I am a graduate student working on my PhD, with intermittent episodes of small-scale work (as in not a high income). Many of my peers have been out of university for five years, and have worked most of the time since then, making quite good incomes. This summer I have four weddings to attend. I have had discussions with friends and family about the appropriate amount of money to give. I do know that at least two of the brides have dropped hints that a guest must cover the cost of the plate plus some more on top of that (not to mention shower gifts and bachelorette festivities). And that they have said their plates are upwards of $150 to $200. I also know that if I don't live up to some of the brides' standards, their impression of me will shift. I've heard them talk about things other guests have bought on the registry - they were complaining that these people are "cheap" and saying they "wished they hadn't invited them." The friends I am inclined to support more are those who say, "I don't care if you don't give anything, just come." How should I handle the scrutineers?
Well, you kind of answered your own question.
But first allow me to state for the record that I know how you feel. I've been in your worn-down shoes.
Like you, I hung around university for an extra-long time. When I finally emerged, at age 27, with not one but two master's degrees under my belt, in a bubbling tub of hot water with my student-loan creditors, all my friends had been in the work force five years.
And I had my cap set on becoming a writer, not the world's most lucrative career choice.
One of my most painful memories from those early first post-university days was going out with a bunch of publishing types to a swish restaurant, to celebrate, I think, my editor's birthday.
Everyone was laughing and drinking martinis, toasting each other in a festive spirit of camaraderie and mutual congratulation.
Meanwhile, I sat there nursing a water, saying, "No, thanks, I'm fine with just a water, thanks" every time the puzzled waitress, or anyone else around the table, asked me if I wanted a drink.
Because I knew nothing would come out of my wallet if I opened it, except maybe a moth; and there wasn't much in my cobwebbed, tumble-weed-filled bank account, either.
So when, at the end of the meal, the head of the publishing company, in a gala gesture, waved his magic, platinum credit card over everything and paid for everybody, I almost burst into tears.
All my way of saying, my impecunious sister, I know how it feels to be a poor person in a rich person's world.
But what I meant by "you answered your own question" at the beginning is that everything you need to know about making your way in the world with little more than dryer lint and a pack of matches in your pocket is contained in the following statement:
"The friends I am inclined to support more are those who say, 'I don't care if you don't give anything, just come.'"
Those are the kind of people you should be cultivating, not these other horrible, shallow, materialistic characters who have the gall to charge you, in effect, to attend their wedding.
Talk about tacky! Of course, it's nice if you can bring a gift, and that gift can be money, but for the hosts to expect it and actually name a figure they "expect" you to bring?
I know people do it, but it's vulgar and cheesy and déclassé, besides.
Some advice columnists might say: "Tell them you're not earning that much right now" and la la la.
But I say: Don't dignify their behaviour by demeaning yourself thus. Don't let these vulgar, grasping materialists intimidate you, or make you feel you need to explain, justify, or even discuss what you're bringing to their wedding.
Your real friends won't care how much money you have, or bring, or give. Spend more time with them, and everything will be fine: You'll laugh and drink wine in the sunshine, and if you're a little skint they can treat you.
Just remember to return the favour when your PhD thesis turns into a surprise bestseller on the non-fiction lists. Remember all the "little people" - friends, family, advice columnists - who helped steer you on the right course when you were coming up.
David Eddie is a screenwriter and the author of Chump Change and Housebroken: Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Dad.
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