irish Cream, Creme de Cacao and ice.
Clip Those Coupons
Coupons aren’t just for bored suburban moms looking to beat the system by scoring excessive amounts of free toothpaste. You can also use coupons for cocktails; I recently scored $3 off two bottles of BV Coastal wine using a manufacturer’s coupon from a local circular. I also received an extra $1 off each bottle with an instant coupon offered at the store, plus those specific bottles were already on sale. Done and done!
Andrea Woroch is a nationally-recognized consumer and money-saving expert who helps consumers live on less without radically changing their lifestyles. From smart spending tips to personal finance advice, Andrea transforms everyday consumers into savvy shoppers. She has been featured among top news outlets such as Good Morning America, NBC’s Today, MSNBC, New York Times, Kiplinger Personal Finance, CNNMoney and many more. You can follow her on Twitter for daily savings advice and tips.