Spending On Experiences Only Counts If They’re Experiences You Want

Or, this week’s Money Mom column about expensive destination weddings.

Photo credit: Francisco Sgroi, CC BY 2.0.

I have so many THOUGHTS about this week’s Money Mom column—which features a letter from a woman who has been asked to be a bridesmaid in a wedding in Tuscany—so I’ll just run through them in order:

What If I Can’t Afford My Rich Friend’s Wedding?

“I feel obligated to spend more on weddings than I actually can all the time,” says Paige, 34, a New York–based editor from Texas.


“You go to these blowout weddings, and then you have these memories, but you’re also broke for a couple of months. As a friend, I guess it’s worth it, but as a person who’s trying to be financially responsible, it’s really not.”

Yes, doing something extraordinarily expensive does often mean that you’ll be broke for a couple of months. There’s a reason why I told myself “no new stuff until September”—I knew I’d be spending an unusual percentage of my income on business expenses and travel this summer, which meant I’d have to cut back in other areas. I’m already thinking ahead to how much Christmas might cost, and how that’ll affect the amount of discretionary income I have left over in October/November/December.

You don’t get to do some blowout thing and then still have all the money you usually have in your checking account. (Unless you save up for the blowout in advance, which also works.)

Multiple studies have shown that spending on experiences rather than material things results in greater well-being, and I’m pretty sure that availing yourself of an open bar and endless cheese platters under the Tuscan sun would qualify.

Sure, but they have to be experiences you want. Also, booze and cheese are both delightful, but at this point I’ve had the experience of eating cheese and drinking wine many times. Even if the Tuscan stuff is way better than what I usually get, the eating and drinking part can’t be the only draw.

And, on the subject of eating and drinking:

Are you currently spending $20 a day on lunch? Simple changes like that can go a long way [to helping you afford your friend’s destination wedding].

Ah, the $20 lunch that we’re apparently eating every day. Probably followed by a $5 latte. I love that everyone’s response to “I can’t afford this” is “have you tried cutting out food?” I guess they really want wine and cheese to feel like an experience.

Also, many of us have already figured out that we can save money on lunches and lattes. And, just because I have to do the math, I checked the price on a flight to Tuscany in August. I’m getting roughly $1,500 round trip, and that’ll only get you as far as Pisa. So… you’d have to skip 75 of those $20 lunches.

“If this is a solid relationship, you should be able to say, ‘Hey, I love you, but I can’t make it to your wedding. I really wish I could, and I’m sorry. I want to do something else for you when you get home.’ And then plan a celebration of some kind — one that you can afford — when she gets back,” suggests [Sarah Asebedo, president-elect of the Financial Therapy Association].

I agree to the first half of this, but not necessarily to the second. Yes, if your friend invites you to a wedding that you cannot attend for whatever reason (cost, work/family obligations, lack of PTO, etc.), check off that “nope” RSVP and send a lovely card/gift. But you don’t need to plan an additional celebration. You don’t owe your friend another party just because you couldn’t attend theirs.

I get that being asked to be a bridesmaid makes this a little more complicated, but I still feel like the letter writer should be able to say no without obligating themselves to host a return soirée. Not that the letter writer couldn’t say “I’d love to get together for wine and cheese when you get back in town!”

What do you think about this LW’s dilemma? Should she say yes and start budgeting for the expense? Should she ask her friend whether costs will be covered? Should she say no and feel okay about it, because her friend didn’t really take her financial situation into account when planning the wedding?

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