Instead of the same old dinner out with friends, get together at home -- yours or a pal's:
Wine tastings. The hostess picks a wine (say, merlot) and everyone brings a bottle, plus cheese and crackers. Parenting staffer Lisa Bain and her friends set a price limit -- no more than $15. "It's a fun way to learn more about wine," she says. For some guidance, check out Winemag.com's free database of 35,000 reviews, searchable by rating, price, and varietal or blend. (Registration's required, but avoid e-mail by declining updates.)
Clothing swaps. Everyone brings a bag full of clothes they no longer want (nothing ratty or stained) and goes "shopping" among their friends' stuff. Whatever's left over at the end of the night goes to charity. If you don't all wear similar sizes, include accessories such as purses and costume jewelry.
Craft nights. "My friends and I go to one of our houses and bring our current project, whether we're knitting or just organizing vacation photos," says Courtenay Wells, mom of a 4-year-old in Lafayette, IN. "We have a blast and do something useful."
Pie parties. "Each person brings a different type of pie or ice cream," says Lauren Haller, a mom of three, ages 8, 6 and 2, in Scarsdale, NY. This is ideal for moms who can't commit a whole night to dinner. Bonus: Your family will love the leftovers!