One of my good friends is having a baby. It’s her first child, and obviously, I’m thrilled for her. She and I went to grad school together and our friendship means a lot to me. Another friend of ours said she would host a baby shower, so I volunteered to help. The mom-to-be is a pretty casual person, so I figured it would just be a potluck kind of thing. But now the shower host is getting a caterer and ordering flowers and spending a bunch of money. I understand that she wants to make the party special, and it’s at her home (well, in her backyard, because of COVID), so she’s doing the bulk of the planning. But she’s asking for the five co-hosts (including me) to pitch in $400 each, which seems extreme! Also, isn’t the whole point that we’re giving our mom-to-be friend gifts for her baby/impending motherhood? At this rate, I definitely won’t be able to afford to get her a present.
So far, no one else has raised the issue of cost, so I’m nervous to bring it up. I also don’t want to seem ungenerous at this big moment in our friend’s life. And I can’t drop out as a co-host because then the costs will get even higher for everyone else (plus, I genuinely want to be part of this). How do I approach this?
Oh no. I’m sure the shower host means well, and maybe a $400 contribution would fly in some circles (I guess?). But what’s important here is that it doesn’t work for you. That’s nothing to feel bad about — this is on the host, who seems to have missed a crucial step in any party-planning process: asking her fellow co-hosts (i.e., you) what they are comfortable pitching in.
Still, let’s give her the benefit of the doubt. Most of us haven’t really socialized for more than a year. Our barometer for what to spend on parties — and how to solicit money for them, when appropriate — might be off. I can also understand the urge to go big now that many of us can finally gather again. But let’s be clear: Setting the bar at $400 per co-host is absurd, full stop.
And so, you will need to reacquaint yourself with another cherished social skill: setting your own boundaries and asserting them kindly. Your first step is to figure out how much money you would feel good about spending on this baby shower (taking a gift into consideration), independently of what this host has proposed. “It doesn’t matter if it’s $400 or $4,000 or $40,” says Amanda Clayman, a financial therapist. “One number is going to be right for one person, and that number is going to be wrong for another person. That is normal, and to be expected.” She recommends asking yourself two questions: “What’s my preferred financial scenario in co-hosting this party? And what’s my preferred social and emotional scenario?”
While you’re thinking about that, remember that your budget and financial habits look different now — and, perhaps, so does your relationship to money in general. You might need to sit down and review your spending more thoroughly now that social plans are starting to gear up again. Pre-pandemic, it probably wasn’t a big deal to allow wiggle room for birthday dinners, weddings, and other group commitments that occasionally cost more than you would have liked. But many of us are recovering from a year of unprecedented financial and social anxiety — relinquishing control is scarier now. It’s important to recognize that in yourself, and be aware of its context in situations like this one.
It’s also important to talk about it. So don’t sit and stew, or try to sidebar with other friends or co-hosts; be direct. Lizzie Post, the co-host of the Awesome Etiquette podcast and author of several books on modern manners, recommends saying something like, “I’m so sorry, but I wasn’t expecting the cost of the party to be so high. I can’t afford to contribute $400, but I can put in $200” — or whatever your number is — “and I would be happy to take the reins on setting up X or Y.”
You should also feel free to express any concerns about the other co-hosts having to absorb a bigger financial burden if you pitch in less. “It helps the host if you are really clear about where you’re coming from, and also helps you gather more information about how this budget was determined in the first place,” says Clayman. Transparency is good for all parties involved.
Of course, you may need to be prepared for the host to say that you should bow out as a co-host if you can’t pony up the full amount. That would be unfortunate and, in my opinion, rude. “But if they’re a jerk about it, please don’t take that as a reflection of you,” says Post. “You never should have been asked to fork up $400 for a party to begin with, and you should not feel guilty or shameful if you can’t.”
You also should not feel pressured to put in more time just because you’re putting in less money — unless, of course, you really do want to, and have it to give. “A lot of people might think, Oh, if I can only offer $200, that is not enough, so I should also offer some in-kind contribution of labor,” says Clayman. “But healthy relationships require that what we have to give is enough for the other person.”
At the end of the day, your job here is to show your good friend — the mom-to-be and the purpose of this event — that her loved ones (including you) have her back as she prepares to have her first baby. And that does not involve getting stressed out or breaking your budget on finger foods. “At every shower I have either hosted or been to, what made it great was that the parents-to-be felt loved and supported by the people who showed up,” says Post. “No one ever walked away talking about how great it was because the food was expensive.”