Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Real Talk With Rachel: It's My Party and You'll Pay If I Want You To

by Rachel Kurzius

Dear Rachel,

So a friend of mine is soon to celebrate his 40th birthday. He wanted to do something special with a group of friends. He had considered a celebration weekend in Sonoma, Miami, New York, etc. In the end he decided to throw a dinner at the Inn at Little Washington and a brunch to follow the next day at a

He had another friend email everyone the invitation and arrange that we all not only pay for ourselves but for the birthday boy as well.

Is it me, or is this cheap? How common is it for someone to arrange their own party at one of the most expensive venues in the area then expect all the guests to pay for it?

Who’s the Cheap Friend?

Dear Who’s the Cheap Friend,

When it comes to birthday celebrations, the guest of honor can choose between control and coasting, but your friend is trying to have the best of both worlds. That makes him the cheap one in my book.

Let me explain further about these choices. Sometimes, birthday boys and girls have a specific vision for how they’d like to celebrate. If they’re celebrating a birthday in the double-digits, they are responsible for communicating this vision and, as they reach adulthood, executing it. This is the “control” option. The big plus is that you do what you want with who you want. Think about throwing a big bash or dinner party. The negative -- the work and expenses.

On the other side of the spectrum is coasting. If you decide to coast on your birthday, that means you’re dependent on the good will of your friends and loved ones. Ain’t nothing wrong with that, so long as you’ve got some good friends and loved ones. This choice has an element of surprise, though you might end up being surprised to learn that nobody remembered your birthday. On the plus side, you'll spend very little.

Despite my gut telling me as soon as I read your letter that your friend is a cheapo, I headed over to the Inn at Little Washington’s website to scope out the menu. There are no prices on this menu. Not a good sign for your wallet.

The irony is that most of the time, a birthday dinner results in all of the participants chipping in for the guest of honor, anyway. Despite the modest protestations of the birthday boy or girl, everyone else insists, and the meal becomes a present. It’s one of those implicit niceties. By making it so explicit, your friend ends up looking tacky.

So Mr. Tacky and Cheap is turning 40. Can you afford to join him on his decadent weekend? If the answer truly is no, you should tell him that, while his plans sound fantastic, you just don’t have the ability to join in. But from your letter, it seemed more like a moral than economic outrage. The big 4-0 might be hitting him harder than you think and clouding his judgment.

That doesn’t mean you’re obliged to join him for both segments of the wanton weekend. Do whatever you feel comfortable with, and don’t forget to skip the present.

All my best,


p.s. Who is this other friend sending the email, a/k/a hatchet man for the birthday boy? Is he getting a free meal too?

Rachel Kurzius revels in giving advice, and has provided counsel both as a columnist and a friend. She lives in Washington DC, where she works as a news producer. Real Talk with Rachel is published on All Life is Local and the Cleveland Park Listserv,, on Wednesdays. Need advice? You
can write to Rachel via


  1. OMG! If this is his idea of how to celebrate turning just a measly 40, I can't even begin to imagine what kind of plans this tacky dude would try to impose on his friends and acquaintances when he turns 50.

    I'm guessing that his guest list may shrink considerably between now and then, though, because these birthday plans of his have "self-absorbed jerk" written all over them.

    I noted the absence of a mention about a significant other, too, but that's not surprising. If I was the friend who wrote to you, Rachel, I'd sever my ties with someone like him, and heaven help anyone who would date someone who seems to be so full of himself.

  2. Thanks for the input! Everyone I inquired about this practice seemed repulsed by it. I also got the impression it was somewhat commonplace. After all, many could come up with some examples from their own lives of getting snookered into paying way more than they bargained for during a celebration. Sometimes it's worth a hundred dollars to learn your friend's true nature...though certainly unfortunate.