Singletary: Don’t be embarrassed if you can’t afford to visit

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Michelle Singletary welcomes comments and column ideas. Reach her in care of The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. N.W., Washington, DC 20071; or singletarym@washpost.com.

Like it or not, this is the season of a higher level of expectation and pressure to visit family.

But what if the trip is too much financially? Or even though you adore your family, you just don’t want to spend the money. How do you tell your relatives this without the guilt or even condemnation?

During an online discussion, a reader wrote in about a dilemma caused by a change in the Thanksgiving dinner location.

“I am the only person in the family who can’t reasonably drive to either of our locations (uncle’s house and cousin’s house), so I am the only one who has to buy an airline ticket,” the reader wrote.

Here’s the thing: The family had agreed where they were going to gather for Thanksgiving. The reader purchased an airline ticket.

But you know family.

“I got a call from my uncle that they were switching to my cousin’s house,” wrote the chat participant. “I managed to find a flight to my cousin’s location on the same airline,” but it cost an extra $212, including the change fee.

The reader had plans for the extra money was used to rebook. “I really do like my family. Thanksgiving is a great time. I have only missed it once in my entire life. But I am saving to replace my TV. I want to let it go. I know it isn’t that big of a deal. Any suggestions about how to just let it go? In the end, it is just money. I know I fall into the fortunate end of things, and I’m not losing sleep over the money. And yet, I’m still irked.”

Here’s advice if you find yourself in a similar situation.

• Give yourself permission to be irked. You have the right to be vexed. And it’s important to vent so that if you do decide to go, you won’t carry your irritation like an extra piece of baggage.

You certainly don’t want to board an airplane today on edge. Snap at a flight attendant and you may find yourself being dragged off the plane. (OK, I’m kidding. Airline folks are dealing with a lot these days. Those tiny seats alone are enough to make anyone upset.) The point is you want to leave home without your anger.

• Don’t let family spend your money. If I had a dollar for every time my relatives said, “Oh, stop being cheap, you can afford it,” I’d have more than enough money for whatever it is they think I am financially able to spend.

It’s no big deal for them to change plans because it’s not their cash or credit on the line. Spend your money the way you want.

If plans were altered and you can’t afford the extra expense, don’t go. If there is a change in plans for the holiday and you weren’t consulted, you have my permission to say, “Oh, I’m so sorry but this change, which will add to my travel expenses, isn’t in my budget.” No need to explain any further or defend your decision. It’s your money!

Don’t be embarrassed to say you can’t afford a visit. You might say, “I really wanted to come. It’s just not in my budget. But hopefully, I’ll get to see you guys next year!”

If you’re the relative inclined to say something like, “You know you have the money,” I’m going to need you to stop. Don’t even go there, because unless you have access to someone’s bank account information, you haven’t a clue what he or she can afford. Even if it were the case that your relative has the money, don’t go there. As my grandmother Big Mama used to say to her financial meddlers, “Stay out of my pocket.”

• Focus on the good parts of being present. I hate wasting money, too. Still, I have to remember to be thankful that I have family I like spending time around. I love being with them, so I focus on the fun I have when we get together. If you can afford it, being financially flexible builds relationships.

So, go ahead and be irked. I think it’s healthy to exhale some funky feelings. But once you vent, let it go. Don’t even joke about it, because you know family. Somebody is likely to get offended. Then you’ve got to deal with the issue at Christmas — when it’s even tougher to exchange your ticket.