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Brit's social spending habits

Aqua has conducted a new survey to reveal the social spending habits of people across the UK.
Three female adult friends socialising over a meal in a restaurant setting
Published on November 17th, 2023
Last reviewed on November 17th, 2023
12 mins read

News and insights

From trips to the pub and nights out at a bar, to coffee shop dates and shopping, socialising can often put a strain on budgets. We all enjoy spending time with loved ones, but how much is socialising really costing us, and how many of us feel pressure to spend?

To find out, we’ve conducted a new survey, asking over 2,000 Brits all about their social-spending habits. The research has revealed how often (and by how much) we overspend on social activities, the situations that cause us to overspend the most, and the reasons why we may feel the need to spend more than we can afford.

Our experts have also provided top tips for staying within a social budget and advised on how to manage the pressure to overspend.

How much do we budget for socialising?

To understand how much people overspend by the research first looked into how much Brits are budgeting each month for socialising.

In general, according to those surveyed who actively budget, Brits are allocating around £119 each month for their social plans, though this does differ quite significantly across age and gender. Men tend to set aside around £137 per month for socialising, while women are budgeting £100, on average.

When it comes to the different generations, it appears the younger you are, the more you’re putting towards your social budget. Those aged between 16 and 24 are allocating the most, at around £146 every month, whereas the over 55s are budgeting the least for socialising, at £90 on average.

How often are we overspending (and by how much)?

For those who do factor socialising into their financial planning, the research then explored how often they exceed these social budgets, and by how much each month.

A staggering 89%* of Brits say they exceed their budget each month, and by an average of £61. We found that men are overspending by around £67, while women are doing so by a little less, at £54 on average.

The difference is more significant across the ages: 95% of those aged between 25 to 34 say they exceed their social budgets each month, the most of any age group. In comparison, 79% of the over-55s admit to overspending on their allocated social budget, which (while still quite a significant proportion) is the lowest number. Those aged 55 and over also tend to overspend the least, at just £41 per month, while 34 to 44-year-olds are going the most over-budget, by around £75 each month.

Which cities tend to overspend on socialising?

The research has also delved deeper into which cities across the UK tend to overspend the most when it comes to socialising. Those who live in Newcastle are most likely to exceed a social budget, with 95% of Geordies admitting they do so each month. Following closely behind are Glasgow (94%) and Cardiff (92%).

These cities aren’t necessarily overspending by the highest amount though. In fact, Londoners tend to exceed their budget by around £73 each month, the most of any other city. Manchester residents come in second as those who are most likely to exceed their budget, averaging £66 over budget each month, followed by those who live in Belfast, who overspend by around £65 per month.

Meanwhile, those who live in Brighton seem to be a little better at sticking to their social budgets. Not only is the city home to the lowest number of residents who admit to overspending (81%), but those who do exceed their budget tend to do so by just £39 — over £30 less than those in London.

It’s important to note, however, that given that there are significant wage and cost of living differences across the country, it makes sense that these amounts will differ. For example, Londoners tend to take home the highest wages in the country, so it’s perhaps not surprising that they are also overspending by the most.

Infographic showing a map of the UK and the cities most likely to overspend on socialising in rank order

Tips on how to budget for your social life and avoid overspending

Sharvan Selvam, Commercial Director at Aqua says, “Whether we’re out for a meal with family, or going for drinks with friends, spending time with loved ones is an important part of life. But the cost of socialising can really start to add up. No one should feel like they need to avoid socialising altogether though, so with this in mind, we’ve put together our top tips to help reduce the risk of social overspending:

1. Know your budget

“In order to keep your spending in check, you need to know how much money you have available to you. Look at your income stream and compare it with your non-flexible outgoings, including expenses like rent, bills, and commuting costs.

“With the remaining money, you can then set an allowance for the more flexible things like socialising and events. Knowing exactly how much you have available to spend on these will help you budget effectively.”

2. Communication is key

“Make sure to be honest with your loved ones about the fact that you’re trying to save. It might not feel natural at first to say you are trying to stick to a budget this year, but your friends and family should understand. It might even just be that you want to save your money for an upcoming holiday, rather than spend it on a night out. Make it clear to them that you still want to spend time with them, you’d just rather do so without spending too much money.”

3. Propose alternatives

“With that said, socialising doesn’t have to be expensive. There are plenty of cheap or free alternatives that will help to keep costs down.

“Instead of a meal out at a restaurant, why not suggest to friends that you cook for them at home? Or if you want a fun activity, try getting outside for a walk, or have a kick about down at the park. And date nights don’t have to be costly either. Plan a movie night at home over expensive cinema tickets or take a look at what free events or concerts might be happening in your area.

“Also, make sure to look out for deals at local bars and restaurants. Lots of places do 2-for-1 meals or offer great discounts, and vouchers are also a great way to save some money on activities and days out.”

4. Allow yourself to say ‘no’

“It’s also important to remember that it’s okay to say no. If you aren’t that bothered about going to a particular social event in the first place, it’s okay to skip it. It’s also okay to say no to doing rounds, or splitting the bill — just be upfront with people from the start, and if you feel comfortable, let them know that it’s because you’re trying to keep costs down.

“Being selective is also key here. It might be worth picking one or two events each month that you know you particularly want to attend, and then prioritising these over other invitations.”

Which social environments are we overspending the most in?

To get a better picture of why we might be overspending, our research asked those who set a budget and regularly find themselves exceeding it which environments or social situations cause them to go over budget the most.

1. Shopping with friends or family

No matter the time of year, people tend to overspend the most while out on a shopping date with friends or family, with 29% of Brits citing this as the main reason for going over their social budget.

This is the number one situation for both men and women, with one-third of women (34%) and a quarter (25%) of men admitting that a shopping trip is the most common cause for going over budget. This is also the scenario that causes 16 to 24-year-olds and 45 to 54-year-olds to overspend the most, with almost a third of each age group admitting this to be the case.

2. At a restaurant

Whether we’re dining with friends, family, or a partner, the second most common place to overspend is at a restaurant, with 26% of Brits admitting that eating out causes them to exceed their social budget each month. Nearly one-third (28%) of women say they tend to spend more in this kind of setting, and 25% of men also cite meals out as a situation in which they struggle to stay on budget.

When it comes to the different age groups, 29% of those aged between 25 and 34 and one-third (32%) of those over 55 find it hardest to keep within budget when out for a meal.

3. Christmas

Whether we’re at a work party, or having a festive catch-up with friends, following behind in third place is Christmas. A quarter of Brits (25%) say that Christmas is one of the main situations that lead them to exceed their social budget. It’s the second most common scenario for women, with 29% saying this celebration causes them to overspend, and 22% of men agree with this too.

Those aged between 35 and 44 also cite Christmas as the main scenario for their overspending, with nearly one in three (30%) admitting that socialising during the festive season is a little tricky to budget for.

Birthdays (21%) and holidays (20%) round off the top five most common social situations that cause people to overspend.

What are the main reasons that we overspend?

Of those who set aside a specific amount for socialising, nine in 10 (89%) tend to exceed these budgets monthly. The research has also looked into some of the reasons why those of us who do so might feel this need to overspend.

1. Wanting to make sure we’re spending enough time with loved ones

Our survey found that the number one reason for going over budget on socialising for over a quarter (27%) of Brits is because they want to make sure they’re spending enough time with their friends, family, and/or partner. This is also the main reason that almost every age group exceeds their social budget, apart from the over 55s.

2. Not wanting to miss out or getting carried away

Fear of missing out (or FOMO) is a real issue for many of us. The joint second most common reason that Brits overspend when socialising is because they don’t want to miss out, with 21% admitting this to be the case.

The other second most common reason is simply because people have gotten carried away and forgotten what their budget is, with a further 21% of Brits admitting this is why they tend to overspend in a social setting.

When it comes to the different ages, this is the main reason that the over 55s tend to go over budget, with more than a third (34%) admitting this to be the case.

3. Not wanting friends to think we can’t afford to go out with them

In third place is not wanting friends to think we can’t afford to go out with them, with 19% of those surveyed admitting this is a big factor for them.

4. Wanting to bond with colleagues

The fourth most common reason to overspend on socialising is wanting to bond with colleagues, with one-sixth (16%) of Brits admitting this is a big reason for their social spending.

Infographic displaying the top reasons Brits overspend when socialising

How pressured do we feel to spend?

They might be the reasons why we tend to go over budget in social settings, but is there an actual sense of obligation to do so? Well, our research found that as many as two-thirds (67%) of Brits say they do feel some sort of pressure to spend more than planned when they’re in social situations.

While this doesn’t differ across genders, it is significantly different across the generations. 87% of those aged between 16 and 24 say they feel pressure to overspend, while less than half (47%) of the over 55s surveyed say they feel any kind of influence to spend more than they wish to.

When it comes to location, nearly three-quarters (74%) of Londoners are feeling the pressure, followed by 71% of those living in Liverpool, and 70% of Mancunians. In comparison, just 57% of those in Bristol say they feel any sort of pressure to overspend in a social situation — which is the lowest amount of all cities analysed.

Infographic showing a map of the UK and the cities that feel the most pressure to overspend in social situations, in rank order

Who is causing the pressure?

Given that so many of us are feeling some sense of pressure to overspend when socialising, we delved a little deeper into who exactly is causing two-thirds (67%) of Brits to feel this way.

1. Friends

Over a quarter (27%) of Brits admit that it’s their friends that make them feel the most pressured to spend more when socialising. This is who women feel most influenced by to spend more, with 28% admitting this to be the case, compared with 26% of men.

2. Partners

In second place is partners, with 22% of Brits suggesting it’s their significant other that makes them feel the need to exceed their budget. Men say it’s their partners who pressure them to overspend the most, with 27% of men saying this. Meanwhile, only 17% of women feel this pressure from a partner.

3. Children

One-sixth (15%) of Brits also say that their children tend to sway them to overspend in social situations, making kids the third biggest source of pressure.

On how to overcome these pressures, Sharvan Selvam, Commercial Director at Aqua says, “When it comes to spending time with friends, family and partners it can be easy to be swayed into spending more money than planned. By learning to talk more openly about your budget, they’ll better understand your situation and will be less likely to pressure you into overspending for the sake of socialising. Remember, they are more interested in simply spending time with you, regardless of what the activity is, so let them know your concerns and you can work together to find a fun solution that works for both of you.

“Whatever you do, make sure you aren’t spending more than you can afford. Don’t be tempted to dip into any unauthorised overdrafts or savings you might have just to fund social plans. If you’re using a credit card, make sure you can afford to make the repayments or pay it off right away.”

Methodology and Sources

The survey was carried out to 2,003 general consumers in the UK, aged 16 and over, in October 2023.

*based on a net sum of respondents who said “yes, they always/frequently/sometimes/rarely overspend on socialising”

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