Just say no to the birthday lunch

by Karen on August 19, 2008

It’s lunch time, and I’m sitting at my desk eating last night’s leftovers alone. Don’t feel sorry for me, though. The hardest part is over.

You see, I’m a faithful brown bagger. The majority of my colleagues go out to lunch every day, but there’s usually one of two fellow brown baggers who stay behind. It’s someone different every day, but I usually have someone to eat with me. But today is someone’s birthday, so I’m eating alone.

Saying no to the birthday lunch is no easy feat. In addition to the email reminders I’ve received for the past few days, about 10 people stopped by my desk this morning to remind me. “It’s Susan’s birthday today! I know you normally bring a lunch, but you’re coming today, right?” I politely declined. “You’re not coming? Oh, come on, you can eat leftovers any day! It’s Susan’s birthday!” Through all the pressure, I stood my ground. Not easy considering the fact that birthday lunch pressure is even greater than the everyday pressure to go out to eat.

Many people just cannot fathom why I wouldn’t want to join them. They think that if they ask me several times with varying degrees of insistence, I might change my mind. Some people get downright pushy. While I appreciate the invitations, enough is enough.

Now before you label me an evil antisocial birthday hater, hear me out. I love birthdays. I’m usually the first in line to offer well wishes and sign cards. I even used to make an exception to my brown bagging rule and join my co-workers on birthdays.

Then I started noticing how much those little exceptions were costing me. It’s not just birthday lunches. It’s all the little things that aren’t a part of the budget, but you tell yourself, “Oh, just this once can’t hurt.” Then it’s the end of the month, and you’ve blown a hundred dollars on “just this once” exceptions.

Birthday lunches used to be one of those little exceptions for me. The last office birthday was two weeks ago. There is another birthday today, and another in three weeks. I know, it sounds like I’m overreacting. Surely with all the penny pinching we do, I can afford to go out to lunch to celebrate a colleague’s birthday once a month. After all, don’t I believe in making extra room in the budget for the little luxuries? But I just can’t justify spending $10 on a lunch out when I have leftovers from last night that will be wasted if I don’t eat them today. To me, that’s not a luxury; it’s just wasteful.

Going out to lunch isn’t just a waste of the $10 I would spend at the restaurant. It’s also a waste of the delicious chicken Alfredo that my husband made last night … enough to feed a family of four, and just the two of us to eat it.

It’s hard to say no, especially when people act dumbstruck. They have a point. Who doesn’t enjoy getting out of the office to enjoy a nice lunch? I know I do. But I’ve made a commitment to save money, and unnecessary restaurant meals were the first thing to go. We have plenty to eat at home, and it costs a fraction of what I would pay at a restaurant. If I don’t draw the line at this birthday, then when will I? If we don’t set limits and stick to them, then what’s the point of setting limits?

I do believe that it’s important to make room in your budget for extra luxuries that are really important to you, but lunches out just aren’t a priority for me. I’d rather use my entertainment budget to enjoy a meal out with my husband once a month or a Sunday matinee. It may sound selfish, but if you don’t make those choices and stand by them, then you’re no longer making “little exceptions”; you’re just overspending.

I don’t want to blow my budget with a hundred little exceptions this month. So I’m just saying no.

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{ 11 comments }

1 Kacie August 19, 2008 at 1:32 pm

Good for you for sticking to your budget! I know it’s so easy to say, “What’s $7 here and there?”

Some companies now celebrate birthdays once per month. So if you have an August b-day, you’re celebrating with all the other August b-dayers.

Going out to lunch every day is a great way to stay in debt (or at least be pretty broke)!

2 hobbysavingmoney August 19, 2008 at 1:37 pm

I completely agree with you. For me, it’s not birthday lunches, but it is all the “quick after work happy hours.” When I realized that joining colleagues for these events robbed my budget of money for a fun dinner with my husband, they became much easier to say no to!

If I wouldn’t spend the money to go to an event with my husband or close friends, why in the world would I spend that same money going out with people only out of a sense of obligation?

3 freefrombroke August 19, 2008 at 3:28 pm

All of the company meals and cakes and such do add up quick. At our place we moved to a once a month for everyone in the month.

4 Kate August 20, 2008 at 2:46 am

Good for you standing your ground. You’re so right, all those little expenses really do add up!

5 Sharon August 20, 2008 at 11:00 am

I finally bit the bullet and said that I would be unable to attend a birthday Lunch. It wasn’t such and issue when there were only 6 people in our department but we recently added 9 extra people by absorbing another department into ours. My bosses reaction….was how about we all bring in a dish….much better. We all brought in a little something and had a birthday breakfast. This might be something to bring up to co-workers. There might be other people trying to be budget consience but don’t have the guts to say no…..you could help them out.

6 Karen August 20, 2008 at 11:16 am

What a great idea, Sharon! I work in a small office, and most of my co-workers go out every day anyway, so I don’t know how well that would go over.

A co-worker’s wife runs a small scale cake bakery out of their home, and she makes a cake for every birthday. Very nice of her, and the cakes are delicious. Also much cheaper than a store-bought cake, I’m sure. Personally, I think that’s enough for celebrating a birthday. But my co-workers like to go out, so I just sign the cards and sit the lunches out.

7 Michele Braun August 22, 2008 at 5:47 pm

Karen,
Your story about not going out to lunch inspired me to cook dinner tonight! Geno and I have been trying to save money and lose weight, but we are in a bad habit of going out to eat alot. So, reading about the ultimate sacrifice you made, eating alone at lunch helped me to create a great little dinner. I am really impressed with your writing and knowledge.

8 Emily August 23, 2008 at 7:59 am

OMG, the incessant wallet-drain at work! Pitch in for birthday gift/retirement gift/secret santa/baby giftyadda yadda! And it’s such a hard place to dig your heels in, you look at these people every day and you value their opinion of you. Good for you, having the strength to stick to your committment! We could all use a healthy dose of your resolve!

9 RetiredAt47 August 26, 2008 at 8:40 am

Good for you for identifying your priorities and sticking with them. When I worked in an office, I found it incredibly annoying to be constantly hit up for this gift or that, pitch in for some celebration, etc. The real problem became precedent: once I said yes to one, it looked even worse to say no to another.

10 karla (threadbndr) August 26, 2008 at 1:07 pm

I do budget in money for lunches with co-workers once or twice a month. I’m a widow, and I don’t like to eat out alone.

I do understand though – when it was a choice between lunch with a co-worker and dinner with my sweetie, my choice was different LOL

11 Marcia August 26, 2008 at 4:26 pm

Boy I have to agree with you there. I used to eat out a lot…then started bringing lunches. I cut back to just the “Friday lunch”, but … I was still fat. I finally decided to lose some weight and cut out lunches out altogether.

It took months before people stopped asking me. “Can’t you just go once a week?” Honestly, I was at the point where I just couldn’t control myself at a restaurant, so the answer was NO.

Nowadays my trend has caught on, and even the most die-hard lunch-out people bring lunch many days. There is often a 15 minute line at the microwave and 8 people (out of 30!) in the lunchroom.

My dh loves to have lunch out with friends – it’s a social thing. He cut back for awhile from weekly to twice a month, but is back up to weekly. I hate it…mostly because I am jealous…I just can’t eat out and maintain my weight.

The other struggle I have is with the birthday cakes. “Why don’t you have some? It’s a special occasion.” Well, you’ve got 10 birthdays a year, two meetings with cookies every quarter, 10 toddler birthday parties, 6 close-friend birthdays, my quilting meetings….all of a sudden the “special occasions” are once or twice a week…

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