Football season has officially begun, and with the onset of football comes the certainty that many people’s weekends will be spent at games or watching games. Any good fan knows that that before you enter the stadium to find your seats, before you sing along and respect ‘Merica during the national anthem, before some know-it-all idiot finds his seat two rows behind you and starts yelling, and before kickoff starts the actual game—you must first participate in what is perhaps one of the most important sports rituals of all. You must tailgate. Tailgating helps you mentally, emotionally, and physically prepare for the game. You wear your team’s colors (a costume if you are a truly dedicated). You drink. You eat. You throw a bean bag. You drink (not a typo). You cheer. If you are a lady, you might spend your breaths between eating and drinking talking to your friends about the Pinterest recipe you used to make your delicious dip or getting caught up on what’s happening in each others’ lives. If you are a fella, you probably spend those breaths starting chants or talking game-time strategies—and yes, yours is so much better than the coach’s…
If you aren’t careful, tailgating can become a regular weekend money –sucker. The easiest way to make sure it doesn’t is to watch your favorite team at home by yourself, but this is FUN on a budget, and being a lonely loser is not a good substitute for saving money. You can fully enjoy the tailgate experience without spending an amount of money that hits you as hard as your post game hangover by using the tips and strategies found below, and if you aren’t lucky enough to be cheering your team on from the stadium this weekend, you can still apply a lot of these strategies to watch parties that are happening at a fellow fan’s house.
- Have a realistic budget, and hold yourself to it. For example, when I tailgate or go to a game, any money I spend beyond the price of the ticket comes out of the $100 of spending money I withdraw for myself every two weeks. This is where prioritizing comes in—maybe you skip dinner on Friday night because the Saturday Tailgate is more important to you. USE CASH before the game, at the game, and after the game. The stadium or bar is a bad place to have your entire checking account at your disposal in the form of a plastic card, and you know it.
- Use what you already have in your cupboards. I nearly always have the ingredients to make some type of cookie so a batch is one of my go-to contributions. Get creative! Many pantries and refrigerators already have the supplies you need to make a great dip, potato or pasta salad, or sandwiches. You can save anywhere from $5 to $20 doing this. Chances are you will go to the store to get the ingredients for your recipe and end up buying more than just those items.
- Be the chauffeur every once in awhile. Chances are everyone will appreciate your offer to drive so much that they will let you eat and drink for free without judging you.
- It’s important to remember that your contribution doesn’t always have to be the best one at your tailgate. Don’t be “that jerk” that never brings anything, but give yourself a pass to not always be wowing everyone. This might be a shout-out to all my readers that are perfectionists and competitive…you know who you are
- Be the owner of some tailgating investment pieces. Food and drinks are not the only important parts of the tailgate experience. Be that guy that has the folding table, grill, coolers, bags, washers, chairs, blankets, etc. Just like the person who brings their car, the person who helps set up the entertainment fortress is likely to be left off the hook in the food and drink department—and rightfully so!
- Share a classy six pack of your favorite beer, or if you are lucky enough to still be in college, split a case instead of buying one alone.
- Utilize bulk shopping where it will do you right. Costco is my favorite warehouse store, and it has some tailgating items you can buy quickly for less than $10 when you are in a hurry—or feeling lazy…it’s the weekend, right?. Trail mix, hummus, Chips, Chex Mix, and Crackers can all be bought for less than 10 bucks!
- Create a cheaper, signature drink. For example, my family and I have started bringing cider to games when the weather turns cold. You can get jugs of apple cider pretty cheap at the grocery store, and if you need an extra kick (to keep you warm, obviously) you can add your liquor of choice—you might even already have that at home!
- Sometimes less is more. If you are making a dish that will go bad if it gets left out in the sun or hot car, don’t make too much just because everyone might want a full serving (or three). It feels better to have your dish wiped clean by your friends’ forks and spoons before the game than to wiping your spoiled, wasted leftovers into the trash can. Ever heard of supply and demand? Bring that principal to the parking lot.
- Partner up! Find the chip to your dip or the turkey to your bread. There is no shame in creating or enhancing your contribution with the help of someone else. Married couples do it, and best buds can do it too!
What strategies do you use to make sure tailgating is a good time without emptying your wallet?