Family reunion too expensive - should we go or not?
March 22, 2014 6:04 PM   Subscribe

My grandmother turns 90 years old this year. To celebrate, her daughters decided that the whole family, spread out across most of the country, should all get together in Branson, MO for a week. This is going to be a very expensive trip.

Airfare, food and entertainment, and whatever portion of the cost for renting a couple of condos to house upwards of 25 people. My aunts, while maybe not rich, are decidedly better off than my mother is, and I'm pretty sure they'll be paying for most of their kids, who are all college age or just out of college and don't have regular jobs yet. My wife and I, however, are not really in a position to afford this trip. She's in grad school, I'm covering all the living expenses right now, and in the summer we are moving because our lease is up. This trip would cost us anywhere from one to two thousand dollars, and while we maybe could find the money for it, it would basically put us at zero or just above. My mom can't pay for us and I sure don't want to ask anyone else in my family to cover us.

I feel like this was an unfair decision made without our input. Had they asked us at the beginning, I would have said no way, let's find something else to do, and I feel like they knew that and avoided the conflict by not asking us. Saying no will cause strife in the family; saying yes will cause havoc to our finances. I don't know what to do.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (20 answers total)
Well, speaking as someone who just planned a major family reunion, I think your aunts are way out of line. If you're making planning decisions for people, you need to take their financial reality into account.

I'd tell your mom you can't afford it and see what she suggests. Sometimes there's money in grandma's account for just exactly this sort of thing. If you can't afford it you can't afford it, and you shouldn't take on debt for it, but investigate possibilities first.

Also, if you really think that they avoided asking you in the planning stage because they knew you couldn't afford it then I think there's an excellent chance that they know perfectly well you can't come, and are ok with that, and are expecting it.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:10 PM on March 22, 2014 [7 favorites]

If you can afford to visit your grandmother BEFORE the big Branson trip, on the cheap, find a way to do it. Even if it means a Spirit Air flight or road trip and an AirBNB room. It proves to family that you love your grandmother and want to see her, which is what the accusations will encompass if you don't go and don't pre-empt. It also has the added bonus of maybe getting to spend actual time talking to her, which a family reunion won't likely allow. If you don't want to see her, that's different, but if you do, screw the reunion and go and see her.
posted by juniperesque at 6:13 PM on March 22, 2014 [14 favorites]

My brother wasn't able to make it to my grandmother's 90th birthday party, partly for money reasons and partly that it just wasn't feasible to fly in from half-way around the world. He and his wife wrote a heartfelt note to my grandmother, which my mom read at the party, and I think they had their kids record a video of them wishing her a happy birthday. It was ok. I'm pretty sure everyone understood.

I would talk to your mom, and then explain the situation when you RSVP no to your aunts. They may offer to pitch in. But if you can't go, figure out some way to be there in spirit, and then don't worry about it too much. One missing grandchild is not going to ruin the party.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:14 PM on March 22, 2014 [4 favorites]

"I'm sorry, but we are in the middle of a major move at that time and we can't make. However, here is a video letter from our family that explains what our grandmother means to us."
posted by KokuRyu at 6:28 PM on March 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

Could you Skype some of the celebration? A scheduled Skype "date" (for example, to watch your grandma open a birthday present you sent ahead of time, and to have a short chat with her) isn't the same as being there, but you can at least be part of the reunion that way. I've used Skype like that for family holidays and it's actually a better compromise than it might seem.
posted by rue72 at 6:34 PM on March 22, 2014 [9 favorites]

Please don't give in to the temptation to feel slighted -- that path has broken too many families apart. Yes, it is too bad that plans were made without considering your situation. But almost certainly your aunts didn't intend to hurt you. Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by ignorance.

Instead, find a way to participate at a cost you can afford. Some great suggestions are above. Or perhaps you could fly in for a single day? Send Grandma a Skype-enabled tablet so you can "join in" remotely while everyone is together ... and stay in touch in the future as well? Chip in for a photographer or videographer to capture the memories for everyone to share later?

If you offer your family a simple, "We're so sorry we won't be able to be there, but we would like to contribute by ..." attached to your plan, there should be no strife.
posted by peakcomm at 6:36 PM on March 22, 2014 [21 favorites]

Could you go for 1-2 days, on the birthday itself, as per juniperesque's suggestion (or maybe make an arrangement with your mom whereby you sleep on a pullout or cot in her hotel room, and pay for 1/2 (or 2/3rds) the cost for that night)? You don't have to apologize for your situation, either. You can't afford it; this is how long you can stay. I wouldn't get worked up about about the aunts if you can try to avoid it... it's about Grandma, really. I think Skyping is a good alternative, failing that.
posted by cotton dress sock at 6:49 PM on March 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Go for a night or two if you can afford it. If not, don't go and skype or send a video as suggested above. If anyone gives you flack, tell them that no one asked for your input in the planning stages, so no one gets to complain now. You don't have to own anyone else's unhappiness about your decision, nor do you need to apologize for anything to anyone.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 7:17 PM on March 22, 2014

Just wanted to echo the general sentiment - don't do into debt to join the party, and don't let people guilt you into it.

That being said, I'm a native of Branson. If you do end up planning to go, feel free to drop me a line on here for any questions or suggestions. I can't do 25, but I will gladly give you and your wife and your Mom tickets to a show while you're here!
posted by shinynewnick at 7:44 PM on March 22, 2014 [6 favorites]

With your grandmother being 90, I am sure your aunts and your mother are all very well aware that their mother may not be around much longer, which is a very devastating thing for anyone to have to deal with, and if we set aside for a moment your aunts' general lack of regard for people's ability to pay, I have to say throwing a giant family bash for their mother's 90th birthday is a pretty nice idea. Whether this is something they want to do for themselves or for their mother.

In your case, though, I think the burden of deciding to go or not should be entirely up to you, and should maybe be dictated by how close you feel to your grandmother and whether you genuinely want to be there. If the only reason to go is family obligation, by all means skip it with my blessing. My own grandmother's 90th was a big spectacle of family, lots of great photos, but no-one would have really missed me in all the hubbub if I hadn't made it.

However, one suggestion. When my then 93-year-old grandmother had a health scare, I realized time was short and I didn't really know her -- so I wrote her a letter, asking her to tell me her life story. And she did, 20 pages of beautiful flowing script -- it was great fun for her-- and we had a brief correspondence before she died. Our only correspondence aside from family obligated birthday cards -- my only real connection with her that was unscripted, ever. I am so, so glad this happened. Family connections are important, but connections are more than everyone being in the same place in the same time, and it can be easy to forget that. Let me encourage you to feel free to go off the script.

P.S. I am sure she enjoyed those letters far more than she would have enjoyed a 5 minute photo op in the chaos.
posted by PercussivePaul at 8:14 PM on March 22, 2014 [8 favorites]

I want to start by pointing out that a week long trip that is going to cost between 1 and 2 thousand dollars for two people is not a very expensive one; it actually seems pretty cheap. That doesn't change the fact that it's out of your budget, but it does somewhat change the perspective on how completely unreasonable your aunts are being.

So, with that in mind, can you approach this from the perspective that your aunts are doing a kind and loving and not particularly unreasonable thing that still doesn't happen to work for your personal situation?

"Dear Aunties, I think it's amazing that you're organizing this awesome family party for Grandma. I'm so disappointed that Wife and I aren't going to be able to come, but with the move and Wife's grad school it's just not possible for us right now. We would have loved to see everyone and spend that time with Grandma. Is there going to be a big focal point event that we could Skype/Facetime/Phone into to share our love with Grandma? We'd love to be there virtually, even though we can't be there in person."

Do what you can to check in during the event. Send emails, texts, facebook updates to keep up on what's happening during the week. After the event, remain interested -- ask to see pictures, send the aunts a card thanking them for planning an awesome event and involving you in any way they manage to involve you. Be positive about the existence of the event even though you couldn't make it.

If there's still family strife as a fall out from that, it's totally not your fault, and it's not the sort of thing you should damage your financial future to accommodate. People who won't take a very friendly and reasonable no for an answer are bullies and emotional hostage takers and they shouldn't be indulged.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:59 PM on March 22, 2014 [5 favorites]

Look, there is no possible way to organize a group gathering that is feasible for all people at all times. Your aunts' options were 1) have it 2) don't have it. It's not about whether you personally can be there.

Go or don't go. Go alone to make it more affordable or don't go. But for shit's sake, don't be wounded about it. Unless your grandmother lives next door to you, in which case that's really uncool making a 90-year-old travel to Branson.

If you can't go, take advantage of technology. If you want to be helpful, be in charge of taking care of technology. Coordinate with someone who can go who has an iPad so you can Facetime with your grandma for a few minutes. She will be thrilled as hell, and that's truly all that matters.

Just ignore anyone who can't accept your limitations. You can't do what you can't do, and if people want to be pissy about it that's their problem.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:45 PM on March 22, 2014 [9 favorites]

For what its worth, my grandfather's surprise 90th birthday party was awesome. My Dad's 68th birthday surprise was the day after he found out he had a year to live. Enjoy the moments you have with your family and do what you can to be with them - but that doesn't mean you can make everything - especially if it is cost and life prohibitive. The big thing is that like a wedding, Grandma's 90th isn't about the guests, its about grandma so fighting, bickering, resentment and bad blood isn't really worth it and doesn't make grandma feel any better. Grandma will have a good time if you are there or if you aren't. She'd love to have you there, but if you can't be there, can you coordinate and record a video message of your family and anyone else in the family that can't get there? Realistically, can you even get a video of everyone that will be there too? And if you can't, can you write grandma an actual letter? Can you visit her and just spend some one on one time with her at another time? Grandma's 90. A week with the family is great, but eventually everyone goes home and forgets. I still watch the video that played at my grandpa's 90th - and wear the t-shirt.
posted by Nanukthedog at 10:39 PM on March 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Another idea. Instead of both of you going for a week, maybe only you could go for like two days. It would cut the cost way down, right? But seriously, only go you if you want to be there.
posted by PercussivePaul at 11:37 PM on March 22, 2014

You don't have to go to this if you don't want to. If I were going to spend $1,000 on a trip, I'd rather go somewhere cool. Sorry, grandma. Go for a couple days or don't go at all. You shouldn't feel bad if you don't go. Maybe call grandma and tell her you love her and wish her happy birthday and tell her how sorry you are that you couldn't make it. But you can't have another family member decide how everyone else should celebrate someone else's birthday without consulting you. Don't let anyone do that to you.
posted by AppleTurnover at 12:57 AM on March 23, 2014

Absolutely do it if there's any way to. You don't have to stay the whole week. The memories will be priceless.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:49 AM on March 23, 2014

If it changes your perspective at all, Branson, MO is actually one of the most affordable places to vacation in the country and is centrally located with two airports nearby, making it maybe one of the more reasonable places they could have chosen. Going during the summer isn't the greatest plan because it's the high season and more expensive at that time, but you might consider that this is one of the cheaper places for a family to vacation, even if it's still out of your budget. I think Lyn Never is right that their options were probably schedule the trip, knowing not everyone can make it, or don't have the trip. Their choice of location indicates to me that they were trying to find a place that would work for most people.

Is it possible for you and your wife to come for just two to three days rather than the whole week? You wouldn't have to stay at the condo if it's too expensive for you; there are a TON of hotels in the area so that you could probably find one very close to the condos for the time you're there. You could also share a room with your mother for part of the time, as someone suggested. If you are going to book your own hotel room, I would start doing that now, however, because Branson really does fill up during the summer.

Is it an option to go without your wife? If she isn't that close with your grandmother it might not be a priority for her to come, even though you would like for her to be there. You could say that she has some kind of grad school commitment.

Could you carpool with family members who live nearby?

And keep in mind that while food and entertainment can be expensive in Branson, you don't have to go on every excursion. If folks want to go to a dinner show, you don't have to. If you're worried about not having any time with Grandma, maybe take your aunts aside and let them know that you can't afford to go to every show, so it would be great if they could plan some unstructured time where folks could just chat and catch up.
posted by Colonel_Chappy at 7:45 AM on March 23, 2014

Another idea just occurred to me: If no deposits or reservations have been made, can you suggest an alternative that would be affordable for you and would work for everyone else? I know it sucks to feel excluded, but the reality is that planners get to be choosers. It's an ordeal to plan a trip for 25+ people and there has to be some level of executive decision-making or else nothing gets done.

If you can't come up with a workable alternative, then maybe there isn't one. It sounds like you and your wife are working toward some important goals right now that mean your budget is tight. It just might not be possible to accommodate your needs and everyone else's.
posted by Colonel_Chappy at 8:02 AM on March 23, 2014

If you are close to the grandmother travel and share a room with your mother. Stay for a couple of days, not a week. Minimise travel cost by picking the cheapest days to travel. This is about memories, which are priceless. It's the sort of thing where there is a good chance you'll regret not going unless the family is generally toxic. If the family is toxic and there is a good chance this will descend into some kind of drama clearly don't go.

If you decide not to go send a nice message to grandmother or mark the occasion in some other way that can be shared with the family at the time. Visit grandmother one on one at another time but do it soon as time is very limited at that age.

Finally, if you decide to state the real reason for not going, being financial constraints, be prepared to go if anybody decides to pay for you to come or make a substantial contribution to your travel costs that would make it feasible for you to come. If there are other reasons why you don't want to go don't state reasons and just repeat your regret at not being able to be there and how you'll mark the occasion instead.
posted by koahiatamadl at 8:43 AM on March 23, 2014

let's find something else to do

If family is spread across the country, what other option could possibly be more fair than a cheap location in the center of the country?

If you want to see your whole family, probably for the last time, then make it happen.
posted by flimflam at 2:11 PM on March 23, 2014

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