Samantha Secomb, founder of Women's Wealth answers your Moral Money Dilemmas for The Telegraph

‘I’m unmarried and childless and I resent spending money on other people’s happiness’

Moral Money: our reader is wondering if they can redress the balance with their friends

Dear Moral Money,

This is perhaps more of a rant than a dilemma, but I think it’s a position a lot of people must find themselves in. 

Over the past few years, a number of my friends have got married and had babies, and while I’m happy for them, they’ve collectively cost me thousands of pounds when I think about money spent on hen dos, baby showers, hotels I’ve stayed in for weddings, cards, presents, new outfits. 

I have no plans to get married or have a child, so there’s no scope for me to get any of this effort and expense back. 

I know you shouldn’t give with the expectation to receive, but do you think there’s any way of redressing the balance without losing friends?

Dear reader,

Thank you for raising the question of balance. It has always been a bit of a mystery to me. I seem to spend my entire life seeking it, and the very fact the search continues confirms how elusive it is. 

The weather is too cold at some times of the year and too hot at others; I am either full of beans or tired; I have a little of something which is enjoyable (and usually bad for me) and I want more – conversely, I struggle to motivate myself to do something (usually good for me) that I promised myself I would do. 

All this stems from an idea that I know what the right balance looks and feels like. This, I suspect, is where the problem starts for me – and maybe it is the same for you?

We are conditioned by the environment we grow up in. We start to formulate our ideas of “normal” out of our experience as we develop. 

This is then backed up by how people and society treat us when we start doing the things we have learnt. We then make decisions about whether to continue a behaviour or not.  

We get lured into the competition of buying friends presents. The retail industry spends lots of money encouraging us to believe these behaviours win us friends and influence. 

Before we know it we are spending money on presents we don’t want to buy, with money we haven’t got, for people who already have all they need. 

The practical side of me wants to warn against being overly generous at the cost of your own financial security, and definitely avoid getting into debt in order to win the approval of others – but it doesn’t sound as though it is an affordability problem as much as an unfair balance of giving to receiving “rant”. 

I think the best tip I have ever heard around the cost of gifts is to go down the personalised and handmade route. Make a collage out of photos and memorabilia (or get someone to do it for you if you are time-poor, or not the crafting sort), or commission a knitted garment, or have a personalised mug thrown by a local potter. 

This avoids the direct comparison game of who spent what because your original gift idea is “priceless”.

At the root of our gifting tradition is our basic human instinct to survive. We know we have a greater chance of achieving this if we are accepted into a group rather than cast out, and so we have a very strong, conditioned and reinforced desire to be accepted by our peer group. 

It is natural. So when others come bearing gifts, we feel obliged. 

You describe a stage in your life when coupling up and having children is rife among your friends and the costs of meeting expectations to celebrate these occasions is significant. 

I remember that stage, and the good news for you is that it passes. The bad news is other stages relevant to the ages of your peers will commence, and you will continue to decide whether or not you are going to conform.

For example, a family may exchange the small home for a bigger one. Does a single woman need to establish her status among her peers by owning a bigger home, too?  

The families’ travel plans will be governed by new requirements: shorter flights, child-friendly venues and sticking to school holidays. If you want to holiday with them the restrictions will impact you, but if you are happy to travel separately you will almost certainly choose something very different. 

The point is, we spend our money in a way that communicates and enables the relationship we want with others.

Although you don’t expect to be the hen or the bride, to carry the bump at a baby shower, you do seem to be a valued and included member of a group where many are at that stage in their lives. 

I would suggest the value you get from the cost of celebrating their changing lives is not going to show up in the form of presents, but as relationships. 

Life-long, nourishing and deserved because you have been there for them celebrating their life transitions. There is much research that supports the idea that the greatest return we can ever achieve on our money is the wellbeing we enjoy from giving to and making memories with other people.

Enjoy your friends. 

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