Money is usually a bit short when someone's 21st birthday rolls around. Many young men and women are in college or in low-paying, entry-level jobs at this age, and a high-rolling birthday celebration is just out of the question. But with some thrift and creativity (and a good eye for drink specials), you can ring in a 21st birthday without breaking the bank.
Introducing someone to local hangouts is an appropriate 21st birthday activity. If you're looking to do it cheaply, skip the dance clubs and martini bars and head for local holes-in-the-wall with good drink specials, no cover and cheap or free activities such as darts, pool, video games or foosball.
Bars run the best specials during the weekdays, so plan accordingly to save money. If you're in a college town, you're likely to find especially cheap specials (many colleges have been running nickel-beer specials for decades), as well as a large number of bars within walking distance of one another. If you're in a city, use public transportation or a designated driver, or splurge on a taxi. Cab fare is money well spent, considering the consequences of drunken driving.
If you're bent on drinking to celebrate a 21st birthday, a house party is the cheapest way to go. Buy a keg, or go potluck and have everyone bring a 6-pack, 12-pack or bottle of booze of their choice.
Beer pong, card games, backyard barbecue games (such as bag toss) and a good mix of music will keep everyone happy. If you're looking for a theme, decorate the location to look like a casino and run a friendly game of blackjack all night—the number you want to hit is 21.
Finally, You Can Get In
Bars aren't the only places you can't get in until you're 21. A 21st birthday is an opportunity to check out a local comedy club (preferably one without a drink minimum), an exotic-dance club (cover is often lower or even free on the weekdays), a live-music club (local rock shows cost as little as $5 and usually no more than $15) or a casino.
While casinos can get expensive, a $20 bill goes a long way in a nickel slot machine, and a smart poker player can plunk down $50 and play for hours.
For friends who don't drink, or friends who want to celebrate with younger friends or family members, a 21st birthday is a chance to recapture a bit of childhood. Go to a miniature golf course, arcade or laser tag arena. Some towns have large entertainment complexes that have all three, in addition to bowling alleys and batting cages. And for those who drink, some of those places have bars.
Going out for karaoke is a blast, but it's even more fun on a birthday, when each member of the group can sing one of the birthday girl's favorite songs (or songs they hate, if they can take a joke). Get everyone there early to be sure all will have a chance to sing, and have each member of the group dedicate the song to the guest of honor.