No matter what culture you come from, there are at least a couple of big life events that you celebrate with your family. Whether we’re talking about weddings, quinceañeras or bar mitzvahs, it seems like these family celebrations just keep getting bigger and bigger. The budget for the average wedding in the U.S. is just over $20,000, but other events are certainly catching up. Even a down economy hasn’t kept spending down. I even know one mom who spent more than a thousand dollars on her daughter’s second birthday.
Creating That Special Day
The idea seems to be that if you throw enough money at creating the perfect event, it will stand out as a wonderful memory for your family — more so, apparently, than if you spend less. While the question of making a perfect day seems to pop up most with weddings, it is present at coming of age events and other occasions, too. But we have to ask, is spending all of that money necessary?
Is a bar mitzvah any less a bar mitzvah without dinner for a couple hundred people? Is a quinceañera less a quinceañera without a live band? Of course not. Reining in a family celebration, though, is becoming increasingly difficult.
Keeping Up With Cousin Jones
It’s far easier to convince yourself that you don’t need to keep up with that family down the street than it is to realize that keeping up with cousins, siblings and other relatives isn’t necessary. How much of your time Christmas-shopping is spent trying to find a gift of equal or greater value than whatever you received last year. Our families are the ones that we learn many of our spending behaviors from, and that doesn’t stop when we grow up and move out. And we all want to impress our relatives, if only to show them how well we’re doing and how happy we are — a cousin’s opinion of you can feel a hundred times more important than a friend or neighbor’s.
That can make for some problems when you’re planning an event that the whole family is showing up for. Even a Mother’s Day brunch has to not only live up to the expectations of your family, but actually impress them. That leads to expensive get-togethers, along with plenty of stress even if everything goes perfectly. It isn’t a matter of setting a budget or sticking to it after all. If it’s for a celebration, why shouldn’t we be willing to spend whatever it takes to get things right?
Coming to terms with whether you’re throwing a party to impress or if your main focus really is the life event you’re celebrating can be a difficult question to consider. But, hard as it may be, it is a question that should be kept in mind when setting the budget for both big life events and smaller family celebrations. The right amount is rarely every cent you can afford to spend on throwing a big party. Yet, setting a lower budget can be difficult. It’s necessary though: consider not only the event in question, but your goals and what you actually think is important to spend. If your goal is for your family and friends to have a good time and to celebrate with you, the accoutrements are less important — you can probably get away without the ice sculpture or whatever else all those magazines say is in fashion.
A Few Awkward Conversations
Choosing to throw smaller events, cut guest lists and so on can lead relatives to wonder about what’s going on. There may even be a few awkward questions or even a relative trying to help with costs if they think a bigger deal should be made out of whatever event you’re celebrating. No matter your reasoning for spending less, it’s easy for a parent or a cousin to think that you might be in financial difficulties.
Be prepared for those conversations. Not everyone will understand an explanation that, while you think a family celebration is worth having, it isn’t worth spending heavily on. Many people after all, don’t just budget what they think they’ll need for something like a wedding — they budget every cent they can afford or even think about taking on debt to spend as much as they want to pay for that special day. But while that special day may only happen once in your life, is it really worth paying for a big cake and a fancy dress for the rest of your days?
Spreading Restraint Among Family Members
One of the biggest difficulties most of us face when trying to control spending for family celebrations is the fact that most of our family members aren’t exactly on board. No matter what they see you do, everyone else is going to make their own decisions as far as things like how much to spend on the next confirmation party. You can explain until you’re blue in the face how you feel about spending astronomical amounts of money, but it’s not going to stop a sibling from adding a zero to the budget for his or her wedding.
But that doesn’t mean you’re out of options. Offering to help with the next big event can be a step in the right direction — something as simple as offering to set tables or make decorations, can cut a few costs while reinforcing the idea that not everything requires the help of a party planner or a professional. It can take some time to change the mindset of family members, but offering an alternative to big spending can be key.
Some families do better than others, of course. Maybe your family has low-key get-togethers or maybe you’ve put some spending constraints in place, like an upper limit for spending on gifts between family members. But for many of us, working on the need to impress our families is something that requires some work.
The good news is the change can be permanent, as long as you work at it. Just like everything else, your responsible mindset will eventually shine through and influence everyone around you.