10/03/2011 04:54 pm ET | Updated Dec 03, 2011

How To Eat And Drink On The Cheap Without Looking Cheap

Frugal vs. Cheap Eating

When dining out in a group, is it possible to order cheaply without getting screwed for someone else's indulgence? We've got a few foolproof strategies to ensure that when the check comes you're not just another sucker tossing your card on the pile.

  • First, in a group of five or six all splitting the check, ordering an entrée that costs $3-5 more won't affect everyone that much. Feel free to indulge and don't fault your pals for doing the same. What's a buck among friends?
  • Picking the second or third least expensive bottle of wine or dish on the menu is another trick we like. Not only do you not look cheap, you appear to have given your selection some educated thought.
  • Be sure not to call attention to yourself, AKA: asking what the market price on that whole sea bass is, and only then deciding you don't want it. That's a shortcut to Cheapskate Street.
  • By far our favorite way to skirt this issue altogether is by eating with two groups of people: young folks and vegetarians. The price of meat is hiked up far more than vegetarian ingredients, and young folks are innately broke and know some of the best places to get giant portions for next to nothing - they're used to it (bless 'em).

Master the Wedding Game

Nobody goes to a wedding for the food...unless they really know what they're doing or the couple is now (joint) loaded. Who knew that abandoning all notions of decorum would result in a full belly, solid buzz and great time?
  • Maximize the return on the invest you made getting there in the first place. When offered a chance of entrée, pick the most expensive. So what if you don't like grilled scallops, they're pricey!
  • Don't fear the stereotype, if the invite looks like it's going to be a wedding with great food then polish those shoes and hit the nuptials. If the couple is not known for their refined palates, feel free to skip or else face dry chicken and other chafing dish delights.
  • Leave your pride home. Big fan of shrimp cocktail? Pull your chair right up to the buffet and have at it. It's your friends' big day, they're not going to remember you spending more time by the shellfish than the ice sculpture. Act like you're stuck in some random venue and pile that plate sky-high.
  • Make friends with the 3-dimensional human beings ferrying trays of canapés around. The moment you ask how their day (or screenplay) is going, you automatically become their favorite person at the wedding. Expect many tasty bites to come straight to you, no attempts at uncomfortable eye contact necessary.

Turn Your Layoff Frown Upside-Down

It happens to everyone, the weeks (or months) of unemployment where the last thing on your mind at 4PM is snagging a restaurant reservation. But just check out all these bright sides.

  • This is the perfect time to revisit often-neglected comfort foods, which come in abundance from bulk-aisle buys. Stock up and cheer up, there's mac and cheese on the horizon.
  • Frozen veggies keep for a lot longer than their fresh counterparts, and are frequently less expensive (just make sure you don't keep them in there too-too long). Bonus, they're also already cooked, saving you more time to peruse Craigslist.
  • Get happy: a lot of the happy hours you couldn't hit because you were stuck at the office have free wings, fries, pizza, maybe even tapas.

Know When You're About to Waste Money...And Don't.

Remember the old saying "if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is?" Invoke your right to call bullshit when necessary.

  • Be cynical. Very few dishes touted by all the Yelpers this side of the Mississippi are actually worth shelling out that much cash. Save your money for a tried-and-true "worth it" experience. Who's the expert now?
  • When you're presented with a dish you could have made at home for a third of the price or less (brunch fans, we're looking at you), you've officially been duped.
  • If you feel the need to stop for pizza on the way back from said "transcendent-dish-according-to-one-site" or two puny English muffins with teeny poached eggs, not-enough-hollandaise and sad molehill of overdressed spring greens, consider this: you only have yourself to blame.

Get Invited to Classy Shindigs with Free Booze

Too many folks don't realize how many events in your city will allow you to fill and refill your glass for nothing more than the pleasure of your company.

  • Even if it's your first night at the mic, standup comics get free (or at least half-priced) drinks at the bar or club where they're "performing."
  • We return to the topics of weddings for one reason and one reason only: free alcohol. Bonus points if you actually like getting dressed up to drink free alcohol. know, love eternal, so on and so forth.
  • The more free wine you drink out of super classy plastic wine glasses at the art gallery opening you just wandered into, the better the art looks.
  • Alumni events couldn't be more prime for getting hammered. Nostalgia, and continuing to get your tuition's worth. Especially if you're still paying it off.

Go Ethnic

Some "exotic" ingredients, like whole spices and specialty Asian groceries are priced up to three times higher at the supermarket than the ethnic market. Taking time to hunt down these items in their natural habitat will save you dough AND make you look like you know what to do with that asefoetida powder. Behold:

  • 3 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken

    Fancy Mart: $16

    Indian Market: $9

  • Curry powder
    Fancy Mart: $11.99/jar
    Indian Market: $4.99/jar
  • Star Anise
    Fancy Mart: $7.99/jar
    Indian Market: $4.99/jar
  • Red onion
    Fancy Mart: 99 cents
    Indian Market: 38 cents
  • Bay Leaf Fancy Mart: $6.19/jar Indian Market: $4.99/jar
I think we've made our point.

And if all else fails...ask a chef

What were celebrity chefs doing before filming their shows in the grillaxing paradises they call their roofdecks? Coaxing the potential deliciousness out of pack after pack of ramen, just like you. Don't be afraid to approach the nearest not-that-famous to famous chef and ask how they avoided starvation during their rookie days.

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