GET THE CREW TOGETHER ON THE CHEAP
Taylor Swift is the new queen of girls' night in. Every week, it seems, Swift posts another photo on Instagram of herself with her famous friends cooking, singing, and dancing in the living room. No doubt guys and girls alike could stand to save a few bucks by following her lead and getting together at home. An evening out at the local bar adds up after a few rounds of drinks and appetizers, while a restaurant meal can pull $50 out of your wallet. All you need is a willing host to embark on an entertaining and budget-friendly night in with your best buds.
GAB OVER GAMES
Monopoly, Jenga, Taboo, Trivia Pursuit -- hardly anyone gets excited when the same old board games appear at group gatherings. Try newer games such as Munchkin (starting at $16) and The Settlers of Catan (starting at $38). The rules may be bit more complicated, but the strategizing, plotting, and bartering will engross your friends for hours. For those who don't mind more, ahem, "mature" games, try the ever-popular Cards Against Humanity (starting at $25) or The Game of Things (starting at $30). Ellen DeGeneres' Heads Up! (99 cents) has soared to the top five paid apps in iTunes and is also available for Android. Players choose a "card" by category and try to guess the word with prompting from their friends.
HOLD A CLOTHING SWAP
If you're itching for a new wardrobe but your wallet isn't exactly bursting at the seams, a clothing swap is a no-cost way to liven up your look. This girls' night in requires a bit of advance planning, though. Give guests ample time to clean out their closets; the end-of-season transition is an opportune moment. Clear lots of space and hang signs to organize apparel and accessories by size and type. Designate rooms where guests can change, and make sure there are mirrors and adequate lighting. Afterward, donate unwanted items to a thrift store.
THROW A SPORTS NIGHT
Instead of meeting at a sports bar for beer and wings, shake up the usual game-night outing by gathering at home instead. Nominate the person with the biggest TV to host and have the rest bring a different type of beer or style of wings (tasty suggestions include honey sriracha and bourbon flavor). Extra points to brewers who bring their own homemade beer.
ENJOY SOME COFFEE TALK
Skip the expensive lattes and cappuccinos at trendy coffee shops and invite friends over for a coffee tasting at home. Grab your favorite bag of coffee grinds from the cupboard and try a Hong Kong Yuanyang, which contains coffee, black tea, and condensed milk, or a German Eiskaffee with whipped cream, chocolate, and vanilla ice cream.
PAINT A MASTERPIECE
Paint nights are all the rage lately, but they aren't cheap -- $50 a person isn't unheard of in some locales. For a fraction of the cost, head to a local craft store and pick up a few canvases, paintbrushes, and tubes of acrylic paint. Spread out newspaper and have an at-home painting session. There are plenty of free YouTube tutorials from artists who offer the same step-by-step guidance you would get in a class.
FONDUE IT YOURSELF
A three-course fondue meal at a French restaurant is worth the price for a special occasion, but fondue at home with friends is easy and far cheaper. All you need is a stove, an online recipe, and a sweet tooth. The Tabletop Cook has a recipe that calls for half-and-half, chocolate chips, and sugar. Dice up and skewer your favorite dippers (apples, pineapples, cake, strawberries, and marshmallows are popular choices) and invite your friends over for fondue.
HOST A BEAUTY NIGHT
Experimenting with cosmetics and skincare is no less fun for a girls' night than it was during teenage sleepovers. Take the makeovers up a notch by building new looks under the guidance of free YouTube tutorials. Have your girlfriends bring their own makeup palettes, brushes, etc. (for hygiene reasons). Then master eye shadow, eyeliner, and mascara application to create a smoky eye or practice different techniques for your next night out.
GET IN THE GAME
This guys' get-together is a no-brainer: Wii, PlayStation, GameCube, Xbox -- there's a limitless video game universe that boys of all ages never tire of exploring. Take a poll to see which console is most popular and vote for a handful of games to bring over for a daylong tournament. If it's an online game such as StarCraft Universe, League of Legends, or Hearthstone, you don't even need to be in the same room. Arrange a specific date and time and indulge in a virtual competition without leaving home.
WINE AND DINE
It's tough to beat the traditional girls' night formula of wine plus fragrant cheese, soft flatbread, and yummy spreads. Turn it into a proper wine and cheese tasting by asking a few friends to provide their favorite bottle of wine and inviting others to bring a fancy cheese of choice. Then set out accompaniments such as nuts, honey, and chutneys and sample various flavor combinations.
No need to go out for brunch -- this is a relatively easy, cheap meal to prep at home. The host can provide the cookware and dishware, coffee, and fresh flowers to adorn the table. Guests can bring ingredients for one brunch item of their choice, be it French toast, poached eggs, blueberry pancakes, or huevos rancheros. Cooking brunch (and making bottomless mimosas) together is a budget-friendly way to spend quality time with friends.