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NEW YORK (MainStreet) — The problem with trying to save money at bars is the more you drink, the less you care about how much you're spending. And we're definitely spending more. In 1982 Americans spent 24% of their alcohol budget at restaurants and bars, but by 2011 that number had climbed to 40%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

So, given that you're spending more at pubs and clubs, we've got tips to help you balance your budget—without sacrificing your weekend plans.

It's O.K. to Buy the Cheap Stuff

We tend to let price tags dictate our opinion of quality, but that's really not a good measure when it comes to certain types of alcohol. This is especially true with vodka, where blind taste tests disprove marketing hype all the time.

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In fact, one such test conducted by the New York Times compared 20 premium brand vodkas, and one bottle of Smirnoff. The hands down favorite? Smirnoff, the cheapest option.

The same tends to hold true in blind taste tests of gin, tequila and rum. So unless you're a connoisseur of a particular spirit, you're better off sticking to the bottom shelf, or maybe one step up. Just don't get fooled into thinking the expensive stuff is always worth it.

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Choose Wisely

Many bars now offer half-pints of beer or half-glasses of wine. Stick with the house wine or whatever beer is on tap. While you're at it, ask for a club soda with lime as well. This will help you buy time between drink orders. Club soda should be free (or very cheap), and no one will know there isn't vodka in it.

One of the worst things you can buy is a round of shots. If that's a common practice among your friends, try to go first, but opt for sharing a pitcher of beer instead.

Drink—And Eat—Before You Go

Any college student will tell you drinking before going out is a great way to save money. But it doesn't work so well if you show up to the bar with a buzz and an empty stomach. If you pre-game before heading to the bar, make sure you eat a solid meal as well. You'll save money, and probably eat healthier. Win-win.

Designated Driver

It goes without saying that when you're out drinking you need a designated driver. This keeps everyone safe, but also allows you to save money on a cab ride home. Or better yet, offer to be the designated driver. You'll get to hang out with your friends without the bar tab at the end of the night.

--Written by Lauren Lyons Cole for MainStreet

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