Mary Hunt: How to handle social obligations – like a school fundraiser – on a budget
Unless you live as a hermit in the backwoods, you know something about social obligations — events and situations that invite participation, whether we can afford them not.
The problem for most of us is that we see social obligations as one big category. We feel guilty if we don't buy something from every school fundraising catalog. We grumble silently, but still show up for all the home parties, school events, office parties and family occasions.
Whether it's an overpriced bucket of cookie dough from a school fundraising catalog, another home party where you end up with random overpriced stuff or full-on participation in a family wedding that costs so much you can't bring yourself to think about it — you may know something about the expense of feeling obligated to participate. Social obligations can become a horrible drain on any household budget. But they don't have to be if you know how to mange them.
The very first thing you need to do when faced with a social obligation is to quickly analyze into which of three categories it falls.
Obligations to keep up with the Joneses. Whether it's the sudden need to get a new car or a certain brand of shoes for the kids, if the true motivation is to impress others, it falls into this category.
Response: Create a special account that you rightly name: Things I Need to Impress Others. Don't be surprised when that need quickly passes.
Obligations to keep rom looking poor. It is this social obligation that finds you sitting with co-workers in an overpriced restaurant, searching madly for the appetizers on the lunch menu in hopes there'll be something — anything — you can order for the last $5 you have to your name. Or sitting in a friend's living room where you are expected to buy a $25 candle.
Response: Don't even attend. Instead, when invited to anything for which you are not fully prepared to fund it without overspending, say simply: "Thanks for the invitation, but unfortunately the money I've earmarked for (eating out, fun stuff for the house) is spoken for. But catch me again next time, OK?" Rest assured that you will be regarded highly, if not secretly, for being smart enough to even have a budget.
Obligations that require participation. There are times you must participate out of your respect or affection for others — a boss, a parent, friend or colleague. To do otherwise will be harmful in a way that is just not right.
Response: Make sure you are setting aside money into a contingency fund for unexpected expenses. Just remember, social obligations that fall into this third category are not routine. They are rare and should be respected as such and expected.