When it comes to planning and paying for a family reunion, there are plenty of ways the finances can jump the rails. What if the price per person turns out to be much more than you expected? Or if Aunt Alice misplaces someone’s check for the banquet? Or your mother can’t remember if she ordered a T-shirt? It can all add up to a big headache for whoever is in charge of finances, to say nothing of confusion and lost dollars. Your best move to prevent financial stress? Start with a family conversation, says April Luter, partnerships director for the Arlington Convention & Visitors Bureau in Arlington, Texas, part of the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area and home to Six Flags Over Texas, a sprawling amusement park that is a frequent destination for family reunion groups. Pre-COVID, the Dallas-Fort Worth area played host to as many as 250 family reunions annually, averaging about 200 people each.
“The biggest mistake we see families make is not having the money conversation at all,” Luter says. “We always encourage people to have the money conversation early and often. You want to be as transparent as possible with your family, and money talk with family can always be a touchy subject.” The Rev. Doug Harris’ family learned the hard way. At one reunion, several relatives thought the banquet was free and the reunion committee ended up short on funds when it came time to pay the bill, says Harris, 80, who lives in Swedesboro, New Jersey. Since then, Harris’ family has added a cushion to the price of banquet tickets to cover contingencies or to pay for someone who couldn’t otherwise afford to attend.
How you handle the money may depend on the size of your reunion. Reunions come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from a simple potluck picnic to events with hundreds of relatives that can take up to two years to plan, with many of the complications of a wedding. Families planning destination reunions at hotels or cruise ships often put the reunion committee in charge of arranging for blocks of rooms or cabins, organizing a banquet or other events, and negotiating discounts at attractions. Attendees book their own rooms directly with the hotel but then use whatever system is set up by the committee to order banquet tickets, reserve excursions or order swag.
The Harris family uses smart strategies to keep reunion finances — and relationships — running smoothly. Here are seven tips based on conversations with reunion planners and families:
1. Consider everyone’s income level
To maximize attendance at the reunion, the price point has to be manageable for all, from elders on fixed incomes to families with small children, says Edith Wagner, editor of Reunions Magazine, which has resources, advice and listings for family, school and military reunions. “If the people who are planning it have vast means, then they’re going to plan it the way they would plan anything. They’d be way off base because there’d be whole gobs of people who couldn’t come because they simply couldn’t afford it.”