Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: My husband and I are very financially constrained, partly by choice (we want someone home with the kids). In order to make this work, we are SUPER frugal and have had at least one financial-adviser type look at us quizzically and ask how we live on so little money.
The problem is, we can’t seem to socialize with any of the people around us, because they all seem to have more money to spare. All of our middle-class, college-educated friends seem to think nothing about grabbing a coffee here, and lunch there, taking the kids out to a show, whatever, as long as it’s moderately priced. How can we politely turn things down that we would love to do? How do we explain that “moderately priced” is out of our price range?
Too Poor for a Social Life
Through one-on-one conversations. Explain that you want to see them and you want to do fun things, but they have to be free-free. Not, five bucks and buy a hot dog at the concession stand, but $0 and maybe pack a picnic. Then follow up by being the ones to suggest things and invite friends to them: “There’s a free kids’ concert at The Local Arts Venue. We’re bringing PBJs and making an afternoon of it -- wanna come with?”
Then when you have to turn things down, just say you’d love to but you can’t, thanks for the invitation, maybe next time? Even better, suggest a specific thing -- “We can’t go, I’m sorry. Next weekend, though, we’re planning to [blank]. Would you like to come?”
Carolyn: How can I explain this to people I don’t know as well? We often get invitations to go out as a get-to-know-you kind of thing, but it’s very awkward to explain to acquaintances, and I don’t want to sound like I’m asking them to pay.
Too Poor again
Don’t explain, just decline the invitation politely, and then make a note to reciprocate -- if not on the spot, then soon -- with an invitation to something you can afford.
Re: Too Poor:
There’s no shame in saying, “That’s not in our budget right now.” If they push you to explain, they’re the ones making it weird, not you.
Yes, thank you -- though they’ll still have to be ready with an answer to, “Oh come on, it’s just 5 bucks a person,” or, “It’s our treat, then.” If they fumble for a response, they could walk away feeling bad despite being technically “right.”
Re: Too Poor:
Also give some thought as to how your financial inability to participate in community life affects your kids, and weigh that against the benefits of having a full-time stay-home parent. My parents were kind of like you guys. I did like having my mom home, but in middle school, it was really hard to be the kid dressed in out-of-style hand-me-downs, who could never afford to go out to a movie with friends. In retrospect, I think the extreme frugality did us more social damage than it was worth. There can be a middle ground, such as a part-time job to allow the family a little financial breathing room.
Great point. Beliefs do often morph into blind spots.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.