Drinking on the cheap is an art form. It takes planning, a willingness to escape the blurry comfort zone of your local dive bar, and the ability to calculate just how many tacos to eat before you start boozing so you won't be totally wasted after your first drink or two.
And while some drinks are obviously not worth it—candy-colored cocktails that are light on the alcohol and high on the fruit juice come to mind—some drinks definitely give you more buzz for your buck. Here are some helpful strategies for saving money while drinking with friends:
Start at home
I like to crack a cold beer or two at home before going out. That’s an easy $10 saved before the night has even begun. While buying booze in advance from your local grocery or discount liquor store is key, sometimes you don’t even have to pay to pregame if there’s an office happy hour you can attend before meeting up with friends.
Just remember to pace yourself. You don’t want to get too sloshed and miss the whole point here, which is to drink cheaply at a healthy pace with your friends.
Pick your poison wisely
Once you start paying at the bar, keep in mind that beer, vodka, whiskey and wine all provide varying degrees of drunkenness. “Vodka will always do the trick, and if you don’t mind a slightly shittier hangover the next day, just go for the cheap stuff,” says Kristin Vasquez, a bartender in New York City’s Inwood neighborhood. “It has the same percentage [of alcohol], anyway, and is half as pricey.”
An even more cost-effective drinking strategy is the beer and shot combo, since beer is cheaper than straight vodka and pricey cocktails that can cost as much as $20 each depending on where you imbibe. “Beer-shot special is both cheap and has a high alcohol percentage,” notes beer lover and journalist Christopher Mathias, who says it’s his go-to order.
Another trick? Alternate glasses of water between each alcoholic drink. Not only is tap water free, drinking it to pace yourself may very well keep you from throwing up in the bar bathroom later.
Timing is everything
Friday and Saturday nights are easily going to be your biggest money pits. Instead, check out happy hours during the week (or even on weekend days at some bars). At Vasquez’s bar, for example, Wednesdays will have you tipsy for half the price on American whiskeys, and the daily happy hours, which offer $15 pitchers of locally brewed beers, end at 8pm. There are also two-for-one margaritas, cosmopolitans and mojitos on Sundays.
One of the easiest ways to find happy hours near you is by following your favorite bars on instagram to see what specials they offer. You can also find happy hour deals in other neighborhoods with a quick online search. Here are some listings for Houston, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles, for example. Eater has great happy hour guides for every city it covers. And if you’re really serious about finding deals, you might want to consider the $10 a month Hooch app, which gets you a free drink a day from local bars.
Kill 'em with kindness
Perhaps the wisest move is to befriend your local bartenders and fellow bar hoppers. Not only will it make your time at the bar more enjoyable, it could lead to free drinks.
Just don’t be a dick about it. “I hate when people tell me it’s their birthday in hopes of a free shot or drink,” Vazquez said. “Personally, I like to establish a good rapport with my customer. You never know who you’re going to meet. Those small talks turn into friendships.”
Many regulars tip generously on their total bill instead of just a dollar per drink. “Bartenders remember that,” Vasquez said. “It can definitely lead to a free drink or a shot.”
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