Right now, I'm on my first-ever visit to Ithaca, New York. I'm attending my third wedding in the past month. These three weddings have taken me to three different states and three different time zones. My girlfriend and I just got another invite to a sorority sister's upcoming nuptials this fall and had the same first thought: “Do we have to?”
Our friends and family are important to us and we want to support each one of them on their special day. But with plane tickets, hotel rooms, time off work, and modest gifts, these weddings are adding up.
On top of that, while we've been gone, we've both received a lot of text messages from friends back home eager to get together when we return to hear about our travels. After budgeting for all our trips this summer, it means we won't have as much disposable income as most of our friends.
We want to be at the wedding. We want to hang out with friends, but when is saying “no” more appropriate and how can we make sure we don't overspend on the always seemingly harmless drink invite from friends?
One Wedding Too Many
I came across a wedding etiquette book in a used bookstore on The Commons here in Ithaca and read a section about saying no to wedding invites.
The book recommend a handwritten card addressed to the bride wishing them every happiness and apologizing for not being able to make it. Okay. Great. For distant relatives and friends from college I haven't seen since, this seems like a great option. But for those close friends, a card seems lacking.
I asked the bride and groom here in Ithaca how some of the folks who couldn't make it went about informing the couple. They did get a lot of cards, some gifts, and one long drawn out phone call.
One of the groomsmen had a baby on the way and couldn't financially make the trip happen. He called the groom and expressed his regret and explained the situation: a trifecta of a recent medical bill, student loan repayments, and a pregnant wife made the trip impossible. He apologized profusely. The groom was disappointed, but said candidly to me, “Honestly, I have 150 other people here with us to concentrate on…”
As for as my friends back home, most are receptive to hearing that my girlfriend and I are saving to pay off her student loans and stashing money for our next step after she finishes grad school.
I find that by making our goals explicit, it usually serves to reduce the pressure from others to spend. We find that by bringing our mindfulness about spending into the conversation, it encourages others to take a look at their spending habits as well. We find that with sincerity, conversations about money don't have to be uncomfortable.
At the end of the day, what's most important is the time spent together, and not how much money goes into the event.
Happy Hours and Empty Wallets
Our friends like a good happy hour. Cheap prices and good food lead to a quick decompress after a day at work. However, one drink and an appetizer too quickly becomes two of each, and before dinner is even served, your weekly budget for nights out is gone. Here are some ways to cope with spending in social situations:
- Low-cost or no-cost activities. Find a nearby hiking trail. Head to a body of water. Look up free events in your area. Grab a deck of cards. Pick up a crowd pleasing board game (I could play Apples to Apples for days). If your friends want to go see the new Batman, suggest going to a cheaper matinee, or better yet, invite them over for a review party of the first two off Netflix. They want to go out, come up with a restaurant you can afford, or better yet, have a potluck.
- Leave the plastic at home. If you can only afford one drink at happy hour, only take $5, $10, or $20 and leave the rest at home. If you don't have any other money with you, you can't spend it. This isn't to say stiff your friends with the bill, but have your cheap drink, enjoy the conversation, and leave enough for tip.
- Reduce the frequency. I used to have dinner with my friends every week after the yoga class we took together. I learned to say yes some of the time, but opt out most of the time. By only going once a month instead of every week, I cut my spending by 75% just by walking my friends home after class. If they want to get together every week, start a book club, or find a different no-cost activity.
- Don't keep tabs. It's hard to not partake in a second round. It's hard not to get the newest gadget. It's hard not to focus on the stuff, what those closest to you have. Instead, focus on the relationships. Make sure your friends feel supported, listened to, and cared for. It doesn't help anyone for you to envy your friend's new shoes, new car, or new house. Don't make it a competition. Do what's best for you, and take care of those around you with what you do have.
Saying “no” to friends is a hard financial reality for most. You want to be generous with your time and money but many of us are working with limited resources. On the flip side of the coin, if you're financially well-off, be mindful that your friends might not be in the same situation. Work with them to come up with activities that are fun and comfortable for everyone.
And brides and grooms, everyone loves a party. Trust that a nay-response isn't a slight against you. We'd be there if we could.
It's easy for financial barriers to get in the way of friendships. Whatever your situation, remember that those around you are all working with their own particular circumstances. When it comes to financial realities, do what's right for you. Be open, honest, and give freely to friends the resources you do have, whether that be a listening ear, some tea and sympathy, or an idle afternoon.
Author: Tim Sullivan
Tim Sullivan is a yoga teacher, massage therapist, tea enthusiast, and Chicago Bears fan. After graduating from Sarah Lawrence College, he found a way to make a living from the first three, travel the world, and pay off his college loans. Currently residing in the heart Seattle, Washington, he spends his time strolling Pike's Market and eating smoked salmon on the docks. Tim is a frequent contributor to wellness websites and magazines and is a French translator.