No matter what I do to prevent it, spring budget creep always seems to take hold this time of year. Sometimes it seems as if the dollars start flying out the door the second the temperature starts to rise. And although I budget for all of our known expenses, the extra expenditures still add up — and hurt.
Part of our creep is a product of spring clean-up — mulch, new plants and flowers, and vegetable garden start-up. But the rest? It's all social — neighbors inviting us over for cookouts, dinners out and card parties. Warm weather stuff.
Still, as much as it pains me to beef up our entertainment budget in warmer months, there is a part of me that enjoys it. When we moved to a new town and neighborhood last year, we started our journey without any local friends. And as many of you know, it can sometimes be difficult to make real, true friends once you reach your 30s.
I feel fortunate that a few neighbors embraced our presence so quickly, and thankful that we get invited so often. It can be hard to say “no” to social gatherings or dinner nights when you feel lucky to get an invite in the first place.
Still, most of us need boundaries if we truly want to live within our means and stick to our savings goals. And most of us have at least one set of expensive friends — or sets of friends — to deal with. I know I do.
And, that's fine. Who am I to judge? Obviously, other people are entitled to spend their money how they want — even if it is on events or purchases others might see as frivolous. Paying $100 for dinner is enough to make me puke, but I have noticed that not everyone feels that way.
How to deal with expensive friends
When it comes to our friends inside and outside of the neighborhood, our problem isn't always the expense of each individual event we are invited to, but the quantity. In winter, we often stay home for weeks at a time. But once it gets warm out, we might get an invite to a social event every weekend night.
It can be a lot, even if you are simply bringing food or making Jello-O shots for a pitch-in. Here are a few ways we cope with expensive friends while still maintaining friendships:
Offer to whip up a fancy dinner at home.
We celebrated a special occasion with friends the other night, but instead of going out, we made an epic dinner at home. I'm talking crab legs, avocado egg rolls, spicy cauliflower, and all the extras — and all for less than $30 in ingredients.
That's a lot for one dinner, sure, but the same meal could have easily cost $200 or more in a nice sit-down restaurant. Splurging is okay sometimes, but it costs a lot less to splurge at home.
Plan a pitch-in.
As long as someone is willing to host, a pitch-in is the perfect way to hang out and enjoy a meal with friends. Not only can it lead to huge savings, but you can also take your time instead of rushing out of the restaurant once you are done. And since we bring our kids with us to cookouts and pitch-ins, it also helps us avoid hiring a babysitter.
Suggest activities first.
This is my favorite trick when it comes to dealing with expensive friends. Any time we have tentative plans with someone, I'll suggest an activity first. My go-to suggestion is something cheap like a pitch-in or cookout and, of course, I offer to host. Most of the time, it works.
Pick a weekend night to stay home.
Sometimes the easiest way to save money is just to stay at home. Easier said than done when the weather is beautiful, but it is a good strategy nonetheless. I actually find it rather exhausting to have plans every weekend, so we have been trying to stay home at least one weekend night — usually Fridays. Not only is it nice to save money, but it is also nice to have a family night with the kids.
Say “no” when you really don't want to do something.
There will probably come a time when someone invites you to something you really don't want to do. It could be a sporting event, an expensive dinner out, or something else. It doesn't matter. Occasionally, you just have to stick to your guns and say “no.” We have done it before, and it hurts — but it was definitely the right thing. Our noes usually involve invites to expensive restaurant dinners that are late at night. I hate eating at 8:00 p.m. and can't fathom the idea of overpaying for a meal I wouldn't enjoy. So when a situation like that arises, I just have to say “no.”
Tell other people about your financial situation.
You don't have to spill all of the gritty details. However, if you are truly trying to save money, it can help to let your family and friends know. So tell them. Explain your budget situation and tell them about your dreams and goals. They may not share your enthusiasm for frugal living; but if they are real friends, they will understand.
Dealing with expensive friends without losing friendships
For the most part, I tend to believe that it is all about striking a balance. You know you don't want to be that family — the one that never has the money to do anything fun. But you also don't want to go off the deep end and spend in a way that undermines your short-term and long-term goals.
For us, it is all about being selective and having fun in the most frugal way possible. It's not always the easiest choice, but I know it's the best one. Life isn't all about having fun today; it's about saving for tomorrow too. And sometimes, you have to bow out and make the right decision for your family.
How do you deal with expensive friends? What strategies do you use to try to keep the cost of social events down?
Author: Holly Johnson
Holly Johnson is a credit card expert, award-winning writer, and mother of two who is obsessed with frugality, budgeting, and travel. In addition to serving as contributing editor for The Simple Dollar and writing for publications such as Bankrate, U.S. News and World Report Travel, and Travel Pulse, Johnson owns Club Thrifty and is the co-author of Zero Down Your Debt: Reclaim Your Income and Build a Life You’ll Love.