A friend of my girlfriend's is getting married in Asia over Christmas 2014. She's planning to go, and wants me to accompany her (and, money aside, I'd like to go). She'll be upset and disappointed if I don't, and is already upset and disappointed that I'm balking. She makes enough money to afford the trip without financial contortions, and...I don't, or don't feel like I do. This is a recurring point of contention in our relationship, and, generally, I'm not sure if I'm being unreasonable, she's being unreasonable, or a little bit of both.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (58 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
The trip will cost at least $2000, maybe more than $3000. Currently it looks like airfare alone will be $1200-1600+ each. If I'm super frugal can probably save enough over the next year, but it's already making me anxious, and I was planning some long-overdue $1000+ dental work for March or April. I'm not sure if it's better to decide now to make a good-faith effort to and set ambitious financial goals (this has not worked well for me in the past) and bail out if it starts to look unfeasible, or put my foot down now and say no.
I make a little south of $30k/year. After (fairly aggressive) pre-tax retirement savings, taxes and insurance my take-home pay is $18k. Historically my gross income has been less than this--$14-18k/year until I was 30--and as a result I have very little money saved for retirement and a longstanding habit of never taking vacations longer or more ambitious than a three day weekend on someone's couch or in a campground. She makes enough that she can afford the trip herself but not so much that she could painlessly pay for me as well, and there's no precedent in the relationship for her to do so--we keep separate finances and split expenses evenly.
This type of situation on a smaller scale is already a point of contention in our relationship. We've established a pattern where she vacations without me, both because I feel like I can't spend money that way and it can be hard for me to take the time off. She's a public school teacher, so her breaks (Christmas, spring break, summer vacation) are inflexible but long and easily anticipated. I have a service-type job which makes it hard (but by no means impossible) to take time off in large blocks and a second part-time job from May to September, so I work seven days/week through her summer vacation. Last summer was especially contentious because my primary job was one worker short and imposed a de facto time off blackout until a replacement was hired in late September. Additionally, when my checking account runs low, I tend to have a knee-jerk response of "no, I can't afford that kind of thing" even to expenses in the $15-30 range, things like cheap dinner and a movie or meeting her friends at a bar (I don't drink at bars on my own, and she doesn't drink at all, so this only comes up when someone else plans an event). This frustrates her because she feels like I'm no fun and perpetually anxious about money, and I think she sees me as hypocritical or not acting in good faith when I splurge--using the word relatively--on fancy coffee beans or beer or thrift store clothing that I don't really need. Worse, I think, is that both of us feel like I can't make certain concrete life plans, like having children or buying a house--things that my girlfriend would like to do, but won't without the support of a partner.
I realize this is a matter of perception and prioritization on my part, but the heart of the matter is that I don't feel like I can (or don't want to, from my girlfriend's point of view) absolutely lock down my day-to-day spending in a way that would let me save for this trip, let alone save for the trip and not be tight-fisted in a way that adds stress to our relationship in the next year. I've been poor or poor-ish for a long time and I'm intimately familiar with how, time after time, no matter how good my intentions, I make incrementally bad financial decisions when I'm a little bit overextended. I've finally achieved a status quo (or income level, if I'm being less charitable) where I can keep all the balls in the air almost 100% of the time and I'm free of consumer debt and never overdraw my checking account and I'm saving more than almost nothing for retirement. I'm honestly afraid that I won't be able to hack this and the attempt will lead to a major financial setback--I'll come out of 2014 with credit card debt, or I'll have drastically cut back my retirement savings (I'm already horrifyingly behind).
But I don't know how much of this is me thinking like I still make $9/hour (but, honestly, I currently make less than $14/hour), or my girlfriend thinking about the situation as if I have as much petty cash as she does. I also don't have a great sense of what's reasonable financially or relationship-wise in situations like this. How should we handle it?