The summer months are prime time for weddings, family reunions and beach vacations—all fun events, but they can be draining on the wallet.
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Although it would be optimal to attend all events, students and grads need to be realistic and set a limit on what they are willing and able to shell out to attend, says Suzanna de Baca, vice president of wealth strategies at Ameriprise.
“Determine how much you can spend on gifts and other expenses related to celebrations before the invitations start flowing in,” she says. “Having this guide can help you decide how much you can afford to spend on each gift and can give you an idea ahead of time if you may need to decline an expensive event out of state.”
As parties, showers, gifts and plane tickets start to add up, money can be a sensitive subject but getting a grasp on the proper way to address financial obligations openly and honestly is an essential life skill, says etiquette expert and co-author of Emily Post's Etiquette 18th edition, Daniel Post Senning
“It’s something that you’re going to be taking on more and more yourself, so there is no better time to reinforce the best practices both for managing money but also for managing relationships around money,” he says.
Here are three tips from financial and etiquette experts on how students and grads can commit to summer celebrations with a plan to keep costs in check.
Tip No. 1: Set a Budget Early and Stick to It
Reviewing a calendar, carefully considering each invitation and setting a budget ahead of time can prevent overspending in the heat of the moment.
Summer is prime wedding time and while it’s an honor to be asked to be part of someone’s big day, it’s also expensive, so be sure to ask the bride or groom right away about expectations, recommends de Baca.
“Be honest with the bride or groom about what you can reasonably afford,” she says. “If you’re attending many weddings and events related to weddings as a guest, set a gift budget ahead of time and stick to it for each event.”
When determining how much to spend on a gift, a thoughtful but less costly present or even a group gift can be just as appropriate, says Lizzie Post, etiquette expert and author of How Do You Work This Life Thing?
“When someone registers at a high-end store, their least expensive gift might be at the very top of your range and we like to tell people that it’s okay to buy something off the registry, just make sure you have the couple in mind when you’re thinking about that gift,” she says.
Tip No. 2: Talk About Money…at the Right Time
Talking about money can be uncomfortable, but having the discussion early can prevent sticker shock and keep plans organized and on budget.
Taking on the upfront costs for concert tickets, group gifts and gas for long road trips can involve borrowing and exchanging money between friends, and having a calm, private approach is crucial to ensure that debts are repaid in a timely and reasonable fashion, says Joe Duran, CEO of United Capital and author of The Money Code.
“Money is not only emotional, but it also speaks to our values, so when we become emotional or feel disrespected it often feels like a personal attack,” he says.
To avoid an uncomfortable situation, de Baca suggests setting expectations upfront about how money matters will be worked out.
“If you’re planning a road trip with a friend, agree on who will buy gas–such as every other tank– before you hit the road,” she says. “If you front the bill for a joint vacation or event, make sure that your financial situation won’t be jeopardized if the others are unexpectedly unable to pay you back.”
Tip No. 3: Don’t Go Into Debt Over Fear of Disappointment
Although it can be difficult to turn down an invitation to a special event, experts stress avoiding going into debt over a gift, event or vacation at all costs, even if it means delivering a disappointing answer.
No matter how difficult it might be, it’s important to RSVP with a firm ‘yes,’ ‘no’ or if there’s the possibility of attendance, to give the inviter a set time frame in which to decide, says Post Senning.
“People don’t want to let cost get in the way of something that really matters, a significant family event or life event, and the idea that you wouldn’t attend because you thought you couldn’t afford the wedding or travel expenses, that might really be heart breaking to somebody,” he says.
Should students and grads determine that it will be too costly to attend, Post recommends having a personal, private conversation to let a loved one down gently.
“Say, ‘I would love to support you in any way that you would like to let me, but unfortunately right now my finances are such that I cannot commit to this and feel okay about it,’” she says. “It’s honest, it’s upfront and it’s something where you need to be clear and you need to be dedicated to your answer.”