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Young and strapped for cash

By Jennifer Icklan, producer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- If you're in your 20s and 30s and feel cash-strapped, you're not alone. Between student loans, car loans, credit card debt and other expenses it's getting tougher to make a budget and stick to it.

"Between big credit card debt and huge college loans that average more than $20,000 for the typical college grad, young adults are more financially stressed than ever before," says Lynnette Khalfani-Cox, author of "Zero Debt for College Grads."

So, if you're looking to have fun with friends without going broke, here are some ideas.

Discipline your dining out

Go out for a nice meal only one night a week, especially if you're in a big city, says Nancy Trejos, personal finance columnist for The Washington Post and author of "Hot Broke Messes: How to Have your Latte and Drink it Too."

Many restaurants offer happy hour specials or dinner discounts such as half-off appetizers or kids eat free nights to get diners in on slow weeknights. Also, be economical when looking at that menu. Instead of over-ordering, share appetizers or entrees with friends, but check if the restaurant has a sharing plate fee. If you're really looking to cut back on your bill, Trejos advises having drinks before you go out that way you won't spend so much on alcohol.

If dining out isn't in your budget, ask your friends over to do potluck dinners or picnics on the weekends. "It's a cheap way to have fun and trust me they'll return the invitation," Trejos says.

Look for deals and freebies

Coupons aren't taboo anymore. There are a number of web sites offering daily deals and discounts on everything from restaurants, spa treatments, wine tastings, and events.

Check out sites like Groupon.com, LivingSocial.com, and Yipit.com for offers. Also, there might be some free events, concerts, museum days, and festivals going on right in your backyard for free. Go to free-attractions.com or stretcher.com to look up what's available in your state. For example, the 90-acre St. Louis Zoo in Missouri is one of the few large zoos in the country that charges no admission fee.

Be upfront with your friends

Bringing up your money troubles to friends can be uncomfortable, but you might find they're in the same boat too. "Don't feel like you're being a party pooper by saying you can't hit the clubs every week or go out to that pricey new restaurant. Chances are they're thinking the same thing deep down, but they may simply be willing to pay with plastic."

Trejos also suggests changing your definition of fun. "Fun doesn't always have to involve spending money on a restaurant. Running, bike riding, and hiking are all fun activities that don't cost a dime," she says.

Finally, if you feel you need expert advice handling your finances, find a financial planner with the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors at napfa.org or look for a local credit counselor from the National Foundation for Credit Counseling at nfcc.org.

Talkback: What ways have you stretched you entertainment dollars? To top of page

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