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The Surprise Invoice For Grandma’s Party

We opened up an email from my husband’s sister that read:

Grandmother’s 90th Birthday! Hosted by her grandchildren (7 names).

After viewing many options (casinos, clubs, & homes) this is the most inexpensive & pragmatic option I could find & hope it’s not unreasonable. No venue was available that allowed us to bring our own food or catering. Limited only by our budget.

Without having to do any cooking or cleanup, the cost is $175 each (7 siblings= $1225) Please plan to have your cash, check or transfer to my bank by no later than April 21, so I can make the final payment.

RSVP is not required since only providing hearty appetizers at that time of day at a Cafe (2pm to 4 pm). The price includes, appetizers, non-alcoholic drinks, full sheet cake, candles, balloons bouquet, card box & corsage. Mariachi band for guest at the party with no charge to us, but will take tips from our guests.

Help! We knew nothing about this and need advice for a response. 0323-14

I’m assuming your husband is one of the seven grandchildren of the guest of honor?   Well, this is certainly a difficult situation your sister-in-law has imposed upon your family.   If you decline to cough up your share of the money, you are in danger of being labeled troublemakers within the family and others grandchildren will be forced to take on more expense to cover what you do not give.   To keep the peace, you may feel compelled to sacrifice spending money in one area of your budget to cover this unexpected cost.

My advice is that if you have the money, give it.   Now is not the time to potentially mar grandmother’s birthday with family disputes.  However, as soon as that party is over, a family pow wow is in order to address, in a straight forward manner, the issue of assuming upon other people’s wallets without any input.  I believe in trying to be at peace as best as possible with family but there are also times when there needs to be direct communication to resolve issues and to make it known that certain kinds of behavior within the family are not acceptable.   Basically, you may have gotten used this time but afterwards you will make it known that this is the last time you will be surprised with news of this kind.  I have a sneaky suspicion that you are not the only ones caught off guard by this revelation.

If you do not have $175.00, your husband needs to appeal to his sister that he was not apprised of any plans to honor grandmother , that he had no input into the plans or the costs and therefore this surprise invoice for his share of the co-hosting is ill timed and not payable.   I don’t see anything wrong in stating it forthrightly that you can either choose to fund your share of grandmother’s party or choose to heat the house/put food on the table/make a car payment and that in springing this surprise on you, this is the choice dear sister has given you.


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  • mark March 28, 2014, 10:59 am

    It appears there are a lot of details left out here. I don’t know how many people are coming to this event. if this is some 1300 dollars for 8-10 peoople, well that is insane for just cake, appetizers, and party favors. If this is 1300 dollars for 50-60 people (children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and spouses). The amount probably isn’t as unreasonable. It’s more in the 20 dollars a person range. For a catered party that is reasonable.

    What I consider more unreasonable is the expectation that someone else can spend my money. We held a party for my grandmother up a canyon and reserved a very nice group picnic site. It cost us about 120 dollars to reserve the site and did a potluck. Grandma enjoyed it immensely as did the family. Since my wife and I reserved the spot we paid for it and didn’t ask anyone for money. Though we had to tell people to stop giving us money at the end of the event because we were starting to make money.

    • another Laura March 29, 2014, 5:53 am

      But it’s not catered. It’s just “hearty appetizers” which could be cheese and crackers for all we know.

  • UKHelen March 28, 2014, 12:05 pm

    Maybe I’m being thick, but I don’t understand this from SIL’s email:

    ‘RSVP is not required since only providing hearty appetizers at that time of day at a Cafe…’

    Surely you’d want to know how many people are coming to a party? Surely it matters if there aren’t enough ‘hearty appetizers’, or if there are far too many and there’s wasted food at the end of the party? Surely you don’t want to tell Grandma that 100 people are coming to wish her well, and then let her be embarrassed when only 25 turn up?

    Or is SIL saying, “I don’t care if you come, but make sure the money gets to me by the 21st”?

    How do other EHers interpret this?

    • The Elf March 29, 2014, 11:31 am

      I interpreted that to mean that the price isn’t going to change based on the number of people attending.

    • Daphne March 29, 2014, 3:34 pm

      This is a common practice for funerals. People don’t typically send invites and RSVPs for funerals so if you have it catered usually they will set a price for an educated guess on how many will attend. And the price won’t go down but if many more people than expected show up the price could go up.

  • ALM March 28, 2014, 4:49 pm

    To play Devil’s Advocate . . .

    Is the OP totally certain that her husband *wasn’t* told about the planning and didn’t just say to his siblings/in law’s “oh, whatever you want is fine, just let me know the details?”

    I don’t agree with admin about just coughing up the money (because you do it once, they will hit your up first for everything for the rest of their lives), but I know several people who either a) fully believe that this means they throw in ten bucks for a Walmart cake and a pack of balloons and b) some people are just passive aggressive and will agree just to get someone to shut up with no intention of participating.

    • JWH March 30, 2014, 8:39 am

      A very good point. We don’t know it wasn’t discussed before.

  • Daphne March 29, 2014, 11:01 am

    Nip this is the bud. My sister did things like this our entire lives and everyone just went along with her in order to not make waves. When my parents died she of course assumed she was in charge of everything, stole from the estate, forged a will, and basically ignored my brother and I unless she was sending us bills for ridiculous, unnecessary stuff like extensive (and expensive) improvements on my deceased parents’ house. And the whole time she truly believed she was doing us a favor. If I had to do it over again I would have refused to chip in to ALL of her demands starting in high school when she would buy my parents gifts and insist my brother and I pay for them.
    Knowing what I now know, I would have upset my parents a dozen times before giving into her demands all those years. Because she became a tyrant once they were truly gone and ended up costing us far more than money. People like her do not get less controlling with age.

  • gb March 29, 2014, 5:11 pm

    Agree with Admin 100%!! Bet poor grandma world be embarrassed had she knew about the nature of the funding of her party! I assume if one grandchild didn’t discuss it before the email went out, many didn’t. Hope grandma has a nice birthday and this can be resolved.

    That family meeting after is a must if you want to avoid this in the future. It will be easier to tell dear sister to first talk to people before volunteering money that isn’t hers because most likely the other grandkids feel the same way. Leave grandma out of the meeting. … She might feel very bad.

  • Rebecca March 30, 2014, 12:48 am

    I’ve had stuff like this at work. We are all self-employed subcontractors in the same office, though we see some of the same clients depending on what that client needs. Example: someone decided to get a basket for a “prize draw” to do something nice for our clients. “Put your business card in here to enter” kind of thing. I got to work and this thing had already been purchased and I was told, “We’re all pitching in for this, it comes to $X each.” I didn’t know how to say no without making waves, so I pitched in my share, but quietly resented being told how to spend money that I really couldn’t afford.

  • JWH March 30, 2014, 8:38 am

    I dislike people like this. I see nothing wrong with granddaughter contacting the other grandkids to say, “Look, I think we should hold a really nice party for Grandma. I found a great place to hold it, but it would cost $175 from each of us. Do you guys want to go in on it?” But trying to invoice everyone after the fact is rude and passive-aggressive.

  • Redblues March 30, 2014, 10:41 am

    I read passive aggressive hostility in this. party organizer likes to commandeer celebrations because she likes to be in control. Perhaps she feels put-upon because she is stuck planning stuff all the time. Perhaps she likes to commandeer celebrations and pretend to be a martyr. I don’t know. She’s out of line no matter what. But I am curious as to what alternative plans or efforts there are or would have been. Does this person do this kind if thing way in advance before anyone else gets a chance? Or has everyone let it slide, or have you all made individual plans? Cost isn’t the only suspicious thing about this story.

  • theOP's March 30, 2014, 3:51 pm

    Thank you “all” for taking time out of your busy schedules to provide us with “great” advice. What you “all” said makes so much sense and we have already implemented some of your tips. Unbelievable , the two brothers didn’t know any details of the party. Maybe, the (5) sister’s secretly knew? We checked with the venue (Café) regarding the details and also a close friend who owns a catering business. Also, grandma will know nothing of these details too. This is also a small family with immediate family under 25 people. Café people said:
    1. Charge per each person at the end of the party 2. 1 week cancellation policy 3. no deposit 4. 1 week notice 5. no charge for space 6. two menus offered (full dinner or Appetizers including non-alcoholic drinks) Example of full dinner $14-$15 a person, full room capacity 65=$975; Appetizers (4) frito pies, chicken flautas, quesadillas, & mini chimichangas) $8-$10 a plate @ 65=$650 or if we talk to a manager she can get you a better price for the appetizer menu. Also, no cake provided, okay to bring your own cake. Our catering friend said around $750 or less for full dinner for that amount of people.

    It looks like someone may pocket some $$ or only a few siblings are paying for the whole bill? This is not the first time asking for money. Since mother died, SIL thinks she’s in charge. They made grandma sell her house and moved her out-of-state. Hopefully, she will make it to her party where most all of the grandchildren & family live. We will keep you updated~

    • The Elf March 31, 2014, 7:02 am

      Oooooh, wow, that changes a lot. Something’s rotten here for sure.

  • Enna March 31, 2014, 1:00 pm

    Good for you OP!

  • InTheEther April 1, 2014, 11:31 pm

    Check your finances 1st and foremost, but if they’re fine then it may not be worth the family drama to decline to pay. Personally I wouldn’t unless I was really certain that it would make grandma happy, but I also know with my immediate family that they’d back me up if a cousin tried to pull this. The few relatives that would put up a stink we’ve kinda distanced ourselves from.

    If you do decide to pay I would immediately call Sis-In-Law up. Make sure you keep a nonaccusatory tone, remain polite, and don’t even mention the money at first. Make her go over every bit of info that you should have had a say in before you were presented with a bill. Disguise it as interest but get her to tell you all the details, price breakdown, and all they other options she looked into. Keep up the cheerful tone and insist that she should’ve told you she was wanting to plan something and that you would have been happy to help, and insist she contact you at the beginning of the planning next time.

    A lot of people think that the price breakdown doesn’t add up, but I don’t have a clue. If you are also coming to the same conclusion then be all sweetness and say you think one of the vendors might be inflating things and insist that you two or her and another family member if there’s one who would be in a position to judge go over invoices.

    Basically, everything that the admin said, but I’d also make certain exactly what my money was going towards before it got handed over, even if you wait until afterward to spring the “Don’t make plans and just expect my contribution” conversation.

  • LizaJane April 2, 2014, 8:27 am

    So your last post means that for 65 people, this party would cost $650.00? About $ 95.00 from each ? Then she’s collecting an additional $560.00? That’s a lot of cake and balloons.

  • Casey April 3, 2014, 8:31 pm

    My SIL did something similar after my MIL died. SIL made all of the arrangements, didn’t tell anyone about what she was planning (everything from coffin to flowers to the lunch after) and was very defensive if anyone asked (“no one is helping me, don’t you want mom to have the best?” We were all concerned because we knew there wasn’t much money available). Then about two weeks after, sent a letter to everyone asking for $x by x date from each of the other 6 siblings, but no detailed explanation of the charges and wouldn’t provide them when asked. We didn’t send any money and didn’t reach out to provide an explanation. When she called to talk to my husband about why we didn’t send money ‘by the deadline’ (her words), he handled it. He is the oldest, and in between the receipt of the letter and her calling, the other siblings called him with some level of expectation he would handle her for everyone (which he was happy to do and usually does anyway). He’s a calm guy and no voices were raised, but he certainly told her what she did was unacceptable. She backed down quickly when he explained that she spent everyone’s money without asking, and wouldn’t share details. She tried to explain her point of view but husband kept at her until she backed down (not sure how he handles her but he does!) what’s the point of this? It’s best to confront outright and say “what you did was wrong and it’s unacceptable to have a repeat performance” It’s possible to say this calmly and respectfully and not engage in further conversation. Can’t wait to hear how it works out for you. Sending vibes so you can be brave when required!!

  • lkb April 10, 2014, 7:21 am

    My condolences on the loss of your MIL, no matter how long ago that happened.

    I understand what you said about your SIL’s handling of the funeral arrangements. No, she should not have billed everyone after the fact and she should have been more forthcoming about the costs during the process.

    However, I can understand how it could have happened: When my mother passed away, my sister and I spent the whole next day (I emphasize that it was only hours after our parent died unexpectedly), making arrangements for a funeral that took place the following day. Decisions had to be made, and quickly. We were fortunate that we were both in town and agreed to work together on this and that my parents had pre-paid for for their funeral and also had set aside funds for any additional costs of those funerals.

    You didn’t say this was the case or not, but what if your SIL was not so fortunate?: No pre-planned arrangements, no parental funding set aside, no other family around. (You did quote her as saying, “No one is helping me.”). I suppose SIL’s mindset was, “I don’t know how much money is left, but surely we want what’s best for Mom. To avoid delays, let’s do X. I don’t know how much money is left but surely among six of us……”

    While I understand the frustration of getting a bill after the fact (and agree she should have been more forthcoming), I hope that means she wasn’t stuck with the entire tab. The “(he) kept at her until she backed down” seems a harsh way to treat someone who had to plan her mother’s funeral alone.