Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Awkward Side of Frugality

Warning: This blog will most likely turn into a rant, so just be ready for that.

I think we can all agree that the most awkward thing about trying to establish a frugal lifestyle is when other people have expectations for how you should spend your money, or when you have to turn down social invitations.

Scenario one: Friend wants to try new fancy restaurant that has a 
pre fixe menu for $35/person and your monthly food budget is tapped 
because you just stocked up on barley.

Fancy restaurant is not frugal
Thirty-five dollars a head plus tip is not just a try it because you want to restaurant, it's a celebration restaurant.  Plus, I think about how many meals I can make at home that cost waaaay less than $35.  I'm all for being fancy, but if you're not totally switched on by the thought of this restaurant, or you're a vegetarian like me and know that spending $35 on what will likely be bread soup and salad (of course it will be gourmet soup), it's just not worth it.

In the past, to get out of a situation like this, I would have foot-dragged and blamed my work schedule.  I would have stalled my friend to the point where I could safely say, "You know, my schedule is so hectic these days, why don't you just take x instead."  That kind of behavior would have no doubt cause my friend to be frustrated with me, and spend the fancy dinner complaining about how non-committal I am, while I would have been at home eating a sandwich fuming about how my fancy dinner having friends just don't understand my financial circumstances!

So yeah, it's a way out of something, but in the end, probably not worth the tension.

These days, if it was a casual friend, I would say I have other plans (even if I don't--hey, it's just a casual friend!).  If it's a good friend, I would say something like, "I know you really want to try this restaurant, but I'm not that into it.  Since I'm a vegetarian, it's ludicrous to spend that much on one meal, and I'm really cutting costs right now.  Why don't you bring someone else who really wants to go, and you and I can grab a delicious cupcake afterward."

Mentioning cupcakes is always a smart move.

Scenario two: Co-worker is selling candy bars/ Girl Scout cookies/ 
boy scout popcorn/ any other children's fundraiser you can think of and he or 
she expects that everyone in the office will buy something.

Girl Scout Cookies--delicious, but deadly to the budget
I hate this one even more than dealing with friends because you have to see these co-workers ever day and some people think because their raising money for their kids you refusing to buy something means that you hate their children and would throw garbage at them given the chance.  My thoughts are, if you have a co-worker who equates refusing cookies with pure loathing, let him or her think that.  Just say, "I'm sorry, but I can't afford it." After a while, word will get around that you're pinching pennies, and you may not have to say no as much.

I'm not in love with my poor as a church mouse reputation at work, but it certainly saves me money.

Scenario three: I get a deal if we all spend
Very relaxing, until your credit card bill comes
This scenario is how I ended up in Mexico for Spring Break.  Sigh.  The vacation package i.e. if I can recruit six more people to share this bungalow, we can all save $50!  I love a vacation, I sure do, but this is not the way to go.  Even if the savings are significant, do you really want to go to the Turks and Caicos with a handful of friendly acquaintances?  Doesn't your dream vacation lie elsewhere?

Plus, there's the notion of vacationing with a large group of people, which is necessary to get these deals, and the high price tag. Your friend who is looking for vacation buddies may have to cast the net a bit wider and invite that really annoying guy just because he has the cash.  Then you're vacationing with Annoying Guy, and you can't back out because you were first to commit. 

It's not worth it.  I vacationed in large groups even with some of my closest friends, and it's always caused problems.  It's just not fun to try to organize that many people, and there will inevitably be a clash of personalities at some point--probably one before drinking, and one after drinking.  A friend who was recently invited on a stunning Greek vacation remarked to me, "If we had $8000 lying around, we would finish the basement." Save your pennies for the vacation you really want instead of going for the deal.

Scenario four: The bachelorette weekend.
Umm, no
Remember when a bachelorette party was just that: a party?  A one-night fete where women drank a little too much, ate a lot, and celebrated a friend's approaching nuptials in a slightly more bawdy way.  Now it seems that if a bachelorette party is only a one-night affair, it has to include about twelve activities and a limo.  More likely, you will be invited to the bachelorette weekend, which will include transport to an exotic locale, lodging and all the expenses that come with "doing it up right." and "making it special" Of course the bride doesn't have to pay for anything, so you'll help cover that as well.

To be frank, this is bullshit.  I don't know when a simple night out morphed into so much extravagance, but I'm totally over it.  Even in the movie Bridesmaids, they all flew to Las Vegas for the weekend.  Come on!  I love a night out with my girlfriends, but if I was getting married, I would not need a limo, spa treatment, mani/pedi, pole-dancing class, fancy dinner, drinks.  I don't blame the brides, I blame the bridesmaids who put together such an elaborate scenario.  It this bridesmaidzilla behavior?  Is that what's happening here?  I want to celebrate my friend's happiness, why do I have to pay for pole dancing class to make that happen?

In this situation, I just say no.  I really don't think it's unreasonable to tell a person, "I'd love to come, but I can't afford an entire weekend in the Poconos, I'll make it to dinner before the rest of you leave."  The problem too, is that since this extravagance is often organized by someone else, it may not be what the bride actually wants, and she ends up feeling bad when no one can afford to come.  If you're really close with the bride and the girl who is planning it, just be upfront about what you can afford; if it's more of a friendly acquaintance situation, just make sure that the bride doesn't feel spurned.  Be honest with her while her friend runs amok.


  1. Even when someone else foots the bill for a fancy dinner, it could throw a wrench into your budget & eating plan - if there aren't the leftovers that home-cooking usually generates and that you plan on for another meal!

    My daughter just mentioned this today - no leftovers= peanut butter sandwich for lunch instead of something yummier!

    **Katy M
    Recommending YA books beyond the bestsellers at http://BooksYALove.blogspot.com
    Follow me on Twitter @BooksYALove

  2. Wow, I don't know if I would have the resolve to turn down a box of Girl Scout cookies. Good on you!

  3. Vacationing in large groups. *SHUDDER*