Nothing brings on financial stress like occasions where several people get together and do something that involves money. It may be buying a group gift for an office mate or family member, going on vacation with extended family or a group of friends, or throwing a party for a child or adult. Whatever the occasion, whenever people get together and do activities that involve money (particularly large sums), there are sometimes hurt feelings, simmering anger, and outright fights. When people don’t agree on the division of the money or the plans being made, things can get heated enough to make you want to just chuck the whole idea. Here are some ideas to smooth the process and reduce the drama that comes with group spending.
Take into account differing income levels
You may think that bracelet from Tiffany’s is a perfect gift for your mother and you may even be able to afford it. However, if your siblings or other relatives can’t afford it, find something that you can all agree on. Not everyone in your group will have the same means or comfort level with spending money, so try to keep that in mind. This doesn’t mean you have to buy the cheapest option, just that you need to remember that not everyone can (or will want to) pay for the pricey stuff.
Do things with people who share your outlook about money
If it’s at all possible, things will go smoother if you do things with people who share your means and willingness (or not) to spend. This is hard to do, but if you can plan your group vacation or party with friends who have a similar outlook about money, things will be much easier.
Communicate all plans clearly, early, and often
When you’re in charge of planning a party or vacation, or buying a gift, make sure you communicate your plans with the other members of your group as you go along. Let them know what you’re planning and give them a chance to give their input. Let them give you ideas that might suit their budgets better and give them an open forum to say, “Hey, you’re getting too expensive here.” Don’t wait until you’ve got everything planned to tell them what you’re thinking. If your plans don’t work for them, they’ll resent you.
Set up a budget in the beginning
A budget can help prevent misunderstandings later. Sit down as a group and figure out what you’ll need for your plans. First, figure out how much, total, you can spend and how much of that can/will come from each person. Then figure out what kind of party supplies you’ll need, or what you’ll need for your vacation. Assign everything a budget category and work from there. You may have to subtract some desired items from the budget as you go along, but it’s better to work within that framework than to just wing it only to discover too late that you’ve spent way too much.
Don’t wait until the last minute
Plans made at the last minute are almost always more expensive than those made in advance. Partly this is because the best discounts tend to go to planners and partly because the panic of waiting too long leads to bad decisions. Give yourself time to hunt for discounts and sales and to make careful plans instead of racing around buying anything and everything at any price at the last minute.
Split costs evenly if it’s fair
If you’re going on a road trip and all traveling in the same car and staying in the same room, for example, those costs should be split evenly since everyone is using the same resources and everything is equal. If the party you’ve planned includes a fixed cost buffet, that cost would also be split evenly. If everything is equal and being fairly used, split the costs evenly.
Don’t split costs evenly if it isn’t fair
If you’re going out to eat and everyone is ordering off the menu, everyone should only pay for his or her meal. Don’t get the ticket and split it evenly because this penalizes the people who didn’t order expensive items by making them share the costs of those who ordered appetizers and drinks. If you go on vacation and some people stay in the deluxe hotel and others stay in the moderate hotel, everyone pays for his or her own room. If the costs aren’t even and people are spending at different levels, don’t split the costs.
Don’t force or guilt people into cooperation
If someone doesn’t want to give to the group gift or party, don’t make them feel bad about it. It may be that they can’t afford it, or it may be that they don’t like the person you’re planning for. Simply say, “Maybe next time,” and move on. Don’t try to force them into it, or give them the, “But you’ll be the only one not contributing,” guilt trip. If they say no, let that be the end of it.
Make the financial expectations clear so there are no surprises
If you’re planning to have a cash bar at a wedding, for example, make that clear so people don’t assume drinks will be free. If you’re expecting people who attend the birthday party you’re throwing for a friend to pay for drinks or food, note it in the invitation. If you’re expecting each parent to pay for their own kids’ tokens at Chuck E. Cheese or their own admission to the amusement park where the birthday party is being held, make sure they know that. If there are any cover charges at the venue or any other hidden costs for attending the event or participating, make sure you spell those out so people don’t come unprepared. If you don’t make these things clear and people arrive without the means or desire to pay their share, you’re asking for hurt feelings and, likely, will end up shouldering their costs so they don’t get mad.
Get consent first, before going off on your own
If you’re in charge of planning a party or bridal shower, for example, and others will be contributing to the costs, get approval first before you buy or agree to anything. For example, if you find out the invitations will cost $200 and you’re expecting to split the costs evenly amongst yourself and your three helpers, ask everyone if they are okay with the $50. If not, look into cheaper options. It’s far easier to do it this way than to go ahead and order the invitations and then tell people, “Hey, you owe me fifty bucks.” It means a lot of going back and forth to get consent ahead of time, but at least no one can say, “Well, you didn’t tell me it was going to be that much.”
Be willing to shoulder the entire cost if it’s that important to you
If you just can’t imagine getting anything other than that pricey present or having the party at that exclusive venue, even though your guests and helpers aren’t happy with the choice, then plan to pay for the whole thing yourself. Or, at least plan to pay for most of it. If it’s that important to you to lay out $1,000 for something, but your group is saying, “Hey, we can’t afford that,” then you either (happily) pick up the whole tab or tell your group, “Okay. You all chip in the $50 apiece that you are comfortable with and I’ll get the rest.” If you go this route, do it without laying guilt or superiority on your other group members. You want it so badly, you pay for it. And don’t make sure that the recipient knows that you contributed the most. Don’t discuss how the costs were split and let the recipient assume it was even.
Similarly, if you really want Uncle Ned to come on the family reunion vacation and he just can’t swing it, no matter how hard you’ve tried to find something that works for him, then you can make the offer to pay for his part of the trip. To do it without making the other person feel like a freeloader, make it clear that you really want them there, that their presence is important, and that the money isn’t an issue. Then don’t bring it up again. If you whine about it or keep referring to how much you’ve spent, the other person will feel bad and everyone will wish Uncle Ned had just stayed home.
Get people to chip into a fund and then make plans
If you want to avoid a lot of angst about splitting costs, particularly in the case of group gifts or parties, set up a fund and let people give what they want to. Let it be known that you’re collecting for so-and-so’s gift/party, etc. and that any contribution will be appreciated. You can make it anonymous if you want so that no one feels bad and you don’t even know who gave what. Set an end date for donations and, at the end of that time, see what you have and then make plans that fit that budget.
If you want to avoid all the frustration and anger that comes with planning group events (and keep from getting stuck with the entire bill), try these ideas the next time you have to plan an event. If everyone is open and honest about their desires and expectations, things will go much more smoothly and everyone will be happier. You’ll be able to have a great trip or party without all of the simmering resentment that so often accompanies these events.
(Photo courtesy of Elvert Barnes)