Budgeting Smart Spending

7 Ways To Keep Your Credit Card In Check At The Bar

Long before becoming a consumer finance queen, I ruled many a bar as a mixologist (that’s bartender in trendy-speak, you know). And despite all the vile secondhand smoke, forced conversations, and nights where I’d have preferred to be lounging in bed, it was a great gig. At the end of each shift I would bring home fistfuls of cash that I’d stuff into my sock drawer, then safely deposit it in the bank the following morning.

I used the proceeds to live and travel, and even invest in a failed business (hey, I was young and being part-owner of a restaurant sounded really glamorous at the time). It was so profitable I kept working the night shift after transitioning into a high school English teacher. Which job do you think paid more? It’ll give you a hint: it didn’t involve grading Julius Caesar reports, that’s for sure.

But what I also gleaned from those countless evenings was that people often spent way too much money at the bar, and having a credit card made it all too easy. There’s a lot of waste out there in good-time-land. So here are my seven best tips on how to enjoy yourself when hitting the clubs, pubs, bars, and lounges — and wake up without the dreaded debt hangover.

1. Drink before you go. First up, water. It’s free from the tap, so chug it. If you walk into the bar parched, you may be tempted to quench your thirst with an unnecessary adult beverage, thus drinking (and spending) more than you intend. On the other hand, if your desire is to get tipsy, OK, I won’t judge. However, you may as well imbibe a little at home where the alcohol is far cheaper and you won’t have to offer up any gratuity. Just don’t bring a flask to the bar, and try to sip surreptitiously from it or add your own shot to the Coke you ordered. Not only is it cheesy, you’ll get kicked out if you’re discovered.

2. Mind your buddies. They’re partying like it’s 1919 so you attempt to keep up. They’re like bottomless pits, though. When they buy a round, you’ve got to follow suit, an activity that can get awfully expensive in no time. It won’t be long before you’re paying for dozens of shots and extras that you don’t enjoy and are not within your means. It can be socially awkward, but do your best to only order your own drinks, and reject those that others try to buy for you. Consider a quick trip to the restroom when its your turn to spring for the group, especially when you weren’t part of past rounds. In the end, they probably won’t remember who did what anyway.

3. Seek out the happiest hour. Some are better than others, so know before you go. A quick internet search of “best happy hour in (your city)” should produce the results you want: half price drinks plus cheap or even free nibbles. Make sure you ask what time the deal is over, and keep close watch of the clock so you can slide in before the price increase. Many a customer has been unpleasantly surprised by a larger than anticipated bill presented at 9:00 with a, “Sorry, happy hour ended at 7:00.”

4. Make peace with well. Yes I know asking for top shelf tequila when you’re ordering a margarita sounds impressive, but come on. In reality you are unlikely to taste the difference between basic and premium booze when it’s mixed with other stuff. Don’t believe me?

Conduct a taste test some night at home with a few friends, and compare cocktails made from a variety of alcohol price points as well as juice, soda, syrup, or a bunch of limes. If the result is a “what-do-you-know, they’re all the same to me!”, stick with what the house is pouring when you’re out and about. Its a guaranteed way to shave off a couple bucks or more from each drink.

5. Never say, “put it all on my card” then collect from the gang. It really is the worst idea. It’s hard (if not impossible) to get inebriated people to focus enough to pay you at the end of the night. They may not have the cash available, which means you’ll have to hunt them down the next day. If they don’t reimburse you, the massive charge will wind up on your credit card, for which you alone will be responsible. Even if you do manage to collect the funds, chances are high that you’ll blow that cash on something unimportant instead of applying it to the account balance.

6. Temper your financial generosity. Tell hilarious jokes, offer your barstool to someone who needs to sit, be the life of the party, compliment friends and strangers — but do not (I mean it, do not) offer to pick up the tab for a bunch of people you do not know or even like. Sure, the gesture feels fantastic, like something out of the movies, but the thrill ends after that moment. The next day – or when your credit card statement is in – you will wish someone had stopped you from twirling your finger around the room with a jolly, “purple hooters for all my new pals!”

7. Stop while you’re still sober (or at the very least, lucid enough to make smart decisions). The fact is, drunk people are apt to overcharge. They leave their cards at the bar or lose them entirely. They splurge on $30 glasses of scotch when they ought to have switched to $2 club sodas. Some get so blitzed they forget that they ordered yet another beer or simply can’t stomach a sip more and then leave the bottle untouched. I’ve poured thousands of dollars worth of perfectly good drinks down the drain. It’s really quite sad.

Please drink and spend responsibly. You won’t regret it. And don’t forget to tip your bartender – she cares about you.

How do YOU save money on a night out? Let us know in the comments below!

About the author

Erica Sandberg

Erica Sandberg

Erica Sandberg is a freelance editor at large, reporter, and advice columnist covering all things fundamental finance. She’s been KRON-TV’s on-air money and credit expert for over 15 years, and has appeared on virtually every national news show, from Fox to CNN. She hosts Making it with Erica, a video program highlighting ways to live adventurously on any budget.

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