How do I handle destination wedding money stress?
January 26, 2014 5:12 PM   Subscribe

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.

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?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (57 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Don't go on the trip.

You are not being unreasonable. Do you hear me? You are not being unreasonable.
posted by incessant at 5:18 PM on January 26, 2014 [106 favorites]

Don't go on the trip. You will be so stressed out for a YEAR while saving for it. Who needs to lose TNT much "living" for a trip you really don't want. Too much sacrifice, too much stress. Just say no now and skip it.
posted by raisingsand at 5:23 PM on January 26, 2014 [8 favorites]

No at $14/hour you should not go on this trip. You are smart to be asking this question. I would just put your foot down and say you're not going. Dental work and retirement are way more important. It doesn't even sound like this is a place you particularly want to go, and since it's a wedding you'll be spending this time getting drunk around people you don't know instead of experiencing new sights and cultures like you would on a normal vacation.

If this is an ongoing thing it kind of sounds like you guys are not a great match at this point in your lives.
posted by bleep at 5:24 PM on January 26, 2014 [25 favorites]

If you are going to spend upwards of $3K on a trip, I think you deserve to choose your dream destination and to have it be for a reason other than your girlfriend's friend's wedding.

To talk to your girlfriend about this: sit down with a piece of paper, write your post-retirement/post-tax monthly income at the top, and subtract your monthly expenses. Show her that there isn't wiggle room for this expense, because I agree with the other posters: there's not.

The conversation about your different spending habits in general should be kept separate, and maybe you can offer to try to make smaller compromises on the little expenses or start saving for something special for the two of you to plan and look forward to.
posted by juliplease at 5:28 PM on January 26, 2014 [19 favorites]

Not only should you not go, she should not be asking you to go.
posted by bq at 5:29 PM on January 26, 2014 [18 favorites]

The trip will cost at least $2000, maybe more than $3000...I make a little south of $30k/year. After (fairly aggressive) pre-tax retirement savings, taxes and insurance my take-home pay is $18k.

No, you should not spend over 10% of your annual take home pay on this trip. If your girlfriend can't understand that, you should not continue to waste your time on her.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 5:29 PM on January 26, 2014 [59 favorites]

Even at 2k, the trip would be 11% of your take home pay for the year. That is a lot of money to spend on the wedding of someone you describe as a friend of your girlfriend, not yourself. You are absolutely not being unreasonable.
posted by joycehealy at 5:29 PM on January 26, 2014 [4 favorites]

If your girlfriend is upset at you for not taking on this financial burden, assuming you've explained the financial reality to her, then you really, really need to find a more fiscally responsible girlfriend. Otherwise, she's going to bury you one way or another. You are not being unreasonable and guilting you is nothing more than completely screwing you over.
posted by kjs3 at 5:30 PM on January 26, 2014 [7 favorites]

Your knee-jerk "no I can't afford this" was to things that involve spending time with your girlfriend, whereas your splurges are on things that are for you. Between that and your inability to If that is generally how things work in your relationship, I can see how that would be a problem.

On the other hand, if you told your girlfriend that the reason you are balking is so that you can set aside money for some long overdue dental work and her reaction was still more upset than disappointed, that's a different problem.

I'm not saying that you should go into debt for a destination wedding, but this sounds like just a symptom of a larger incompatibility.
posted by sm1tten at 5:30 PM on January 26, 2014 [15 favorites]

I make almost $10k/year more than you do and I couldn't afford to go on this trip. Your instincts are correct.
posted by MsMolly at 5:31 PM on January 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

There may be some middle ground where you start to find ways to be more open to spending money and doing the kinds of things that your girlfriend wants, but she's talking about spending more than 15% of your net annual income on a single trip.

That's INSANE.

I mean, completely, utterly up the wall.

It only even vaguely makes sense if going on this trip is your absolute dream and you don't see another point in your life where it will be possible under better financial conditions.

But on a trip you'd only sort of like to go on, to see someone you don't even consider a friend get married? INSANE.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:31 PM on January 26, 2014 [17 favorites]

Get the dental work done. Don't go on the trip. Your girlfriend should want you to address heath care issues rather than put that off in favor of an extravagant trip.
posted by quince at 5:34 PM on January 26, 2014 [7 favorites]

You are being reasonable. She is not. 10% of your pre-tax income for funsies is insane.
posted by ravioli at 5:39 PM on January 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

You certainly don't have to go.

But you say that you want to go, and I think there are a lot of compromise options here, most of which involve her paying for some portion (though maybe not all) of your expenses. (Which seems totally fair, given that it's her friend's wedding.) Is there some amount that you would feel comfortable spending on the trip? Even if it's $500 or whatever, you may want to let her know that, and see if you can come to some sort of compromise as a couple.

You say that she can't "painlessly" pay for you, but you can't painlessly pay for you, either. If she's the one pushing for you to accompany her on this trip, she needs to decide if she's willing to put money toward that goal. If she's not, then that's disappointing for both of you, but that's just sometimes how life goes.
posted by jaguar at 5:43 PM on January 26, 2014 [8 favorites]

Things like this can be the catalyst for change.

I would't go on the trip. I'd work on make a healthy base for myself first. That means savings, retirement, and health care. It looks like that you are doing that.

That said, differences like this in income are not great for long term relationships.
At a certain point the other partner may ask themselves will they always have to sacrifice or "miss out" on things.

Are you able to work on how to get a better job? Is that something in the cards?

I'd be worried that passing on things due to money, but with no plan on making more money in the future OR figuring out between the two of you how to make it work, will eventually drive a wedge between you.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 5:44 PM on January 26, 2014

Wow, I would not go on that trip, unless my significant other had decided to treat me. Going to a wedding in Asia for people who aren't your immediately family? Not worth six months of ramen.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:45 PM on January 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

You sound pretty stressed out about money. I would imagine that could be pretty stressful for your girlfriend at times. You can't let money run your life. And I don't mean that you should just throw it all to the wind and spend, spend, spend until you're in the poorhouse; being financially prudent is important. But letting stress about money run your life is the same as letting money run your life, and that's not good. Do you secretly like the stress? Does it give you something to lean on? Do you not want to go to bars, or do you not want to meet your girlfriend's friends and having no money is a great excuse? Ditto for thinking about marriage and kids? Think about these things. Talk to your girlfriend- if she's a quality partner, you two can work together as a team, she doesn't have to be the enemy. If she's not a quality partner, well....
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:47 PM on January 26, 2014 [5 favorites]

If you guys turned it into a once in a lifetime thing and she paid part and you actually REALLY wanted to go, then you should go. Either way, I think some resentment seeds are going to grow so maybe you both really need to sit down and sort out the financials in general. Thrift store pants and coffee are not in the same zone as 1000+$ flights. But anyway, many of us make a bit more money and still balk at that kind of outlay for a wedding- of someone else!
posted by bquarters at 5:48 PM on January 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

If she really wants you to go she can pay for it. You are not unreasonable at all!
posted by mlle valentine at 5:50 PM on January 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm sorry, but an expensive trip like that is insane on $18K/year net, with more important expenses ahead of you in the same timeframe.

Have you explained to your girlfriend that the numbers just don't add up? Maybe she could pay for you to go on the trip, if it's so important, or at least help with the amount you'd hoped to spend on dental work?

I mean, I'm a big proponent on spending money on travel even if you're not wealthy, but you're beyond not wealthy. And sometimes other needs come before traveling.
posted by Sara C. at 5:59 PM on January 26, 2014 [6 favorites]

You are in no way obligated to spend $3K on a trip to attend your girlfriend's friend's wedding. A destination wedding removes *any* obligation on the part of *any* guests, inclusive of parents and best friends, to attend. It's great that your girlfriend wishes to attend, but it is bordering on insane to ask a significant other who makes $18K/year to spring to accompany her.
posted by deadweightloss at 6:01 PM on January 26, 2014 [11 favorites]

No, you are not being unreasonable at all. And I know this isn't what you were asking, but it should also make you ask questions about long-term financial compatibility. One of the biggest issues in relationships over the long haul tend to be financial disagreements. This situation seems to be a big red flag for problems that might come up later.

This isn't to say that you should ditch the relationship by any means (AskMe can be a bit knee jerk in this regard). However, you really should have a serious discussion with her about how you are not on the same page about this, and what it means. This may end being a good thing, though, in that perhaps she hasn't been encouraged to think about these things carefully before. It could be a great opportunity to do so, although initially it might be a difficult discussion.

Being a good person in a relationship sometimes means stepping up to the plate and saying the hard thing, although there may be tension. Feel confident that this is the right thing to do. However, I would think long and hard how to bring it up with tact and sensitivity, because this is undoubtedly important to her, for reasons that likely have less to do with control issues and rather how she sees your relationship working, and how you both operate as a couple. Reassure her while you bring up these concerns, and hopefully all will go well.

Best wishes.
posted by SpacemanStix at 6:03 PM on January 26, 2014 [4 favorites]

It's perfectly reasonable that you will not be attending. With your current financial situation, this trip is not in the cards.

Even if you didn't need dental work, this trip is extravagant and she should absolutely not expect for you to attend.

When she balks when you suggest that you probably won't be attending, let her know that this makes you feel pressured and stressed. When she expresses disappointment, let her know that you wish she were more understanding. Because more understanding on her part is definitely in order. It's not realistic for her to expect that you can just wing it, or find the money somewhere, or scrape by for a year to afford this trip. She can want all she wants -- show me the money.
posted by Fairchild at 6:03 PM on January 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Your friend is not actually a friend. Dump her, let her know that her desire to put her needs over your financial welfare are messed up, and then take yourself somewhere special instead.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 6:03 PM on January 26, 2014

I am 100% with everyone else that you shouldn't go.

A lot of people seem to be jumping to the conclusion that she's a bad partner because of this. I don't know about that part - I think that really depends on how openly you two have discussed money up until this point. Personally, I never talked really specifically with any of my boyfriends about how much money they made (until I got engaged to my now-husband). There is a lot of secrecy and sometimes shame in American society wrapped up in talking about money, paychecks, debt, etc. So if you've only talked about in a very general sense, I totally get that (and if she doesn't know exactly what your financial situation is, it makes sense that she'd just be excited for you to come to a wedding with her).

But now that you two are planning a year ahead and discussing international travel, I think that means it's time to have the in-depth money convo. First, I would just sit down and go over your budget and show her why there simply isn't enough money for this expense. I am hoping she'll be disappointed but supportive. As others have said, I suggest that you extend this talk about money to talking about daily spending patterns - but at a later time. You don't need to wrap every issue in your relationship into one conversation.

When you do go down the road of talking about the broader money issues in your relationship - it may help you to actually parse out where your money is going to go each month (I love the app You Need a Budget for this). That way you can make intentional decisions about spending some of your discretionary money on yourself and some on your relationship and some on other things. Also, if you want to plan for the future, you should start doing so - you don't need any money at all to start making a plan.

This is hard (but necessary) conversation to have. Good luck.
posted by leitmotif at 6:07 PM on January 26, 2014 [9 favorites]

You are completely correct. I make a good bit more than you and I would seriously balk at a $3k per person vacation, especially if it was to go to a wedding for people I didn't even know in a place I wasn't desperate to visit. I'd advise you not to pay $3k to go on ANY vacation, but this vacation in particular seems ill advised.

Not to mention the fact that if you and your girlfriend are clearly on such different pages about money, it is a very bad idea to book such an expensive trip nearly a year in advance. I've known many people who felt they had to put off ending their terrible relationships because they had already prepaid for expensive vacations with their soon-to-be exes.
posted by gatorae at 6:07 PM on January 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Your partner should never ask that you pass up health care-- which is what dental care is!-- for a fancy trip. Never. If I knew my partner couldn't afford dental care like that, I would be actively trying to help them pay for it, because they matter to me. Does she know about the dental care thing? I mean it's kind of insane anyway, but that's because...

...I think there's kind of a bigger underlying problem, and I think you know it. If you ever want to get to the point where you want to make future plans with each other, those kind of big picture items like a house or kids or even a fancy vacation, you guys need to have a serious financial talk and you need to be able to work on goals together. Maybe with a professional. Do you have any kind of emergency fund-- it doesn't sound like it? I know you have a retirement fund, but does she? Why are you splitting all of your expenses evenly if you don't make money evenly? Are there big student loan debts anywhere? Do you want to change your spending patterns?
posted by jetlagaddict at 6:10 PM on January 26, 2014 [8 favorites]

You aren't being unreasonable. Don't go. Someone else's wedding isn't worth your financial stress, and your girlfriend is being ridiculous by expecting you to go into debt over her friends wedding.
posted by anad487 at 6:13 PM on January 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

You should not be spending that much money on someone elses wedding, heck I'd balk at spending that bigger percentage of my yearly income on my own wedding. If she wants you to go she can pay for you. Explain to her clearly why this is a hardship for you.

It sounds like you two have been together a reasonable amount of time if holidays etc have fallen into a pattern so this is probably something you guys need to sit down and work out. There is nothing wrong with one partner earning less than another, there is nothing wrong with you wanting to be financially conservative compared to her (though honestly I think you are just being sensible and in no way cheap) you just need to find a way to make it work for you both. What should not be happening is you being made to stress out for a year so she can drag you halfway around the world to one of her friends wedding.
posted by wwax at 6:18 PM on January 26, 2014

Dropping in because don't think that I have seen anyone address all of these points:

-You may want to first discuss what are the most important ways for you and your GF to express love and affection for one another (so for example, for some people, it is spending time together, and that could be why your GF is upset, not the money). But first, find out what both of your needs are.

-How do you both feel about the current solutions (ie, separate vacations)? Does it make her upset? She is okay with it? Do either of you want something else out of it.

-Talk about what money is like for you right now. I don't necessarily believe she is being evil or insensitive. Most pple go through periods of their life with little or not money. What I would try to do is remind her of those times in life and how she felt at that time..then point out your current situation (you are not asking for help, you are trying to get her to be empathetic and understand).

-IS there a solution after you go through all through this? So if it is time that is important to both of you and she wants more, then perhaps instead of going out for drinks, you two can host an evening together at home for her friends with drinks or whatever(it can still be far cheaper than a bar). It is possible to travel overseas cheaply, but you wait for specials, stay in youth hostels/camp, whatever, but it wouldn't be this trip probably. But together surely you could come up with a solution. But I think you would need to visit all these topics together. Good luck.
posted by Wolfster at 6:19 PM on January 26, 2014 [7 favorites]

Let's see, go to the wedding of someone you don't know, or get your teeth fixed. Hmmm. Okay, that's not the only way to analyze this issue.

Actually, I can think up reasons why I might decide to focus my limited income on a trip to China...that sort of adventure certainly appeals to me. I mean, China, wow. If this were a simple, one-off situation, I would encourage you to go on the adventure.

One the other hand, this seems to be an ongoing point of contention, so this might be a good hill to plant your flag on. How would it turn out if you told your girlfriend that you would budget your share of the expenses for this excursion if she would pay for your dental work?

I truly don't mean to be snarky here, but this sort of substitution points out one of the issues that isn't being brought to the foreground. I'm tempted to think ill of your girlfriend: she certainly doesn't seem to be interested in your needs in this area. But instead of me riffing on her materialism, maybe it's worth taking a step back, and trying to make up a hypothesis that takes her issues into account. ( I don't know what her issues might be, and their specifics are not part of what I'm getting at.)

Here's another tack: In other discussions of this sort, Mefites have suggested that partners with unequal incomes pay a proportional amount of various expenses. The details varied (rent, utilities, and so on, verses personal gear...hobbies, clothes, guitar strings.). So, if you'd like to share a trip to China with her, ask her to pay an amount that represents the same percentage of her income as the amount you would pay might represent yours. That way you both would be investing the same relative amount of capital in the experience. Get out the calculator and total up the expected expenses. Calculate what fraction of your income is compared to hers. If you make half as much as she does, then you pay half as much as she does for the trip. If that number is in your budget, take the trip and have a good time. If it's not, then decline.

Now, this isn't going to take care of all future problems, but it will give the two of you a tool to use in trying to meet each other half-way. It may turn out that a future discussion on this topic (money) will reveal things about your relationship that the two of you haven't yet come to grips with. Whatever her issues turn out to be, you may want to know whether her universe includes any empathy regarding yours.
posted by mule98J at 6:26 PM on January 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

I make three times what you make, and I wouldn't go on this trip. My own brother got married in India last autumn and I did not go. My mother did not go -- she stayed home to work so her husband could go.

Your dental work and your retirement are higher priorities than your girlfriend's friend's wedding. This is not unreasonable.

Is it out of the realm of possibility that your girlfriend could adjust her finances to save up over the next year for this? Or for 3/4 or 1/2 of your cost? Even still, I think it is unreasonable for her to demand that you not only pay for this but take the time off work (I'm guessing at your take-home pay there's not a lot of PTO) and sacrifice even more income. Seriously, your "splurges" like coffee beans, beer and thrift store clothes don't even come close to hypocrisy up against a several-thousand-dollar trip overseas. If you dropped the same amount of money on a trip to the opposite side of the planet all by yourself for the same time as the wedding, that would be hypocrisy.

Financial problems are right up there at the top of the list for relationship troubles. Lay this out to her, say no to this trip and seriously rethink her if she's going to begrudge you your coffee beans (and dental work and retirement).

BTW, my current income is very new to me and I have historically been the poor one in all my relationships. One ex and I went to Costa Rica on a trip -- he paid for everything with his credit card and I paid him back over a long period of time. Another friend asked me to go on a cost-prohibitive cruise (and it cost less than this destination wedding) and he paid for everything, including air fare and even tried to pay my airport parking costs. If your girlfriend lacks all sympathy or understanding about your finances and pressures you to uncomfortable spending . . . well. At any rate, best of luck sorting this out.
posted by mibo at 6:51 PM on January 26, 2014 [5 favorites]

To address the real feelings she has that you don't prioritize time with her, why not try to plan an ingeniously inexpensive vacation that will be fun for _both_ of you, that's not too far in the future? It sounds like you're due for a nice break anyway.

Here's one way you might discuss things with her:

It makes sense for her to spend money on this if it's going to be that much fun, or that meaningful, for her. While spending time with her is important, doing it in a way that overextends you financially with no commensurate fun or meaningfulness for you doesn't seem the best way for you to spend your time or money -- time or money that you can spend to be a better partner for her (one who is healthier, with more free time, and resources for other things).

As for the occasional indulgences? They keep you sane and are within your budget.

If you have an actual budget and stick with it, it will make your case more solid.
posted by amtho at 6:53 PM on January 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

It's not about the trip, really. You know, and everyone on this thread knows, that it's bonkers to ask someone making what you make to pay $3K on a trip to a wedding. I mean, that's just really straight up insane. (Even if you did want to say eff it and spend $3K you dont have on a trip, it should theoretically be a shoestring adventure where you get a lot of bang for your buck, not for a thing where you're just paying for a fancy hotel and long ass flight.) Dental work comes first, anyway.

But you know the real issue is the other thing you said:

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.

It's time for some real talk about financial goals. On the petty end of things, it's not unreasonable of her to resent you dropping $15 on junk you don't need, when that $15 would have made it possible to go out for a social evening. But on the more serious side of things, if your financial situation means that she's choosing between staying with you vs moving towards her goals of children and home ownership, then that's a bigger picture conversation. Good luck - I know it doesn't sound like a fun one at all.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:58 PM on January 26, 2014 [6 favorites]

You are being reasonable. She is being unreasonable.

She is asking you to go without important medical treatment to go on a trip you'll be too stressed out about paying for to enjoy. That's not something any of my reasonable friends would do.

I feel so terrible that you're in this situation. I wonder if the stress of planning the trip is getting to her, and making her act differently toward you than she normally would.

Anyway, this is something it's perfectly reasonable for you to put your foot down over. If you so decide, you can send a nice letter and present to the bride, politely tell your friend that that you've made a budget and just can't fit the trip into it and hope she has a great time, and let her be mad if she wants to. Hopefully, she'll get over it.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:17 PM on January 26, 2014

Oh, dude, no. I make around what you do and I would never spend that much money in one place, on anything, unless it was, like, the fulfillment of my every hope and dream.

Her position as described sounds absolutely irrational, so I'm trying to imagine what she could be thinking here. Is it possible that this is mostly an eruption of stress over the overall "no, I can't afford that kind of thing" that goes on in your relationship? Because while you're certainly in the right not to put your account balance at risk over something like an evening at a bar, I can imagine those conversations being somewhat unpleasant on her end as well. The problem with asking someone to do something they then tell you they can't afford right now is that you feel guilty for even having asked. If it was almost never feasible for you to spend ~$30 on an evening out, that would be something she'd just have to learn to deal with, but if your answer regularly switches from "Sure, no problem" to "No, I can't afford that kind of thing," based on fluctuations in your account that she probably doesn't know about, she may feel like she risks inflicting guilt on herself every time she asks you out. Which could get wearing after a while.

Maybe you could start redirecting some -- not all -- of your beer-and-coffee money to a small Fun with Girlfriend fund that you try to keep at $50 or $100 or whatever you can afford at all times, regardless of what's happening in your overall bank account? That way, as long as she understands how frequently it's reasonable to ask you, when she asks you to a sandwich-and-a-movie date you will generally be able to say yes.

And when you talk to her about this trip, tell her that maybe you could save this money, theoretically, but, in addition to everything else you would have to give up, it would mean that you would only very rarely be able to do the sandwich-and-a-movie-type dates for an entire year. It already stresses her out dealing with her boyfriend's smaller disposable income -- well, picture what it would be like dealing with that same income while the guy is trying to save a lump sum of $3000. You're happy to put money towards having fun with her, but you'd rather spend it on the small things -- things that will make your day-to-day life with her happy, exciting and unstressed -- than on one big thing. Oh, and does she know you were already planning to have the dental work? If not, tell her.

And if she won't listen to any of that . . . well, you're still right. Despite what she seems to think, you can't just invent money.
posted by ostro at 7:25 PM on January 26, 2014 [4 favorites]

Mod note: From the OP:
It only even vaguely makes sense if going on this trip is your absolute dream and you don't see another point in your life where it will be possible under better financial conditions

I would very much like to go. I've never been to Asia, and I haven't left the USA in ten years. It's not my dream vacation, but it's possible that I don't dream about vacation enough. I do worry that I'll never be able to reasonably afford it, or that I'll be too old to enjoy it once I can. I entertain a paranoid fantasy about dying young-ish before I get out from under worrying about money/working all the time/never taking time off. That cough I've had this winter? Prrrrobably lung cancer.

But instead of me riffing on her materialism,

If anything my girlfriend is anti-materialistic, and very much a prefers-experiences-over-possessions type. In fact, she's encouraging me to divest myself of possessions (specifically, bicycles which aren't my daily commuter and take up too much space in our shared apartment) to help pay for the trip. If anything, I'm the materialist--while I'm far from hoarding, I do have trouble getting rid of stuff, even if I'm not using it regularly. I probably paid a fraction of what it's worth and would never be able to replace it if I had to do so at fair market value. I have always been frustrated/borderline insulted by Pastabagel's MetaFilter-famous quip about how he or she sees eBay as the storage locker for their less-used possessions--I feel like I could never afford the storage fees, and would just have to do without.

Your girlfriend should want you to address heath care issues rather than put that off in favor of an extravagant trip./She is asking you to go without important medical treatment to go on a trip you'll be too stressed out about paying for to enjoy

She in no way wants me to put off the dental work, and has been pestering me to do it. I've been kicking it down the road because it's going to be unpleasant, expensive, and will require several days to a week off of work (I have PTO but it's still tough to schedule). I'm just not sure she knows how long it would take me to save up the money for both, or how long it would take me to pay it off if I put it on a credit card.

Why are you splitting all of your expenses evenly if you don't make money evenly? Are there big student loan debts anywhere? Do you want to change your spending patterns?

We've considered this but I'm weird about money and my independence, and there's a long-standing issue where she tends to underparticipate in chores and household upkeep work (dishes, laundry, the cat litter, etc., let alone longer-timeframe things like vacuuming or mopping or cleaning the stove or whatever). She has an admittedly high-stress job (teacher) with lots of work that spills into her time at home, but I also work full-time+ and I feel like accepting financial support legitimizes my position as the member of the partnership whose job matters less and who bears responsibility for that work because I'm being compensated for it. We do have a arrangement where she pays the gas bill (which can be quite large in the winter) and I pay other things which are constant throughout the year, so it's not perfectly 50/50.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 8:01 PM on January 26, 2014

The trip will cost at least $2000, maybe more than $3000.

I make a little south of $30k/year.

Fuck no, you should not go - and I honestly feel that only the most out-of-touch-no-money-problems-in-life-ever person would even suggest that you should. The amount of money you get take home puts you in Broke territory. Many of us have been Broke at some stages, or are Broke now. When I, or my friends are Broke, there is a tacit understanding that activities will be proposed that will fit a person's budget, or someone with lots more money will pay/subsidise that person.

You are right to be concerned about spending money on things you are not interested in. You are also right to spend money on thing you are interested in, like coffee or whatever. Don't let anyone guilt you about spending money on things you like as opposed to things they like; that's pretty shitty.

Best of luck to you; I feel it would highly irresponsible to go on this trip with your current financial status.
posted by smoke at 8:28 PM on January 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

I went to Seoul and Ansan, South Korea for a week for a family wedding in 2012. We also went to Bangkok and small island in Thailand for a week. For the two of us (female &male couple, early 30s, vegetarian, spoke no korean or thai, went to several towns and really felt like we splashed out as we are cheap travelers) it cost about 3300 USD all told, for airfare and air bnb lodging and incountry travels and lots of booze and food. So depending on where you go, how long, and if you can make choices like going to a cheap restaurant (because depending on the wedding location- like in a country estate, or in a national park--you might not be able to get to $3 noodles without a $30 cab ride) it may be cheaper than you think. From our vacation planning, Vietnam, Thailand, Korea, Cambodia, in general, are cheap; Japan is expensive.

However for people who are not your really good friends? Thailand and Korea were really the trip of a lifetime but one i never would have planned without outside impetus. It was worth it to see my brother in law marry the love of his life, but for acquaintances? A 14 hour plane ride? I dunno.
posted by holyrood at 8:28 PM on January 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

I read through you whole question thinking that this was your girlfriend's wedding. Like you were going to be a bridesmaid or something. In that case I would say that people who plan expensive destination weddings shouldn't have any expectations at all about who will attend.

Then I read the first few comments and realized that this is just your friend wanting you to be her plus one so she won't have to travel alone to the wedding of someone you don't even know. I wouldn't go across town to that, what with the price of gas nowadays.

And it really doesn't matter why you don't want to go. It is enough of a reason to just say that you've decided not to make the trip.
posted by SLC Mom at 8:43 PM on January 26, 2014

You can't afford this trip, and your friend should be more sensitive and considerate than to guilt trip you into spending money you barely have so extravagantly. I mean come on, crossing the Pacific to go to a wedding of a friend of a friend? That's a bit much.
posted by Dansaman at 9:17 PM on January 26, 2014

I'm just not sure she knows how long it would take me to save up the money for both, or how long it would take me to pay it off if I put it on a credit card.

If this is the case, then it seems your main problem is that a) your friend doesn't understand your financial situation because b) you haven't explained it to her. Or am I missing something?

Explain to her in no uncertain terms how this trip would damage you financially. Show her the math.
posted by zardoz at 10:10 PM on January 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Here to second holyroad, it might be cheaper than you think (unless we're talking Tokyo, Beijing, Hong Kong, Singapore etc). If you really want to go and it's just the finances stopping you, see if you cut down on your costs by:
  • taking the cheapest point-to-point flights, taking the train or bus long-distance to cut down flight costs, or booking domestic flights (they can be cheaper than international point-to-point flights). For instance, investigate the costs by finding the cheapest US to Asian-country flight route, then link it up with overland travel (train, long-distance bus), then you can see if transport costs can be negotiated down
  • staying at a BnB or youth hostel, or couch-surf. See if you can cut down a night of hotel/hostel by doing an overnight by train or bus.
  • public transport instead of a taxi
  • Doing online research and note prices ahead of time so you don't get ripped off once you're there, etc
Food in Asian countries can be quite cheap, but yeah this depends on where you're going. If you're going to a Malay wedding in Malaysia or Singapore, you could even get a cheap meal out of the wedding (ie, "free" meal buffet-style, $10-$20 in local currency as a red packet). This is of course different if you're going to a Chinese wedding in a hotel in Singapore (think at least $50-$100 in local currency per head). Just pay for your half of a couple red packet. Don't bother about any other expenses like a wedding gift or drinks or whatever.

Okay, but yeah easier said than done. Travelling on the cheap is doable but kinda stressful. You'd have to figure out public transport routes, walk a lot, figure a lot of things out on your own in a language you may not be familiar with (maybe, or maybe not). And when you get hopelessly lost and frustrated, you'll probably end up taking a cab. But it'll be an experience.

That said, none of this is worth it if you don't actually want go to the location, if you're just meh about going to this place, like if it's on your "I'd go, maybe, because it's in Asia" but not in your personal "top-10 or top-20 must see places before I die" list.

Would you wanna go to said location in said Asian country/countries if you weren't attending the wedding of a friend of a girlfriend? If this isn't your dream Asian destination, just forget it. You can easily, easily schedule your dream vacation to Asia anytime you like. It's not like if you don't go this time, you can never go. If I were in your position, I just wouldn't go because here this trip is all on her/her friend's terms. You don't even really want to go to this Asian destination, and yet you'll be under financial stress for a year.

If she insists she wants you to go, get her to pay for majority of the "big ticket" items (part of the flights, the whole accommodation bill), and you pay for the smaller, negotiable-on-the-ground items like meals and entrance prices to attractions. Go dutch with things like public transport. Or something along those lines. This means not doing "I pay 30% of everything, you pay 70% of everything". It means "I take this item, you take this item". Because the cost of the item doesn't translate directly into its value as an experience. A more expensive hotel stay is not greater in experience-value than a great, but cheap meal. This doesn't mean your contribution is lesser, or unimportant. Meals can often make or break a trip, in my opinion, and the costs add up. If she's not willing to do this (or some variant of not going Dutch) then it tells me that both of you are fundamentally incompatible on this issue. Sell your bikes? For a trip to a place you don't want to go to?

The other thing is that while travelling, money is not equivalent to the experience you can get in exchange, especially in Asia. An expensive item is not universally more valuable than a cheaper item. "Expensive" and "cheap", when it comes to travel in Asia only mean something to the buyer and seller at that particular point in time. That's why staying in a hostel with no hot water and no air-conditioning in a national park can trump an air-conditioned room in a resort.

TLDR; Either get her to consider footing more than 50% of the expenses, or forget it.

I think maybe she feels you'll always choose yourself over a life together with her by choosing your independence over compromising to have more shared experiences. That's not true right? Talk to her. And you also need to accept that you cannot compartmentalise your life from hers, unless you're actually not serious about her in the long-term. Because when you get serious, and think about marriage, you'll end up enmeshing your finances with hers.
posted by rozaine at 11:38 PM on January 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

That would be an incredible amount of money even if you made double what you do.

Not only is it a huge financial burden that they're asking you to make, but they're pulling everyone away from their families over Christmas? Yeez.

I would apologize, but decline on the grounds that the cost is absolutely insane. It sucks that her friend put you in this position.
posted by JimBJ9 at 4:30 AM on January 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Your girlfriend doesn't understand what a collosal waste of money is for you to attend the wedding of someone you don't know who decided to get married in Asia. She is way out of line to pressure you to go. Do not spend your money on this wedding. Get your dental work done.

p.s. If you stay with your girlfriend, you are likely in for a lifetime of financial trouble.
posted by Dolley at 5:51 AM on January 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

Don't go. You can't afford it.

It really is that simple.

As for your girlfriend, there's a HUGE disconnect there. Even if you did sell things you don't need, you would need that money for other, more important things in your life right now.

If this is a romantic partner, you need to have a serious discussion, if this is just a good friend, then you need to have a regular discussion.

"I am not making enough money to do a lot of the fun things you like to do. I wish I could afford to do these things with you, but I can't. I'm tired of having conversations where you twist my arm to spend money on things I don't want to spend money on. Believe me, if I had unlimited wealth, I'd be there with you, but I don't. Even if I did get a little windfall, I have other priorities for money."

Once you say it, own it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:59 AM on January 27, 2014

I could make a trip like that without much hardship, and I would still not go to my GF's friend's wedding in another country under basically any circumstances--- hell I flew out to my GF's friend's wedding in Iowa and regretted it. You're going to spend all your time alone while they do wedding stuff -- it's not really going to be much of a vacation. If you're going to spend money you don't have to do it? Forget it.

Save your money, get the dental work done while she's gone, if you can -- plan on a REAL vacation you can take for just the two of you when she gets back -- she has a lot of time off, so you should be able to work something out in the summer, I'm sure.
posted by empath at 7:45 AM on January 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

Her friend, not your (together) friend?

If she wants you to go, she can pay for the trip.

I'd phrase it like this: "I'm so glad your friend Sally is getting married - this sounds like a fantastic destination wedding. Right now as I think about it the only way I'd be able to afford paying to join you would be if I delay that dental work I had planned for another year. I'm sure you wouldn't want me to do that. If you'd really like me to come and are comfortable covering my costs, I'd be very happy to join you to celebrate Sally's wedding. If not, maybe we can invite Sally and Pete over for a congratulations dinner after you all get back so I can share in the festivities?"
posted by arnicae at 7:47 AM on January 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is exactly why when Mrs Gotanda and I got married we sort of "fakeloped." We had close friends and family on four different continents that we would have loved to have had come to a wedding party. But, we knew by inviting them all we would be imposing a cost that many could not afford. So, rather than having a wedding where only the local or well-heeled could attend, we announced we were getting married and didn't invite anyone.

On the other side, I know one couple who staged three different weddings (China, Japan, and Canada) to allow all of the potential guests to attend.

You are being entirely reasonable not going. Destination weddings are the bride and groom being selfish.
posted by Gotanda at 7:53 AM on January 27, 2014

I agree with the gist of this thread about this not being a financially sound idea. I would like to add that having the trip be about someone else's wedding significantly minimizes what you will experience in Asia. This trip will not be about you and your trip to Asia it's about someone's wedding. It really is reserved for people that are close to the couple. You will spend a lot of money to go to Asia to experience not what you want to see but what someone else has decided is available to the guests of their event. For that reason I would opt to visit Asia on my terms not someone else's.

Every time I've gone somewhere for a wedding - even some place in my own state - the event limited what I saw of that locale.

So go if you really want to be a part of these people's wedding. Go if you really want to be with your partner. But don't go if you want to see Asia. Don't go if it's a financial burden.

I'm starting to think too that destination weddings are for people that really want to elope and do it all on their own terms but don't have the nerve or desire to cut everyone else out of it.

Ultimately you have to do what's right for you considering all thats available to you and how this will effect you. Your decision is the correct one whatever you deicide.
posted by dog food sugar at 8:03 AM on January 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

It sounds like you have mismatched expectations around finances and chores. A lack of communication around these expectations leading to her assuming your income is higher than it is, because I really don't think she would ask you to pay that amount if she knew what you really earned. I also think destination weddings are a really bad idea and makes me wonder if your girlfriend is feeling pressured by friends that are outside her pay bracket/aspirational living/not wanting to admit she doesn't have as much discretionary income as her friends. In which case pride on both your parts is significantly contributing to the stress you are both feeling. Is this her best, best friend? That may make it slightly more understandable; except that her best friend is not also a mutual friend (according to your wording) is concerning and speaks to your lack of integration into her social life. That is one of the legs of the table of a stable relationship.

You live together and have co-mingled finances significantly so it would be appropriate to sit down with a financial planner together and discuss how to pull on the same end of the rope together. Your current working situation sounds very stressful for both of you with little reward. That type of employment situation can be doable for a few years when you are in your twenties, but it isn't sustainable in the long term, especially as you are looking at forty fast approaching (no judgement implied - the employment situation in some areas is just horrible). You might want to look into some type of career change that will mean more money/less work and bring your mutual goals within reach. The financial advisor may have some ideas, even though they are not a career coach they see the intimate details of the finances behind many different careers.

This trip may be achievable if you start working together; your shared expenses are more fairly shared, non-income producing work is valued and shared equitably, both of you work on saving money together for all expenses for the trip (ideally proportionate to your income) and both focus on your mutual short-term and long-term goals. Weddings can stir up some strong emotions, I doubt your fight is as much about the wedding trip is as it is about how present you are in her life and what efforts you will make to be her partner (with all her assumption and expectations of a partner you may not be aware of). If you identify ways she can help build your relationship together, assure a financially comfortable mutual future and make concrete action towards working towards your singular and joint goals you can have a much stronger relationship.
posted by saucysault at 8:15 AM on January 27, 2014 [5 favorites]

I'm mostly aghast that she didn't offer to cover the cost of your trip. Even with separate finances, she must realize the sort of stress that this will put on you, and have the courtesy to offer to pay for the trip that you would be making at her request.

I'm so aghast at this kind of tone-deaf-ness that I'd urge you to reconsider how you two handle your respective financial situations, and whether this is a person you want to be making big financial decisions with.
posted by Mayor West at 9:23 AM on January 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

You cannot afford to go. Period.

It would be extremely irresponsible for you to go. You can't afford it. This simply isn't an option.

You have a related relationship issue, however, which can come out differently. Maybe you can hang out with your girlfriend and her friends at a bar more often, and without as much resistance. Maybe you can take more time off for vacations, and then go on cheap vacations such as roadtrips and camping. Don't have "no" be your reaction to everything; have "how about instead..." be your reaction.

Your girlfriend probably wants to feel like more of a priority. She probably is sick and tired of you stressing about money all the time. Those feelings are legitimate, and you need to try to do some work there.

Also, you probably need to have a conversation about finances. Does she realize how much money you make, really? Not just obliquely, but the details.
posted by J. Wilson at 11:27 AM on January 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Mod note: This is another followup from the asker.
I know this thread is moribund at this point but I want to point out--maybe just for posterity, since I wasn't very clear and as a result many posters are making the least charitable assumptions possible--that this isn't a destination wedding per se, even though it is quite a destination for us, of course. Half of the couple is ethnically Chinese with Malaysian citizenship, and the other half (the friend) is a US citizen my girlfriend got to know while in the Peace Corps. They both sound like great people and I mostly trust them not to drag us through expensive wedding hell, but I also have seriously no way to calibrate my expectations about what we'll be doing, how many non-optional expenses we'll be on the hook for, whether we can choose our own lodging etc. I'm considerably reassured by the responses which address the actual cost of this kind of trip, and at this point I'm going to wait until the bride and groom let us know the details before I make a stand. Preliminary internet research also suggests we could reduce our airfare by finding the cheapest flight possible to the general region and then using local budget airlines for the final leg.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:28 PM on January 27, 2014

You know, based on your follow-ups, it sounds like you REALLY want to go. Can you come up with a reasonable number to discuss with your girlfriend that you feel comfortable contributing to this trip? I agree that $3k seems ridiculous on your salary, but would you be comfortable with spending say $800? Then maybe your girlfriend can decide how much she's willing to contribute.

If you can budget about $4k together, I'd expect that to be enough. I've traveled from the US to Asia quite a few times, and $6k for two people is definitely on the extravagant side of things, if you're going for about 2 weeks. Although yes, details about your destination, length of travel, etc. might make this untrue -- but you can make another ask mefi about it and I'm sure you'll get alot of great advice.

Discuss with your girlfriend, and discuss with the bride and groom, but I suspect that a combination of budget airlines, strategic saving of credit card points, staying in local hostels instead of hotels, and eating from food stands & markets CAN make this feasible.

Of course, this doesn't speak to the deeper issue of feeling uncomfortable with how you and your girlfriend handle money. But you could see this as an excellent opportunity to learn how to be better for the future.
posted by tinymegalo at 1:05 PM on January 27, 2014

It's absolutely insane for you to spend more than 10% of your pre-tax income to attend your girlfriend's friend's wedding, when you can't afford to.

I assumed that you and your girlfriend did not live together, but now that I see your follow-up, if you live together and your girlfriend doesn't understand how much of a disaster this trip would be for your financially, you really need to sit down together and discuss finances and your future together.

I don't know if we are just not getting the entire story here, or if your girlfriend really does not understand your current financial situation if she is upset with you for buying thrift store clothes, but is also upset you don't have $3k to drop on attending a stranger's wedding. That's insanely unreasonable.
posted by inertia at 1:13 PM on January 27, 2014

I'm mostly aghast that she didn't offer to cover the cost of your trip. Even with separate finances, she must realize the sort of stress that this will put on you, and have the courtesy to offer to pay for the trip that you would be making at her request.

Oh, me too. Look, when I had a boyfriend who was a lot broker than I was, and I wanted to do something expensive and bring him, I would pay because it was either I paid or we didn't go. He just couldn't afford it and it wouldn't have helped things to whine about how he couldn't pay for a fast food dinner or whatever. If she can't take it that you're broker than she is, then she needs to find someone with bling and you need to play "Fuck You" at full volume. But it is totally unreasonable for her to expect you to be able to come up with this money on your own.

Maybe this relationship is incompatible specifically because of the money. That might happen. But in the meantime, this is an unreasonable request of her to ask you to do with the money that you make. Either she helps you out or treats you, or you don't go. That's just logic.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:53 PM on January 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

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