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Birthday Girlies Are Draining Our Accounts And Enough Is Enough

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How the anniversary of leaving a birth canal became the cause for yearly celebrations might be a mystery, but we can all agree that the addition of cake was a top tier idea. Still, while some people like to enjoy their birthdays with a Victoria sponge and minimal fuss, recently I’ve noticed more others like to use the day to enjoy a My Super Sweet 16-style extravaganza, starring them as the main character.
Wanting big foil number balloons and 700 photos capturing the day doesn’t make anyone a bad person — but being friends with a “birthday girlie” often comes with a lot of expectations, and expenses. What usually begins with one main event can often expand into a series of offshoots, including dinners and group activities, all of which require different outfits, locations and most important of all, cold, hard cash. For a lot of us, one day of fun results in many months of debt.  
This is something that 28-year-old Celeste* knows all too well, with one friend demanding a blow out every single year. “Most recently I spent nearly £150 ($188) on one meal because the venue had a minimum spend policy. I wish I’d been braver to not attend, but she’s a very close friend and everyone else who was invited didn’t kick up a fuss about the cost, so I didn't want to be the only one who did and then be seen as a less dedicated friend,” she tells Refinery29.
In a cost of living crisis (where recent inflation rates have been at an all-time high), the expectation from friends to spend big on birthdays feels woefully misguided. According to psychotherapist and Counselling Directory member Lisa Bruton, the reasons certain friends might act that way can be down to something as simple as temperament. “Typically people who want to celebrate birthdays in a big way involving lots of people are extroverts who like fun, like a party and like bringing people together,” she explains. 
However, when it comes to ignoring costs, there can be other factors at play. “It can be a person’s background around money, where if they’ve grown up with money being okay, there’s a tendency to assume it’s the same for other people. Then if you add on that they are in a profession where people are earning similar types of amounts, they may not have an eye out for different capacities for spending,” she explains.
Of course, birthday extravaganzas aren’t the only expensive events that people are (often silently) dealing with. With life milestones also coming thick and fast outside of birthdays, the sentiment of overspending then gets carried through to bachelorette parties and weddings, then eventually baby showers and kids’ parties. While it’s important to take every opportunity to gather with our friends where we can, the pressure to celebrate — and be seen celebrating online — feels never ending, and demands a never ending stream of disposable income to match.
For 27-year-old Patricia*, her friends have ramped up the celebrations in the last three years, meaning she spends roughly £200 ($251) or more per occasion. “The most extravagant [birthday celebration] was going to Birmingham for my friend’s ‘Dirty Thirty’ and I spent around £380 to £400 [$478 to $503] for Birmingham! Spending that sort of cash makes me feel anxious and I’m constantly worried about money but I really value my friendships so I feel indebted to go ahead and spend it,” she tells Refinery29.
But while the events themselves make for expensive weekends, the financial issues last much longer than one day. “I’ve had to come back to ramen noodles for two weeks after spending too much on a friend’s birthday before. I want to be able to manage my time a bit better in the future and perhaps suggest doing something with them privately that I can afford,” she explains. 
Communicating financial limitations with friends is something financial expert and author of How To Save It Bola Sol highly recommends when it comes to birthday events. “Start by being honest and direct by saying something like ‘I appreciate the invite, but I’m currently working on paying off or saving for ‘X’ at the minute’. You just need to communicate that you are being mindful of how you spend your money,” she explains. 
Sol also warns against getting too specific with comments around salaries and incomes, instead recommending more chilled conversations about finances and how it is affecting people day to day. “Start by casually bringing up money topics in conversations — things like phone bill rises, energy price bills and rent. Share experiences rather than numbers. When outings are planned, ask what everyone’s budget is, give a range and do a poll over group chat.”
Of course, discussing finances with friends is easier said than done and is a historically awkward topic for people to navigate. For many, saying no to big events makes them feel like a bad friend — something 32-year-old Niamh, who preferred we didn't share her last name, is currently feeling in the face of a £500 (£629) birthday trip invite.
“Whenever I’ve gotten out of things in the past I’m often ‘guilted’ by my friend who acts like I’m letting her down. I’ll usually try and suggest something low key or spending time together at my house or somewhere cheap but it usually feels like I’m making her settle and she definitely doesn’t like it,” she explains.
Worse still, in situations where she has said no, Niamh says she’s felt like her friend has then kept tabs on her actions afterwards. “If I’m out with friends or seen to be doing anything else (even if I haven’t spent money) she can get upset as she thinks I’m choosing them over her. It’s definitely impacted our friendship and is a real sore point,” she explains.
The animosity that can come from having different viewpoints on what to spend money on is something that Bruton says is somewhat unavoidable in friendships, but should be exercised with care. “To build robust friendships, you need to practice having differences, having differences of opinion and being able to prioritize different things. How much money you want to spend is no different from how much you might want to date, or have sex with people or drink or go out,” she explains.
Being able to set boundaries around finances with friends seems great in practice, but it’s often shame that drives the uncomfortableness around not being able to (or wanting) to spend. “If you’re bringing up a budgeting question, chances are other people are feeling it too. It’s about communicating that you still really want to take part and that the person really matters to you, but you also need to look after yourself,” Bruton explains, noting that accepting your “financial reality” is better than building up resentment due to over bending to someone else’s spending expectations.   
In practical terms, when it comes to declining an expensive invite, Sol recommends thinking about other opportunities to celebrate together. “Make an alternative suggestion by saying ‘I’m watching my spending at the moment but I’d love to celebrate in a different way.’ Then you can suggest a budget-friendly alternative like a home-cooked meal or home movie night,” she explains.
Friendships might often feel like they are built on big experiences, the reality is that true friendships can survive slightly uncomfortable conversations. “People have all different forms of currency, some can give the currency of time, currency of care, currency of humor — there’s all these different types of currencies that you can bring to a friendship. In a cost of living crisis, we tend to hone in on the money currency, as it’s the one that feels most scarce and the most central to be able to live, but it would be reductive to think that that's what a friendship is about,” Bruton explains.
Being friends with people with high expectations is somewhat unavoidable in life, but the way we handle the situation is something we absolutely have control over. Whether you choose to communicate matter-of-factly about a costly dentist payment or drop more subtle hints about the rising price of rent and food, being truthful with friends is paramount for a healthy relationship. The more honest you are about what you can afford when it comes to celebratory occasions (rather than making an excuse), means there will be less demand for future birthday plans moving forwards. 
As we head into yet another year of rising costs, it’s important to keep in mind that friends who truly want to celebrate with you won’t care how you do it and they won’t apply pressure to make you adhere to their boujee tastes. Understanding that they like to celebrate in a certain way doesn’t mean that you have to join in, and creating cheaper plans outside of the main event is a perfectly reasonable suggestion. Remember: Love does not equal a £100 bottomless brunch. 
*Names have been changed to protect identities.

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