“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