Budget Busters: Birthdays

I am doing pretty well on not spending money eating out, despite my slip up with the no alcohol challenge earlier in the week. It’s hard because I do love eating out, but I am getting more creative at home. Last week, I did go out once for a friend’s birthday party that was scheduled before my challenge. I feel like it didn’t count 😉

This is one of my best friends and of course I wanted to celebrate with her and make her day. She invited a handful of her closest friends to have sushi with her at her favorite restaurant.

Budget buster #1: eating sushi.

I LOVE sushi, but it’s so expensive! It was her birthday and she wanted sushi, so I had to say yes and tag along. I didn’t want to be so lame and such a cheapskate to make up some excuse as to why I couldn’t go, just because I was scared to spend money.

So I did what any rational personal finance blogger would do. I budgeted. I thought, I’m willing to spend $20 on sushi for her birthday. Mind you, that was just for food as I am not drinking. It sounds high, but the goal was $20 or less for my portion of the dinner.

When I arrive, I realize that everyone is feeling like eating ‘family style’ and we all pick a bunch of rolls. The rolls arrive on this huge, crazy looking boat. It was decadent and delicious. I enjoyed the savory morsels of fresh fish, the good company and conversation. I was the only one not drinking and I kept thinking oh dear god, how much is this going to cost?

After being fully satiated and celebrating with some cake, the check comes. Since it was family style, it was suggested that we all divide the check evenly. I didn’t want to make a big deal about it, but I meekly mentioned that I didn’t drink anything (when everyone else had at least two drinks)…so it was suggested that I don’t pay any tip to offset some of the cost. Didn’t really seem like a fair deal, but I agreed because I didn’t want to be a pain.

The restaurant had other plans! Because we were a party of 6 or more, 18% gratuity was added to everyone’s bill. Ugh. The bill comes and it’s $32.

Everyone is paying $32, including me, even though I didn’t have anything to drink. I was frustrated, but what could I do? I was essentially subsidizing everyone else’s drinks, while I went without! I went $12 over budget paying for other people’s drinks! I was not very happy, but I didn’t want to pull a Larry David and make some awkward social scene, simply because I am a cheapskate frugal. Everyone wanted to head out to another bar, but since I was already over budget and wasn’t drinking, I politely declined. I walked home in the rain to save on bus fare and kept thinking about how certain social situations can be real budget busters.

Then, this week at work, I get an email asking for contributions for a gift for someone else’s birthday. It feels weird, as we don’t do this for anyone else. I hope I don’t sound like a jerk, because I want to be generous, celebrate and enjoy my friends. But overpaying, especially by $12 is a lot for me. That’s one hour of work for me right now. As I didn’t get her a birthday present (haven’t given my friends or anyone presents in years!), I could just think of it as an extension of a present, or the price to pay to celebrate her big day. I also know this friend has been generous and done a lot for me. So in the end, it’s not a huge deal, although a little frustrating.

I miss the days of being secure—if something like this would have happened a few years ago, it would be mildly annoying, but not upsetting. This time it felt worse, and left with me a sour feeling.

How can I manage social expectations without going over budget? Have you ever been in a situation where you have had to overpay?


24 responses to “Budget Busters: Birthdays

  1. Great post about such a common situation! I apologize for the shameless plug to my own blog, but I wrote about this very scene playing out at a birthday dinner I attended in February. I empathize with heading into a party with a budget in mind, denying getting what you want and then still having to fork over a lot of money. There isn’t a “non-Larry David” way to deal with it, it’s either awkward social scene or fork over the money. We should come up with a way to fix it! 🙂

  2. I don’t drink but I eat like a bird and I’ve been in a similar situation where a bunch of friends go out to eat…say pizza. I’ll have one piece and everyone else has like 5 and we’re supposed to split the bill evenly? No way Jose!

  3. Do your friends know about your no eating out/drinking challenge? If not, tell them! Let them know you’re on a budget and only willing to spend $20 before you even order because you’re making an exception for your friend. I know my friends would understand…heck, someone would probably offer to pay my portion (knowing that I don’t eat much).

    • My friends don’t know about the challenge. Also, I could have told her about it privately, but I guess I didn’t want to come off as looking cheap. I know there is a fine line between frugal and cheap and I didn’t want to be the latter and look like it’s that big of a deal for me. I guess it was more about me wanting to be perceived in a certain way,

  4. That’s a tough one and like you I probably would have paid it and not raised a fuss. I guess for me it depends on the level of friendship in deciding what to do. Invariably, if it’s a big group you are probably going to be paying more than you wanted to, especially if you are not drinking…or you just got and appetizer or salad. It may seem unfair, but that’s just kind of the reality. So here is what I do. If it’s a good friend and group situation, I might eat beforehand, then just grab a drink at the bar and pay myself, but make sure to chip in for the b-day person’s dinner. OR, I tell my friend I can’t make the dinner, but could I take them to a movie or out for breakfast or something. If it’s a really big deal to spend any money, maybe cook them dinner at home and make a homemade dessert. In the volleyball community I know a lot of people, and I had to accept I couldn’t go to all these birthday events. People don’t seem to mind, although you will be invited less. OK by me. I’m looking for quality friendships, not quantity. PS, because I skip out or go frugal on a lot of friend’d b-days, I also don’t expect the same in return, so I’ll either decline someone organizing something for me, or I’ll have a potluck BBQ at my house, which keeps the costs down for everyone.

    • It’s tough! I don’t go to that many birthday parties either so it’s fine. I usually do the same like, eat or drink before, so I order less at the dinner. This case it wouldn’t really have mattered. Like I said, the dinner was worth it to celebrate with my friend, but you can’t do that for everyone all the time!

  5. I would be very frustrated in your two situations as well. I use to just go along with everything because I didn’t want to be seen as “cheap” but now I am vocal if I can’t afford to contribute. The first time is hard and very embarrassing but after the first time it does get easier…

  6. It’s definitely an awkward and frustrating situation, especially when you’re not drinking and everyone’s had a couple. If everyone goes for family style, I almost always refrain and just get something for me, because I know I won’t eat as much as some people and I like my leftovers. That way, I only pay for myself and chip in for the birthday boy/girl. At first I was a bit embarrassed by it, but I got over it and some people were also on board since some just eat more than others and it’s not really fair that I should pay equal shares. I also just refrain from going if it’s a group I feel lukewarm about, and instead opt to just set up a date with the bday boy/girl just the two of us – that way I only end up paying for the person I like, plus I get one on one time. I’m more generous when it comes to family, though.

    • I definitely think there is a time and place to be generous, especially with family. I should have gotten something separate, but the sushi was so good, I joined in and didn’t want to be bothersome. Thanks for the #ff love! 🙂

    • Yeah, ultimately, I decided just to let it go this time for the bday girl. Yeah someone who offers to pay for everyone is an interesting thing!

  7. I hate it when places do things like that. When I eat somewhere that automatically includes the gratuity because we had a certain number of people at the table, I don’t go back.

  8. Ouch – what a bummer! I would’ve handled it the same way as you did though. But luckily, it’s a rare occasion for you to be stuck in a situation like this, so you just need to let it go, I guess. I would’ve been just as frustrated as you were, though.

  9. This happens a lot for me with my group of friends and I’ve taken to politely totaling up what I owe and leaving that exact amount (including tax and tip) with a smile. At first I got some strange looks but now people are used to it and go about their crazy splitting business on their own.

    I used to be in the same kind of financial situation as you, and I know how hard these types of situations are! Take pride in your generosity and know that you can figure out another alternative to avoid this in the future.

  10. Pingback: Posts to #FF | Are Ya Gonna Eat That?·

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