How can I handle “required” office spending?

Money is more about mind than it is about math.” — That's one of the fifteen tenets of the Get Rich Slowly philosophy. By this I mean that psychology and emotion and relationships play a bigger part in our financial choices than the pure mathematics of any given situation.

This manifests itself in lots of ways. Sometimes, it even crops up in the workplace. A reader we'll call Erin wrote recently with the following dilemma:

I bought a house right after I graduated college, at the peak of the housing bubble. I didn't give a rip about my spending because I believed $40,000 was a comfortable salary and I should be able to enjoy it as I pleased. Well, I couldn't stand the job and quit after one year. Four years later, I've yet to make it close to a $40,000 salary again and I'm still saddled with my mortgage.

Here's my dilemma: Now that I'm carefully tracking every penny I spend (and saving too!), I find it increasingly difficult and annoying to participate in office parties. I'm talking about birthday parties, going-away parties, bridal showers, baby showers, etc. where I'm asked to either buy a gift or food, or pitch in money for same.

I feel like I've made it clear to co-workers, past and present, that I'm watching what I spend very closely by bringing my lunch everyday and telling them “no” every time they ask if I want to go out to lunch. I've also asked if there's anything else I can do (for free) to participate, but I feel like they resent me for my frugalness. I'm not trying to be a jackass during celebrations, but I simply don't agree with spending money on every co-worker's life events.

I'd appreciate feedback on how to handle this delicate situation. I love everyone I work with, but I work hard for my money and don't want to spend it on cake! What should I do?

I've never worked in this sort of environment — all of the offices I've worked in have been small — but I've talked with people who have. Like my wife. They've expressed similar frustrations.

Peer pressure is a real and powerful force. It can be tough to make smart financial choices when everyone around you is spending — and urging you to do the same. You feel pressured to spend in order to belong.

From my experience, the key to coping with peer pressure is to recognize that it's mostly internal. It comes from a desire to fit in. When you realize you don't have to impress your friends and colleagues, most of the pressure goes away. Most of it.

It sounds like Erin knows she doesn't have to impress her co-workers, but still struggles with the pressure. What then should she do. I have a couple of suggestions, though again, these are purely theoretical since I don't have practical experience dealing with peer pressure in the workplace.

  • Be explicit. From her story, I can't tell if Erin is simply hinting at her frugality, hoping her co-workers will pick up on subtle signals (“I'm sorry, Gabe, I can't go out to lunch today”), or whether she's actually saying, “I appreciate the offer, Kelly and Ryan, but I can't afford to; I'm working to pay off my debt.” If Erin's clear about her motives, it may help her co-workers understand where she's coming from.
  • Find alternate ways to give. My wife, who says “required” spending is an issue at her workplace too, sometimes elects not to chip in money. Instead, Kris will find another way to contribute. She might bake cookies, for instance, or bring flowers from her garden.
  • Budget for social spending. Since Erin knows her office has a tendency to spend money on parties and gifts and lunches out, she could (if she wanted) actually budget for these activities. Then she could pick and choose which activities to join: buying a gift for baby Cece, attending Andy's community theater production, or whatever.
  • Find other co-workers with similar sentiments. If enough people feel the same way as Erin, they could potentially change the office norms. They don't even have to share the same reasons for wanting to opt out. Erin may not want to go out to lunch or pitch in for parties because of the money, but maybe Phyllis and Stanley are trying to diet. Seek solidarity among co-workers.
  • Talk to a supervisor about the problem. I don't think Erin wants to squash everyone else's fun, so she should make that clear. At the same time, though, it's entirely appropriate to let her boss know that she feels pressured to participate but is unable to do so. [Update: Most commenters agree this is poor advice.]

If Erin didn't care what her co-workers thought of her, the problem would be easier. When Michael and Dwight asked her to lunch, she could say no without worrying about their response. But Erin likes her co-workers. She just doesn't like spending money with them. What should she do?

Note: Long term, of course, Erin should try to shed the mortgage. As long as she has that, it's going to be a weight around her neck. That's a separate problem, though, and I'm sure she's aware of it.

Ultimately, some people just won't understand. To them, frugality will be a foreign concept, or social pressures will simply trump smart financial choices. I'm not sure there's anything Erin can do to make these folks appreciate where she's coming from. If she's explained her situation once or twice or thrice before, will doing it a fourth time really make a difference?

What do you think? Is Erin simply being a party-pooper? Is there a way she can gracefully bow out of spending pressures at the office? What have you done in situations like this? Do you simply suck it up and go along with everyone else? Or have you found an effective way to help people accept your frugal choices? Help Erin solve her dilemma!

Postscript: “Ohmygosh,” Kris said when she proofed this piece for me. “You're missing the biggest problem of all: kids' fund raisers. Read-a-thons, jog-a-thons, art-a-thons. Selling cookie dough, selling wrapping paper, selling junk you don't need. Ugh. It never ends.” Her solution to the constant onslaught? She's adopted a first-come, first-served policy. Plus, she only contributes to parents of grade-schoolers. “Older kids have to ask me themselves,” she says. “And really, younger kids should be doing that too.”
More about...Career

Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others

Subscribe to the GRS Insider (FREE) and we’ll give you a copy of the Money Boss Manifesto (also FREE)

Yes! Sign up and get your free gift
Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others
guest
218 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
LifeAndMyFinances
LifeAndMyFinances
9 years ago

I have to agree with J.D. on this one. I think you must be explicit and say that money is tight and you have a very strict budget, but I also think the option of bringing in flowers from the garden or baking cookies is a great option too. Since you know these events will never end, maybe you could squeeze $20 per month into your budget for these office parties and gifts. As for the kid’s fundraiser items, don’t even worry about this. You can just turn these down, much like going out to lunch. Good luck with the… Read more »

Luis
Luis
9 years ago

JD has been sincere in saying that he never worked in this type of environment. Nevertheless, I can only say that his advice is very dangerous. Our willingness to “fit in” is an evolutionary form of self preservation. Instincts like this should always be regarded as very important, even when you don’t see an immediate reason. Why have we humans developed this desire? Because we NEED to fit in in order to enjoy the protection, purpose and achievements of the group we are in. It is a trade-off: I give up some freedom and the group returns me with some… Read more »

LifeAndMyFinances
LifeAndMyFinances
9 years ago
Reply to  Luis

“If you decide to turn down, explain it in better terms: “I would love to, you are a wonderful friend for inviting me, but I have this dentist/meeting/date/whatever that I can’t rebook.” Or you simply say you will be working late or studying something.” Luis, Do you really think lying is a good idea? Personally, I tell the truth in these situations. If I feel like we’re running short on cash this month, that’s what I tell them, and they understand. If, however, I make up a lie and they find out that I went strait home instead of to… Read more »

Betsy
Betsy
9 years ago

It’s appalling that anyone would issue an invitation for which there is a required price of admission. That is known as a “solicitation” and it can be turned down without explanation.

Those who will think turning it down is rude are ignorant of the rules of normal social etiquette.

Socializing is voluntary. Work-related demands for donations are just rude.

If someone is so fond of a co-worker that s/he wishes to give them a party, s/he should do it on personal time and issue proper invitations, not solicitations for cash.

Vanessa
Vanessa
9 years ago

I agree, lying isn’t going to help your situation in the long run. In fact, you shouldn’t necessarily need to explain *why* you won’t be able to attend an office party. Just politely decline saying, “I’m really sorry, that sounds like fun but I won’t be able to participate this time”. I also think that agreeing to participate in some of the parties is important as well, especially if you value the friendship and support of your coworkers. I used to work in an office of about 100 people, and potlucks were a very common celebration for any event. There… Read more »

BD
BD
9 years ago

I feel the same way. I can’t lie. If I’m too poor to do something, I tell the person asking that I’m too poor. I don’t lie about it. If you’re caught in that little lie, people will wonder what else you’re lying about.

If people can’t accept the fact that some of us are too poor to participate in office frivolities, then oh well. We shouldn’t have to lie about our status just to ‘fit in’.

Luis
Luis
9 years ago

Hi, My point is definitely not about lying or not lying. In summary, I said: – The impulse to fit in is an important tool and should not be disregarded. – No need to accept everything only to fit-in, but saying NO to everything is more dangerous – One should pick up office invitations with the same care used to select products or investments (ie. thinking of cost-benefits) – One should turned down invitations politely and show appreciation for the invitee. I did not see any challenge to these ideas, so I guess we are more or less in agreement.… Read more »

Christyna
Christyna
9 years ago

I agree with Luis to be careful of how you frame your ‘no thank you’. I don’t say “I’m too poor.” or “I can’t afford to.” but instead “I’ve already spent my fun money this week.” or “This month I’m prioritizing spending around the repair my car needs (or the Carolina Chocolate Drops concert, or whatever)”

Tweaking the phrasing keeps you empowered.

Thanks Luis for your thoughtful comments!

Liz
Liz
9 years ago
Reply to  Luis

Hi, we had a way of dealing with this at my old office that I think took some of the pressure off. For every “office event” we sent around a manila envelope with info. about the event on it and everyone’s name in the office on the outside of the envelope. We passed around the envelope and if you wanted to you put something in, if not, you just checked off your name and gave it to the next person…pressure off!

Misty
Misty
9 years ago
Reply to  Luis

Erin may also want to consider going proactive and organizing some social functions that she can afford to participate in. I’ve never done this myself, since it’s never been an issue for me, but I’m thinking something like a pot luck with a few close coworkers, a game night (board games are cheap, or even stick to cards), or something along those lines. Then she not only gets off the hook for turning down other invites, but it shows that she’s willing and eager to socialize, as long as it’s within a sane budget.

Anne Cross
Anne Cross
9 years ago

If you’ve never worked in an office with this culture, you might be overstating how much of this peer pressure is imagined/internal. Offices were people have a lot of down time (especially in cubical settings where there’s no real space division) have a lot of gossip and judging. These places set their own norms, and if the norm is “everyone chips in $20 for every little life event and we get a cake from the supermarket and give the person a gift certificate” you will be talked about, ostracized and given dirty looks for not participating. The other low-paid workers… Read more »

Kate
Kate
9 years ago
Reply to  Anne Cross

I had to deal with this very same thing two days ago. A coworker that I like is getting married. My supervisor decided to 1) arrange a get together bridal shower at a local hotel with lunch ($13). In addition, she chose the most expensive item on the person’s wish list and decided that if all of us participated, we would “only” have to shell out $20. When it came time to do this, though, we actually needed $23. When I objected to this, supervisor asked me “you can’t cough up another $3???”. Um, it’s none her business what I… Read more »

Betsy
Betsy
9 years ago
Reply to  Kate

Keep it up. We should all draw a firmer line and refuse to let rudesters violate our boundaries.

No one should be pressured into pretending that a collegial work relationship is a friendship.

Friends are who you choose. Colleagues may turn into friends, but that should be a personal choice and the subsequent socializing should take place at home and away from the workplace.

All your co-workers may expect is cordiality and helpfulness at work.

Donations and gifts are for your discretion and on your own time.

Jaime B
Jaime B
9 years ago
Reply to  Kate

Kate – your story in particular is a tough one when it comes to these workplace “donations”. It is inappropriate – full stop – for a boss to pressure his/her subordinates into giving money for ANY cause. Much like sexual harrassment the power dynamic makes it inherently more difficult for people to feel they can say no without negatively affecting their jobs. I believe most bosses don’t intend for that to happen, but it’s the truth. If a boss wants to organizse something, they must be very careful to do it in a no pressure way that emphasizes everyone’s right… Read more »

Andrea
Andrea
9 years ago
Reply to  Jaime B

Managers were not allowed to ask anyone to contribute where i worked- of course,that didn’t stop them from getting their assistants to do it. Anwya, we mostly had the envelope system- so no one knew what you gave or didn’t. I didn’t mind the celebrations but even w/o financiall issues I got tired of the fundraisers from every school- generally selling over priced junk. I never sold that when my kids were in school(and they had the same fundraisers- I would just write a $25 check to the school) and I rarely bought anything from the parents flogging this crap(I… Read more »

Sam Jackson
Sam Jackson
9 years ago

Normally would not comment, but using names from The Office brightened my morning 🙂

Milk Donor Mama
Milk Donor Mama
9 years ago

Do you shop with coupons? If so, you should be able to bring in food at a minimal cost. I got 10 free jars of salsa this week using coupons. Pair that with a $2 bag of chips and you’re covered, included and don’t feel like a cheapskate.

Also, don’t forget these events are a networking opportunity and help make you part of the “team”. If the management sees you never participate, that does not look good.

Dana @ Budget Dietitian
Dana @ Budget Dietitian
9 years ago

I completely agree! Baking a batch of brownies only costs $1-2 to make and is thoughtful. Ditto with bringing in coupon purchased salsa & chips.

As far as children’s fundraisers, I don’t ask anyone for money so I don’t buy from my co-workers. The amount of fundraisers that my KINDERGARTENER has been asked to do is crazy. I recyled every single one. Next year, I plan to write one lump check to the school vs. bothering all my co-workers/family/friends.

s
s
9 years ago

I tried that one year – wrote a check for $100 – and the donation had to go for approval before the School Bd. It turned into a huge mess.

After that, we don’t participate in any fund-raisers. In most cases, the fund-raising company makes more money than the schools and I think the whole thing is total racket. The poor Girls Scouts making something like .45 a box for their cookies. We do pay for band trips completely and skip the fund-raising.

Nancy L.
Nancy L.
9 years ago

From the way the situation is described, I feel like Erin is using her frugality as a shield to avoid socializing with her coworkers. When I was bringing my lunch every day, my coworkers and I simply made plans to meet with our lunches in a common area. Some people bought extravagant lunches, others like me were Tupperware warriors, but the important thing wasn’t *what* you were eating but that we all had a moment to interact that wasn’t being colored by deadlines or other work pressures. Erin could easily say “I brought my lunch today but if you pick… Read more »

smirktastic
smirktastic
9 years ago
Reply to  Nancy L.

We do the envelope method too. Takes all the pressure off becuase nobody knows whether or how much you contributed. For food we typically do potlucks. We have some amazing cooks/bakers in our group and everyone brings their specialty! If someone chooses to bring something store-bought (or nothing), that’s ok, because it gets put out in the common area and nobody keeps tabs on who brought what. Kids fundraisers have to be handled with tact. The parents simply have to accept a “no thanks I’m not interested” and move on.

Nancy L.
Nancy L.
9 years ago
Reply to  smirktastic

We also have a table where all of the fundraisers get left out. No one goes around to cubes, they just put the fundraiser out, and if you want to support the kids or the cause, it’s easy to do. There’s really no pressure about saying ‘no’, so it makes it a very positive atmosphere in the office.

Judy
Judy
9 years ago
Reply to  Nancy L.

Hi Nancy: You are lucky that you just leave a sheet at a table and people contribute as they see fit. At my office, it was the Assistants’ “job” to go around and get contributions for every life event. This became too much for us and we started ‘forgetting’ some events because staff were fed up with always dishing out money. The silly thing was that sometimes an Assistant had to arrange for her own party! We would have to set up the party room as well and clear up after everyone. I hated this. I left a few months… Read more »

Peter Brülls
Peter Brülls
9 years ago
Reply to  Nancy L.

No necessarily. My colleagues usually go to a nearby (much bigger) company’s cafeteria, which is open to the public. I can’t bring my lunch there, besides the fact that I usually make it fresh in the company’s kitchen, which is not only cheaper and nearly as fast, but I know where the meat comes from.

Or they go to subways or Burger King – same thing.

No big deal, we are on good terms which is others, but a couple of months ago I decided to get more frugal and a little healthier so I can’t participate.

Trina
Trina
9 years ago

In our group, some people bring from home, some people eat out. Even if your coworkers are going to a cafeteria, fast food joint, or “casual” place like Brueggers, Au Bon Pain, Panera, etc., you can bring your lunch and eat with them. We do it all the time and no restaurant has ever given us a hard time about it. We don’t do it at restaurants with servers, of course, and we do try to be discreet. I agree with the above commenters that these social occasions are extremely important, and you will not get the career benefits that… Read more »

Peter Brülls
Peter Brülls
9 years ago
Reply to  Trina

This probably depends on the region. In Northern Germany, eating your own stuff in establishment is a big no-no. Also, I’d have to bring and eat cold lunches, which do not nearly work as good for me as warm ones. And yes, I could cough up the money for the cafeteria if I’d shifted my budget, but then I’d pay more money for mediocre food, not counting the fact that Vegetarian options are slim. (I’m not a Vegetarian, but I try to buy meat that had a decent life.) Socializing: Where I work, there will hardly be a career and… Read more »

Trina
Trina
9 years ago
Reply to  Trina

Peter — I think you’re right about what’s acceptable in different regions when it comes to taking food into a place that sells its own food. As for the other roadblocks you mention (vegetarian, eating cold meals), I am a vegetarian and I heat up meals in the work microwave and bring them with me in my insulated lunch bag, as do others I lunch with. These obstacles can be overcome if you want to. I think the real crux of the matter is whether you view your job as a career, as you said. If it’s not that important… Read more »

Lo
Lo
9 years ago
Reply to  Nancy L.

I struggle with this as well. My entire division goes to lunch at least 4 or 5 times a week. They don’t just go to places like Subway. They go to Cheesecake Factory, PF Changs, and sometimes even higher end establishments. On the occassions when I do attend, I try to pick a good “value” meal either where I have left-overs or choose an appetizer, but it still ends up being $15-20 a pop! I like to bring my lunch in so that I can control the cost and the calories. But when the boss is the one pushing these… Read more »

fetu
fetu
9 years ago
Reply to  Lo

Your boss is just WRONG to be expecting workers to be forking out their money for big lunches.

BareheadedWoman
BareheadedWoman
9 years ago
Reply to  fetu

wrong yes, but bumblebees aren’t supposed to be able to fly either.

wrong doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen; doesn’t mean it won’t continue to happen; and doesn’t mean that who ever points out that the emperor has no clothes–even when he doesn’t–won’t be tarred and feathered for pointing it out.

this is for dealing with it when it does happen, without getting run out of town (or the job).

Amanda
Amanda
9 years ago
Reply to  Lo

If work is talked about a lunch the boss should be paying. 4-5x is all week, right?!

Suzanne
Suzanne
9 years ago

I’ll call this “The Office: How I learned to open my wallet and enjoy the party.” You have to really balance your desire to not spend too much with your goals for this job. Your co-workers really do see people that don’t contribute the expected amount as freeloaders, and they will more than likely resent you. This can hurt your perception as a team player. I see the real issue as not budgeting properly. Maybe its time to shed that mortgage, or find a better-paying job. I used to get upset every month when I had to shell out yet… Read more »

Allison
Allison
9 years ago
Reply to  Suzanne

I agree whole heartedly. There is a certain cost of doing business, and although sometimes it may seem extreme to those outside this setting it is a true cost. If you work at a job that you do not consider a career, perhaps you can afford to be a non-contributer. But in an office setting where team building is expected, being a finacial contributer is crucial. You are expected to team build during lunch, the people who do so are often rewarded with better projects which lead may often lead to promotions. The income stream generated by a career is… Read more »

BareheadedWoman
BareheadedWoman
9 years ago
Reply to  Allison

the desire to give can also be a gauge about your work instead of only being a gauge about how other people at work feel about you. I like to give and budget to give. But when I realized a couple of years into a “new” company, that I was beginning to resent how much hat was being passed, I took a good look at the internal “why”. That’s when I realized that I resented giving simply because I wasn’t real crazy about the group I was working with…for all sorts of reasons, and resented giving so much budget to… Read more »

Rosa
Rosa
9 years ago
Reply to  Allison

The problem with this is a lot of offices – especially cubelands, have a kind of fake egalitarianism where everyone has the same space, the same dress code, the same social expectations for chipping in/going out – but some people are making $20K and some are making six figures. I worked in one of these “young company” offices for a while, and it really made me miss the express hierarchy of my old economy company, where the bosses had often worked their way up from entry level and wanted to show off/take care of their teams, instead of the fake… Read more »

SB (One cent at a time)
SB (One cent at a time)
9 years ago

In my office, we do have regular fund raising events to help people in need. We have food drive, cloths drive too. Thankfully I never faced this dilemma, but I have seen people employing various techniques to avoid paying. They go out of their seat, delay technique, no change excuses. I Hope those people read your blog and learn from it.

Vanessa
Vanessa
9 years ago

Your workplace sounds annoying. I’d dread coming to work if I had to worry every day that I’d be asked to empty my pockets. I don’t blame your coworkers for hiding. It doesn’t matter if you are raising money for a good cause, people are allowed to have whatever “excuse” they want if the giving is truly voluntary. Is it? I contribute to showers, heart walks and such, but no one’s ever pressured me to do so. Because of that, sometimes I give more than I would normally give. And isn’t that the type of giving people want–giving because the… Read more »

No Debt MBA
No Debt MBA
9 years ago

I too hate being asked to give money at the office. It’s always felt really unprofessional to me even if it is a staple of cubicle life. I like the coupon idea from #2. Find the cheapest way to participate. Perhaps you have a veggie garden or other resource that might make bringing food affordable. If you can’t contribute then you should make an effort to congratulate the person whose “whatever” the office is celebrating personally even if you don’t attend the event. You could probably get away with “I can’t come to your party because of XYZ but I… Read more »

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
9 years ago

I’ve usually worked in small offices too where this isn’t much of an issue, but one thing I would caution Erin on is that it probably isn’t a good idea to be known as the person who’s having money problems.When you keep saying no and trying to justify it, it can come off that you’re putting money ahead of people. There are probably people earning the same as her, or even less, who happily contribute and don’t understand why Erin doesn’t want to. It could also harm her if she plans on asking for a raise in the near future.… Read more »

Trevor
Trevor
9 years ago
Reply to  Elizabeth

“I read once that how you manage your money is your business, not your boss’s so I try to keep money talk out of the office.”

That is effectively what she is trying to do, its the office (and thus indirectly the boss) which is making money the issue by constantly asking for donations.

Personally, our office just hands an envelop around and you put what you want in and pass it on as in comment 5.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
9 years ago
Reply to  Trevor

I think the envelop method is great, and it’s something I’ve always felt comfortable with! My concern here is that if someone has a habit of saying “I can’t afford this…” then they lose credibility presenting possible solutions (like an envelop method or dedicated bulletin board for fundraising, etc.) There’s a big difference between saying “no thank you” or “maybe next time” and “No, I can’t afford it.” Erin’s coworkers already resent her, so it makes it that much harder to argue for change without seeming like she’s trying to force her values on others. People might question why they… Read more »

BareheadedWoman
BareheadedWoman
9 years ago
Reply to  Elizabeth

and they may “assume” you are frugal because of “financial mistakes” and not either for the joy of frugality, or the responsibility of living within your means… people generally assume the worse and in America, land of spending freely (yours or someone elses’), not being able to afford, automatically means you have screwed up enough that you HAVE to be frugal (maxed out the cards, late on payments, judgments etc.) And who thought the boss had no business in your money? you do realize that most corporations run a credit check, even if informal, on most applicants above a certain… Read more »

Kate
Kate
9 years ago

I think it’s a really tough call. One thing I felt like the article didn’t address was the effect that such events can have on office morale. Sure, in some offices (including mine), a birthday isn’t a huge cause for celebration– it’s your co-worker’s birthday, not yours, who wants enforced socialization? But in some offices, these rituals really do have a meaning and contribute to the overall office morale. For instance, my husband works in a small company with 13 people and also sings in a choir. I was shocked to find out that almost his entire office made the… Read more »

Ru
Ru
9 years ago
Reply to  Kate

You’re right, it’s definitely a tough call, especially with things like birthdays and leaving celebrations. I worked at a hospital for 6 months last year and at the end as a thank you the ladies all got me some leaving presents. The problem was, they really didn’t know me that well (completely different generation/taste etc) so what I essentially ended up with was a bundle of junk. I felt really bad because I didn’t really want anything they’d bought me and I knew how little they all earned. The same thing had happened at my previous company- I left after… Read more »

Katie
Katie
9 years ago

My office has the perfect solution to this. As an employee-owned company they do the contributing for life events out of their money, so it doesn’t cut directly into the employee stockholder’s paychecks (even if it has a minor impact on stock earnings). My husband’s office, on the other hand, does the envelope method, but with the nasty trick of a “suggested” donation. They also have lots of going-away parties that are pay-to-play. Despite the fact that we are very frugal, he usually participates. Why? Because you need your co-workers to have your back. And they won’t have your back… Read more »

margot
margot
9 years ago

Ugh. I hate this trend and dynamic. And it’s a relatively new byproduct of America’s increasing consumerism and entitlement. Many of these “holidays” didn’t used to be celebrated as gift-giving extravaganzas. And when they were, it was a intimate gathering of very close friends and family for a bridal shower, birthday or baby shower. And now people try to rope in everyone they know slightly, including co-workers. I’ve been asked to contribute to gifts for colleagues I’ve spoken to once. Very strange. I’ve never understood the trend of take-me-out-for-a-holiday-and-then-pay-for-me. If I invite people out to celebrate my birthday, I’m the… Read more »

adriano
adriano
9 years ago
Reply to  margot

Exactly how i feel. Celebrating something personal to you, with people you don’t have a close relationship with feels unnatural. I would go as far as to argue that gift giving is unpolite when there isn’t a close relationship. I feel it implies an obligation to get along as friends. Since you don’t really know each other i feel the burden of keeping the ‘friendship’ alive is on the recipient of the gift.

Betsy
Betsy
9 years ago
Reply to  margot

Margot — THANK YOU. Invitations should not be solicitations. To ask friends to an event and then charge them for supporting your “hospitality” is an appalling breach of manners.

Dunning people for gifts is also an appalling breach of manners — at work or home. It needs to stop. Period.

As for employers and co-workers who would like everyone to be “friends” — it’s a workplace, not a party. You like the people at work? Have them over for dinner sometime. Make a real friendship out of it.

Meanwhile, let other people choose their own friends.

Katrijn
Katrijn
9 years ago

I’m not completely sure if Erin prefers to be frugal or if she needs to be frugal because of her mortgage. But even so, I would say budget for the life events of your close co-workers. These moments are the highlights of their life and by giving a gift you let them know you share in their happiness. No great amounts of money are needed. A couple of dollars should do in my opinion. The idea of clubbing together is that by pooling lots of small amounts, you have enough to buy a nicer present than you would on your… Read more »

John
John
9 years ago
Reply to  Katrijn

I am with Katrijn on this one. All business has a cost and not just for the employer. I keep a down to the penny budget but I have a fund setup just for work related expenses. I put $20 a month in it and I know that it is what it costs to be an employee where I am at. When I no longer have money then I try and contribute time by baking or looking for a good deal with coupons.

Kate
Kate
9 years ago
Reply to  John

If only such expenses were tax-deductible 🙂

Cory
Cory
9 years ago

In our office the person with the birthday/anniversary/other brings the treats, if they want to celebrate. This makes a lot of sense to me because it’s up to one person how much, if anything they want to or can afford to spend on it. Personally I don’t bring treats, not because of my frugality, but because I’m not a very celebratory person and don’t enjoy being the center of attention. Personally I feel the same way about girl scout cookies, magazine drives, walk-a-thons, etc… I wish people would just put it up on the pin board and not approach each… Read more »

Nicole
Nicole
9 years ago

I agree with the advice to participate as cheaply as possible. Say you’re giving separately and give separately. For admin assistant days, a heartfelt note about how awesome they are (don’t buy a card, but do have blank cards or stationery). For baby showers, you can get adorable onesies or more useful old fashioned cloth diapers (these are used to clean things up, not as actual diapers) for under $3. For birthdays I got nothing, unless you want to bake something like Kris suggests. For lunch out, say, “I brought my lunch today, but if you’re going somewhere I can… Read more »

Eileen
Eileen
9 years ago

I totally support Erin’s efforts to avoid these type of events/expenses. I’m in my 40s now and work from home 100% so it’s a non-issue, but I do recall working for a software startup in my 20s and how everyone celebrated everything. I dutifully participated and then realized in my 30s that I just didn’t need (or want) to use my time/money in that way. It was much easier when I moved to a new job to simply state “I don’t do showers”. It was also the time when I realized that going to what I call “peer pressure parties”… Read more »

K.Lui
K.Lui
9 years ago

I am glad that my colleagues are all budget conscious. Birthdays and occasions are worth celebrating, but only if everyone agrees on a plan. This is the plan my colleagues all agreed on: 1) We celebrate all the birthdays together, once a month. 2) People can choose not to participate. 3) Everyone that participates can make something (cookies, brownies, etc.) or contribute $2 for bagels, donuts or other treats. 4) We don’t buy birthday cards (waste of money) 5) We agree NOT to go out for lunch/happy hour to celebrate. $2 a month or $14 a year is an amount… Read more »

Sustainable PF
Sustainable PF
9 years ago

I can sympathize with the workplace issues … I have 3 very large extended families for which we put a lot of thought into buying (small but thoughtful) Christmas gifts. Why would I want to add another chore during the holidays to do a secret Santa? Everyone has a birthday. This is not an office “event”. If your friends in the office want to take you to lunch, fine – but don’t have them collecting from everyone to buy an acquaintance a gift or a cake! Chipping in for flowers for a funeral of a co-workers loved on I can… Read more »

Justin @ MoneyIsTheRoot
Justin @ MoneyIsTheRoot
9 years ago

I think issues like this are more common in smaller offices, smaller companies. You wont see this type of activity going on at Fortune 500 companies as much since HR rules are a bit more strict. Also, if they do special events, the company tends to foot the bill. As for the suggestions on dealing with this issue…I dont know that going to the boss is going to help your popularity in the office…unfortunately they will probably show resentment regardless, it’s best to remember what matters most to you…their approval or your finances.

Joani
Joani
9 years ago

Agreed, I work for a Fortune 500 company. Planning parties and asking for contributions is generally viewed as unprofessional, including kids’ fundraisers. The only things I’ve been asked to participate in or contribute to have been done by people I would consider ‘friends’ not ‘coworkers’ and it does not happen often! Our admins do coordinate small events (cake & a card) with company funds for retirements, job transfers, etc. The fact I sit in a row of cubicles with two females and eight males might also be an indicator of why parties / gifts don’t happen often.

m
m
9 years ago

I worked at a Fortune 100 company and this was rampant. Fortunately, we only passed the envelope around and you could say no or book a meeting for that time and it wouldn’t be thought of as a big deal.

Jenny
Jenny
9 years ago

I work at a fortune 100 company and we have stuff like this all the time. However it is pretty low pressure and you don’t have to participate if you don’t want to. I generally participate in potlucks or Fat Friday (when we order delivery) but almost never buy things from people kids. For babyshower/weddings only if I’m close to the person.

Jessie
Jessie
9 years ago

Arg, I hear you. A tip that I’ve found works well – randomly bring in homemade baked goods (cookies, muffins, etc) when it’s not an event, and subtly make sure that people know you brought it. It fosters good feelings with your coworkers, and you’ll start to be known for it (provided you are a decent baker, of course). Then it’s an easy transition to ask to contribute a plate of cookies instead of $20 to the event. I’ll randomly bring in baked goods once every other month or so, and people remember. Chocolate chip cookies have a bigger impact… Read more »

Jen
Jen
9 years ago

17 above has the solution I think works best — a once a month celebration of…everything that’s happened that month. Lots of large, grown families do this too — meet once a month, have a nice meal and celebrate all the birthdays and anything else of the month. If the company could be convinced to chip in for cake or for some sort of snacks/lunch items if there were no birthdays or special events that month, that would make it that much easier on everyone else. Otherwise make it a set monthly amount that is spent ($5?). Then the only… Read more »

K
K
9 years ago

It can be annoying to feel that you are being continuously asked for money for work events, but the truth is that not participating can have a real and negative effect on how you are perceived by coworkers, your potential for advancement, and your colleagues’ and bosses’ willingness to help you out with networking or refernces in the future. If doing birthday lunches is part of the office norm, and you get a reputation as the stick in the mud who doesn’t want to participate in something everyone else finds fun, you are not going to endear yourself to your… Read more »

Kate
Kate
9 years ago

I’ve run into this as well. What worked for me was,if the party was for a close co-worker whom I liked I would contribute what I could afford and attend. Everything else, I would politely decline. People selling stuff got the same treatment. I would ALWAYS look at the sales brochure and make a decision. Most of the time, I bought nothing, but sometimes I did. I didn’t make my frugality an issue, and because I didn’t make it an issue, it never was. The least said, the better. I had a co-worker- a really nice guy who NEVER participated… Read more »

Kate
Kate
9 years ago

I don’t have any good suggestions for these types of situations other than to try to contribute a bit of food that you’ve picked up inexpensively. Maybe you can have a go to food recipe and incorporate the ingredients into your grocery bill a bit at a time. That said, I once worked at a very small law office (I was part of office staff) where the head lawyer literally brought the other lawyer, the office manager, and myself a catalogue and proceeded to point out the “gift” she wanted for “boss’ day.” I was shocked and appalled at being… Read more »

Dee
Dee
9 years ago

We have the same problem at my office. We are asked to contribute to a gift card for every event at work, from bridal showers, baby showers, birthdays, new team members, to parting gifts. Our company has over 400 employees, so there is always something going on. At first i contributed but my $20+/week added up. So now, even though I can afford it, I say NO to almost everything. I have no regrets. First of all, I don’t know these people on a personal level and don’t want to because I prefer to keep my work and life seperate.… Read more »

DollarStretcher
DollarStretcher
9 years ago

Sorry but just buying a bag of store brand chips for each occasion really isn’t a big deal. Spending a few bucks on it now and then is better than turning into the office wet blanket.

Peter Brülls
Peter Brülls
9 years ago

Y’ know, I usually hear the “wet blanket” from the people who benefit the most. As a non-drinker I learned early on not to “split tabs”, because it’s always to my disadvantage. Same with the shared card for the cafeteria – the default payment is supposed to be € 5.00 – yet I do not take a drink, so I’d lose at least 50 Cents each time. Yeah, only 50 cents, I hear ya, but in a month it adds up to a large, organic feed free range chicken I can make into three to four meals for my wife… Read more »

skeptic
skeptic
9 years ago

pay the money. you can try to steer the group toward more frugal options, but ultimately if this is what they want, you should pay up. Not out of the kindness of your heart. Mutual gift-giving is an age-old method of bonding among humans and other animals. If you don’t want to bond with your co-workers, then you have a larger problem. You’ll want their help in the short and long term. Consider it “the cost of doing business” or “pay to play.” But the ROI will likely be extremely high, either in gains (in 3 years one will forward… Read more »

Margaret
Margaret
9 years ago

I work for a small family owned business with a total of 35 employees. Every year at Christmas the dilemma begins. First, the company “treats” the employees to a nice semi-formal dinner with their spouse and that dinner is where the two owners of the company get to hand out the employee bonus checks. This all sounds great until you put it in perspective – the owners are physically present but mentally absent from the business and many employees resent them, there have been no raises or cost of living increases in the past 6 years although the business has… Read more »

partgypsy
partgypsy
9 years ago
Reply to  Margaret

I work in the Federal government and we cannot give our supervisor a gift of more than $10. I actually think that is a little strict, but again I think it does get to the heart that it is a conflict of interest to give bosses gifts that cost significant amounts of money. Our department has grown and while we used to do more (and more of these events) it got out unwieldy given the number of people in our department. Now it is seguing to a once a month deal (birthdays grouped together) and a potluck (don’t bring a… Read more »

Brian
Brian
9 years ago

I tell anyone that is selling something for their kids that the fundraiser is supposed to teach the children how to interact with people and handle money, not teach them that their parents will do everything for them. Bring your kid up here and have them ask me and I will think about it. I don’t care if it offends them because I don’t come to work to make friends. Luckily, I work in a place that is focused on the job and not being a family.

Eileen
Eileen
9 years ago
Reply to  Brian

Fundraiser are designed to fund schools projects, teams, clubs. They aren’t designed to teach the kids anything.

Brian
Brian
9 years ago
Reply to  Eileen

That may be true, but when someone comes to me and says, “my daughter is selling cookies for her school”, I say, “no she’s not, you are”. I work with a woman whose grown children can’t do anything without calling her first and asking her for advice or how to do it. It’s really pathetic and everyone around can hear her on the phone coddling her 20 year-old loser of a daughter. I think it all started with her selling her cookies for her.

Eileen
Eileen
9 years ago
Reply to  Brian

I’ve never once brought in fundraising stuff to my office, but my kids still won’t make their beds w/o nagging. I doubt the “office fundraising” issue is the root of the evil. I don’t know if you have kids, but if you are a working mother, it’s likely both parents work. Handling fundraising is just a big pain in the butt for everyone, adding hauling your kid into the office it’s even more of a pain. If you want to support the club (maybe you were in the band back in the day), do it. If you don’t, don’t. Typically… Read more »

Rosa
Rosa
9 years ago
Reply to  Brian

A lot of schools specifically don’t allow the kids to go door to door anymore, for safety concern reasons, but you don’t *really* want the kids up in your office all the time soliciting for themselves.

You should really think about the effects of people taking your “advice” before you dole it out. How many 5 year olds asking for money can your office take?

Jess P.
Jess P.
9 years ago

I’m sure someone already mentioned it – but it definitely made me smile seeing all of the names from character’s from The Office in this post! Even baby Cece made the cut! 🙂 My office definitely has lots of “a-thons” as well as parents w/ fundraisers. We also do food bank, coat & toy donations for charity around the holidays but all is very voluntary. I’ve never felt pressured to give and I pick and choose what I donate to. We also do lots of potlucks as well and we have a break room where people eat either lunches from… Read more »

Adam P
Adam P
9 years ago

The biggest problem in my office is the damn “lottery pool” where some person who can’t do math comes around to collect the $2 every week to buy another lottery ticket. I have thought about taking over the job, collecting $2 from everyone in my accounting department every week and saying “sorry we lost!”, then at Christmas taking the $400 or so collected and saying “yay we won” and give everyone back their money at once. They will feel like they win. Sadly, not participating guarantees they will win $200 million dollars, all quit their jobs, and I will be… Read more »

Kyle
Kyle
9 years ago
Reply to  Adam P

Agree 100%. You have to buy the insurance in case they actually do win.

Emma
Emma
9 years ago
Reply to  Adam P

This is a huge problem at my work also, but it’s $5 we’re asked for instead of $2. We actually have a work fund that’s contributed to automatically. Every pay period $5 is taken off our earnings and put into a special account. That special account is where our secretary pulls the money from every time it’s someone’s birthday, and she buys a cake. I was never even asked about it when I first set myself up with payroll – it’s just how it is (apparently it’s a non-issue here, where everyone BUT me makes about $40 an hour). Then… Read more »

Betsy
Betsy
9 years ago
Reply to  Emma

Yeah, and those cakes are SO special to the birthday boy and girl, because they know that the contributions were coming from their FRIENDS and were VOLUNTARY and FROM THE HEART.

(end of irony)

Denise
Denise
9 years ago
Reply to  Emma

I just wanted to chime in here. I work in HR & this is actually prohibited in the majority of the US. Your employer can’t automatically deduct from your paycheck unless they have your permission to do so (barring taxes, pre-tax benefits, and a few other things). Obviously I don’t know the specifics, but state & federal laws are usually very specific what are authorized & permissible payroll deductions. If your employer didn’t get your permission to decrease your wages in regards to contributing to a “party/lottery/etc.” fund, I would seriously consider looking into it further; either speaking directly with… Read more »

Emma
Emma
9 years ago
Reply to  Denise

I’m actually in northern Canada! It shows up on my paycheck deductions as “Staff Fund”….I didn’t notice it until I’d been here a few months. The main reason it ticks me off? I’m lactose intolerant and every cake we get is covered in gobs of icing, so I can’t even eat it! It’s like burning money!

Sara
Sara
9 years ago
Reply to  Adam P

When asked if I want to “get in” on the lottery pool, I always tell them that if that many people win big and quit, I figure I’ll get an instant promotion and raise for staying and doing all of their work.

Bob
Bob
9 years ago

This is a tough one in always resented this stuff, but was “lucky” to be the lowest guy on the totem pole so when I didn’t give anything the singicantly older people understood. Also, if you bought your house at the top of the market and had a 30 hear mortgage AND the house has lost at least 40% of it’s value go ahead and consider a strategic default.

Jan
Jan
9 years ago

More annoying to me are the Pampered Chef, Jewelry, Tupperware parties. If you don’t go- the host doesn’t “get their prize”.
I have no solutions.

Betsy
Betsy
9 years ago
Reply to  Jan

The solution is to treat the “invitation” to the “party” like the solicitation it is: put it in the trash.

Real friends don’t dun their acquaintances for money, and real friends don’t “invite” you to sales events disguised as “social engagements”.

Appalling rudeness. Let it stop with you!

Eileen
Eileen
9 years ago
Reply to  Jan

I mentioned those in a prior response. I call them “peer pressure parties” and don’t go near them. Everyone I know (office, friends, whatever) knows this. I used to go but tell my friends that I wasn’t planning to buy, but inevitably, I cave to the peer pressure (often times the sales person is a friend/acquaintance and that makes it even worse!) and buy something overpriced. Now I just do not go.

Jaime B
Jaime B
9 years ago
Reply to  Jan

Luckily my close friends don’t do those parties. The rest usually do catalog parties (just passing around the catalog or website, no f2f parties) and those are pretty easy to ignore unless you actually want something. lol, I guess I’m not too concerned with other people’s feelings about this stuff because my sister has sold Pampered Chef, Morgan Dane, something else I can’t remember and now Silpada. I’ve bought from her occassionaly but since her husband makes about 3 times my salary I never feel guilty for not subsidizing her p/t job. None of my friends are really into those… Read more »

Kevin M
Kevin M
9 years ago

What would Dwight do?

Procrastamom
Procrastamom
9 years ago
Reply to  Kevin M

Dwight doesn’t pay for anything that he can’t do himself, so he would craft his own tupperware to store his beets, make his own jewellery and pamper himself. He also cuts his own hair and delivers his own pizza. The only person he tips/pays is his Urologist!

Another Kate
Another Kate
9 years ago

There are a lot of good ideas here, and a lot of good points about needing to participate to be a team player. I really liked #23’s chocolate chip cookie idea. Here’s what we do in my office, the good and the bad: — Charity: We have some volunteer opportunities. No one is expected to show up at every opportunity, but everyone volunteers at some point during the year. There are often food and book drive boxes around, but nobody tracks who puts in what. Once a year collect money to buy a poor family Christmas gifts. You put what… Read more »

Spider-mike
Spider-mike
9 years ago

Where I worked previously the fundraiser sheet was passed around, with no guilt. I never brought in fund raiser stuff for my child thus never bought any fund raiser items. The big thing was the constant celebrations, new baby, wedding, other, etc..

Justin
Justin
9 years ago

This topic of chipping in for every little event in the lives of your fellow workers has become very annoying, and it’s usually just one busy body that makes it her (or his) personal mission to make sure every event is covered.

guinness416
guinness416
9 years ago
Reply to  Justin

And obviously a very underworked busybody! Seriously, I’m reading through some of these comments and wondering what the commenters do – where I work we’re too darn busy to be swanning out to lunch en masse for everyone’s birthday or having cake every month!

Katie
Katie
9 years ago
Reply to  guinness416

I don’t know, I’d hate to work somewhere where everyone is too busy to take 30 minutes off for cake once a month. I think it’s much nicer when people are willing to take some time to be collegial, and it ultimately assists in doing the work. (Of course, it’s nicer still when employees don’t have to foot the bill for it.)

Katie
Katie
9 years ago

Part of it depends on your position at the office totem pole, too. If – and it sounds like this is true for Erin – you’re younger and worse paid than most of the people in your office, you can probably get away with skipping this stuff entirely; people will understand you’re not there and probably respect you for developing good habits at a young age. On the other end of the scale, if you’re pair better and in some kind of managerial or supervisorial position, God help you if you refuse to contribute to this stuff or stiff your… Read more »

Daniel M. Wood
Daniel M. Wood
9 years ago

Peer pressure is tough but if you are to make friends you either need to be honest with them or live with spending that money.

I do believe honesty is the way to go but helping out sometimes might be nice.

Trying to find a combination.

Heather
Heather
9 years ago

At my current workplace, we have a $5/month kitty we all pay into. This goes toward cards/flowers for funerals, get well cards, going away parties for students/interns, etc. This is easy to budget and encourages careful spending of the limited kitty money. The party planning committee can this make plans from there. We’ve also decided that birthdays are celebrated with a pitch-in lunch of the birthday person’s favorite foods. Sometimes I’ll help pay for an entree, but usually I’ll bake a dessert, which is always popular. Also, I’ve made it clear that I will not give any money for fundraising,… Read more »

Leigh
Leigh
9 years ago

I will not buy anything supporting children unless it is sold by the children themselves. A colleague was selling Girl Scout cookies, but I wouldn’t buy any on this principle. On the other hand, if there are Girl Scouts standing outside Wal-Mart, I will buy a box.

My parents refused to sell stuff for us. I think it was better that way.

Maria
Maria
9 years ago

The first department I worked for at my company celebrated birthdays, baby/wedding showers, new hires, and promotions with gifts, cake, and lunches out – with 20 people, that got to be a lot of time and money. But, on top of that, our department’s self-appointed social chair ran a Secret Santa gift exchange every year. You drew a name out of a hat, then had to bring the other person a gift every day for the week leading up to Christmas. AND, we not only did Secret Santa, but also Secret Spook for Halloween (again, exchanging gifts or candy every… Read more »

guinness416
guinness416
9 years ago

I think the advice to talk to their supervisor is pretty bad. It may depend on the workplace, I know, but in my experience the boss does not want to be bothered about these little staff get together type events beyond signing the card. And telling your boss “I’m broke/bad with money” (not exactly the case, I know, but that’s how it may come across) may affect how the supervisor perceives you going forward – and what business tasks they trust you with! Frankly in my workplace you could just shrug and say “I’m not interested” and nobody will hold… Read more »

Betsy
Betsy
9 years ago
Reply to  guinness416

On the contrary, I would think the boss would be quite interested in knowing that people spend their work time inviting each other to and attending social events, and dunning their co-workers for money for same. Really.

Laura in ATL
Laura in ATL
9 years ago

I have never understood why we have to celebrate birthdays as adults anyways, especially in a work environment. Good grief, parties are nice for kids . . . but frankly ‘celebrating’ turning 31? Really? Saying ‘happy birthday! really *is* enough, imo. Having a sheet cake from Publix, luke warm Sprite over ice and standing around awkwardly cuz there are not enough chairs for everyone – no thanks. 😉 I have actually found that a lot of people in my office actually DREAD having their birthdays acknowledged. Baby showers, retirement parties . . . yes, that is something a bit different,… Read more »

AP
AP
9 years ago
Reply to  Laura in ATL

Laura our office has mostly switched to Panera bagels and fancy cream cheeses for your birthday. Much more adult. It is your choice though, if you still want cake too. =)

Stacy
Stacy
9 years ago

I agree that in a lot of workplaces this is an expense you need to just budget for–within reason. I have been fortunate to work for both a large office where we did potlucks for our own team and a few big occasions, and now for a small, rather unsocial office where there is no obligation to do anything. That said, we do little things now and then: take a coworker to lunch for her birthday and chip in $3 for her lunch, chip in $10-$12 for a gift for our manager at Christmas just because we appreciate him. On… Read more »

retirebyforty
retirebyforty
9 years ago

Erin, be your own woman and do what you want. It’s a crummy job that you are trying to leave anyway. You hinted at this here – “Four years later, I’ve yet to make it close to a $40,000 salary again.”

Once you find another job, you won’t see Michael or Dwight again.

Steve
Steve
9 years ago

I guess I’m lucky, in that my office only collects for babies and marriages. There’s a natural limit to how many of those one group of people can produce. (And on top of that, since I had a baby, I’ve received far more than I’ve contributed.) Going away parties are covered by the company. We celebrate birthdays and work anniversaries via email.

At my wife’s work place they collect a fixed amount of money at the beginning of the year, and then the party committee doles it out throughout the year as needed.

LMN
LMN
9 years ago

I’m a state employee, and it’s been a really, really tough year for all of us, on top of 5 years with no raises etc. plus this year they stole 3% of all of our pay. Plus the never-ending hatred towards state employees (who knew that the reason the economy crashed was because of teachers/cops/policemen/state employees, instead of the criminals on wall street?) Anyways, we have been beat up around the world and back again. These little office gatherings where we bond with the “prisoners in the next cell” are sometimes literally the only bright spots in our month. I… Read more »

Jared
Jared
9 years ago

Im quite frugal myself. My office rarely has any potlucks or events. We do get alot of fundraising.

I say no to the people i don’t know sometimes I say yes. I look at it in a networking perspective.

I seldom go out to office lunches unless i know the place is within budget or i really care for or like that person.

Avistew
Avistew
9 years ago

I’ve never worked in such a place either, but I used to be part of a group of friends who was similar… It was always someone’s special day (birthday, new boyfriend/girlfriend, new job…) and when there was nothing special, they’d still want to go out to movies, to restaurants, to concerts, etc. I kept turning these things down because I simply couldn’t afford them, and I felt pretty bad about it. I also felt left out, pushed out of the circle of friends a bit more every time I said no. I ended up being clear about the fact that… Read more »

shares