Can Your Budget Afford Your Friends?
When you’re trying to budget wisely, you can’t say yes to every fun (but often pricey) invitation–here’s how to bow out of gracefully
Yesterday, friends of mine emailed an invitation to go out to dinner with them–to a new and expensive restaurant in our area. I found myself really thinking about what we can afford on our budget.
Flashback to a conversation with my husband (whose company has 30 percent staff cuts in progress) over the weekend: Our retirement savings are down by 40 percent! Where can we save? Let’s cut whatever casual spending we can. How come our heating bill is so high? What can we do for fun that is free? Will our son miss his $700-a-week computer camp this summer? Good thing we took that family trip to Alaska LAST July-it will be day trips to the beach instead this year.
So thinking about how to respond to the email invitation reminded me that many people today are facing the same question. How do you deal socially with the fact that money is tighter for you?
Here are three strategies you might try to address the budget issue.
Be up front about it. Allison K., who worked as a policy advisor for New Jersey governor, Jon Corzine, quit to do her own writing. Money was tight. “When I was working on my novel, I asked people if we could change the venue to a less expensive place, and also asked to pay for only my share of the bill-especially if I had a sandwich and someone else had filet mignon,” she says. “Everyone was always hugely understanding when I asked to go for cheap eats.”
Offer creative ways to be together. Hold a potluck cocktail party and have everyone sign up for a food dish or a bottle of something. Or invite a friend who’s trying to build her handmade jewelry business to show her stuff at your house for a bunch of people. Host a clothing swap with your close friends. Allison says, “The invite can explain that you’re being a ‘recessionista’ or ‘frugalista’-a light-hearted way of getting the message out you can’t afford to party in the big leagues.”
Dodge, and buy some time to save up. Heidi S. and her husband have a peak-and-valley income stream, depending on the additional income the family gets from her contracting work for corporations. And as companies stretch out their payment intervals–often to 90 days–sometimes she has to dodge invitations. “I just say we’re having ‘cash flow problems’ because I’m waiting for a client to pay me,” she explains. “Usually the other person is happy to pick a date further in the future to do the expensive thing, so we can plan for it a bit more.”
In the end, I said no to our friends’ restaurant date. We wouldn’t have gone because of our budget worries right now, anyway. But we had another, absolutely legitimate reason. “We’re having my mother-in-law over for dinner that night,” I said, avoiding any tiresome mention of money at all and getting a little sympathy out of the deal at the same time.