Maybe you’re a fresh college grad shooting resumes into the black hole that employers call an “inbox,” or maybe you’ve been working for a few years but haven’t quite given up your milk crate bookshelf and neighbors’ house party keggers.
Don’t let these economic times tempt you into sticking to the starving college student lifestyle – you can still live like a rock star without obliterating your savings account.
1. Happy hours can be classy affairs. And a good place for dinner, too. McCormick and Schmick’s dinner menu may boast the pricey surf and turf, but go during their happy hour and you can get Kobe beef sliders or salmon cakes for less than $5 (and a cheeseburger and fries for only $2.95). Swanky restaurants of all stripes are embracing happy hours now, often with heavily discounted entrees and half-off drinks.
2. Two words: Free. Samples. There are free samples for everything. EVERYTHING. Not least of all, cosmetics. While most people can’t afford to stock their makeup drawer with goodies solely from Lush or Sephora, the sales representatives there will gladly dole out samples of Love Lettuce Face Mask or Philosophy Microdelivery Exfoliating Wash, if you ask nicely. (The generous sample portions will last a while, too.) The best part: when you’re done paying off student loans and have enough disposable income to buy out the entire Macy’s cosmetics counter, you’ll know exactly what you want.
3. Cook simple, cook smart. Not everyone has the resources to style a “Top Chef” worthy dinner, but that doesn’t mean it has to be spaghetti night again. In addition to the great archives at AllRecipes.com, the “Best Ever Three & Four Ingredient Cookbook” (complete with glossy food photos) contains over 400 recipes that don’t require more than four ingredients at a time, with nothing you can’t find at the local grocery store. An added bonus: you can usually find this book for less than $6 on the clearance rack at Borders.
4. Free guest passes to the gym. Many gyms, like Bally’s, Gold’s Gym or 24 Hour Fitness, offer guest passes or trial memberships that let you work out free for a week. Sure, it’s only seven days, but intersperse a week here and there between free activities like running, cycling, and swimming, and you’ve got a whole summer’s worth of workouts.
5. Like live music to my ears. Tickets for The Killers may be out of your budget right now, but live music at smaller concert venues is a great way to discover new bands that haven’t hit the mainstream yet. Ditto the free summer concert series in most major cities, whether it’s Chicago’s Millennium Park, New York’s SummerStage, or the (practically free!) $1 cheap seats at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. Pack a picnic basket and bottle of wine for date night. In the winter (or all-year round, really), check out new bands at your local dive bar – you never know when you might be listening to the next Fall Out Boy.
6. Be a beauty school drop-in. Cosmetology schools like the Aveda Institute or the Paul Mitchell School will snip your locks for around $20 (they do mani-pedis and facials for cheap, too). An even better deal? Salons all over the country, like NYC’s Bumble and Bumble, provide a free cut, color and blow-out in exchange for being a hair model in one of their classes. The caveat: you may not always get the exact style you want, but what rock star doesn’t shake things up with a sassy new haircut from time to time?
7. Parties from another era. Forget the toga parties and skanky “Pimps and Hos” themes. Try “1940s Hollywood” and have your guests dress up in old school Tinseltown glamour, or throw a “James Bond”-themed fete and loop the films (from Sean Connery through Daniel Craig) in the background while partygoers mingle with their martinis – shaken, not stirred.
8. Potluck mixology. Instead of chugging the last two beers in the fridge and ambling over to the local bar, invite all of your friends – and their half-full bottles of vodka and rum – over for a potluck cocktail party. Look to Epicurious or DrinksMixer.com for some fun mixed drink recipes and designate yourself and a friend as “mixologists” for the evening. All you’ll have to buy is some orange juice and seltzer water, and you’ve got a party. (See Number 7.)