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How to Make Friends in a New City (Without Going Broke)

January 08, 2018

  • Establishing new friendships in a new city can be challenging.
  • There are some cheap strategies you can use to meet new people.
  • Sports, volunteering, and meet-ups can be a great place to start.
4 min read

At some point after graduating college and starting your career, most people have a pretty depressing realization: Making friends as an adult is hard. That’s what I learned when my husband and I moved to Denver in 2015.

If you’ve just relocated to a new city, it can be even harder. When you’re also trying to stick to a budget, it can seem next to impossible. Spending money night after night at local bars, trying to make friends can really start to strain your lonely wallet.

But with a little trial and error, I was able to form lasting relationships without spending an arm and a leg.

Here’s how I did it.

Join groups on MeetUp.com*

MeetUp.com is a website that allows people to start groups based around shared interests like hiking, mystery novels or dogs.  Each group creates its own schedule and attendance varies based on the type of activity and the number of people  in the group. Membership on MeetUp is free to all users.

I joined more than 20 groups in Denver, eager to see what kind of people I would meet. I tried a running group, a book club, a movie club and an art journaling meet-up. Each topic seemed to attract a different type of person, and I ended up meeting tons of interesting people.

But with a little trial and error, I was able to form lasting relationships without spending an arm and a leg.

My movie club was filled with older divorcees looking to meet new people, while my running group was mostly full of twenty-somethings, also new to Denver. A few months after the move, my social calendar was consistently booked solid.

Since you can pick and choose which events you want to attend, the costs are really up to you. For example, the running group I joined was free, and we’d meet at the nearby park to do the three-mile loop. Afterwards people would get beers at a local bar. The film club was the most expensive, since everyone would go out for a nice meal after the movie. I only went a few times, but it was worth it to see Oscar winning movies like “Spotlight” and a free early screening of “Sisters” with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.

Volunteer for organizations

Volunteering is the perfect solution for people who want to explore their city, give their time and meet new people. You can volunteer for specific organizations or for events you’d like to attend in exchange for free entry. Some popular volunteer organizations include United Way, your local Humane Society or Meals on Wheels.

Many non-profits host auctions, concerts, and other fun events to get people to come out and support. It’s a great way to learn what’s happening in your new city and how people are trying to make change.

I worked for a nonprofit that provided resources and assistance for underserved cancer patients. We worked closely with other volunteers, and I became friends with them outside of the organization, since I saw them on a regular basis.

Time has value. Almost every non-profit has a need for volunteers and all most of them ask that you show up on a regular basis and commit to what you signed up for. The more often you come, the more likely you are to see the same people and develop friendships.

Find a Sports League

A few months after moving to Denver I joined a bowling league. I’m not good at bowling, but I was new in town and didn’t have many friends. What better way to build camaraderie than by competing together?

I got the idea of joining a sports league from my friend Melanie, who played in a kickball league every week. She told me seeing people on a regular basis helped her form deeper relationships. I liked that idea.  Bowling was pretty cheap too–It cost me $60 for six weeks, which included a shared lane once a week with my group. Any food and beer I decided to buy at the alley was extra, and I budgeted accordingly.

We met at this newly-built bowling alley that offered artisanal nachos and poutine (a Canadian cult-favorite french fries and cheese curds gravy).  I met my friend Abby, a flight attendant who would always share stories about rude passengers, and my friend Alex who loved to make fun of my bowling.

When it came to bowling, it was more about the fun than improving my skills. Sometimes I’d go multiple games in a row without hitting a single strike. But I wasn’t there because I was great at bowling. In fact, none of us were. We were all there because we wanted to make new friends.

Eventually our team became a genuine group of friends. We started watching “Game of Throne” together every Sunday at my friend Brittany’s apartment, and attending musicals at the performing arts center. To date, it’s been the best and cheapest way I’ve made new friends.

We don’t bowl anymore, but now we get together for trivia nights at a local bar–which fits our more un-athletic and geeky style.

Find free programs

Shortly after moving to Denver, I signed up for a couple local e-newsletters that advertised what was going on each week. There were notices for free zoo days, brewery tours, indie movies at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, and more.

Once you know a few people in town, invite them to these outings – they’ll be a lot less expensive than the typical restaurant dinner or bar night.

I’m planning to move back to my old base of Indianapolis next year, but I’ll be leaving behind a great group of friends that I never thought I’d have. And when I relocate, I’ll know the best way to make new friends.

*Reference to this site is for the information and convenience of the public, and does not constitute endorsement, recommendation, or favoring by Stash.

By Zina Kumok

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