A friend’s daughter just received a mass email from the husband of one of her good friends. To celebrate his wife’s upcoming 30th birthday, he wanted to surprise her with a weekend getaway, and wanted to get feedback from friends about some possible destinations. He finished the email with note that, if anyone was at a loss for birthday gift ideas for his wife, donations towards this getaway would be appreciated.
Not surprisingly, my friend’s daughter and other people in the group were turned off. They were happy to help suggest vacation spots for the couple, but asking for a handout rubbed them the wrong way. It was the husband’s choice to plan a getaway, so why ask for others to pay up too? They also resented being told what to get the wife as a birthday gift—it seemed so impersonal. It also made it seem like perhaps the husband only sent the email to solicit donations, not travel tips.
Having a big circle of friends can indeed get costly when birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, and other significant events roll around. One friend may want to ring in her 50th on a Caribbean beach, while another is planning a nine-course tasting menu at a swanky restaurant. It can be difficult to say no, but in this economic climate, that sometimes has to be done before you go broke. I suggest reaching out to the person and say, “I’m afraid I can’t attend this event, but I’d love to take you out for a celebratory drink/make you dinner so we can catch up one on one.”
If you’re the one playing host, be sensitive to those with limited budgets. Perhaps you can enjoy that fancy dinner with a spouse or close friend, and simply have a more casual get-together for all of your friends later. If you are hosting more than one gathering, don’t expect or guilt-trip friends into attending all of them. That can be very costly and time-consuming, and may make you seem a bit self-absorbed.
And avoid having a registry for a simple birthday. It makes you seem greedy. Fund-raising is fine for a charity, but when the cause is, say, paying for a pair of Louboutins or bank-rolling a trip to Vegas, friends can start to feel like a human ATM. You may drop a subtle hint that you’re saving up for something, or on the lookout for new clothes (to buy yourself), but don’t make demands. After all, it’s the thought that counts, right?