Today, I found out through my fiancé, after I worked on our budget, that they asked him to contribute $80 for the spa day, which he agreed to. I just moved in with my fiancé to an expensive city a few months ago after finishing grad school. I am still looking for work so we are living on one income and definitely don’t have much money. My fiancé already took me to a nice dinner and bought me a present so this $80 was completely unplanned for in our budget. When my friends broached the spa idea, I told them that I didn’t want them to spend a lot of money for my birthday. I would have been perfectly happy with a simple dinner.
After I found out they asked my fiancé to contribute $80, I went on the spa website and discovered that my entire treatment/spa cost was $135!!!! So they had my fiancé pay the majority of the spa and they each just paid $27.50. They are both married and make very decent money. I don’t understand why they would plan an event that they couldn’t afford, and, to top it off, why they would ask the person who is already paying for all of my expenses to contribute anything, let alone a significant portion of it. I AM SO DISAPPOINTED!!!
I want to talk to them about it, but I don’t know how to do it without sounding like I am ungrateful for all of the planning and thoughtful surprise. Please advise! — Disappointed Birthday Girl
One time, a few years ago, I was invited to my friend’s birthday party that her fiancé was throwing for her. It wasn’t a milestone birthday or anything, but she’d had a rough year and her fiancé wanted to do something special, so he decided to hire a chef to cook an amazing meal and invited about 15 of her closest girl friends over to enjoy the food and some cocktails. Sweet, right? Well… he asked each friend to kick in $30 for the cost of the chef, food, and the booze. Now, $30 is probably less than we all would have spent had we gone out to dinner and treated the birthday girl. Thirty bucks wasn’t going to break anyone. But, out of principle, I just couldn’t participate in this total breach of etiquette. I made up some excuse for why I had to miss the party and I took my friend out for a birthday dinner at a different time (and, yes, spent more than $30).
All of this is to say, I totally understand why you’re offended by your friends asking your fiancé to kick in $80 to pay for a birthday gift they’re taking full credit for. I’d be offended, too. But I absolutely do NOT think you should say a thing to them about your feelings. To do so would be a bigger breach of etiquette and would make YOU the bad guy. And really, there aren’t any bad guys here at all. At least, not that bad. Your friends did something tacky, but it shouldn’t negate their good intentions. They wanted you to feel special and pampered. And you did! You said yourself you felt appreciated and loved. And that’s what they wanted. And beyond that, they also paid for their own expenses at the spa, a tip for your services, and (I’m guessing) dinner for you later (all of which added up to far more than the $27.50 you’re giving them credit for, I’m sure). They also cleared their schedule for the entire day and evening and made sure many of your friends showed up for the dinner to celebrate you. Those are all thoughtful things that show they care about you.
Let the $80 go. It’s a lot of money, sure — maybe a week’s worth of groceries for you and your fiancé, or a monthly cell phone bill, or a mid-range haircut in an expensive city. A lot, yes, but $80 isn’t going to break you. Even on one income, $80 probably isn’t going to be the difference between eating or not eating, and for that you should be grateful. Let it go, and in the future plan your own birthday party or let your significant other plan and pay for it if he offers. If friends are insistent on doing something, pick an affordable bar and ask if they’re free to join you for drinks. Isn’t this what most adults do?
On a related note: I don’t have any issue with grown adults making a big fuss over their birthdays — even those who do it every year and not just for milestone birthdays (which I think should sort of be fussed over just a little bit; they only happen every 10 years); I just believe that if you’re going to make a fuss over your birthday, you make it fun, fairly convenient, and super affordable for your guests (like, if you throw a big party, you pay for the whole thing, or, if you want to take a trip, you find a good deal and treat your guests to some part of the trip like their ski passes [for example] or a nice dinner or something to show your appreciation). I have one friend who has thrown himself a birthday party for the last several years and he invites many of his out-of-town friends to come. And every year, five or six of us show up at his place from various cities ready to have a good time. Why do we show up? Because it’s fun, fairly convenient, and super affordable (we all crash at his place slumber party-style, cook meals and make cocktails together, hang out at the beach, and use borrowed bikes or cabs or public trans or our feet to get around). It’s become less about a birthday and more about a reunion of friends. And those are exactly the kinds of birthday get-togethers I like. Just don’t ask me to kick in $30 for a private chef for a party you’re throwing — that’s where I draw the line.
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