Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Cost of Family and Friends

June traditionally sees all manner of simchas being squeezed into it. It falls between Sefirah and the Three Weeks and it seems like everyone takes advantage of this "happy" time period. It's the month where graduations of all kinds take place. It's a heavily utilized month for engagements and bridal showers and weddings and sheva brochas. Because it's such a big wedding month, years later it's also a month filled with milestone anniversaries. And all that is in addition to births, and briisim, and a sholom zochor or three or four, and bar mitzvahs and bas mitzvahs and just plain birthdays. And yes, there are the sadder moments as well, with funerals and shiva calls and a seudas shloshim and yahrzeit kiddushim. In short, June is a busy month.

I love hearing about good news and simchas among family members and friends. Yes, I love celebrating together with these people. But there are some costs to this celebrating that we somehow push to the side.

First cost? Time and travel. Family and friends live all over the general NYC area and getting to a simcha or a sad occasion is not a matter of walking down the block. These events happen midweek and on weekends and the time settled on for beginning and ending takes into consideration the needs of the person whose occasion it is, not the needs of the guests. We're going to spend hours and hours this month traveling all over the NY/NJ area. Let's not even mention here what this is going to take in gas and tolls and wear and tear on the cars and the drivers.

Second cost? Downtime. After working a full day most people don't consider it relaxing to have to race home, change clothes and spend 3-5 hours at someone else's table and then have to commute the long distance home. Weekends during the rest of the year can pretty much be counted on for taking care of what you can't take care of during the work week or are for getting in a little relaxation before the work week begins again. Know enough people and you are going to find that June contains NO downtime and lots of exhaustion.

Third cost? Money. Our etiquette gurus are quick to point out that a gift should never be expected, while at the same time they preach that there are certain occasions/situations where a gift is basically mandatory. Know many people who attend a wedding or bar mitzvah/bas mitzvah and give nothing as a gift? Know many people who go to a birthday party or anniversary celebration and bring nothing as a gift? While there are people who will go to a bris and not give a gift for the newborn, do you know many aunts and uncles/grandparents of that newborn who do not give a gift? Bringing gifts to an engagement party has also become common place.

Just for "fun" I tallied up what the expenses are going to be this June for all the various simchas and occasions we already know about. Then I threw in a few dollars for those occasions that are going to possibly come up in the rest of June that we don't know about yet. I added up gas and tolls and gift expenses. I looked at the number of hours we won't be home, including travel time and time at the simcha. Even with holding costs down, even with not attending everything we are invited to, this month is going to cost mega bucks in the "extra expenses" department. And we don't have small children so I don't have to add in expenses for baby sitters for all these occasions. I already know these occasions are going to happen and I budget for them, but what about those who don't include a specific budget item for these things? (Lots and lots of people who don't.)

Far from dreading the Three Weeks, I'm going to welcome them with wide open arms and a sigh of relief. And my checkbook will breathe easier as well. We may not like thinking about it, but having family and friends has a cost that comes with them, a cost that a lot of people don't think about and don't plan for. If you are looking for budget breakers look no further than June and its attendant simchas. (Actually, look at simchas all year round and the total can be really shocking.)

And if you are playing keeping up with the Shwartzes when it comes to gift giving? As they say in Brooklyn: "fahgeddaboutit."


Sara said...

If you're counting up the money you also need to include some other expenses that go up. How about combing out a sheitle a few that's going to get worn 2 dozen times to simchas this month? How about cleaning bills for outfits and suits that are going to be worn and worn and worn?

Anonymous said...

So take muchutanim from Queens and Brooklyn and make the wedding in Jersey during the week. Almost looks like they did it so that half their invites won't show and save them the money. Saves us the money...not going and no need to send a gift if we aren't going. Right, Westchester to Jersey on a Tuesday night for a 7 pm chupah and we both work.

Anonymous said...

The notion of gifts for birthday and anniversary presents for adults is silly, as is spending money to make parties for adult's birthdays or anniversaries outside of immediate family. If you do have an anniversary or birthday party for an adult you should make sure that the invitation says "no gifts please." If you still feeled compel to give at these events, buy a few cases of good wine and you will always have a bottle to bring.

Rae said...

Depends on which anniversaries and birthdays those adults are having anonymous. People don't usually make big parties for just an 11th anniversary but they do for the 25th or 50th. Some people are very big on parties for the birthdays with a zero--40, 50, 60 etc. And if you have a way older parent then every birthday is a big deal. Also depends on how close you are to the person celebrating. Usually the whole world isn't invited to these things and the people who are are considered close friends or family. Re the wine, that works only if you know that the person getting it likes wine and will drink it rather than just pass it on to someone else.

Trudy said...

Sara--it's not just cleaning those outfits that costs, it's also having to buy them. No, not too many women who would be happy wearing the same outfit 68 times in one year, even if that outfit would fit every simcha and every season, and it won't.

Also keep this in mind. People will most times excuse really young married couples if they don't give gifts or give really cheap ones. But they don't excuse older couples who do this. Sometimes I think people spend more and give more gifts just so that people won't have what to talk about them.

Lion of Zion said...


"But they don't excuse older couples who do this."

i don't excuse younger couples who do this either.

Lion of Zion said...

i sense an anti-simcha sentiment that boils down (at least in part) to wardrobe (incl. sheitel) expense issues. perhaps we need to take a new look at our attitude toward wardrobe rather than question the value of attending semachot.

personally i think that we invite too many people to simchos and yes, i often find it a pain to shlep all over the place and rearrange schedules. however, i much prefer this to funerals, shiva call, bikkur cholim visits, etc.
i really try to go to weddings and brises with a positive mindset. (i feel less compelled to do so with "minor" simchos, e.g., pidyon haben, sheva berachot, etc.)

Tuvi said...

Not so sure it's an anti-simcha attitude Lion. You're so right that I'd rather go to a wedding than to a funeral. But I don't think the posting was wrong when it says that a lot of people don't budget simcha costs into their basic budgets, and those simchas can eat up a lot of money when you're not looking.

For me there is this part, that I don't understand at all. I daven in a minyan with about 100 or so regular mispalalim. I know all of them to nod to, some to say a few words to, some more to say more words to and some that I know really well. But when the simcha invitations come out we're getting invitations from people who we really don't know that well and I can't understand why. Yet if we don't go (and this has happened twice already) the baal simcha gets all huffy and thinks you are being snobby.

We work in the house on a pretty simple rule with really rare exceptions. If the people issuing the invitation have never been guests in our home and we in theirs, we don't accept the invitation.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but you have a 'grinch' attitude. Going to Simchas may be a pain at times.I have never heard of anyone complaining that they had to drop everything in the middle of the day and attend a funeral. Between those two options--Simchas on one hand -- and Funerals on the other, I would rather be 'inconvenienced' by a Simcha anytime!
Money is tight today, and I don't think people will talk if your gift has more sentiment than monetary worth. Go and have a good time where ever you go. If someone doesn't like you because of your gift, they will 'pay' you back in kind anyway.
I can't see anyone welcoming the three weeks for any reason. It really sounds like you are in need of some 'you' time. We all get burned out for lots of reasons. Pick one event in June, kindly decline from attending, and spend it on yourself! You will feel better and happier and won't be so resentful!

Joel said...

When the brides family are not New Yorkers they intentionally plan the wedding for a Wednesday night so that nobody will stay for shabbat

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