The “Friendship Tax”.

iStock_000001563521SmallA few weeks ago I wrote about why I would not be attending my best friend’s bachelorette party, citing the exorbitant cost of participation and my limited resources for such discretionary expenses.

In response to the article, the concept of a “Friendship Tax” was introduced to me.

Just like there’s a cost of doing business, there’s a cost of doing friendship- attending social occasions, meeting for drinks, etc. But the difference between business and friendship expenses is that one is a necessity and the other is discretionary, which is why I don’t go for the whole “tax” concept.

While taxes are something I have to pay, friendship is something I feel should be financed out of desire and love. As soon as I start to feel obligated to spend rather than compelled to spend, it’s time to reassess. Perhaps this is why I’ve struggled so much with friendship and the wedding industry. Suddenly, what I would like to spend in celebration isn’t enough by societal standards. What should be an act of joyful giving becomes resentful and stressful due to pressure and judgment.

Last weekend, I attended the bridal shower for this same friend (yet another expense) and sat there for two hours as I watched gifts being opened. I thought to myself, is this really what this is all about? Watching my hand decorated, personalized wine glasses hastily opened and set aside next to a Dyson vacuum and an artisan knife set? (And that’s just for the shower!) Where’s the celebration? The only thing I see winning is the material culture of the wedding industry. Suddenly, everyone in the room feels like they need 20 place settings of china.

The point of this isn’t to bash my friend, I love her and to be fair, she’s just following the example set by the “norm” around her, (this is Northern New Jersey, NYC suburbs, I realize the norm is different depending on where you live, your culture, background, etc). My issue lies with that “norm”, the expectation, the so called “friendship tax”.

My other issue with this “friendship tax” is the way in which the expectation is applied. Rather than being shaped by the friendship itself, it seems to be dictated by the occasions and life choices of one friend. Perhaps it started this way because the majority of people followed the same trajectory, but in today’s day and age, where alternative lifestyles are increasingly common, the balance of “friendship tax” seems to be way off.

For instance, my aunt never got married nor did she have any children. She has spent her life attending weddings, baby showers, and other celebrations of life events. But when has she been celebrated? When does it come back around?

If it truly is about supporting one another, perhaps we should eliminate the expectation of gifts altogether? What if our presence was the present? It could be, but with material standards so very much ingrained in society, it can be hard to opt out without offending someone.

My friends are important to me, and their friendship holds enough value for me to spend less than 100% selfishly. However, I will not stop questioning what is a gesture of love and what is simply overblown material expectation. I’ll do my best to act from my heart without offending. I hope my intentions will be met with gratitude rather than disappointment or judgment. And I hope that I can inspire some who feel so pressured to spend according to industry “norms” that they put their own finances in jeopardy, to think outside the box and find alternative ways to give and participate from the heart rather than the wallet.

The moment my friendships start to resemble my taxes, I’m afraid I’ll have lost touch with what it’s really all about- the love and camaraderie that makes me want to give and celebrate in the first place.

Have you ever heard the term “friendship tax”? How would you define it? How do you feel about it?


The “Friendship Tax”. — 14 Comments

  1. Your aunt should take a cue from Sex & the City and do throw an “I’m marrying myself” party and invite all the people she’s dolled out money for over the years.

    I could not agree more with this article. I’ve had a hard time starting to reconcile all the weddings, bridal showers, bachlorette parties etc, etc, etc. It is insanely excessive and I’m simply not a fan. WHY do we need so many different ways to celebrate this one event? Why has it gotten so over-the-top expensive? As one of my friends says, “Why should I have to pay for your decisions?”

    It’s nice to be there on the wedding day, for close friends and family, IF you can afford to be. Otherwise, I’m going to have to start declining invites.

    • Because the cultural network is so big, I HAVE to decline invites. I’ve started already. I’d like to be there, it’s just not financially viable.

  2. I hadn’t heard it, but the concept is definitely familiar. I don’t consider all spending on any friend related activities as a tax, obviously, but some more so than others. Thankfully all of our close friends understand or know about the social obligations we place on each other when we spend for an event that isn’t our own, so I don’t worry about that being returned. But, if you’re young and starting out, it can be a real bummer to have to spend thousands of dollars to do something, even if you know you’ll enjoy it. I think all friends should try to make the impact of any big events lessened, but alo make sure it’s some value-added event.

    • Exactly, I know I’d have a good time going to party after party, but it’s just not within my financial reality to do that.

  3. Yeah, the East Coast wedding thing is out of hand! We had an ask the grumpies on how much to spend on a wedding, and the vehemence from folks on the East Coast about cheaping out (which is really just the norm in the rest of the country) was pretty astounding. There’s like a separate rule, if you’re talking about New England or the mid-Atlantic, double what you’d spend elsewhere, then add $50-$100. And destination bachelorette parties are beyond me (though my friends who went to East coast schools go to them for their college friends). We either have local bridal showers or, most of my friends have wine and cheese engagement parties for out-of-town guests before the event.

  4. Most of the people I know in Nashville are creative types who aren’t high earners. Most everyone is trying to live cheaply, so I don’t experience much of a “friendship tax” here.

    I agree with your article completely. It’s unfair to expect a friend to make that kind of financial commitment for your wedding. The entire thing has absolutely no appeal to me. I’ve seen some really out of control weddings near where I grew up (Boston area). And, frankly, it’s an irresponsible and a challenging way for a couple to start their life together.

    • Most of the people I’m friends with I share a cultural background with rather than a professional background, so there’s a lot of variation in earnings and spending expectations.

  5. “Friendship tax” isn’t a pop culture reference, it’s my term to describe the give and take in relationships that aren’t especially awesome (more the “give” than the “take”). There are always going to be things in that relationship that aren’t going to be fun and cool to me but means a lot to another person. I’m not talking about a slavish devotion to attending every single occasion, outing, and activity your friends invite you too but there’s going to be some compromise if you have relationships that extend beyond twenty minutes.

    For instance, I don’t think funerals are super-fun. I have two choices in this situation: I can rail against society for creating yet another tradition that costs me money and thwarts my Sunday morning crossword and caramel macchiato plans or I can just go to the damn funeral and give my awkwardly worded condolences like everyone else. I’m not going to be able to do it all the time but showing up counts – I should be gracious and do it when I can.

    • I just don’t like the word “tax” as it implies a requirement. Whereas the things I do for my friends, even when they’re less than wonderful, are something I choose to do, because I care about them.

  6. Your article is very thought provoking. I find myself feeling uncertain about it all. On the one hand, I understand the tradition of giving gifts to newlyweds. It’s expensive to set up a household. But so many couples today already have their households set up by the time they marry. Your point about your aunt is excellent. It makes me think about people in my life who probably do feel very left out as celebrations and gift-giving occur for everyone else. And it’s true that the norms for how much to spend on the shower gift, the wedding gift, the baby gift, and what to do when invited to multiple showers for the same person . . . They all foster competition among gift givers and leave people self-doubting. Where’s the celebration in that? I guess that each one of us has to set our own standards for any gift-giving event and try really hard not to care what anyone else thinks. If we can be confident in that approach, we can then give ourselves over to true celebration.

    • I think it’s hard to be confident in what you can give when even the gift recipients are so conditioned to expect a certain level of spending.

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