Reader Suggestions On How To Handle Expensive Family Expectations

Welcome to my monthly Reader Suggestions feature! Every month I post a question to our Frugalwoods Facebook group and share the best responses here. The questions are topics I’ve received multiple queries on and my hope is that by leveraging the braintrust of Frugalwoods nation, you’ll find helpful advice and insight. Join the Frugalwoods Facebook group to participate in next month’s Reader Suggestions!

Us at a family wedding last spring! And yes, I bought my dress at a garage sale for $5 approx 5 years ago…

Families do not always agree. Understatement of the year, perhaps? It’s true, sometimes our blood relatives are profoundly out of step with our own personal expectations and world views. But, they’re family. For quick clarification, today we’re discussing our relationships with our extended families, not our immediate families. If you’re in search of advice on how to get on the same page with your partner/spouse, then check out this post: Reader Suggestions On: How To Convince Your Husband Or Wife To Be Frugal.

A topic that comes up over and over again in our Uber Frugal Month Facebook conversations, as well as our Frugalwoods Facebook page, not to mention the comments section of the blog and my email inbox (A LOT!!!), is a variation on the following question:

Help, Mrs. Frugalwoods! My extended family wants to _____ (go on an expensive family vacation together; buy matching jet skis for Christmas; dine out at Chez Expensive every single week, etc). How do I explain to them that I am trying to conserve my money for a bigger purpose? For my goal of ____ (paying off my debt, reaching financial independence, sailing around the world, adopting 9,000 cats, etc)? It’s not that I don’t love my family, but they expect me to spend so much money and it’s making me uncomfortable.

A conundrum, indeed. Money is a scorching hot, third rail of conversation for most people to begin with–no wonder it’s the leading cause of divorce in the US–and layering on the equally eviscerating dynamics of family relationships can make this topic feel insurmountable. But I’m pretty sure it doesn’t have to be this way.

To be clear, we’re not talking about spending on your values and on things you WANT to spend money on, such as family trips and weddings that you want to attend. We’re talking about navigating conversations regarding expensive events/gifts/vacations that you DO NOT want to spend money on. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with spending money in order to spend quality time with family and I do it all the time! But there is something wrong with being coerced into spending money you don’t have or don’t feel comfortable spending.

Solution #1: Start A Blog (kidding, sort of… )

My solution was to start this blog… 😉

You may not know this, but I actually started Frugalwoods back in April 2014 with the goal of coherently explaining our bizarre life goal to reach financial independence and retire to a homestead in the woods (which we did back in May 2016) to our families. Yep, I started an ENTIRE WEBSITE dedicated to outlining our financial and life plans to my family. And my husband’s family.

So, I don’t take this topic lightly, but I’m also here to tell you that you probably don’t need to go quite that far in explaining your life decisions to your own family. Although, I must say, it has been quite effective!

Clearly, things here at Frugalwoods, Inc. have expanded beyond that initial goal, but writing out our thinking was an extremely helpful avenue in understanding our own longterm vision and in sharing it with our families. So if you too work best through writing, you might consider a nice email or letter (don’t put yourself through the time-suck of starting a blog… hah!).

What I’ve Learned

Through the process of radically changing our lives, and everything about how we view and use our money, Mr. Frugalwoods and I have learned a number of things about how to communicate (or not) our worldview to others. We are profoundly fortunate that our families understand and respect our choices and they don’t question our extreme frugality and unconventional way of life. And for that, I am grateful! Plus, they’re all reading this so what else am I going to say ;)? No, in truth, we are blessed beyond belief where our families are concerned.

Here are a few tenets Mr. FW and I follow in our communications with not only our families, but also our friends and acquaintances:

1) We’re not out to convert you.

We are not here to convert you (well, maybe a little bit if you’re reading this… )

This is perhaps the most difficult–and most important–approach to enshrine in your interactions with others. I like to think of myself as a passive frugal and financial expert in my real life. The zeal and fervor of my belief in the transformative power of simple living and financial independence is all on display RIGHT HERE on the blog and in my forthcoming book. In real life, however? Plenty of people don’t even know this about me. Contrary to what you all might think, I do not walk around handing out pamphlets proclaiming the gospel of frugality.

My close friends and family do read the blog and do know what I do, but plenty of acquaintances simply know I write about personal finance, or that I’m a writer. There’s no need for me to delve into aggressive detail unless people ask for my help. When my real-life friends and family members come to me with a financial question, I am–trust me–OVER THE MOON to help them out and delighted to invest time in their question. However. I am passive and merely a resource for people, not an active frugal peddler.

I had a conversation about this with a new friend of mine who recently discovered the financial independence movement and is now aggressively pursuing this goal with her husband and daughter. She asked me repeatedly how I’d handle different interactions with non-frugal people that she’d encountered (most of whom were her relatives) and almost every time I told her, “It’s not your job to convert them to your way of life. You’ve found an amazing thing that works for you, but it might not be for them. You have to let them come around to this idea on their own. If they are interested, I guarantee they will come to you for advice later.”

She was about to strangle me by the 10th time I repeated this advice, but I think it’s true! You cannot effectively shove ANY philosophy, world view, religion, or way of life down someone else’s throat. The best you can do is live out the shining example of your financial certainty. People will notice. They will ask–as they ask me–how we managed to move to our dream homestead, how we manage to own a rental property, how we manage to both work from home, how we have such a simple, happy life. And I am happy to share with them. But I let my actions and the example of my life speak for me. I am not out to convert, because it makes people uncomfortable and defensive. I know what works for me, but it might not work for you.

Having this mentality at the forefront of any dealings with family is immensely helpful. You are not responsible for their financial choices. You do not bear the burden for what they choose to do with their money. All you can control is how you manage your own money. Remove the pressure you might feel to educate them on their investments, their spending, their savings–it’s not on you. If they ask for your advice, fabulous. But if not? Let it go.

2) Be consistent and firm.

Please and thank you for this homemade apple cider

This is also how we parent our two-year-old, but hey, I think it works in this situation too! Mr. FW and I are like a couple of freaking broken records with our daughter. Every time she asks for something, we parrot “what do you say?” and she responds “please” And then after we give her what she wants, we again intone, “what do you say?” and she responds, “thank you.”

Why she can’t just SAY IT THE FIRST TIME since she well knows we’re going to prompt her is beyond us, but we prompt her every single time. EVERY TIME. And it’s starting to sink in… we are, in fact, hearing more and more unprompted pleases and thank you’s. It’s the same story with your financial outlook vis-a-vis your family relationships.

Decide how you want to manage your money and then be consistent and firm in your dealings with others such that they are not surprised by your responses. This is certainly the case for me and Mr. FW–our families already know what we’ll say! It takes a lot of pressure off of navigating any specific expensive event because our philosophy is so deeply ingrained in who we are and so clearly articulated through what we do.

Part of this is that you, first, must know what you want out of life. You must know what your financial goals and limitations are. And, you must be on the same page with your partner/spouse if you have one. So, ya know, that’s a lot of soul searching to do right there. Fear not, I have several posts to help you out with that:

Once you’ve detailed your longterm goals and your longterm financial aspirations, be firm and consistent in how you communicate them to your family. I like to use the example of being a vegetarian. If a person is a vegetarian, they are consistent and firm about not eating meat. They just don’t do it and so, consequently, their family members are unlikely to try and put a steak on their plate at Sunday dinner.

The family (hopefully) understands and respects that this person does not eat meat. It’s no big deal, it doesn’t need to be a source of contention, and the vegetarian shouldn’t either: 1) have to constantly defend their choices, or 2) try to convert others to their way of eating. Any time you’re struggling with how to explain/defend your financial choices, imagine it’s vegetarianism you’re discussing. Somehow, that is a much less fraught topic (I think, although I’m sure a million commenters will let me know that it is not… ).

3) You alone are in charge of how your children are raised.

Babywoods + baby sister, who is due… soon!

A prevalent and recurring quandary I hear from readers who are parents is the immense pressure they feel from relatives to provide for their children in ways that they are not comfortable with. Whether it’s pressure to buy brand new toys and clothes all the time, or expensive Disney vacations, or pricey after-school activities, parents are inundated with pressure to spend money on their kids.

But guess what? They’re your kids. You had them/adopted them and you alone are responsible for how they’re raised. Refer back to steps #1 and #2 in how you explain your choices about your kids, but know that they are your children. It is paramount here to be on the same page with your partner/spouse/co-parent, but whatever the two of you decide is the law. Do not back down from how you want your children raised and do not succumb to family (or peer) pressure.

You have to create the home environment that you feel is best and you owe it to your children to be firm and resolved in the style of their upbringing. No one benefits from a waffling, insecure parent–least of all the parent! The children of frugal parents are not deprived; to the contrary, they are rich with experiences, love, and a focus on people as opposed to things. So divest yourself of that notion right now and don’t feel guilty for not buying the latest iPhone/iPad/talking Elmo-thing for your kid. They will reap far more from your lessons on delayed gratification, prudent fiscal management, the importance of giving back to others, and living a life of gratitude than they will from a new possession. For more inspiration, here’s a Reader Case Study delving into this very topic: Reader Case Study: The Case Of The Over-gifting In-Laws!

4) Be honest, but not rude.

Easier said than done where family is concerned, am I right? I personally, as an almost 34-year-old grown woman, had to call my own mother to apologize for speaking to her rudely the other day. So, uh, yeah, this is not something I have on lock down… sorry, again, mom!

Utilizing honesty, and not rudeness or defensiveness, is a winning approach. If your family wants you to do something super duper expensive that you do NOT want to spend the money on, just tell them. You don’t have to obfuscate, or be weird about it, or make up a bizarre story, just tell them how you feel. If, after that, they don’t respect your choices, it’s really on them and not on you.

How Frugalwoods Readers Handle Expensive Family Expectations

Enough from me! You came here to hear from the real experts–the readers of Frugalwoods–and they did not disappoint with their advice this month. Per usual, I received too many fabulous responses from readers to include all of them below, but you can check out the full conversation on our Frugalwoods Facebook page. And if you’d like to weigh in on next month’s topic, join the Frugalwoods Facebook page. Here’s a rundown on how Frugalwoods readers respond to expensive requests and expectations from their family members:

Our snowy shed and one of our woodpiles

Sue shared, “This happened to me, my cousin had a destination wedding in Mexico. I just said, ‘Sorry, it’s not in my budget. I love you, have a wonderful time.’ We all survived.”

Lindsay says that for family vacations, “Airbnb or VRBO. Also being firm about the top end of the budget. Eating in as much as possible also helps!”

Lillianna reports that it’s about focusing on what matters to you and not to others, “I love a frugalwoods lifestyle at age 53. If I had not cared about what everyone else thought at an extremely young age, I could have achieved my goals decades ago. Who cares what others expectations are of you. It will cost you so much more money living up to others.”

Emma explains, “Using the phrase ‘it’s not in my budget’ rather than ‘I can’t afford it’ goes a long way to help shut a discussion down if I don’t want to get drawn in!”

Caroline shared this great story, “Just had a very shining example that fits neatly into this particular question. My middle boy, for about 2 years now, has had a near-obsession with learning to play the electronic keyboard (it’s offered at his school and every now and then the music dept do a demo of various things and let the kids have a go and try and pick out the ones with a bit of talent). We are, let’s say, a very unmusically-talented family. On both sides. As far back as the Paleolithic era.

For a while I just said ”oh yes dear” thinking he’d forget about it as 6 year old’s do… he went on and on and on and on. Eventually he went on his own to get the (thick pile) forms and brought them home and stood over me while I filled them in to allow him to try out and THEN when he got accepted, gave my number to the music teacher, poor woman. NATURALLY it’s extortionately expensive to buy a new keyboard of the right sort, no the school doesn’t rent them, they are scarce secondhand… and it’s all very pricey. But the pressure we got from various people to let him do it, to give him a chance, buy a wonderful new keyboard, the latest model, you’ll get years of use from it!! Spare no expense, it’s EDUCATION. It’s OPPORTUNITY… It really was quite pressuring, but with no follow-up as to how this would all be paid for.

December on the homestead

We have been like actual hawks, scouring the corners of the internet for suitable secondhand keyboards – gasp – even ones that aren’t the very latest (I know, icky and used and not the very newest thing as endorsed by Whoever) and today, happy day, we got one, for a real fraction of the projected price. One very, very pleased little boy, one extremely lightly-used and in excellent condition keyboard that happens to be an older model and will be completely suitable for AT LEAST the first 2-3 years of lessons and we have averted financial ruin! The trick with the insistent ”get the very best, do it now” types was to say ”okay, good, can I give you my account details?’ This always had the desired effect.”

Jennifer says, “We just tell them we choose to live a different lifestyle than they do and that our priorities are different. It sometimes doesn’t go over well, but most of the time they are understanding.”

Laurie wrote, ” If it is a vacation that we also want to go on we will save up for it or find a more frugal way to go. If there isn’t time or just not something we want to do, then we are honest. Honesty is the best way to handle these situations for us. We let our families know what we are willing to afford and what we aren’t.”

Maluna reports, “We just say no. Period. We did this at Christmas. There was a bit of stress, but we stood strong. After the holidays most said wow…let’s all do this! You have to be firm, focused, it’s a daily process. Thanks to your blogs, it’s working! Thank you!”

Enjoy this random photo of a winter stream on our land

Bonnie shared, “Over the many years I’ve been around, raised a family and dealt with family dynamics on both sides, I’ve learned that the only expectations that matter are the ones my husband and I set for our family. I’ve learned to say No and offer no explanation. It gets easier each time you do it. The benefit of living this way is seeing your 35-year-old son raise his family with the same philosophy. I guess he was listening and paying attention all those years .

Steph wrote, “OK, so I’m a solo mum with two kids, I’m also about to start my 4th and final year of my degree. As you can imagine, money is tight, has been for a while. My ex husband is a lot better off financially. (he works hard, good on him.). However my kids were having money expectations. When they go to dads they get the latest, they get takeaways, they go on holidays etc etc. My children couldn’t understand why I couldn’t just go to the money machine like daddy 😂.

So I sat down with them and was completely transparent. Showed them the incoming and outgoing and what was left. I even made a game of it. My daughter added in takeaways as a treat so she had to take that money from food money. That made her realise there was less money for staples. Now that my kids no it’s eased some pressure. And tbh I don’t feel so guilty any more for the things their father can do and financially provide. Because at the end of the day I’m moving forward to be able to be more financially independent.

As well as the children have a stable loving home environment with me. I don’t begrudge that others can afford the flash gear, big cars and nice holidays and yeah sometimes I think it would be nice. But honestly, I am happy being frugal, living out of the garden, and keeping waste management down. I think the thing to remember is we are all different, we have different ways of doing and being and we should all accept that 😊.”

Snow-covered firs on a hike

Kathryn shared, “After years of stressing and feeling inadequate, I decided to do what I have to do and spend what I want to spend, and that is good enough. Sometimes gifts are homemade, used or experiences. I do what makes me feel good for every person!”

Kristine relayed, “Regarding gifts, I often get fun stuff from my buy nothing group or pick up nice things inexpensively that I save throughout the year. Never a Christmas rush! I try to end each somewhere between $50-100 in what it’s worth, sometimes more, but never more out of pocket. Now that I’m an adult (and living on my own!), I just say no if I’m not interested in an activity or don’t want to put money there. We can “afford” whatever they want to throw at us, but I’m not particularly interested in a lot of it. If you consistently say no, they stop asking. The only thing is, they stop asking, so sometimes you might miss out on something fun.”

Rachel wrote, “On the vacations, ‘I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. Spending money that way is not a priority for my family.” On the gift giving, you can agree as adults to stop exchanging gifts.”

Gabby shared, “Splitting an AirBNB can be a great way to make a vacation with extended family cheaper and more enjoyable, if they’re open to the idea. You all get to stay in a more comfortable place, split the cost (which is already cheaper than a hotel), and you have a kitchen to cut down on eating expenses. Last year my family split the cost of a lovely cabin for a long weekend together, and each of us provided a home-cooked dinner for one of the nights. It was really fun.”

Winter sunrises defy earthly beauty

Susana explains, “I have the luck that my FIL picks beautiful properties for us to stay at and pays for them. We have to pay our own airfare and usually add a week somewhere else while we’re there. No regrets as these have been trips of a lifetime and unforgettable experiences. Luckily, as a family we are all on the same page about cooking in and there is a lot of culinary talent among us so we have enjoyed amazing meals around large tables all of of our own making. When invited on these trips I show up with bells on, if I were invited to say, Disney, I would go with a good old Miss Manners, ‘Thank you for inviting me, but I am not available then.’ One thing I am learning is that you don’t need to justify your lifestyle choices to anyone, even family. If someone is pressuring you to go someplace or do something you don’t want to they are not in your corner.”

Jennifer suggests a direct approach, “Just say no. If they get angry they’ll get over it.”

A winter sunset

Caroline wrote, “I’ve realised that being as clear as possible right from the beginning is best, whatever the situation. If people want you to spend a fortune on (say) a big group family thing out at a restaurant, just say ”unfortunately we won’t be able to, we don’t have the budget for that kind of outlay’ and then suggest something else. Key is not just shooting down expectation but suggesting something comparable or fun to take its place. So few people are confident enough to say ”we cannot afford that,’ that when one does, really pleasantly, generally people back off. But being embarrassed to admit things is fatal, big spenders just barrel through and demand ever more outlandish outings/ gifts. Just say ”no, it’s too expensive for us, we cannot afford it.’ They’ll be dumbstruck by your direct honesty!”

Brian shared, “This area is a huge struggle for me. One in-law family member is horrible with money, and loves to spend. Normally not a problem for me, except family outings – for example, he’d suggest 18 holes of golf on an expensive golf course whereas I would rather we all go disc golfing (which our family enjoys, can be played by everyone, and is free). I’m usually convincing enough to persuade everyone out of these outings or, failing that, join up after said event (one of these was a gun range outing I had zero interest in that would have cost a small fortune in). Fortunately most of our get togethers are just gathering at my sister’s house and I can just bring wine or beer (or my homemade cider, yum!). It’s a battle – I’m very interested in seeing how other people deal with this.”

Connie wrote, “My husband and I have been working on this issue for the 41 years of our marriage. Sometimes more successfully than others. We’ve learned:

  • We can’t change the expectations of others.
  • We have to be ourselves.
  • We try to communicate openly, honestly and respectfully. Sometimes that is not possible.
  • We quietly do what we think is best for us and our family. Those decisions are filtered through our own ‘world and life view’ while trying to block out the expectations of others.
  • It’s hard. It’s worth it.”

Mrs. FW’s Cheat Sheet Of How To Respond

Me on vacation in Portland, Maine last summer

Massive thanks to everyone who responded to this fairly thorny topic. As I was reading through the responses, it struck me that most situations can be replied to with some variation on a set of standard responses. Here are my suggestions for how to respond to expensive requests from family:

  • That vacation sounds lovely, but we are saving up to _____ (buy a house, pay off student loans, etc) right now and we just can’t afford to go with you. But I hope you have a wonderful time and I look forward to seeing all the pictures!
  • Wow, a Christmas of giving diamond bracelets to everyone does sound lovely, but that just doesn’t fit in our budget this year.
  • I agree, going out to dinner at that new, five-start restaurant would be fun, but it’s not something we can afford right now. What if you all came over to our house instead and we had a spaghetti and board game night? Or, swing by after your dinner out and we’ll enjoy some after-dinner cocktails!

These are but a few examples, but you can see how you could extrapolate such responses to include family requests for your participation in expensive:

Snowy driveway walk

The key is that these responses are all direct, honest, unwavering (note there is no room to misinterpret them), and they’re not said with a mission to convert. There’s no mention of the finances of the other person (you may well be much wealthier, but that is irrelevant for this conversation) and there’s no degradation of the idea (don’t tell them it’s a stupid use of their money, even if it is!).

Focus your response on you and your goals/plans/finances, not the other person. And if at all possible, suggest a frugal alternative! No reason you can’t counter their expensive cruise vacation idea with a suggestion to rent an AirBnB cabin in the mountains together. If the goal is quality family time together, then dinner at home or a much less expensive getaway should serve the same purpose. Be confident in your frugality and in your life goals. You will be a much happier person if you live your life for you and not for someone else. I promise.

P.S. I WROTE A BOOK! I’m a little bit excited, can you tell?!? My book is now available to be pre-ordered, for which I will mail you a signed bookplate. Check out this post for all the details.

How do you respond to family members who ask you to spend more money than you’re comfortable with?

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92 Responses

  1. We’ve been fortunate that this doesn’t come up too often anymore. However, when I was in my 20s this use to come up with my friends a ton. I use to use the line that I am saving up for a house and that I was laser focused on it. While I appreciate the invite I’m going to have to pass for now. Usually if you had a valid excuse they would normally let it slide 🙂

    • Louise says:

      “I don’t want to spend money” is usually enough for my group of friends in our 20s. The truth is nobody wants to spend money but a lot of times people can’t think of anything else to do other than go to the bar or get food. Plus it’s easy. After work, it’s hard to find energy to see friends so it’s understandable to want to avoid cooking and cleaning a meal if also expending energy on a friend.

      It helps to have a dog, since a hike or walk around the neighborhood is always cheap and I get to talk with my friend just as much as going out to dinner.

      I live in a LCOL place and most of my friends are artists – I see how just voicing not wanting to spend money could go over differently with a different group in different locations.

  2. Mrs. Kiwi says:

    We’ve been very open about our frugality, so the suggestions of crazy expensive expenditures have decreased over the past few years. And we’ve used all the lines you suggested!
    We are in our late 20s/early 30s, so weddings are the big expensive event. What we’ve done is prioritize and align our spending more on our values. My hubby was best man in one wedding this year, and will be best man in another next. He of course agreed to support his friends in this way, and fortunately we can afford to rent the tux, attend the wedding, and plan the bachelor party. But this means some of the weddings for more distant friends aren’t attended. After planning our own wedding, trust us, the couple doesn’t mind if they get a few RSVP nos!

  3. “Be honest but not rude”

    That’s a hard line to tow, simply because even if your language on the surface is obviously not rude, money is a third-rail as you stated earlier in the post. It’s a micro-trigger topic that makes people reactionary and interpret your comments as rude even if they are clearly not.

    • Jasmine says:

      So very true, and thank you for the terminology “micro trigger topic”. My mother once offered to help me with chicken I was prepping for dinner. I politely politely said “No thank you”. This set off an emotional meltdown that resulted in her sobbing on my shoulder and wailing that she could no longer live with me. Thanks to you, I now have the vocabulary to understand that both food and offering assistance are micro-trigger topics for her, and it simply may not matter how reasonable or polite I am being.

  4. I’ve used almost this exact quote before “giving diamond bracelets to everyone does sound lovely, but that just doesn’t fit in our budget this year.” It was bet with disappointment but understanding. We can all give how and when we want. Love is not about diamonds.

    Great advice in this post on a situation everybody faces. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Kim says:

    As a 62 year old woman who was nothing short of emotionally bullied by my extended family for our conservative financial ways……………..all I can say is, Mrs Frugalwoods, how I wish you had been around 41 years ago when we got married. You have no idea how much I adore and support you and your blog. At the risk of sounding way too dramatic, you may be the help and encouragement someone desperately needs on this topic of family expectations/harassment.
    I will gladly be the president of your fan club!

    • Bev says:

      Amen to this, Kim. You are not alone in your description of your past, nor are you alone in your feelings about Frugalwoods. Gosh, how I wish they were around when I was younger, too (same amount of years as you). Their philosophy and accomplishments have inspired me beyond belief. It’s never too late to learn!

      • Leah says:

        Kim and Bev, have you read The Complete Tightwad Gazette by Any Dacyczyn? Still very relevant. Blessings.

        • Kim says:

          Yes. Leah, I discovered her back in the 90’s and she was my mentor, teacher and encourager in how to implement a frugal life. She was a direct answer to prayer!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Thank you so much, Kim! That is very kind of you to say! I hope this is helpful to folks because I know its an issue many people struggle with.

  6. Iris says:

    Still having an issue with sister-in-law. A few years ago I realized that with all of our kids out of the house and out of college, the gift giving had sunk to swapping gift cards. Why should we give each other gift cards? It’s like putting money in an envelope and passing it back and forth. So I made it clear this was not continuing from our side. We give some sort of food gift to my sister-in-law because she hosts, and some food gift to my bother-in-law (not her husband), but yet again this year we received a $100 gift card from each. I’m concerned hubby will cave next year without telling me, and show up with something similar.

    We live far enough apart that we don’t see them much at other times of the year, but this has just become silly. And we’re all at the stage where we’re getting rid of stuff, not acquiring it.

    • Caroline Bowman says:

      Get in touch circa October and speak openly with your sister-in-law. Maybe offer to host or contribute to her hosting (or if she likes the food gift tradition, keep that up), in other words, show generosity and willingness to pitch in, but then say that you really don’t need another thing and their kindness and generosity is amazing, but please can your gift to each other be your presence and *not having to give a gift of any kind*. My best friend and I do this at Christmas. Our gift to each other as dear friends is no gift at all. It’s wonderful. So liberating!

      Another tack might be a modest donation in each other’s names to nominated charities. So if your sister in law loves the Injured Donkeys Sanctuary in Boise, then great, donate there (a modest amount). You could choose whatever is dear to you, and then everyone is happy.

      • Caitlin says:

        Yes! Definitely bring it up before the heat of the Christmas season–people get emotional and assume things will just be done as they always have been and sometimes have started shopping already, and sometimes this starts in November. I would have the conversation one more time, in October, and suggest the wonderful charity idea Caroline mentions.

        After that, as Laura mentions below, accept the gifts they give you graciously but also hold your own line. Other people are free to act as they wish.

    • Eve says:

      I agree that swapping gift cards is silly! This is what it ended up being between my girlfriends and me and I finally said that I’m cancelling gift giving! Everyone is relieved that we don’t have to buy a gift and not knowing what to buy end up giving a gift card and receiving one on next occasion.

    • Laura says:

      If I were in your shoes, I’d do my best to just hold the line without discussing the matter anymore – just continue to bring food gifts, and if she continues to send $100 gift cards, send a thank-you note and maybe a picture or description of the (frugal, needed) item you bought with it. If the issue is one of feeling equal gifts must be exchanged, she’ll either stop sending the card or ask you about it. If it’s that gift-giving is important to her, let her do so. Jerrold Mundis, in his excellent book about How To Get Out of Debt, describes an incident when his inability to buy a gift for his son led him to refuse a gift from his son and how hurtful his son found it to be. Do keep to your own values, but allow others to give if that’s what they wish to do.

    • Emmy says:

      Just mail them back the gift cards next Christmas! : ) Your ‘shopping’ is already done!

  7. Kristine says:

    It’s true, honesty is always easiest – both for you to share and for them to understand. If you “hem and haw” about it, you won’t hear the end of it. I always offer a frugal suggestion or alternative. (Sometimes, I even offer luxury alternatives I’d rather pay for! Gasp!) 🙂

  8. Jules says:

    What a great post! And I laughed out loud when you got to the vegetarian comparison, because I was going to comment that being vegan for a year and a half before discovering the FIRE community DEFINITELY helped prepare me for these conversations. And probably helped prepare those around me – “There goes Jules doing some wacky crap again!”

    “It’s not my job to convert you” and being passive are two of my mainstays when it comes to representing my lifestyle choices – high five! (Side note – I’ve found that veganism and FIRE go hand-in-hand perfectly: ethical veganism–>environmentalism–>intentional living–>FIRE–>even more intentional living. Maybe I should write a blog post about that! 😉

    • Carol says:

      Ha ha i am dairy AND gluten free and now to top of it all frugal and plastic free. I am definitely considered to be constantly taking on whacky ideas that others found hard to accept. It is sometimes easier to explain you are being frugal than have a dietry request.

      • Jules says:

        I hear you, Carol! I’m also trying to go waste-free, and that is SO much more accepted – even when I brought my own utensils to Chipotle last week, my coworkers just chuckled and said they should try the same. I’m glad I’m not alone 🙂

    • Sandi says:

      I’ve been a vegetarian between bouts of veganism, for 26 of my 52 years. When I was around 36, we visited my parents and my mom made ‘vegetarian’ spaghetti, with a ground beef alternative. I was violently ill for 3 days. I think she used actual beef, thinking it wouldn’t affect me and that she’d get to say ‘see, you can eat meat and be fine.’ Yeah, I was sooo not fine. When we visit her now, *I* cook.

  9. Camille says:

    How timely is this post! My immediate family and I are very close. We only ever argue about finances which we view VERY differently from e/o. I’ve made my way into just saying “no” to luxury vacations, nights out, brunch/lunch/dinners & even adding extra channels to my cable subscription but it is NOT easy. I get pressure from everyone in my family to spend money almost every single day. Every time I say I that something isn’t in my budget, I hear “but you work full-time, your grad program is being paid for, you live at homeeeee” & sure, on the outside, it looks like I’m just being frugal for fun. What they don’t see is that I just saved my first 10,000$ in a year while aggressively paying off my student loans and have plans beyond my 9-5. I will neeeeever go back to my old ways of living paycheck to paycheck and all I can do is pray that I influence them by my example to embrace frugality!

    • Mrs. Cheapheart says:

      Do they seriously have the time to worry about which cable channels you have? Oy vey. Good on you for resisting!

  10. Rose says:

    I’d love too, but right now this isn’t in my budget – that is my go-to answer and I’ll offer an alternative solution, if appropriate.
    Depending on the person and the circumstances I’ve even learned to say NO without further explanation and dismiss further discussion.

    My AHA moment came when I realized that “they” do not pay my bills and have no idea how much damage an extra $100-$500 or whatever it is will do to my tight budget for months to come. These days it is more related to reaching my goals of course, but I do remember a time when it was uncomfortable to simply say, “I can’t afford it”.
    These days I am totally comfortable with my lifestyle choices and I have no need to discuss or defend them, but I certainly will with a great passion too.

    In a way it is no different from rolling your eyes when someone chooses to wear a dreadful dress – a good friend will tell you the truth, but unless you shift your own perspective you cannot accept the truth nor change that dress or lifestyle:)

  11. Jill says:

    I’m finding that when I decline something not in the budget, it usually goes over smoothly as long as I make some sort of counter-offer for their company. So although we may turn down a weekend away skiing, but also say we’d love to see them, can they come on such-and-such weekend for lunch and hiking? It seems like what our friends and family really want to know is that we’re not giving them up for the sake of our budget!

  12. Super helpful suggestions! My extended family is very frugal, so it’s not hard to explain to them that I don’t like to spend money on things I don’t need.

    But sometimes I do buy expensive gifts for some family members who have supported my parents (and our family) all those years. I do that once every year or ever few years. And I always pay with cash.

  13. Nora says:

    I love the vegetarian analogy. As a vegetarian and someone attempting to be frugal, I think there are many parallels to learn. A few to add:
    1. People may forget, no matter how long it’s been, and it’s best to be firm but patient and kind. My grandmother always showers me with offers to make me a ham at Thanksgiving or a steak in the summer – she just forgets and loves me. I just remind her that I’m still vegetarian.
    2. Offer an alternative since it’s outside their normal frame of thinking and they will usually accept. I always bring my own vegetarian food or find an option I can eat even if it’s a cheese sandwich. It makes it easier and less scary for those “outside” my diet. Same thing with frugal things. If you keep saying no, the invites may dry up and if it’s someone you care about, inviting them to do something frugal is far better to keep up the relationship.

  14. Cindy in the South says:

    I told a former sister-in-law 31 years ago that we could not afford it. She has loathed me ever since. To his credit, my ex-husband, backed me up. I have contributed to a birthday present for the two year old granddaughter, that the other grandma, and the parents also contributed to….to be fair, I still think it is way too much. But, that one present is all she received from us. It was one of those play stove sets. That is my latest “cave”….my daughter gave me a hard time when we offered to give her money for her reception. She was holding it 2,000 miles away from us because his sisters (he has eight) wanted the reception where they lived, and she agreed. Daughter and son-in-law did not have enough leave time at work to have receptions in both places. I was fine with that, and paid to travel there, as did my ex-husband, although her brothers could not come. We lucked up and got to stay for free in a condo in Park City, Utah, that a friend of ex-husband’s owned. Still, daughter was very ugly about our not helping with reception plans, yet, she kept telling us his family was taking care of it, and no one would give us any details. We almost missed the reception because it was held in a new place not on GPS , no one would answer the phone, and the cab driver could not find it!. I think she is older now, and understands I knew nothing of where they were planning to host reception. We also offered to reimburse the cost of the reception, but were turned down, and then got talked about. Sometimes, family drama works out for the best…at least financially…..lol.

    • Laura says:

      Yeah, sometimes even when you do the right thing, it won’t be well received. All you can do then is continue to do the right thing. 🙂

      For me, it was when my mother-in-law needed to go into a nursing home. She’d been paying out of pocket for (extremely expensive) in-home nursing care because she was adamant she was never going to a nursing home. Then she became mentally incompetent after a stroke and we discovered she was one month away from running completely out of all money (had a reverse mortgage on the house), and Medicare/Medicaid does not cover in-home nursing care, only a nursing home. While my husband had no problem with going against her wishes (she was abusive throughout his life and he hated her but was her only child so assumed guardianship), the hate we received from her aides and social workers for removing her from her home was phenomenal. I kept repeating the bottom line that we didn’t have that kind of money, and finally pointedly asked them if they were willing to work for free since they felt so strongly about it despite the fact that we couldn’t afford it. They told me I was going to hell for my sin of going against her wishes, I said then in that case I’d answer to my m-i-l personally when my time came and I arrived there to join her, and we all stopped talking to each other. Moral of the story, haters gonna hate and you will survive it.

    • Cindy Brick says:

      You can still do something about this — if it’s bothering you that much. Send your daughter a check — close to what you think the reception cost, or what you can actually afford. Include it in a card with a nice note, saying you were never told how much, you want to help out, blah blah.
      She’ll cash it…and probably feel a little guilty for how you “got talked about.” Oh well. At the least, it should help in the future.

  15. Helen says:

    I like the idea of being direct, honest, firm, and not rude. Saying no is harder than saying yes. But we have to do it sometimes. With very good intentions, friends and extended families invite us to join the vacation, dinner, shopping, etc. It’s nice if we could afford it and really want to join. Otherwise, it’s perfectly fine to decline it politely. Don’t feel bad about it. At the end of the day, what matters the most is our own financial well-beings, and our own happiness.

  16. Mrs. COD says:

    Great suggestions by all! It is true that honesty is best in these situations, and yet some people will still take offense at you declining to spend money on x, y, or z. I think it’s hard for people not to interpret this as a negative judgment on their own spending choices. Even if Frugal Franny doesn’t care one bit how her cousin Spendy Susie uses her money, Susie still may feel that Franny is looking down on her for spending differently. I suppose it’s much like the vegetarianism example; we always assume people are trying to “convert” us. I love your attitude of sharing when prompted, but not shoving frugality down people’s throats.

  17. Caroline says:

    How does everyone explain financial differences to their kids? My kids are young, but when I as a child I didn’t understand why our neighbors had newer cars and nicer things, when we did not. In reality, my parents were very frugal (not fi, but very conservative with money and my mom did retire 10 years early), and wouldn’t buy us the latest and greatest. I also am relatively certain our neighbors lived way outside their means (some forclosures in the mortgage crisis and just general crazy spending). I didn’t understand as a child and worried my parents didn’t have enough money. They never really explained to us and just tended to think children don’t pick up on things (which I disagree with). I want to do better with my own children. I think the suggestions aren’t great with adults, but was wondering if anyone had ideas for kids.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      I personally am a fan of being honest with kids and entrusting them with as much information as you deem is developmentally appropriate. Obviously I don’t have much experience with this yet as Babywoods is only 2, but we are pretty direct when discussing things with her and are introducing the concept of money right now and what it is used for. I hope others with older kiddos will weigh in with their advice :)!

      • Lyna says:

        In your excerpt from Steph she says “So I sat down with them and was completely transparent. …” That reminded me of an illustration I read about. The parents were having trouble explaining (to children old enough to understand) where all the money went, so one payday they turned the paycheck into $1 bills. Made a big eye-popping pile in the middle of the table! Then the parents pulled $$$ off for rent/mortgage, then food, then utilities, then… and so forth. As the children watched the pile shrink, they began to understand why there is only a small amount available for non-essentials. Maybe making an abstract concept more concrete could help.
        But, sometimes “Because Mom and Dad say so!” is appropriate. 🙂

    • Roxane says:

      I don’t really have a suggestion, but I wanted to second your experience. When I was quite small, I didn’t notice, but later on I realized that everyone else seemed to have lots of extra money that we didn’t. Of course, when I got older I heard people like my coworker, who would get takeout for lunch every single day, talking about not being able to afford things until the next payday (I bit my tongue a lot around her . . .).

  18. Florence says:

    THIS is the post we needed – thank you Mrs F and everyone who contributed! I’m tempted to even print it out and keep it in my organizer for future quick reference.

    Most of the time our families are pretty easy this way, but sometimes we do get pressured into spending on things we don’t want to. Since we’re still young, I get the sense from older relatives that they think we don’t know what we want or what’s good for us. It’s helpful to have some more tactics for dealing with pressure like that and for expressing ourselves in a coherent way that still won’t put people off.

  19. This is definitely an area I have trouble in, especially regarding Christmas gifts! I’d love to stop giving such expensive gifts, but it’s been a part of my family’s culture for awhile. I’m going to read this article a couple of times and work on the courage to have a conversation next year!! Especially because I have started a blog! 🙂 And my family does read about our goals to become location independent soon. 🙂

  20. I think so much of frugal living is learning to stay in your own lane and not let others knock you out of it. It’s hard because your family wants you to be just like them so you’ll have more to bond over, but that’s just not the way life works.

  21. The Roamer says:

    This is all great, specially when everything is just an invitation to something.

    Standing your ground and just saying no, followed by a much more affordable option is a great route.

    Where I struggle is not getting into berating mode and going against suggestion 1. Don’t try and convert.

    And that is because certain families financial decisions actually do affect my family. The work they choose to do, and how they choose to spend and save does affect us. Because we have had to pick up the slack. When they were out of work they stayed with us. Because that’s what you should do for a family right? It was either that or them being out on the street… Or at least that’s how it felt. (Some people don’t have a huge pile of family members to fall back on, they just have 1)

    With every other family member and friends, no we can’t and you do you is fantastically appropriate.

    But with these 2 family members…. The converting seems almost necessary for our personal self preservation. Of course it’s not working so converting is never useful.

    Which leaves me standing in the same place I started. Thankfully a new better job was acquired so I don’t have to worry about it until another low point.

    I’d just like to say it’s a real conundrum and I hope I’m not the only one who feels stuck between a rock and a hard place.

    • Roxane says:

      Roamer, you seem like a very tender-hearted person, which is truly a good thing. But in the end, sometimes not helping someone is the most loving thing you can do. (Yes, I struggle with this myself.) I’ve found the Captain Awkward advice blog helpful, especially the “saying no,” “how to say no,” and “the art of no” tags. Best wishes to you and your family members – may they develop sense, and save both themselves and you the stress!

    • MS Mara says:

      Dear Roamer and Ms. Frugalwoods,

      This is a problem that I believe does deserve some attention from the FW community. When extended family members pay little heed to the results of a lifetime of living paycheck to pay check, the fallout for the more financially prudent can be very difficult.

      My husband comes from a large family. His parents struggled to raise their children and have needed significant financial support from the few who have the means to assist them.

      We are some of the family able to help, and do so gladly. After a long life of caring for and supporting others, they deserve some comfort and dignity in their old age.

      The problem for me lies with some of their children, my brothers and sisters-in- law, who have made enough money to have provided themselves with a measure of security in retirement but have instead chosen to rent expensive apartments, or eat most of their meals out, or fill rooms with things acquired on shopping channels/the Internet.

      Over 40 years I have occasionally spent time talking to those of my siblings-in-law who seemed. It to be considering the future and asked them to think about their choices. It was partly out of concern for them, but also because I was worried about being asked to rescue them when we had all grown older and they were in trouble.

      Most of my observations about easy ways to enjoy life while saving fell on deaf ears, and so I limited my attempts to pursuade, as you have suggested. But now the pigeons have come home to roost with several family members and, yes, we are being asked to step up and assist them. To do so would mean that the resources we have gathered over the years for things we very much wish to do in our retirement would be drained. But we hear that “you can’t let (whomever) end up on the street, or go without medical insurance!”

      So I am interest to hear what the FW community would do in such a situation, or whether there might have been a way to reduce the risks to family members and ourselves while there was still time (when people were in their middle years), to avoid being old, unwell, and without funds.

      All helpful comments welcome!

      • Emmy says:

        My trouble is in-laws (separate sets, his parents haven’t been married since he was 2) who made money hand over fist when they were working, spent it like it was going out of style (but always on themselves, never on the kids, hubby is in grad school in his 40s and worked his way through school the whole time I’ve known him because his very well-off sets of parents wouldn’t help him with a dime of college even though his scholarships only left $5K a year to be paid!) and NOW that they’re 65-70, one is widowed the other is married to a man whose health is failing fast and they’re STILL spending like mad, NOW they believe they can leech of their kids? One of their kids is fiscally just like them, leaving….. Sorry, our kids are young teens and we intend to help them get through college with zero debt, we don’t have $$$ for you to go to Hawaii again this year. Stay home. Boy they don’t want to hear that!

      • Heidi Louise says:

        MS Mara: I don’t know that I have a helpful comment. Guiding someone through what might seem the daunting application processes for government help?

        Another difficult situation is when the adult-aged people asking for help have young children of their own, whose lives could be improved in some significant basic ways by help to the parents. That is, until the parents run out of money again.

  22. Jessica says:

    Maybe just me, but I would steer away from any wording involving “priorities”. It seems like it should be innocuous to say, “we have different priorities”, but in practice I think it’s a bit off putting. It comes off as pretty thinly veiled criticism. I think the best play is to stick with the age old compliment sandwich – say something positive, something negative, and end with another positive. “Sounds super fun! It’s not going to work for us. I’d love to hear about it/see pictures after you do it!”

    • I have never heard of a compliment sandwich before, but it makes sense. I will have to try that one!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Ahhh, interesting point about the word “priorities”–might be more loaded than we intend. Thank you for your insight!

    • Allison says:

      I must agree with you about that word! Someone used it to explain (to our combined sets of children) why they’d paid off their mortgage once and it immediately put me on the defensive-I felt as though I needed to explain myself. My family had different needs and circumstances, but it was impossible to explain without sounding like I was justifying our choices. Please, stay away from the word “priorities”.

  23. Katie says:

    Thanks for sharing this! We just paid an absurd amount of money to attend a dear friends Bachelor(ette) weekend (yes, it is a weekend vacation with both the bride, groom, and entire wedding party). We tried to justify it because they are out of state and we do love them, but we are both feeling guilt about it. The good thing is, those guilty moments are happening less and less, so I know we are getting closer to aligning our spending with our true values)

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      That is great that you’re getting closer to aligning your spending with your values! As you noted, you will absolutely know when you’re there because you won’t feel that guilt anymore. You’ll spend the money, have a great time, and have zero regrets. Sounds like you are on the right track!

  24. Torrie says:

    Luckily, my husband and I both come from pretty frugal families, but I have noticed that this is a topic that can sometimes come up with my friends. I’ve found that giving a less expensive or free option, along with an honest reason that we’re trying to work towards some long-term financial goals, is often a great route to go—almost every time I’ve done it, one of my friends has either later approached me (or even just admitted right there) that they also didn’t have it in their budget, but didn’t want to say anything. If you’re willing to stick up for your own values, it gives more timid people the courage to embrace theirs.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Yes!! That’s a great point! I agree, I can’t tell you how many times other people have been relieved not to spend the money either! And, offering a frugal counter-suggestion is always a great idea.

  25. Raini says:

    Thank you for your blog, Mrs. Frugalwoods! I appreciate your useful tips in your kind, non-judgmental tone.

  26. Marcia says:

    Luckily our families aren’t big spenders in general. For holidays, my in laws would spend a lot of money though.

    You see, SIL’s in-laws have $$ and spend it on their son and SIL. Then SIL and her hubby would spend a lot on his parents. Then, to be “fair”, SIL and her hubby would spend a lot on her parents (AKA my inlaws). They are all in the same town and families intertwined. We are on the opposite coast.

    Well, so in laws would spend a lot on SIL and her hubby, and would be “fair” and spend on us. And man, MIL, FIL, plus now boyfriend/girlfriend since they are divorced, SIL, BIL, niece nephew. (Grandparents are gone.) THEN my side – I have many siblings but mostly exchange gifts with 2 families.

    It took a long time of asking them to not buy so much. After the divorce, it slowly got better. MILs new boyfriend moved in, and she had to get rid of stuff. Our house is TINY (1100 sf 4 people no garage), and many visits made her realize that we don’t need STUFF. So over the space of about a decade, we are now down a lot. Each person gets 1-2 gifts. A book, a puzzle, a shirt, a toy (from them to us). THough the kids get more.

    We have started sending “family gifts”.
    Local pistachios and fudge
    Sometimes a handmade afghan
    Calendars with family pictures
    Framed photos (upon request)
    Local wine or olive oil.

    My brother’s family no longer sends gifts to my kids, but I still don’t want to forget my nieces (his kids) who are of similar age to my oldest. So we send a family gift box.

    Vacation wise, we go visit our families every 2 years, make one big trip out of it. So it’s airfare and either rental car or one night hotel + train fare (to get between).

  27. I actually did start a blog in hopes to convey to our family our lifestyle and help show others that it is possible to live frugally with children. Unfortunately, we have run into a mess where some of our family pokes fun at us being frugal and thinking we can both retire at 35 years old. When they plan expensive outings or desire to go out to eat at the same expensive restaurant for the 4th family birthday in a row, we try to let them know that those things do not line up with our desires to save money (or spend our money on different restaurants, at the least). For the most part, we get mocking tones of “$50 isn’t going to make you have to work longer” (forget compounding) or “it is for family, so it is fine”. And they tend to scoff at our ‘lameness’. Fortunately, we are pretty good at standing our ground, and some family has even come to us for advice on saving and working toward an early retirement, which is awesome. It is definitely easier when you have family that either has the same values you do or, at least, respects your lifestyle. Though, I do have a family that would try to convert me if I was a vegetarian, so there’s that.

  28. Dorothy says:

    One thing not addressed in the main post is people (usually a grandmother) showering your children with gifts.

    My sister-in-law’s mother is objectively out of control. She cannot fit all the gifts into her car that she gives her granddaughter/my niece every time she sees her. My brother- and sister-in-law just knuckle under to her instead of understanding they are in charge of raising their child. They are allowed to set limits: one toy and one garment for her birthday, for instance.

    I know it’s not appropriate for anyone to to tell Grandma this, but it would be wonderful if, every time the impulse hits to BUY something for her granddaughter, she’d put the money in a savings account.

  29. AW says:

    One thing I’ve noticed is that people sometimes attribute my frugality to not having the money rather than not wanting to spend the money. For example, I drive a 1999 Toyota Camry with over 200k miles on it. Still works great and meets my needs. My mom thinks I should get a new car and offered to help pay for it, or she mentions 0% financing offers or good deals she’s heard of. It frustrates me because I could totally have a new car, paid for in cash, if I wanted to, but I don’t want a new car when I have a perfectly fine one. I try to kindly decline these types of offers and keep the frustration out of my voice.

    The other thing, as another commenter mentioned, is that I struggle with friends more than family. My college friends all live scattered around the country and they get together for a girls weekend every year. I have stopped going because it is always a $600+ per night hotel and very expensive dinners on top of it (plus the plane ticket). I have suggested the airbnb route but no one was enthusiastic. At times I’ve attempted to talk to friends individually to see if anyone was on board with a less expensive vacation to have an ally in persuading the wider group, but I think I’m the only one who isn’t comfortable with it. It makes me sad, but I just can’t stomach shelling out that kind of money for a weekend every year.

    And the thing is, I’m not even THAT frugal. I’m just more of a live within my means, make sure I’m saving for retirement and have money in the bank kind of person.

    • Heidi Louise says:

      AW – I’m with you on serviceable cars. I don’t notice what other people drive, unless it is so big it is hard to park next to it between the parking lot lines without dinging the door, or is smaller than a VW bug. I don’t remember what cars my parents drove when I was young, (other than that one was a station wagon for at least eight years), and have absolutely no idea what my friends’ parents drove.
      I was never taught car status symbols, other than that the inside shouldn’t be full of empty fast-food bags, and I don’t think I missed out on anything!

    • Emmy says:

      A ’99 Camry is barely even broken in! (Says the ’98 Camry owner… I tell people I’m playing a game, seeing how long it will actually keep running without need of more than basic maintenance, because “why not?”).

  30. Dorothy says:

    One other thought:

    It’s always best to start politely and softly as the post and y’all are discussing p. But occasionally the obnoxious, big spending brother-in-law* just won’t accept your response, or you have to have the same conversation repeatedly.

    For this situation, remember that, “No.” is a complete sentence. For some jerks an explanation is an invitation to overcome your reason. They’ll keep harping at you in hopes of wearing you down.

    You will know which technique works with whom.

    * Brother-in-law is just an example. I happen to be EXTREMELY fortunate in having lovely brothers-in-law!

  31. kas says:

    I model the frugalista behaviors every day; the most glaring is walking/biking/using public transportation nearly all the time. No one cares more about your (money, health, time, taxes, etc.) than you, and so they don’t get to make decisions about them (unless your health care or financial proxy legal arrangements is/are invoked). My friends are used to meeting me at the chosen destination, watching me remove my helmet, and consume a pitcher of water, etc. I’m sure they speculate about my having money vs. not wanting to spend it – especially when I don’t eat anything and we meet in a restaurant. I also don’t complain about traffic or parking, and when I point that out, some stop to ponder and some continue making excuses for operating their motorized wheelchairs. Eating out is a budget buster, plain and simple. Show them the way – and be prepared to offer some alternatives, like a potluck picnic in a park, or a walk, or attending a free/low/no-cost event, or volunteering together. Activities make memories; not stuff.

  32. kas says:

    one other thought – because I do conduct personal vacation travel, others assume it’s some extravagant expenditure, but it’s not – most of it is only slightly more costly than staying home. I piece together airfare and lodging via frequent flier and hotel guest points programs, coupled with driving, attaching personal time onto a business trip (airfare and mileage paid by someone else!), always eating free breakfast where I stay, BYO picnic lunch (one of the first things I do after checking into a hotel room that MUST have a fridge is to gather lunch supplies), and inexpensive dinners out (and sometimes microwaving frozen entrees if my hotel has a microwave). This way, my meals cost about the same as if you’d stayed home. I spend more on gas and exponentially more time driving when I’m away than I do all year at home…but you have to drive to get to most remote wilderness areas and national parks, historic sites, etc.

  33. Mary says:

    My longtime girlfriends and I came to the conclusion about 10 years ago that if we found something we wanted to give we would give but otherwise we enjoy our holiday get together with a nice dinner and great company. At almost 60 we are all in the process of getting rid of stuff rather than acquiring it.

  34. Justin says:

    We’re mostly good in this department since my side of the family is naturally frugal and my in-laws are mostly broke.

    But there was a time when we realized we were being guilted/shamed into literally blowing money up every year. My brother in law really really really liked to buy a TON of fireworks for 4th of July (the illegal-in-North-Carolina kind that you have to drive 1.5 hours away from Raleigh to buy in South Carolina). He was spending $500+ of his own money and the family would get together and they would blow up all of them. Then he got married and the economy went south so he was broke.

    For a year or two he was asking all of us for $$ to help him in his quest to blow up tons of stuff to celebrate America’s b-day. I think we kicked in $50-100 for a couple of years then gently let him know that maybe we should aim smaller (like $10-20 worth of the cheap stuff from Walmart so the kids can still have a good time and skip the really high caliber stuff). Mission accomplished. The kids have sparklers and some little flashy smokey things that fizzle, we’re out a tiny amount of $, and we all eat burgers and do American stuff to celebrate Uncle Sam and Lady Liberty and all that. Family time and fun is what’s important, not exploding $500 worth of high explosives.

    The brother in law started contributing to his 401k soon after this and he now respects us as somewhat expert in the financial department given our early retirements. Everyone’s living happily ever after 🙂

  35. Busy With Kids says:

    *SIGH* I live this nightmare/dream all the time. My husband and I couldn’t be more different from “the family”…..they build half million dollar houses, travel abroad, borrow from their 401K’s (because apparently half million dollar houses are expensive to build….who knew?!), drive new lease vehicles, eat out most meals of the week, spend thousands on Christmas…….and all on plastic – the American Dream! We (mostly) keep our mouths tightly shut because we are the fools for being fiscally responsible. “Live a little, why don’t you?” I offer no sage advice here – we are constantly swimming upstream. As Liz said, much like parenting, consistency is key and I am working on being kindly consistent. I used to let their opinions make me feel bad but I am getting better about this, even though we are ribbed constantly. Letting the family know our end game has been helpful (at least for my sanity) as well. I had to laugh when my dad commented that my husband and I “probably have more money than the rest of the family put together”. Not true by any stretch, but at least he is paying attention. 🙂

    • Emmy says:

      LOL, my brother in law has a $365k house in an expensive state. He’s been personally bankrupt once and has plowed 2 businesses into bankruptcy in just 6 years, yet financed the whole house and his closing costs just last year while working part-time while his wife cleans homes for a living – and they go to Mexico twice a year. WHO is irresponsible enough to lend that kind of money to people who have already repeatedly proven they can’t handle it? If I didn’t know better I’d wonder what he’s smuggling from down south on his ‘vacations.’

  36. Laurie says:

    I have a generous sister who really wants to treat my husband and I lavishly. The problem is, she is on a disability pension and really, REALLY can’t afford to do so. (Otherwise she’s not an overly spendy person, just on those occasions).
    My husband & I are comfortably set in our life and work, and we feel like ogres when trying to say ‘no, thank you’, and ‘lets do something less expensive instead’…the disappointment on her face is obvious.
    It doesn’t feel good for my husband or I to take these offerings from her, knowing her limited income. It also doesn’t feel good to us to keep dragging her income into the conversation, either.
    Sorry, don’t want to hijack the current conversation (a very good one), but it’s like the flipside of the problem.
    Any thoughts on managing? We already limit gifts and things, but it doesn’t feel good for us to NOT do nice things for her, when we know she’ll want to do the same or more to show her appreciation.
    Bit of a vicious circle!

  37. Kari says:

    I really enjoyed this as I have just changed to a vegan diet for health reasons. These tips will help me with dealing with my friends and family. I fear I have been too enthused, but am taking on board that it’s not up to me to change anyone, just as you said. I must admit though, that looking at your winter farm pictures makes me want to spend time on a snowy farm some January. (It’s hot summer now here in New Zealand). 😉

  38. N says:

    I need some good suggestions from this great community on what to say when we’ve expressed things aren’t in our budget and the response is “Ok, but you’re doing fine so I don’t see how it couldn’t be.” We saved for 10+ years to buy an unfinished house in a very expensive high cost of living area (nationally, it’s almost as bad as SF or NY), we only drive one car, don’t have kids, don’t take vacations we can’t drive to, and do all the normal frugal things people here do (thank goodness for you all), so on the outside, people assume that that we can afford anything because we’re DINKS (double income no kids). In some respects, they are right, we could buy dinner out or go to concerts or whatever, but we’re choosing not to and I’m having a hard time figuring out a reply to people that doesn’t sound jerky. This happens to us on a weekly basis because people here are often struggling to keep up with the wealthy in our area and they find us odd because we seem the most well off (we’re the only people we know our age, mid-30s, that have bought a house here without some sort of financial help from others for a down payment). Please help me sort out what to say. I know you must experience this too!

    • Emmy says:

      We’re doing fine BECAUSE it’s not in our budget to …… (eat at Cheesecake Factory every birthday, go to Hawaii at Christmas, what have you).

      I’ve come away from reading all this really glad to live far from all but 1 spendthrift relative. If they were ALL trying to tell us our business, we’d have to pull a witsec-style disappearance overnight!

    • Emmy says:

      You know, though, if you’re experiencing it weekly, you know what days of the week and from whom, right? Don’t answer the phone/email. : )

    • Caitlin says:

      I think a reasonable response is “We’re doing fine because we say no to these types of spending.” 🙂

  39. Emmy says:

    When it hit me that YOUR FAMILIES READ YOUR BLOG – and that it includes monthly spending breakdowns, I actually nearly had a panic attack! We keep everyone out of our finances. EVERYone. Because his family of origin is made up of leeches and cheats and mine is made up (I have 1 remaining relative living in the US) of a voraciously controlling (she tries, it hasn’t worked in decades) screeching person who would have a meltdown if she knew how much we give to charity a year. Because we could 1) live in a ‘better’ (read: higher-brow) house, 2) drive ‘better’ (newer, more expensive) cars, 3) go on more vacations to ‘better’ destinations (so she can tell her friends how successful her kid is) oh, and wear jewelry, because we don’t by choice and she thinks that makes us look ‘poor’ – and she’s leaving all her jewelry to my cousin overseas, and says it as though she’s depriving me.

    Kudos to your families for being the type to read and not judge or try to change you. That would just never work with ours.

    • Funny you say that… I had the same reaction! I recently started a blog to track income, spending, and net worth, but I have no intentions of telling my close friends/ family about it (other than my wife who helps with it). It’s not that I don’t trust them (my close friends and family), but I would be concerned with them judging my financial decisions and philosophy. It’s much less scary just sharing with members of the financial independence community who already have similar attitudes and goals :).

    • Cindy in the South says:

      My so-called work friend borrowed money from me, one to the tune of $600, said she had it and would pay me back the next morning. Well, she did pay me by noon. Never again………yea, I was stupid. The bad thing is, she will try again, and that will be a complete total ruin to our friendship.

  40. SarahB says:

    Thanks for this. My issue is that my (immediate) family.. well, my mum, really, has high expectations in terms of how often and for how long we meet up — and these meet-ups can involve spending more money than I’d like (like she suggested us doing a workshop the other day). I struggle to manage her expectations. Last year it was her partner’s birthday and they wanted to do an expensive boat trip. We reluctantly agreed, as we didn’t want to upset them. But when I raised the issue of price, the reaction was “you can afford going for brunch every other week.. it’s a few brunches out”. Also for a milestone birthday she expected us to all fly abroad to celebrate her birthday (she didn’t see this as an issue because we haven’t done this before). How do we manage expectations when we prioritise to spend money on travel and eating out together, but when family members suggest it, they expect us to be able to do it? My sister also wants us to go away for a weekend together but I said why can’t we do a day trip, why does it have to be a full weekend, and abroad? Am I just being too selfish? We work around my husband’s holiday and our budget, but that budget doesn’t stretch to doing expensive things with family.

  41. Julie says:

    I recently turned down a siblings request for money for the first time. I almost changed my mind and called back to say yes the next day. I still feel guilty about it; he is disabled and has a hard time making ends meet. I have ‘loaned’ him more money than I can remember. When I said no, he asked if we were ok financially. I help my mother with anything major like dental work, a new TV, mattress, etc., and I resent it because she didn’t save money when she was able to. My frugality allows me to do this and it will also keep my children from having to bail me out.

  42. Potimarron says:

    Oh, families. My husband and I are keen on living well within our means (we’re calmer and happier that way as we know we can weather any storms) but I routinely get told by my parents and sister that I’m being tight. The current issue is “when are you going to visit your sister?” (said sister moved to the other side of the world just over a year ago and now has a baby). I miss my sister- horribly- and really would like to see her, but I feel really irritated that my family are putting the squeeze on us to do the running (I mean, she was the one that moved).

  43. Caitlin says:

    I love this post, as this is something I struggle with as well. With friends too, as some commenters have mentioned.

    A few things that have worked for me:

    *Don’t just shoot down the suggestion, but have an alternate idea (as mentioned in the post and by many commenters). I think this is huge because not only do people take it as a personal insult but as someone else mentioned above it makes it seem like you are shooting down spending time with the person, as well.

    *Be positive–don’t shoot down the idea at all, actually. 🙂 Don’t be negative about the suggestion or about your reasons for not participating. Really, we are making a choice, and we also control our perspective about that choice, and can influence the perspective of others. I think saying “I can’t afford it” is kind of negative (although I also see the arguments for it, especially if you really can’t afford it!), but “I would really rather just see you for a few hours than go jet-skiing!” is more positive. Also, “How about this activity instead?” solves a problem, it doesn’t create another one. Mrs. FW modeled this in her post with some of her suggested phrases but it’s important to keep in mind in your own thoughts, too. If you feel deprived other people can sense that and may try harder to convince you.

    *I often keep the quote “good for you, not for me” (from Amy Poehler) in my mind when having these types of conversations. It kind of relates to the mindset of not converting anyone. Other people can do those things and it’s fine but it doesn’t mean that I have to.

    *The most important thing is that I remind myself that I am the one who will have to live with the consequences. I will have the headache or nervous stomach if I’m overspending/spending outside my values (and won’t enjoy the activity anyway!), I am the one who will have to pay the bill, I am the one who will have to handle all of the logistics for myself. You are the one who will have to drive your child to the lessons, you are the one who will be frustrated when you don’t reach your savings goals for the month, you are the one to deal with the consequences. This helps me step back and realize whether I really want to do something or not, and gives me confidence in my decision and the strength ignore what others say (or more often, what I imagine they are thinking about me).

  44. Alice says:

    Great post, thanks! Just thought I’d add my experience, which isn’t maybe that much about spending money, but about spending time.

    When my parents got divorced (in my early 20s), my mum kept asking me to go on weekend getaways with her. I wanted to support her, but a) I was on a tight budget, and b) I was working really hard to earn more money, and wanted to spend the little time I had off with my husband. A similar situation happened with my gran, who at one point wanted me to drive over to her place every week and help her out with her chores.

    The solution is very similar to the money-spending scenario: it’s your life and how you spend your time is up to you. Your family has no business to dictate that. Off course, they can ask for help, but you have every right to decline or offer an alternative. In my case, I explained the situation to both my mum and my gran and said that I’d be happy to see/help each of them for one afternoon a month. It wasn’t easy and they didn’t like it, I can tell you that! But I was firm and in the end, they accepted my decision.

    It also helps to remember you’re not responsible for other people’s happiness. You can get a friend to go with you on a getaway, after all, or ask some of your other grandchildren to help you out with chores. Incidentally, this is exactly what happened – mum found herself a group of girlfriends (yay!) and my gran outsourced a lot of the stuff she needed help with to other family members (double yay here!).

  45. Lani says:

    These principles can also be applied to other resources, such as our time. Our extended family all tend to be pretty frugal, but a few like to come up with group gift/activities that we don’t always want to give our time too. This past Christmas, someone assigned everyone parts to sing for every family so she could string them together in a video. Fun idea, and cheap, but singing is not something we all enjoy, we had a lot of sickness, and traveling going on, it was an unusually hard month for us. We made it happen (we felt obligated because assignments had been made already) but it wasn’t very good, we didn’t enjoy it, and there were some feelings of resentment that an assumption had been made that everyone would participate. So, I sent a message, that while it was a cute idea, we wouldn’t always be able to participate, and would appreciate their understanding if we decline future invitations. I may have ruffled some feathers, but the experience made me realize that my immediate families needs and circumstances really should take priority over those of my extended family.

  46. I usually try the soft approach first, but anyone who doesn’t get the hint then gets The Hard Approach. Like the extended relatives who demanded that I drive long distances to visit them every year and participate in a gag gift exchange that I and several others in my family hated, but never once reciprocated by coming to visit me or do anything my family was interested in. I and several other relatives finally just cut them off. We said, “We have spent many years and dollars adhering to your way of doing things. You are welcome to visit or call upon us in our location 400 miles away from you at any time.” Never once have they come to see us, or called, or done anything even remotely considerate. That shows you all that you need to know. It’s not about me, it was never about me, it was always about THEM and their unhealthy/one-sided way of doing things. The mom of this family unit is a bank vice president who got a weekend job at Macy’s to support her shopping habit, and she is still always broke. (This entire sub-wing of my family is always broke, too, and constantly complain about how I should be able to come see them because I have more money than they do)

    Hmm. I wonder why that is . . . I continue to wish them well, and hope that perhaps one day they will discover the secret of frugality and intentional living for themselves. Hasn’t happened yet, and I don’t preach to them. Great post!

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