Carolyn Hax: Is frugality reason enough to skip meals with friends?

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Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: My spouse and I are Not Poor, although my spouse is much more frugal than I am. A friend of ours chose a fairly expensive restaurant for another friend’s birthday. The cheapest entree was 2½ times what we normally spend, so my spouse wanted to decline. Friend offered to cover our meals, saying “you can pay me back later.” The gist of our reply was that it wasn’t a matter of affording it, but that the meal was too expensive for the expected enjoyment, so we declined.

As far as I’m aware, this hasn’t negatively impacted our friendships, but I wonder if we should have gone anyway and not eaten or shared a plate. Would that have been a better decision?

Undecided: Before I show how I don’t support your decision, I’m going to show how I support your decision: You’re right to set and apply your priorities. It’s unimpeachable, really.

But when I read about declining invitations from friends because you can afford the food but don’t want to, or accepting only if you can split an appetizer salad six ways, I am screaming a little inside.

What are you saving for? What is the destination of this journey of hedonistic denial?

If you have something in mind you both want, then, great. And if these dinners happen regularly and the expense is just silly, great.

Anything short of that, though, is worth rethinking. We are guaranteed no more days on earth than the one we’re living now. We are given pleasures in many forms but the bulk of them have something to do with our friendships and our senses. So it seems to me that building in some pleasure — time with friends, dazzling food — can be consistent with even a frugal plan for living, assuming you can afford it.

So you block out the money you need to live, the money you want to save, then designate money for luxuries — which I’d define as the “I get to say yes without second-guessing” fund.

I wouldn’t have said this if you celebrated your zero-extravagance lifestyle, but you seem to have doubts you’re hesitant to act on. You risk a lot of regrets if you don’t start listening to that skeptical voice. If you want to start saying yes to more things, then say so to your spouse. If you want to start to enjoy the financial security you’ve achieved through your frugality, then say so. If you want to explore the idea of not moving in lockstep as a couple on this, then say so.

Re: Too Expensive: Why not just suggest a different restaurant? Spending too much on a meal can limit the ability to enjoy your friends.

Anonymous: Yes, of course. And group birthday dinners can be a “good miss,” since they’re often over-fussy, under-fun, and unfair, where ordering ice water costs as much as the surf-and-turf. So it’s kind of amusing to use this as our carpe-diem example.

Still — encouraging some “yes” doesn’t equate to indulgence for indulgence’s sake. It’s acknowledging a plate of lettuce has a “cost” to it too.

· The meal isn’t the enjoyment! Your FRIEND is.

· My dad denied himself and my mother a lot of innocent pleasure by being such a cheap [person]. In the year before she died, she spent thousands on these idiotic gambling apps. I suspect it was revenge for all the appetizer-splitting and packing three to a bed in a no-tell-motel when we could have been comfortable. She was that kind of passive-aggressive. But he let her, because she was going to die eight years into a retirement he had planned to be 30 years long. The money she wasted, if spent 20 years ago, could have been lovely family memories.

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