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In year 9, a girl in my grade threw an end-of-year party. I went to a very tame all-girls catholic school, so preparations for the event were pretty casual, mainly revolving around who was making a playlist and whether we were all getting new outfits for the occasion. However, one detail simply rocked the boat in the lead-up — the host had asked for everyone coming to chip in for pizza.
My mother gasped in horror when I asked her for $10 to take with me to the party. I know it sounds clichéd, but growing up as a hardcore Italian, anyone who came into our home — whether for a party or an impromptu after-school hang — was treated like royalty. Whipping up huge feasts, smorgasbords of drinks, and buying thoughtful gifts when attending other people's homes were practices ingrained in me from a very young age. While plenty is rooted in the typical Italian need to one-up other family members, being overly hospitable (aka, not having guests lift a finger) was always valued.
Now, I'm not saying having people chip in for pizza isn't hospitable. After all, this person was still offering their house to dozens of teenagers for the night. But it does pose the question: is it rude to charge your friends when throwing a party?
Over the years, the term 'party' has evolved into many different occasions. There's the loose hang at a pub to farewell a friend moving overseas, the birthday dinner that evolves into a night dancing, or even attending your bestie's first attempt at a cosy dinner party for their partner. All these require some level of spending as a guest — and if you're the host, it's a different story. So given the current cost of living, how the hell do we keep up with social norms, spoil our friends and also stick to budgets? With (or without) setting a service fee for our pals?
"Last month, I had two 21st birthdays to attend. One was at Glass Island, and the other was at the Ivy. Glass Island had an entry fee of $100, and the Ivy was $60; on top of that, we all had to buy our own drinks, and none of the pre-paid food made its way over to our table either because it was so busy. I also contributed around $50 to pretty nice presents for both people. I think I ended up spending over $200 for each person's birthday all up", Clem, a 21-year-old student from Sydney, tells Refinery29 Australia.
While the host hasn't technically asked guests to 'chip in' for food or drinks, these costs can make it feel like you're literally paying to go to someone's party (especially when the free food doesn't even make it your way!).
Through facing similar situations in my 20s, I feel like I've picked up on some unspoken social rules. For example, if I were Clem and knew I had to pay for my own drinks and entry fee, I probably would've skipped out on the present — unless I was, of course, super close with the host.
Additionally, if I'm going out for a group dinner, I always try to pay or ensure the group covers whoever is celebrating (e.g. the bday gal). If the celebration is pub drinks, I always ensure I grab the host a nice cocktail (or mocktail) or wine. However, if the person has put down a tab payment or is shouting at the dinner, I always ensure I buy a gift.
While these 'rules' might seem pretty clear cut, going out with a group also poses its own slight financial quandaries.
"I feel like every single time I’m invited for a bday dinner; I’m expected to pay my half or what I ate. And it’s usually BYO because you can’t cater to what everyone wants to drink," says Sandra*, a 27-year-old from Sydney.
In terms of house parties, it's pretty standard for most guests to bring their own alcohol — hosts are usually just expected to have a few basic drinks and food on hand. On the flip side, it's usually up to the guest's discretion whether they want to bring something along.
"I never like showing up empty-handed to a party at someone's house, so usually bring a bottle of wine or snack etc., but I'd be shocked if they asked for actual cash," said B, a 25-year-old from Sydney.
But alas, in these dark economic times, we're all trying to find ways to save — even on life's bigger milestones. If you're planning your next birthday bash, opting for a BYO dumpling spot that your friends can pile into for a massive feast might be a more cost-effective option than the trendiest new gastro-pub that's opened up. If you're looking for presents (or party outfits), using a cashback provider like Cashrewards can help lessen the pinch, where you can score up to 20% cashback on brands like THE ICONIC, Showpo, Lancôme, BWS and more. At the end of the day, we all kind of have to do what we're most comfortable with, right?
Nothing in this article is intended as, or should be taken to be, financial advice.