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Going Out to the Bars? It’ll Cost You

In probably the least shocking news ever, it has been shown that going out at night to the bars is very expensive!

Yes, I know that’s tough to imagine as you hand over $10 for your drink, but believe me it’s true!

Now obviously, where you live (and where you go within your city) depends on how much you actually will pay for your drinks, but even though it’s widely known that going out to bars/clubs at night is expensive, it’s often understated by just how much!

I speak from personal experience as expenses related to this category were easily the largest of my discretionary spending in 2017 that led to me spending $40,000 in one year.

While this is the area I am looking to cut back the most in 2018, I wanted to highlight some costs that people don’t generally associate with the costs of going out, as well as a couple strategies I’m using to cut back on these expenses.

After all, I’m not saying “save your money and don’t go out at all” because I do enjoy nights out with friends, just merely, realize how much and what exactly you’re actually spending your money on.

First up: typically the biggest expense of them all:


2017 Expenses: $2,438 ($203 monthly)

Yikes, that is a whole lot of money to be spending on drinks. To be fair, some of this includes alcohol that I would buy from the store and drink at my apartment, but a majority of this is strictly from going out with friends to bars and from work happy hours.

And to be really honest, for the longest time I thought this was a low number. You see, essentially all of my friends make at least decent money, and have no worries about what they spend.

They aren’t interested in a high savings rate, and are much more about living in the moment. I’ve been out with them many nights where I’d see one of them spend $100 or $200 at the bar in one night.

When comparing to that, of course I would think my spending was low! It was only when taking a hard look at how to get to my goal of a 50% savings rate that I knew I needed to make some changes here.

Here’s what I’ve been doing to lower these expenses:

“Pre-game” a little longer

The pre-game is when you have a few drinks at your friends or your own apartment before going to the bars.

By staying a little longer at the pre-game you accomplish two things: 1) you lower the amount of total time you are at the bar (less time = less potential to buy drinks), and 2) you can still drink the same amount you normally would, you are just subbing out an expensive bar drink for a cheaper store bought one.

It’s a win – win!

Avoid paying for shots at the bar

One of the most expensive things you can do at a bar? Buying shots.

Rarely are you taking a shot on your own, so when buying shots it is likely for multiple people. That can get expensive very quickly.

Not only that, but a shot goes fast (usually) and many people like to have a drink in their hand while at the bar, meaning you are essentially paying for two drinks, your shot(s) plus whatever other drink you want.

I was never the guy to consistently do this, but I would from time to time. I’ve since stopped doing this altogether and it has not only helped my bar tab, but also slightly eased my hangover the next day!

Pay for drinks in cash

I’ve seen and heard of this one. It works great as you only bring a certain number of dollars to the bar that you can spend for the night and when you’re out there’s no more!

The money you bring can be as high or as low as you want.

Personally, I do not do this, mainly as I use credit cards for essentially all my spending for the free points/cash back, but if I could not get my spending under control this would have been my next move.

Unfortunately when going to the bars, paying for the drinks is just the start, many people forget about the transportation they need to take to the bars.

Transportation to the Bars

2017 Expenses: $630 ($52 monthly)

This was all the money I spent on Uber/Lyft last year, so there were a couple non-bar related trips in there, but a vast majority of it was related to the transportation I used to get to and from the bars with friends.

Also take this into account, that cost could have been double, had I not had a roommate or other friends splitting the ride as well.

This is an expense that many people forget about when going out.

Unless you live within walking distance of the bar you’re going to attend, you’ve got to get there somehow, right?

In addition, ride sharing services at most hours are reasonably priced. Trying to come home from the bar after it closes though? Good luck. Not only will it take a lot longer, but the surge pricing can sometime double to triple the costs.

So what am I doing to help with this?

  • Head to more local bars where I can walk to and from
  • Leaving before closing to help lower the cost (and helps with buying less drinks!)
  • When I see surge pricing, I’ll walk a few blocks in the direction of my apartment to see if the price lowers
  • Always share and split with a friend (or Uber Pool)

Doing all of this has helped me to really lower the amount of ride sharing I use, as well also lower the prices of the rides so far this year.

Late Night Food

2017 Expenses: Negligible

How many times have you been out late at night at the bars and gotten hungry?

It happens all too often for some, and can become a habit for others. By doing this, you’re essentially adding another meal to your day, and thus have to spend more money on food.

In addition, a lot of this food is not the healthiest for you (but who are we kidding, if you’re going out to bars in the first place it’s not exactly a healthy behavior!).

In college and my first year out of school, I would do this all the time with my roommates. Luckily, I was able to kick that habit to the curb a few years back and my spending on late night food was negligible in 2017; maybe a cheap jumbo slice (for non-DC locals, a VERY big slice) or two the entire year.

Miscellaneous Going out Expenses

Those three categories are probably the main trifecta of the cost of going out to bars. Many times it does not end there.

Here are some other costs that many people fail to account for:

  • Cover charges
  • Coat/jacket check (if you live in a cold place)
  • Tips
  • Clothing costs (wardrobe for going out, if different)
  • Hangovers (lets be real, this is the biggest cost and should be #1!)

All of these expenses I did not break out separately, tips were included in the drinks section and I’ve always worn or held my jacket at the bars.

I also avoid bars that have cover charges (there’s a hundred other free bars why would I pay to go in yours!?) and the clothes I wear at the bars I also wear elsewhere so it’s tough to specifically break out those out.

Obviously it’s hard to quantify hangovers, but I know in my ripe old age they’re getting tougher and tougher to recover from!

Overall in 2017, at a minimum, I spent over $250/month in expenses related to going out to the bars at night. This is obviously a very high expense I’m looking to bring down in 2018.

However, the point of this post isn’t to discourage people from going out. If you have fun doing so and find it a good way to socialize with friends, why not keep doing so?

After all, on the journey to FIRE, it isn’t necessarily a race to the finish line, but rather spending your money on things that you value.

Even with my savings goals I will still be going out with friends. It’s all about keeping your expenses reasonable, cutting back in other areas and living within your means to account for your goals.


Do you or did you ever enjoy going out to bars with friends? If so, what strategies or methods did you use to keep expenses reasonable?

*When going out to bars please remember to drink responsibly :)*

24 thoughts to “Going Out to the Bars? It’ll Cost You”

  1. I don’t think I saw entry costs on the list of expenses. Maybe not so common in the US but some bars / clubs in the UK and elsewhere charge you for the pleasure of handing over your hard earned cash!

    As for cost saving, pre-gaming and trying to stick to drinks that take longer to drink (similar to your point above about avoiding shots).

    Just be thankful you don’t live in the Middle East – drinks are VERY expensive here.


    1. Ah yes, I included the entry costs as “cover charges” that’s what we call it around here at least.

      But yes that’s what I have heard.. it’s crazy how much some cities end up charging for drinks!

  2. Wow, that is a lot of money! I guess I’m lucky that I don’t drink and never enjoyed that scene, haha. If you do though, it’s good that you’re taking the time to think about where you can save or cut back.

    1. Make me feel worse about why don’t you! 😉

      Yes it’s definitely an expensive habit, though recently it has definitely begun to lose its luster. Not sure if it’s because I’m more focused on savings now, or I’m just getting older and not as into it, but probably some kind of combination of those. So I could eventually see this becoming a very minor cost.

  3. Oooh nothing made me madder in college/my frequent happy hour years than cover charges. There were many nights when my friends would decide when bar-hopping that we were going to stop by one that charged a cover fee. In addition to being indignant about being charged to walk through the door, why pay a cover if you’re bar-hopping and not camping out there for the night??

    Frozen pizza is such a versatile secret weapon. Good for busy nights when I don’t have time to cook, good for throwing in the oven to eat after a night out!

    I started cutting back on drinking in the latter half of last year because the hangovers are no joke (so old and unable to handle too much booze now, omg) and it’s just not worth it to spend the entire next day feeling horrendous. But to add to that, my strategy the past few months has been to work at a distillery: we get a free post-shift drink, an employee discount on our bottles, as well as usually an industry discount if there are a group of us who decide to go out after. Works like a charm to save money, plus usually I’m too tired after work to go out after 😉

    1. Cover charges are the worst! I absolutely refuse to pay them haha. Good call on the frozen pizza! You just need to make sure you aren’t too tired and fall asleep though! (Seriously happened to one of my friends… not good)

      But yes I agree the hangovers have gotten so much worse recently which has definitely brought the appeal of going out way down. That is a great strategy though! Save on drinks plus make money while doing it 🙂

  4. All very good ideas. I totally agree with using cash and paying as I go. In my past I experienced some shenanigans against my tab. I seldom do bars anymore except when on vacation. I mean, who can resist a pool side or beach side bar? But we always do the Pregame strategy. In normal life I do celebrate every Friday with a single high quality Craft Beer at my favorite local Coffee Shop/Bar during their happy hour. I figure the weekly $7 including tip for a little social time and a good beer is a well deserved budgetary item.

    1. I’m with you on the beach side bars!!

      I think eventually that’s what my bar trips are going to turn into, going maybe once a week and taking advantage of the HH deals. That’s always a fun time!

  5. Hey, we all have our hobbies or habits that can be expensive. Mine is golf. At least in the winter my budget isn’t pushed to the brink? But now that spring is right around the corner…

  6. Health is also a big one that should be on this list – I do a bit of drinking, but even in my more regular bar days, I spent considerably less because I would only have a couple drinks for the whole evening. Now I’m much more included to have a group of people over at our house for a party. This is especially true now that I’m half deaf in my right ear and loud public places make it difficult for me to hear the conversation anyway.

    1. Absolutely on the unhealthiness, I briefly touched on that in the food section, but really should have pointed the at out on its own.

      Oh that’s such a bummer regarding your hearing though! 😕

  7. Great point about the cash only. Nothing is worse than going a little overboard and getting surprised the next day when you see what you spent when you check your card!

    1. Luckily that hasn’t happened too often for me! I usually know pretty well how much I’ve spent, just that for the longest time I thought I was let spending that much on it!

      But yes when that has happened it’s absolutely an awful feeling.

  8. Ha! Great subject as booze ordered at a bar and/or restaurant is expensive. The highest margin drink is wine by the glass, especially if it’s a social occasion and you end up ordering two glasses! You just paid $28 (+ tip) for two glasses of the same Cabernet you can purchase at Costco or Target for $14.99 per bottle! Shoot me Now!

  9. I once walked well over a mile back from the bar in high heels and a dress (when I lived in the city) because I was too cheap to pay for a cab! Looking back, it probably wasn’t the safest behavior but I was young, dumb, and broke. Lol. The other thing about drinking in bars is that the drunker you get the less likely you are to care about your financial goals. Shots for everyone! You get a shot! YOU get a shot! YOUUUUU get a shot!

    1. Oh my… that is so absolutely true… by the end of the night you get so generous to everyone 😂😂 but that’s an absolute trek! I’ve done that a few times in my day, but I can imagine the dress and high heels would make it much more difficult haha

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