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A Sudden Expense Changes Everything

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Recently my wife and I dined out a few times. While no particular meal was expensive, the aggregate of the three meals equaled 2 weeks worth of groceries. I didn't think about it too much at the time. Everything changed with an e-mail my wife received on Sunday. In her words, "The color drained from [her] face."

The e-mail was from her friend from Spain. She is getting married and would like for us to join them in celebrating their union. The wedding is less than 45 days away.

I immediately went into shock. This couple came from Spain to our wedding. It seems only fair that we should go to their's. Beyond what seems "fair", my wife's culture considers not going a huge slap in the face. Our situation is very different to the other couple's for the following reasons:

  • My wife's friend is a flight attendant - This means that she flew to our wedding for free.
  • We gave guests 10 months of notice - With the short notice, finding cheap hotels is difficult. There is a cheap flight, but that might be filled by the time we find cheap hotel.
  • Our wedding was on the east coast - This may seem like small detail, but flying from California to Spain is different than flying from Spain to Boston
  • The Dollar Hates Us - With the US dollar continuing it's drop, it doesn't go very far. On the other hand, the strong Euro created a situation where the couple could go to New York after our wedding and do some discount shopping

The last monkey wrench is that I don't fully understand the friendship of my wife and this friend. This friend met my wife through a foreign exchange program 15 years ago. They stay in touch with an occasional e-mail. I don't know how often, but I'd guess it's a status update once every couple of months. And since the friend is a native speaker of Spanish, my wife used an online translator to make sure this e-mail said what she thought it did. In the past 10 years they've only met a few times in person. I don't mean to make any judgments, but I have trouble comprehending how deep this friendship goes.

I did some of the math and the cost of this trip would exceed $1800 - for just lodging and air fare. With my income dropping drastically, that's close to what I bring in for a month after taxes. I immediately thought about our dinners earlier this week and their expenses in addition to this potential one.

This has lead to some interesting discussions. While these discussions are still on-going, I am convinced they could completely change how we feel about money. Read the about those discussions here.

Last updated on January 17, 2008.

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Couples and Money

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30 Responses to “A Sudden Expense Changes Everything”

  1. Bubba says:

    I’d only go if you both WANT to go. If you don’t feel like spending the money, then don’t go. It doesn’t sound like the friendship is that tight anyway, so it shouldn’t be a big deal. The only wedding I’ve traveled to via plane & paid that wasn’t family was someone I talk to on a daily basis. There was no question I would drop $1k to be at his wedding. If they aren’t a close friend or family member, then I’d decline and send them a “nicer” wedding present.

  2. Dee says:

    I’m not sure how your wife would feel about this, but is it possible to talk to the friend about possible deals with the airline? Consider it a bit of networking. The friend may have forgotten about how expensive plane tickets this close to the date and might be happy to help you guys find a great deal since she has inside info.

  3. Ouch, that’s a tough one. It’s kind of inconsiderate to only give 45 days notice though. I’m sure the friend in Spain is thinking, “Well, we’re only giving them 45 days so we can’t be shocked if they don’t come.”

    Seems fair right? Is your wife from Spain?

  4. Anitra says:

    I’d have your wife start talking with this friend – “We’d love to come, but money is really tight right now, and we’re not sure we can afford the airfare and hotel, especially on such short notice.” Money or job status may be a taboo subject in her culture (I have no idea), but it will have to be brought up in some fashion.

    See how the friend responds. She may be simply extending the invitation as a courtesy, and will be understanding that you cannot come. OR she may want you to come strongly enough that she will offer to help find a cheap airfare.

  5. RateLadder says:

    wow… I would have your wife ask the friend for help with the airfare. (assuming you even want to go). If you were a second or third round invite anyway then maybe the don’t care if you are actually in attendance.

  6. amx511 says:

    Even if you come to the wedding, you won’t enjoy it much as you don’t understand the language that well (your wife had to double-check with a translator).

    Send the bride a moderate gift with a note that you regret you won’t be able to come due to some prior engagement. Promise her that you will visit them in the future, possibly during a family vacation to Spain.

    This happens quite sometimes with me. I have moderately close friends in many parts of the world inviting me to their weddings. Rejecting the first one was awkward, but it got better.

  7. Ernesto says:

    On first blush, I’d say forget it. But if your wife puts her foot down, I could think of worse battles to lose.

    Anyway, you’ll have a good excuse to travel to Spain. Maybe you could find a hostel to stay at and save you some $$.

    Remember, life is a book, and if you don’t travel, you’re not turning the pages.

  8. Llama Money says:

    The short notice gives you an easy out – just use the good ol’ “cant get out of work” excuse. Your wife can even blame it on you – doubtful that her friend knows your current work status.
    $1800+ for an acquaintance? Not interested.

  9. guinness416 says:

    “Completely change how we feel about money” is an interesting hook!

    If you don’t want to go you certainly shouldn’t, although if your wife wants to attend that’s a whole different situation …. it sounds from the tone of the post that you’d be pretty resentful while there, which is fair enough but doesn’t do anyone any good.

    There are other ways for your wife to let her friend know that she is thinking of her. I travelled to a family friend’s wedding in Italy this summer. There were quite a few people who couldn’t make the trip from various points around the globe but sent really funny and touching “telegrams” to be read by the best man at dinner. These were very well thought-out and went down an absolute storm. In my mind, that’s a good and memorable alternative to attending, where as non-family you’re almost lost in the mix anyway. Remember, even if your wife’s friend is a bridezilla at the moment, she won’t be in a few weeks!

  10. dong says:

    I’ve got a few friends who’ve gone abroad and gone abroad to attend a friend met via foreign exchange program. I don’t think it’s particularly uncommon actually for people to keep in touch with foreign exchange students. It’s nice to know people abroad.

    As for attending the wedding, I’ve always felt you go if you’re a close friend and or if you want to. I certainly would never feel like anybody who isn’t in the wedding party has to attend. Obviously other people feel differently. That said I think it’d be nice to go to Spain. But I’ve got a penchant for traveling…

  11. Mrs. Micah says:

    I’d say tell your wife that it’s her decision–since it’s her friend and her culture. Let her know that if she feels you both need to go that you can work together on figuring out how to plan to trip and keep expenses down.

  12. Joy says:

    I’ve had several invitations from out of the country myself, each would’ve easily cost me the same amount that you mentioned and that’s only for myself. I say just be honest about the situation the the friend, as what Anitra said above. Chances are, if the friendship is that deep, she’d either offer to help or will accept your apologies for not being able to come. I come from a culture where people sometimes get in debt just to be able to attend weddings and other special occasions, but sometimes, you just have to be practical. There will be other times when you can celebrate their marriage after the fact.

    I’ve declined 3 international weddings already, and they both understood. There’s another one that’s pending for 2009 that I might be able to go to, but I was very honest about my apprehensions.

    Talk to your wife about it, too, since she’s the friend. She could be just waiting for you to say No.

  13. Dan says:

    Has anyone considered they purposely sent you the invitation on short notice? It’s a good way of saying you are invited but not really. Chances are you got pulled from the “B” or “C” list.

    Do you think their close friends knew about this event a month and a half ahead of time? Doubt it.

    If not going to this wedding is a “slap in the face”, then what do you call an invitation sent a month and a half ahead of the event?

  14. I would pull the “my culture” card which says that missing a wedding party should not influence a friendship and that if it does, I would not be interested in that friendship anyway. Actually, something similar happened to us in reverse. We wanted to make our wedding small, so we made a cut off that said closest family only so as not to have to put up with dozens of guests. Some friends understood that perfectly fine whereas one particular individual did not get it all. It took almost two years before that person started talking to my wife again. Overall and culturally speaking I think we came out on top of that exchange as we were very reasonable about the whole thing.

  15. Money Management and You says:

    45 days is very very short notice, especially when your sending invitations internationally.

    I know other people with “friendships” like that, they seem to be just formal acquaintances, but they pretend as though they’ve been best friends for years

  16. Lazy Man says:

    A couple of quick notes:

    – Thanks for all the comments, I greatly appreciate them.
    – About the short notice… The engagement happened around New Year’s. I don’t believe this is going to be similar to the type of wedding that has been common in the United States. As far as sending invitations internationally, e-mail is instant – even in Spain ;-).
    – My wife didn’t play a “my culture” card, I just know how it is. It’s one thing that I’ve learned in our 20 month engagement
    – Expenses – The flight is actually the cheaper part of my very, very conservative $1800 estimate. If my wife goes alone it’s going to cost $1200 for flight and lodging. At that point, I don’t mind spending the $600 extra for the enjoyment of seeing a new country. I really would like to go to Spain, I’m just not sure if this is the time.

  17. Joseph Sangl says:

    YIKES! I would NOT go, but that is my own cheap self speaking!

  18. Sjean says:

    As usualy, the first question is, can you afford it? It sounds like you CAN, but there are other things you’d sacrifice. Even if it’s just savings.

    Really, it seems like a negotiation with your wife. Does she think it is important to go?

    If I went, I’d make the most out of it and turn it into a vacation.

  19. America is probably the only place in the world where people have two year long engagements. I don’t think that 45 days is really short notice for many countries. My wife is from another country and we go back there often for Christmas and New Year’s. However, we never make the plans before Thanksgiving. Planning too far ahead would just invite bad luck or unforeseen events. ;)

    I had a whole group of people fly 10 time zones for my wedding. It feels great and is fun to have people travel the world to participate. I also went to a few weddings abroad. Memories of a wedding in Chihuahua, Mexico are bringing a smile to my face. That one strapped my budget for some time because I did not make much money then, but I would not trade the experience for anything.

    Other ways to think about it 1) Finding the cheapest tickets possible will make for an interesting post for you blog. 2) It is a guilt free vacation to Spain because you “had to go” for the wedding.

    Buy the tickets, have a good time, and send us all a post card.

  20. I have to agree with personal loan – traveling is one thing that (in moderation) can really be worth spending money on. Although I could not afford many of my travels in college, I wouldn’t trade in the experience for anything.

    Is is possible to turn it into a mini-vacation and do some sight-seeing while you are there?

  21. SC says:

    I say if this is too stressful a financial burden at this time, you have to tell the friend you wish you could go but just can’t–and send a very nice present instead.

    And before you raid the emergency fund–I’d really ask myself if this is such an emergency or more a want/desire.

    Also, start asking around if you know anyone who works for a major airline. Friends of a friend. I know someone who works for a major airline and they can get passes for friends to fly at a major discount. From California to Spain would be 400-450 roundtrip with my friend’s discount (the catch is you have to fly their airline only and you fly standby though every time we’ve used it we’ve gotten on okay).

    Good luck.

  22. You shouldn’t invite guests to your wedding from overseas if you’re not willing to reciprocate. I don’t think your wife’s friend flew for free – my dad worked for two different airlines and the standard policy is for staff to travel for 20% of the “standard” economy airfare. That works out to about 40%-50% of a normal discount airfare.

    If your wife really wants to go I’d just plan a short spanish holiday around the trip and make the most of it.

    I hope you didn’t have too many other friends come to your wedding from overseas!

  23. Tim says:

    Wanting to go is definitely the criteria along with if you can afford to go. There is no need for reciprocation, and you shouldn’t feel guilt in not going either. Send a gift, send a card, whatever. There are plenty of things in life that you cannot buy or do.

    Now a happy compromise could be that you send your wife and you stay behind. My wife wanted to go to her best friend’s wedding in Taiwan. Considering my wife had already made two trips back to Taiwan, one to Romania, one to South Africa, one to Qatar, one to UAE, one to Malaysia, one to Bali, one to Italy, one to Turkey, one to Ethiopia, and one to Czech Republic all this past year, I think we were a little tapped out on our travel expenses. She went, I stayed at home.

  24. Spain is a very interesting country.
    Rather than spend that much just to go to the wedding, maybe you spend a tad more and can combine it with a trip around the country and stay for a week?

    Regarding hotels: Early March should be off-peak season

  25. escapee says:

    I wouldn’t go- that is WAY too short of notice for such a huge expense. In order to budget for something like that you need to be able to set aside a few hundred every month.

    If the friends gets upset, so be it. It’s not like she’s someone that you see every day.

  26. Brip Blap says:

    I agree with Enough Wealth – if you invite overseas guests, you’ve got to be ready to reciprocate. I did the same thing – we invited a good friend of mine from France to our wedding and soon she’ll be getting married and we’ll be going over there with a toddler and a baby – but hey, that’s life. Good luck going to Europe for $1800, by the way… that’s got to be on the low end…

    Don’t worry about it too much. You have to assume in life that there are obligations that require some cash outlay. If you CAN pay for it, pay for it. If you can’t, don’t. Since you can, you should. I think 45 days is a reasonable notice. If they had gotten engaged 3 months ago and just notified you now, it wouldn’t be, but if it’s fairly recent I wouldn’t be too shocked.

    Spain is cool, anyway. Paella and Spanish wine – that’s living.

  27. I see you already considered what I was going to suggest – that your wife go alone if this is really important to her. And if this is really important to her and you want to go, and you can afford to go, then you should go.

    And as for what you said in your later post, I wanted to say that I personally think combined finances are a good thing for a married couple – I do think it tends to help you think the same way about money.

  28. You could say that you just took time off for your own wedding/honeymoon and can’t get any more time off until next year.

    offer to come if they postpone the wedding, or maybe catch them for the next one! ;-)

  29. Lana says:

    I have read in various places that men’s friendships are based on who they hang around with, while women’s friendships are based more on emotional connections. For a woman, it’s important to have a friend whom you share a certain emotional core with. Women talk and share secrets, which backs up this theory. Men, so it goes, have friendships based on who they spend time with – the buddy you play ball with, the buddy you go fishing with, the buddy you talk shop with, etc. In my limited experience, I can say this rings true a good deal of the time. It may help to explain why your wife can exchange just a few e-mails a year with someone and yet consider them important enough to travel across the globe to be with. I can say that my closest friends live farthest away. I probably only see my best friend a handful of times a year, and we talk on the phone every few months. But she’s still my best friend.

  30. John Truong says:

    Tough one… happy wife, happy life and all that…

    I tend to agree with the commenter who said that if you invite overseas guests, then you have to be willing to reciprocate. Even if the flight didn’t cost them anything, it was still a huge investment of their time and effort to make the trip.

    That said, she owes you some help. For the airfare, some airlines have “friends and family” type vouchers that can be used for heavily discounted. See if she has that option available, or if she could help you book the flights some other way. For accommodation, see if she had idea there. The hostel suggestion someone had isn’t a bad one… perhaps she has friends or family who could billet you.

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