Emma-Lou Montgomery
Updated: Wed, 16 Nov 2011 17:08:01 GMT | By Emma-Lou Montgomery, contributor, MSN Money

How to have a cheap night out

A great night out doesn't need to break the bank. Here are our tips for having fun for less.

How to have a cheap night out (© Image: Johnny Green - Press Association Images)

We may be in the middle of an economic slump and we may all be tightening our belts, but that's no excuse not to hit the town and party. All on a budget, of course.

Because with businesses from cinemas to wine bars clamouring to get us through their doors there has probably never been a better time to take advantage of all the goodies that are on offer. If you're after ways to have a great night out, without the usual financial hangover that follows, walk this way.

How you can have a fun night out without breaking the bank
The words "penny pinching" and "great night out" might not go together, but that's OK because they don't have to.

This isn't about penny pinching, this is all about taking advantage of the multitude of freebies, two-for-ones and great money-saving deals that restaurants, cinemas, nightclubs, pubs and even theatres are bandying about to get us having fun with them and not the competition.

Cut price deals for the silver screen
With ticket prices generally ranging from £6 to £12 for the latest movies, it's maybe surprising that so many people are still going to the cinema. But then few of us will be paying full price. Cinema chains, wise to the fact that people are feeling the pinch, are pulling out all the stops to get bums on seats.

If you're an Orange mobile customer, you can make use of the Orange Wednesdays deal and get two for one cinema tickets every Wednesday. If you're not an Orange customer you don't have to miss out. Just get yourself an Orange Sim card, top it up with £5 and turn it on on a Wednesday to get your free ticket.

If even two for one is too pricey, how does free grab you? Websites such as 'See Film First' and 'Momentum Pictures' offer regular preview screenings for zilch. All you have to do is sign up and wait for an e-mail telling you when the next preview is.

Vue also runs two-for-one offers, while Empire Cinemas charges £3.95 for screenings on Tuesdays and Cineworld has Bargain Tuesdays when tickets are £4.50. If you've got a Goldfish credit card, you can use your points to get two tickets worth around £14 for 1,250 points. And Nectar card holders can swipe their cards and get a free seat for just 1,000 points.

Just one word of warning - go easy on the popcorn. In 2002 the British Film Institute described popcorn as "the most profitable substance on the planet, more than heroin, more than plutonium". Buy a bucket or two at an average price of £4 each, throw in some pricey soft drinks or over-priced nachos and the like and your "cheap" trip to the cinema could soon put a dent in your wallet.

Make television history
If you've got a favourite TV show you can be there for the making of it and get a priceless yet cheap night all rolled into one. Whether you're a fan of the likes of Strictly Come Dancing, Have I Got News For You, Who Wants to be a Millionaire, Britain's Got Talent or Dancing on Ice, get in quick and you can be there to see the original recording.

To get your hands on tickets keep an eye on sites such as BBC Tickets, ApplauseStore.com, LostinTV.com and TVRecordings.com. Tickets are first come, first served and you'll need to be on the ball for the most popular shows.

Let's just hope your all-time favourite doesn't start to lose its appeal any once you've seen them re-take all those funny lines countless times.

Take in a show at a fraction of the price
If you're a theatre fan, you can forget all about paying top dollar for top shows, there are a host of ways to save on theatre tickets.

First of all, ditch the middlemen (ie the ticket agencies) and go direct. That will save you the booking fee for a start. Then keep an eye out for special offers. London's Royal Court Theatre runs a regular tickets for a tenner night and if you're under 26 check out the Arts Council's A Night Less Ordinary deal. Thousands of freebies are on offer at venues across the country.

If a must-see show is a must-see on your list too, then you can save a few bob by booking a seat for one of the previews. These are ahead of the official opening press night and are a great way to get into top plays for a bit less. And don't forget to look at your local theatre. Many shows that end up in the West End start out in regional theatres where prices are considerably cheaper.

Or forget the seat altogether and opt to stand and you'll pay even less. Shakespeare's Globe Theatre on London's south bank sells standing tickets for £5 a pop - how much more of an authentic experience can you get?

And, having said to give the ticket agencies a wide berth, it's still worth casting an eye over them for truly cheap deals. As well as the Tkts theatre booths and website which offer half-price seats for shows the same day, Lastminute.com offers some great deals, and theatremonkey.com and discounttheatre.com do similar things. And then there's seatwave.com, a global ticket exchange site that covers not just theatre but music and sporting events too.

Take a bite out of your restaurant bills
While pre-recession and pre-credit crunch many of us probably didn't think twice about popping out for a bite to eat, the economic downturn has seen more than one eatery closing its kitchen one last time. And in response every restaurant worth its salt is doing its level best to get diners in, eating and spending.

Loads of websites have sprung up dishing out two for one vouchers for chains from Pizza Express to Loch Fyne Oyster restaurants. Some require you to print out a voucher, others just notify you of meal deals. Alternatively, go online direct and you'll sometimes get even more for free - like £10 gift vouchers just for signing up to their e-mail list.

If you're dining out with kids it seems you don't have to pay for their food these days, so keep an eye out for the many restaurants offering "kids eat free" deals.

For other ways to cut the cost of dinner eat out early. Many restaurants offer specials before 6pm or so. These sorts of deals are perfect if you're heading off to see a show straight after or have kids with you.

If your budget is limited, you could also go veggie. Meat dishes are usually more expensive, so give your colon and your wallet a break and opt for the vegetarian dishes.

Bear in mind too that some cuisines are typically more pricey than others. Go French or Japanese and you'll pay a lot more than you will for a Chinese, Mexican or Indian meal.

And be savvy when it comes to what you quaff when you're eating out too. On average, restaurants ramp up wine prices by two and a half times. So, unless you're a real wine buff or celebrating something very special, stick to the house wine.

In fact, in these tougher economic times most restaurants should offer a more than adequate house red and white. "If customers order a house wine, they put their trust into the restaurant to give them something that is decent to drink at a reasonable price. If the house wine isn't up to scratch then that customer could be lost to the business," said Paul Breach from the Academy of Food & Wine.

Likewise, watch the cost of water. Don't fall into the "and water for everyone?" trap. Ask for tap water. It's free and well, water's water after all.

5 ways to prevent a financial hangover from kicking in
If you need further help in cutting costs pay heed to these few little cash-saving gems and you'll be quids-in:

  1. Leave your credit card at home and pay with cash. You're less likely to overspend (at least not unknowingly) if you're paying in cold, hard cash.
  2. Go out later in the evening. If you start drinking at 6pm, rather than say 9pm, you've got a longer, and therefore more expensive, night ahead of you.
  3. Don't arrive ages before everyone else either. Turn up at the same time or you'll blow half your spending money on pre-whatever drinks before the party's even started.
  4. Suggest having a kitty and all chipping in an identical amount. That way you keep tabs on your spending and also know that everyone's paying the same. It gets around that old problem of being the first at the bar and then finding your drinking buddies mysteriously make their excuses and leave before it's their turn to get the drinks in.
  5. Finally, think ahead a little. Arranging how you'll get home before you set off for the night. Could save you a hefty cab fare.
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