At the end of the month, I'll be enjoying a girls' weekend, one that's designed to cost each of us less than $100. What started as the idea of renting a place for a weekend and spending a day at a spa morphed into a sleepover at my friend's home in Philadelphia. The five of us will hike in the city park if the weather allows or spend a day at the Philadelphia Museum of Art if the weather is lousy.

I imagine this trip is going to be just as good for my health — and that of my friends — as a more expensive getaway. The healthy aspect I'm referring to isn't the hike; it's the time spent with friends. Southern Living pulled together some studies that say hanging out with your friends is great for your health, even more so than spending time with your family.

Here's some of the findings that various research has discovered about time spent with close friends. (Keep in mind these are face-to-face friendships, not the number of people you're connected to on social media.)

  • People with a good circle of friends can tolerate physical and mental pain better.
  • Having friends can extend your life expectancy and lower your risk of heart disease.
  • Spending time with friends can increase your production of oxytocin, the hormone that helps us feel happy.
  • Connections with friends help us fend off dementia.
  • In older adults, relationships with friends predict health and happiness even more than relationships with family members.

While the scientific evidence is clear these benefits extend to all genders, Southern Living ends with a nod to the "girls' weekend" and the advice to start planning your next weekend away.

That's good advice, but let's extend it to everyone — not just the girls — and add an important twist: Getting together with friends doesn't have to be expensive or even last more than a day. For anyone who doesn't have the time or the money for a weekend getaway, you can gather with your friends in any of these budget-friendly ways — and you'll get all the health-boosting benefits along the way.

Throw a potluck

friends potluck When everyone contributes to a potluck, the host doesn't have to spend more money than everyone else. (Photo: Prostock-studio/Shutterstock)

Going out to dinner can be expensive, but so can inviting your friends over for a nice dinner — unless you invite them to potluck. When everyone contributes to the meal, it's not only affordable, it leaves you free to focus on making a really great playlist for the dinner soundtrack or checking your boardgames to make sure all the pieces are there for after-dinner fun.

Create a home spa day

painting nails Who says manicures have to happen at a salon? (Photo: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock)

If a spa day isn't in everyone's budget, have a home spa day. Make homemade facial masks, give each other manicures and pedicures. Skip the expensive Champagne and opt for less expensive bubblies like Cava or Prosecco. The day will seem no less luxurious.

Go hiking

hiking A day hike is a great way to spend time with friends while spending little money. (Photo: Syda Productions/Shutterstock)

Grab your cameras (your real cameras), some snacks and some water, and take a hike with your friends. It doesn't have to be strenuous. A few hours on well-marked, flat terrain will still be fun and get you outside in nature. Of course, if you're up for it, bring along your tents and hike for a whole weekend. Even with that addition, this getaway isn't likely to break the bank.

Go to a museum

friends, museum Many museums have pay-what-you-wish days, making your day of soaking in some art and culture a bargain. (Photo: Iokov Filimonov/Shutterstock)

Spending time with your friends at an art or history museum can be inexpensive if you look for deals on admission. Many museums have pay-what-you-wish days, allowing you in for whatever you can afford. Some offer a few free days a year. You can also check with your local library to see if they lend museum passes to library members.

Take in an outdoor concert, a movie or even a play

playing guitar Community-sponsored outdoor concerts are often free. (Photo: mRGB/Shutterstock)

In the warmer months, many public parks have free concerts, plays and movies on jumbo screens for the public. Grab a blanket or low-to-the-ground folding chairs, some picnic food and some drinks. Then sit back and be entertained for free with your friends. Go a little early to get a good spot so you have time to catch up before the entertainment begins.

Light a backyard fire

Great conversations can happen around a fire pit. Catch up with your friends for the cost of some firewood and a few drinks. And if your fire-building skills need some sharpening, the video above will make you look like a pro.

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

It doesn't take a lot of money to get the health benefits of a girls' weekend
Spending time with friends doesn't have to include an overnight trip or cost hundreds of dollars. Just invest the time, and you'll get the benefits