Growing up, going to “the city” (that is, New York City) meant dressing up in whatever dress I wore for Easter Sunday or Christmas Eve and going out to dinner at a Zagat-rated restaurant somewhere in Little Italy with my family. In those days, Mom and Dad paid. When I first moved to the city from Westchester four years ago, going out meant throwing on a shirt and skirt in hopes of looking somewhat decent on the line of an overhyped 18+ club that I or my roommates were “on the list” for, thanks to a Facebook group that boasted to keep us up-to-date on the hottest and cheapest NYC college-age nightlife. I quickly denied the existence of such a life.
When I turned twenty-one, I retired my once-used, two-years-expired fake ID that flaunted the image of a girl who looks absolutely nothing like me except for the fact that we are both 5’4” and have brown hair and brown eyes. At 5PM on my twenty-first birthday, I entered a heavenly paradise: Trader Joe’s Wine Shop. Knowing that I would, without a doubt, be carded there, I stood on line with two bottles of Three-Buck-Chuck and my awkward but somehow freeing sixteen-year-old smile staring at me from my driver’s license.
When it comes to going out, the city has much to offer besides Trader Joe’s Wine Shop. Bars are everywhere, nightclubs are plentiful, and parties often literally happen in the streets and under them in the subways. Having gone to Manhattan for college, I was faced with the challenge of the city in addition to traditional college distractions. Still, I believe that the ups outnumber and outweigh the downs when it comes to the typical college student’s desire to celebrate the weekend, weekday, or lack of knowing what day it is.
- You can leave your apartment without a set destination. Don’t know where to go? Just go. Look for “two for one” signs. Follow crowds. Gravitate towards noise. Ask loud people you cross on the street where they just came from and hope they remember.
- You meet people (whether you want to or not). Though you may unwillingly find out about a stranger’s hygiene, astrological sign, and pick-up techniques, you may also make some new friends or at least go home with an interesting story or characters for that screenplay you’ve been working on.
- You don’t have to designate a driver. Subways, taxis, and sidewalks are a New Yorker’s best friends. Because few people going to college in the city have a car with them, there is no need to draw straws at the beginning of the night (though you may want to designate a pack leader to lead the way home if you’re sleepily returning at three in the morning).
- You can always find a place to eat. From cookies to dollar pizza to street meat to pretty much anything, food is always available and often cheap.
- Nowhere is off-limits. Though you may have to wait a bit longer for subways to arrive the closer it gets to sunrise, every borough is at your fingertips. This also allows for you to try a new place when “the usual” just isn’t enough.
The bad news? Money doesn’t grow on trees, and, if it did, you still wouldn’t have any because you likely don’t have any trees growing on your fire escape. The city is always outside your door, always awake, and always hungry for your wallet. Plus, the fact that you may or may not already be going broke paying for a college education doesn’t help any.
However, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past four years, it’s that you should always be prepared. If you plan out at least part of your night ahead of time, you don’t have to pay much for a night of fun.
- Eat dinner home. Instead of going out to eat, make dinner with some friends in someone’s kitchen or have a potluck dinner. This is often cheaper and healthier, and allows you to start the weekend celebration together and then head out when everyone is accounted for.
- Buy your own alcohol. If you are 21 and drink, look online for which liquor stores or beer distributors have the best deals on your beverage(s) of choice, and hit them up before they close. Make your own concoctions, which can be fun! And, if you do go out afterwards, you’ll probably be less tempted to spend money on overpriced drinks.
- Arrive early. Many locations (bars and clubs alike) that charge cover fees charge differently according to what time it is. If your usual bar has a good happy hour, meet up with a few friends for cheap drinks. If a club says that admission is free before ten o’clock, consider getting there early. Don’t forget to account for the time it takes to wait on line! Also, when possible, be female—you’ll probably pay less to get in to some places.
- Have your own dance/karaoke/movie/theme party. Sometimes a night in can be even more rewarding than a night out.
- Take advantage of your college or university. While you might associate school events with middle school dances when the sexes stood on opposite sides of the room and stared at their feet or giggled in circles, school-sponsored events can often be fun. The people putting them together are probably either paid to do it (and probably at least somewhat good at it) or they are college students just like you with similar ideas of fun. Check your school events calendar, as well as any deals that your school and local businesses offers like student-price movie tickets, coupons, brochures, and other student savings. You’ll be surprised what you can find!
Of course, there is no perfect formula for saving money, but over time you should discover what works for you and learn your own methods along the way. While you’re in college, remember that you’re in college. Remember that you’re not the only one concerned about saving money while having fun, that there are whole schools of students worried about the same thing. In this realization you can find your savior—your friends. No matter where you’re going or what you’re doing, surround yourself by good people and you can’t go wrong.
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