How to Handle Social Obligation Expenses

social obligations

“You’re causing me social stress!” was a common complaint of my college roommate, who liked solitude. I, on the other hand, loved the social life of the dorms and the wide activities college offered. I knew what she meant by “social stress,” though, and I still occasionally experience it today, often due to what I call social obligation expenses.

Most frugal people will understand what I mean: you want to keep your expenses down, and you work hard to save money, but you don’t want to call attention to the fact that you are choosing not to spend as fast as the people around you. You want to fit in, to make friends and enjoy a social life, but as soon as you turn down one too many invitations to do something that requires you to spend more than you would like, the person who invited you gives up trying.

What is the best way to handle these social obligation expenses? I have begun to believe that the best way is to allow a little room in your budget for them, view them as the cost of building relationships, and (whenever possible) find a compromise.

For example, if you have a friend whose company you really enjoy and the only time you get to see him or her is over lunch, suggest bring-your-own picnic lunches instead of dining out. You don’t even have to mention that the cost is what bothers you; talk about the joys of eating outdoors instead. Similarly, you can suggest a home movie night instead of going out to the movies or – even more frugally – a game night. Be creative.

Home demonstration parties cause one of the biggest social dilemmas for me. For some reason, these parties seem to be the first social event a new acquaintance ever invites me to. I want to make new friends and hate to turn down the first invitations I receive, but most home demonstration companies offer merchandise I would never purchase or, if I would, for double the price I would normally pay. Thankfully, legitimate prior commitments have saved me from sending unexplained regrets to several home demonstration hostesses, but when I do go to the parties, I try to find something that’s reasonably priced that I know I would use. Another option is to tell a potential hostess that I will come for the company but won’t buy anything, but I’m sometimes too afraid of sounding cheap.

Children’s fundraisers present another sticky situation for frugal people – their offerings are often overpriced, and it’s sometimes even harder to find something useful in a fundraising catalog than at a demonstration party. If the catalog is just sitting in the office lunchroom, you can ignore it, but it’s hard to say no to a neighborhood kid on your doorstep. One alternative to buying the fundraising merchandise is to offer the young salesperson an outright donation to his or her organization. Often, even $5.00 would be more than what the organization would receive from a $15.00 purchase, and you can save $10.00. Yes, an unscrupulous child might just pocket the money, but that’s on the kid’s conscience, not yours.

I still am not sure how best to handle office donation requests for causes I don’t want to support. Declining, even politely, can quickly earn you a reputation as an uncooperative miser, but politely declining is the best solution I can offer. (Please, if you take up any voluntary collection at work, whether for birthdays or hurricane relief, choose a low-pressure tactic, such as posting the request in the break room and telling people who want to contribute where they can find you. Remember that some people are on tight budgets.)

As with most things in life, balance is key for social obligation expenses. Don’t go all out and blow your entire week’s salary on whatever new gadget that lovely home demonstrator showed you at your friend’s party, but remember that people are more important than money, and building or maintaining relationships sometimes requires you to spend some of the money you intended to keep.

Image courtesy of SixyBeast

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13 Responses to How to Handle Social Obligation Expenses

  1. Fred333 says:

    Good article. I remember those college days when there was party and the bar scene. Would go through hundreds of dollars and not blink an eye.

  2. Oh dear! I must be thought of as the stingiest scrooge ever because I:

    *almost never accept invitations to those home product thingys (ugh bleh!)

    *rarely donate to causes in the office (what causes?! we have a formal charitable giving campaign through payroll, anything else is pretty much frowned upon here)

    *have little regrets declining to purchase fundraisers from neighborhood kids. It is the school and the attending parents’ responsibilities to fundraise imo. I’ve done it for myself, my own kid’s school, and am confident other kids can do it themselves too.

    So, what about girl scout cookies? They sell on nostalgia and tradition.

    Do what you feel is right, not what you feel other people will think of you if you do what is ‘right’.

  3. Fern says:

    That was a balanced and thoughtful article. However, i don’t think we should ever feel we need to apologize for the way we feel. If you spend all your energy coming up with ways to contribute to the kid at the door selling subscriptions, how will we ever make any headway in changing the predominant mindset of the typical free-spending American? Don’t be afraid to voice your position on things.If youre friends are real friends, they won’t mind.

  4. baselle says:

    Saying no with a smile and a light word is one of the most frugal skills you can develop.

    I’ve always believed that its never the no, its the no with the snarl or the whine that causes people to go away.

  5. Isabel says:

    How timely ! And a sanity-saver. It is that time of year when everyone is having a fundraiser or a home party. With the cash crunch currently going on as a result of the mortgage meltdown, it seems that every one I know is having a product party.

    What I have learned is that the people who invite me simply to get them ahead, are not people I want to be friends with. A recent acquaintace has invited me to two parties. But she has also scheduled a play date with our children and she is understanding enough that I felt I could tell her that I would love to go in order to socialize but not to buy more stuff ( I am anti-hyperconsumerism ), as a compromise, I will bring some food and wine.

    As for the office stuff, there are ways to contribute. Get the card, pass it around, set up plans, etc. It is unfortunate that we are brainwashed to believe that the only way to “contribute” is to open wallets that may already be thin….and then be judged for it.

    But as someone once said, if these people judge you, who cares ? They are probably broke…not exactly good role modeling.

  6. Nathan says:

    Thought I’d share what I thought was a nice approach to the home demo party, from an email invitation we received recently from friends:

    “There will be a display of sterling jewelry. No presentation and zero pressure to look at or buy!”

  7. Dr. D says:

    I was asked by a coworker yesterday to contribute to two Boss’ Day gifts — one for a fellow who is my peer, not my supervisor. And one for my actual boss who is an intolerable twit. I told her no.

    If I am delaying a haircut to pinch pennies, am I really obligated to give the savings to an idiot boss who makes twice what I make? Screw him.

  8. Gail says:

    One of the many reasons I’m glad I’m on disability and don’t work out! I hated those occasions as I was always on a slim budget. We rarely even socialize now except with family due to my health, but I’m glad that I’m not being expected to buy stuff or contribute.

    My entire working life, I always tithed 10% of my earnings, so when someone was hitting me up for a contribution to whatever, I had no problem telling them NO as I knew I had most likely contributed in one week what their giving for a year was. Why should their social concern become my social concern also?

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  11. jang says:

    can u sent to me an article about social obligation please?

  12. Heather says:

    I like hosting parties but don’t like spending lots of $s to have one! Every year I have an inexpensive Lasagna Christmas Party and it is a true blast. It is also much more fun than your typical Holiday Gala. The only major expense for me is the ingredients to make 3 trays of homemade, mouth watering
    lasagna! I send out an Evite and create a list of side food, beverages, & dessert that is needed for the party. (To do this effectively, break up the alphabet &
    tell guests to bring “X” item by the first letter of their last name) This may sound frugal, but my friends love to bring something & “brag” about their special dish, dessert or great beverage. We also do a white elephant gift exchange and I emphasize that it should be something humorous that they has around their house or from a Thrift store, etc. The gifts are an absolute riot & is much more fun than any over-priced fancy store-bought item could ever be.
    Also, after the party, I have leftover non-perishable items, such as cans of soda, that I save for the next party!

  13. bank deals says:

    If you want to keep down expenses think about not having a whole meal but a dessert buffet under the whole idea of “we have got to the sweetest part of our marriage and want to celebrate that with you.” Since it is a vow renewal you could have a band or a DJ, whichever you think would be more fun. Just remember this is a time not to get bogged down with details but to look forward to having fun.

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