Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Social situations with limited funds... etiquette?

During times when I am really feeling the pinch, I find that the hardest thing is figuring out how to manage in social situations. Just when you think your budgeting is on track, life tends to throw things in the way that expect you to come up with money...  weddings, new babies, colleagues leaving, birthdays, christenings, hen nights and even socialising with friends. 

These are times when you really don't want to have to say you can't "chip in" for that gift, or you have to miss yet another catch-up dinner, or you can't visit someone until after pay-day as you haven't been able to afford to buy them a birthday gift yet.  

So what do you do in these social situations when times are tight? Here's what I'd do... would I save face or commit an etiquette crime? Comments and suggestions welcome! 

Dinner/ drinks with friends

This is a common situation, with potential for money dilemmas... you're out with a group of friends having dinner. Since money is tight for you, you have chosen frugally from the menu and only ordered one soft drink, yet when the bill arrives, it is split equally and you end up footing the bill for your friend's rib-eye steak and wine consumption. Or perhaps you are out for drinks after work, and the group suggests you throw in £20 for a kitty. After a glass of wine and a coke (you're pacing yourself) it is announced that the kitty is empty and needs replenished. We've all been there, and while it seems annoying even during times you feel "better off", these situations could be disastrous if you are working to a strict budget. 

In the case of dinner, I tend to think that honesty is the best policy. If you're politely nibbling on a side salad and nursing one drink all night, times are hard- and the best time to mention anything is before you eat. Perhaps at the organisation stage, you could suggest going somewhere cheap and cheerful, and if that doesn't happen, ask at the start if you can get separate bills. Another good way of getting round this is to excuse yourself to the bathroom at the right moment, leaving enough money to cover what you had plus 10% tip on the table.

The "I wasn't drinking" situation is more awkward still. If you are the designated driver, you do feel as though you shouldn't pay as much as your friends who are leaving dinner feeling tipsy. However, in restaurants, soft drinks are often almost as expensive as wine, especially if a few people are sharing the bottle. I've often been the non-drinker in a group due to pregnancy, breastfeeding and driving recently, and while it normally does work out a couple of pounds more than exactly what I had, in my opinion it isn't worth making a big deal.  

As for the kitty scenario, I just don't get involved in one. Ever. Even when I am drinking in a group, I always find my money doesn't stretch as far as when I'm buying for myself. I simply say I'm pacing myself, and I'll get my own, or pair up with a friend who is drinking the same. 

Chipping in for gifts

Sometimes this can work out cheaper than buying a gift on your own, so clubbing in with friends to buy a gift for a new baby, a colleague, christening, wedding or birthday isn't automatically a bad idea. The problems arise when you are asked to chip in more than you were intending to spend.

However, there are ways round this! If it becomes apparent that you are being asked for more money than you are comfortable paying out, it is absolutely fine to say something along the lines of "Oh, that's a pity, I already found a gift!" or "Thanks for the offer, but I'm going to do my own thing." This can allow you to give a more individual gift anyway... maybe even something handmade (visit my previous blog entry to read my thoughts on this!) 

Weddings and Hen Nights

Whatever way you look at it, weddings are expensive for guests. The outfit, the gift, overnight accommodation, travel and the hen/stag parties (more on that in a tick!) all add up.

Traditional wedding etiquette says that a guest should spend the equivalent amount on a gift that the hosts would spend feeding you at their wedding. Wedding gift lists can also add to the financial pressure of buying a gift- i.e. the couple knows exactly how much you have spent, and you don't have leeway to find a sale bargain.  I actually think if money is an issue, it is perfectly acceptable to steer clear of a wedding list and choose a gift of your own, or even make one yourself if you have the skills.  The most important thing at a wedding should be the people there, and if times are hard in the finance department, a real friend would rather your presence on their big day than any fancy gift.

Not buying a new outfit is one way of saving money- it's amazing what different accessories can do to change the overall look of an outfit. Perhaps you could borrow a fascinator or hat from a friend, or pick up some statement jewellery in a charity shop. Avoid staying overnight if you can, or if the venue is too far away, find a cheaper B&B online instead of booking the fancy "suggested" hotel. 

Increasingly, brides-to-be are choosing destinations further away to celebrate their hen parties. This, unfortunately, means more expense for her friends and family. If your friend/ relative decides to have more of a "hen week/ weekend" than just a hen night, then I think it comes down to you making the decision about whether you can afford to go or not. Hen parties are unique in the sense that there will often be people there from different social circles, so strangers may not be as understanding about your financial situation as close friends would be. It wouldn't be much fun going away for the weekend only to sit in the hotel room alone, not able to afford the planned activities. Being realistic about the total cost (including food and drink!), then working out a budget plan, and putting a little away every month, might help it to become more affordable. If it's beyond your financial reach, I believe that it's better all round if you opt out gracefully, as most brides-to-be do still have smaller celebrations or nights out locally nearer to the actual wedding date.


  1. I love your blog! You embrace the upcycling vibe so beautifully. I never buy anything new if I can help it, it saves my money and the planet. Thanks for this thought provoking article and when it comes to presents I expect all your friends would rather have one of your fantastic brooches or other creations rather than a 'mere shop bought' item!

  2. I love this post! You have touched on all of the social situations that I encounter on a regular basis. There always seems to be some new event that is going to end up costing us money and don't even get me started on Wedding present lists. I think it is a really selfish thing to do on behalf of the bride and groom, as you said they should just be pleased with your presence not presents! Thank you for sharing your post on #ThriftyThursday, I'm off to share it around :-)

  3. Thank you Josie, I would like to think that! :-)

    Gina, much appreciated. I do find that these potentially awkward situations crop up a lot, and I knew I wouldn't be the only one noticing!

  4. There are some great tips and ideas here. Going out for meals can be difficult, especially if people want to share the bill, paying for your own meal seperately is easier as you can choose how much to spend. #ThriftyThursday

  5. Some great ideas, I love the fact jewellery can change an outfit - with time you can pick up great statement pieces in charity shops. I have been known to borrow and lend dresses too:)