"Ask Brianna" is a column from NerdWallet for 20-somethings or anyone else starting out. I'm here to help you manage your money, find a job and pay off student loans — all the real-world stuff no one taught us how to do in college. Send your questions about postgrad life to firstname.lastname@example.org.
You do not have to spend your Saturday nights alone as penance for racking up debt or having paltry savings.
You have one life, and you don't know how long it will be. Seeking joy should be a priority on par with eliminating debt or buying a house. Research has shown that putting energy into your friendships — and simply appreciating your friends at all — improves your life. And you don't have to spend a lot to do it.
Those who treasure their family and friends are happier and healthier than those who don't, a 2017 study from Michigan State University found. Even more striking: Valuing friendships is a bigger indicator of health and happiness at older ages than valuing family relationships.
Set that foundation now, and what you do — and how much you spend — won't matter. Who you're with and whether you cherish that time together will. So don't worry if you can't shell out for a big group vacation, or even a friend's fancy birthday dinner. Here's how to cultivate long friendships when you're short on cash.
1. VOLUNTEER TOGETHER
Pick something you both care about, like animal welfare, the environment or veterans' issues, and research local organizations that focus on them. Sign up for an opportunity that takes place every week or month to keep you engaged in the organization, and to give you and your friends a hangout to look forward to. Bonus: It just feels nice to help people.
If you're politically minded, you can also register voters together or attend local City Council meetings or town hall meetings for your congressional representatives. Find your representatives at GovTrack.us and check the schedule of events on their websites. Feeling engaged in your community is also a contributor to a long, happy life.
2. JOIN THE CLUB
You may not be in college anymore, rehearsing with your a cappella group or playing team sports. But you can start a monthly book club, wine club, hiking club, group playdate for your friends' dogs — you name it. All it takes is a leader willing to send out a reminder email and gather everyone's availability through a method like Doodle .
My book club has been going strong for almost four years, and the "club" part has turned out to be way more important to me than the "book" part.
3. NAB DISCOUNTS FOR YOUNG PEOPLE
Many cultural institutions want young people in the audience — they're hoping you'll buy tickets for years to come. Look into under-30 or under-35 discount ticket programs where you live, particularly at dance or theater performances. Some might require a small yearly membership fee, but if you like to see shows often, the fee will pay for itself.
4. COOK WHEN SOLO
In a way, paying for a meal or drinks out with friends is an investment in your long-term happiness. But that doesn't justify overspending. Budget for fun the way you would for groceries, and you can spend it without guilt.
If you simply must meet friends for dinner four times a week, look at your spending holistically — a budgeting app can help — and make cuts elsewhere. Bring lunch to work every day. Or, when you're home alone, commit to making your own meals and avoiding takeout.
5. GET CRAFTY
If you know how to knit or crochet, no one is stopping you from doing it with a friend while watching a film adaption of a Jane Austen novel (I have done this).
You can get a group together and sketch while listening to music, or spend a night repurposing old clothes you don't wear so they're summer-ready: a T-shirt into a tank top, or old jeans into cut-off shorts. There are tons of craft ideas on Pinterest. You can even schedule a clothing swap, which will let you freshen up your wardrobe for free.
Saving money usually requires forethought and ingenuity. The same goes for suggesting an activity beyond the easy, and pricey, "let's get drinks."
This column was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. Brianna McGurran is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: email@example.com. Twitter: @briannamcscribe.
NerdWallet: Best budget apps and personal finance tools for 2018
GovTrack.us: Members of Congress