Friends and money: Coping with social spending situations

My friend Tim is in a rough spot. He recently got divorced, moved across the country, and started a new job. He's making less than he used to, but his expenses haven't declined much. I don't think he's gone into debt, but he's walking a fine line.

One problem is that he doesn't have as much disposable income as most of his friends do. Because they have more money, they want to do more things, and the things they want do do are more expensive. This puts Tim in a bind. He wants to hang out with his friends, but he doesn't want to overspend.

I've been in similar situations in the past. It can be difficult to make smart financial choices when everyone around you is spending. You spend, too, in order to belong. Here are seven ways to cope with social spending situations:

  1. Explain your goals. Let your family and friends know that you're trying to get out of debt or are saving to buy your first house. By making your goals explicit, you should decrease the amount of pressure they give you. (And the amount of pressure you give yourself.) Conversations about money don't have to be uncomfortable. By honestly sharing your struggles and goals, you encourage those around you to examine their own spending as well. Ask your friends to help you be good, rather than pressure you to do something you'll regret later.
  2. Suggest low- or no-cost alternatives. Bike or run together. Go hiking. Kick a soccer ball around. Organize a picnic or a mother-daughter tea party. Play hearts or bridge or Settlers of Catan. A one-time investment in a board game or a deck of cards can be a cost-effective source of entertainment. If your friends want to go to a movie, suggest a matinee. If they want to dine out, name a restaurant you know you can afford. (Better yet, suggest a potluck.)
  3. Budget for social spending. If your circle of friends makes a regular habit of a specific activity, consider building the expense into your budget so it won't catch you by surprise. If your girlfriends go out for happy hour on the first Thursday of every month, for example, set aside $20 for the occasion. This may, of course, require sacrifices to other parts of your budget.
  4. Leave your wallet (or purse) at home. If you're worried that you'll give into peer pressure, create a self-imposed limit. Take $5 or $10 or $20 with you, but leave your credit cards behind. If you don't have the money with you, you can't spend it.
  5. Limit yourself. Do things with your friends, but spend less. Portland has a great bookstore, and several times a year I shop there with out-of-town visitors. They have a tendency to buy a basket full of books. I used to do this, too, before I learned to limit myself. Now I buy one or two items from my want list.
  6. Opt out. If your friends regularly participate in expensive activities together, politely bow out from time-to-time. By playing poker only once a month instead of once a week, for example, you may reduce your costs by 75%. If your friends like to go shopping, join them for the companionship. If the temptation to spend will be too much, don't go at all.
  7. Don't keep score. Don't obsess about what others have or don't have. Don't focus on the stuff — focus on the relationships. This can be difficult, I know, but it does no good to ask yourself why you don't live in a fancy 4,000-square foot home on five acres. Life is not a competition. Your goal is not to keep up with the Joneses. Your goal is to do what's best for you.

If, on the other hand, you're financially well-off, be aware that your friends may not be in a similar position. Don't suggest expensive activities. Don't brag about money. Don't flaunt it. Respect other people's limits.

For more on this subject, check out the following articles:

Whatever your financial situation, remember that each of us comes from different circumstances. Don't judge other people or yourself based on what they do and do not buy. Make smart financial choices for yourself, and gently encourage your friends to do the same.

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NCN
NCN
12 years ago

Good article –
Just a few thoughts –

Folks who struggle w/ money management usually also struggle w/ creating boundaries. In every relationship, we must have the right to say – NO – and feel secure enough that our friends / relatives will still care for us. If you can’t tell your ‘friends’ – Dudes, I’m broke – then they’re really not your friends.

NCN

Steve Olson
Steve Olson
12 years ago

I’ve run into this many years of my life. I have freinds run off the Europe and ask me why I’m not going and I’ve had to opt out, saying I was too poor. But mostly I was lying, I could have made the trip, but I decided to put the money in investments and other places, like education. There are times when I’ve been too poor too. I’m used to saying no. If saying no makes you a social pariah with your freinds I’d say you need to find new freinds.

Camilla
Camilla
12 years ago

I’m glad i’ve never had an issue with friends and money. I agree with the above commenters, i know my friends would support me if i wanted to spend less on something, even if they would happily spend tons on it. The “Leave your wallet (or purse) at home” is definitely a good one – although you have to be careful to say “No thanks” to costs when you’ve run out of that money, rather than “No i can’t, i’ve run out of money” because well-meaning friends may offer to loan you the money. That creates more temptation, and a… Read more »

S.
S.
12 years ago

A potluck is a dinner party where everyone brings a dish to pass.

Diatryma
Diatryma
12 years ago

Potluck: a party or gathering for which each guest brings food. My friends and I do this for parties a lot.

Budgeting for social expenses is really important because it makes you look at them. I have a friend who will want to meet in a coffeeshop once a week or so– four dollars until it warms up enough to meet in a further-away shop. There’s pre-seminar coffee, four dollars. There’s lab lunch, ten dollars. Twenty dollars a week goes to food with friends at the bare minimum.

Tim L
Tim L
12 years ago

Settlers of Catan, excellent choice!

Dave
Dave
12 years ago

I’m dealing with this issue from the other side: I’m the one encouraging my friends to spend. After a couple of years of getting my financial house in order, I’m ready to start doing some of the things I had to give up. While I want as many of my friends to join me as can, I also want them to do it responsibly. To accomplish this, two of us sat down at the beginning of the year and planned out the things we wanted to do. We made a rough calendar and estimated as best we could what the… Read more »

Frugal Dad
Frugal Dad
12 years ago

I like the advice in #4 – DO leave home without it! I had to take this approach a year ago to save my finances from myself – I was my own worst enemy in charging things I should have been paying for with cash, or waiting until I could afford.

InvestEveryMonth.com
InvestEveryMonth.com
12 years ago

Have self confidence in yourself, maintain your budget, so many things to do that don’t require a lot of money. Pick and choose wisely.

icup
icup
12 years ago

Leaving your wallet at home is an excellent suggestion. That is how I broke myself of the eating out at lunch habit at work.

Jesse
Jesse
12 years ago

I like it, except the leaving at wallet at home part…I don’t think its ever a *great* idea to leave home without an emergency plan. You never know what could happen…I know, freak accidents are rare, but Id rather be prepared. Anyway overall, love it.

Laura
Laura
12 years ago

I think the birthday dinner is the worst culprit – the last one I attended cost about $50 for me alone! I have just accepted these occasions as the cost of having friends, and I would certainly rather have friends and waste some money now and again rather than the alternative.

Camilla
Camilla
12 years ago

Thanks for the definition of Potluck guys! 😀

Debbie M
Debbie M
12 years ago

Dave, another idea is to subsidize your friends sometimes. Have them pay what they can afford and you pay the rest. I was once subsidized by someone richer than I who wanted me to come to a concert with him. And I once subsidized someone poorer than I was so he could be my partner at a ballroom dance competition and workshop. I also subsidize family members for once-in-a-lifetime family activities. Occasionally, you just know one of your ideas would be perfect for someone who can’t afford it, so that’s when it’s a good idea to try this out. It… Read more »

Money Blue Book
Money Blue Book
12 years ago

If you have friends in different financial circles and you can no longer afford the higher expense outings, then try joining in on the ones you think are within your reasonable budget. If I was strapped for money, I would just join in on events that revolved around staying at home (Wii night etc), which tend to be substantially cheaper than going out to expensive restaurants and other places.
-Raymond

Victor
Victor
12 years ago

Potlucks are great! Games ie. scattergories, cranium can also be a lot of fun.

I have had to lose friends because they spend way more than I can afford. We are all in a similar income range, but no one else has children (DINKS). They expect we can leave the kids with someone and go out. We can’t. That just gives us the opportunity to find friends that have kids/accept our way of life.

Finally Frugal
Finally Frugal
12 years ago

This is very timely, J.D.! A friend is visiting me at the end of March, someone with whom I used to go shopping (which explains much of my CC debt). She makes about twice as much money as I do, so $150 on a pair of sandals wasn’t unusual for her. I’m already getting anxious about the possibility that I’ll “fall off the wagon” and pull out the credit card at the first sale sign we see. . . Since I’m in debt repayment mode, I’m trying to think of things we can do that don’t involve Nordstrom, Macy’s and… Read more »

Meoip
Meoip
12 years ago

My friends and I play board games all the time. I think we realized at one point we can cook better food than we can afford to buy at restaurants and boardgames are a much better form of entertainment than a trip to a movie. We play Carcassonne instead of Settlers since it is easier to introduce new players too.

Jeffeb3
Jeffeb3
12 years ago

@FinallyFrugal
I think J.D. mentioned Powell’s as an easy place to spend money. Although, it is a lot cheaper than banana republic.

BTW, I live on Colorado, and I love Powells. We go there every time we visit Portland. I have one of their sweatshirts too, it’s my favorite.

Dave
Dave
12 years ago

@Debbie That’s a great idea, though you’re right that it can be awkward. Of course, if you’re the organizer, you can always subsidize someone anonymously. This came up recently regarding a beach trip I’m taking this summer with a group of college students. I’m a board game junkie; have been all my life. Many games can be expensive up front, but often pay for themselves over time. Now, in college, we got countless hours of enjoyment out of a deck of playing cards and a copy of Hoyle’s Rules of Games. That was just before the explosion of the internet,… Read more »

TosaJen
TosaJen
12 years ago

I have different friends based on different life eras and interests. If our friendship is about a common interest and activity, then money often isn’t that much of an issue. If it’s based on life eras, then money CAN be an issue, because most of us are scattered across the country, and meeting up costs $$$. Some friends have money and some don’t. If our friends with money want to treat us or host us, we go along to an extent, and accept graciously, because otherwise, we would not participate in the situation — we’re too frugal. We are generous… Read more »

betsy teutsch - MoneyChangesThings
betsy teutsch - MoneyChangesThings
12 years ago

There are two sides to this. As one who has a circle of friends less affluent than I am, I often balance treating them to things (which would not be a significant budget item for me – like a simple lunch or coffee) vs. their comfort. With financial peers, treating one another to things is fun and nurturing. But if you’re not peers, the lower income person can perceive it as patronizing. Case in point – I went with a group of friends to DC for fun and to do some Global Warming lobbying. I suggested we stay in an… Read more »

Adfecto
Adfecto
12 years ago

I just got back from a weekend visiting with friends and family. It is tough to balance the need to maintain close relationships, the desire to let loose and have some fun, and the realities of a budget. I find that more times than not we blow the budget by a good margin on these types of trips. I’d say we spent about $200 more than we should have. Most of that was on birthday gifts (we celebrated for three people in one trip) and more on food and gas. We make our “ideal” budget and then we fall short.… Read more »

Sarah
Sarah
12 years ago

It can be so very awkward from the other end. It’s not particularly easy to have honest conversations about expenses with your friends (so that you can tell what would be problematic and what wouldn’t), and while it’s easy to tell your kid brother in school that you’ll treat him to dinner, grown adults with jobs aren’t always as open to that (understandably). Also…if you have limited free time, you find yourself having to choose between the cool thing you’d treat yourself with and more mundane stuff you can do with your friends. Of course you want to spend time… Read more »

TosaJen
TosaJen
12 years ago

Sarah: Kid brother in my case = 37 yo working on his PhD and 34-yo BIL working on AA. Both have working spouses, and they all like to think they’re “grownups”, too. We’re the “well-off” sibs, and we only treat for things we really love ourselves and want to share with them. We make it clear that it’s about having a good time together — not us taking care of them because they can’t take care of themselves.

Sam
Sam
12 years ago

I’m not comfortable talking about money with friends but I agree with #1. Just like you might let friends know that you are on a diet/exercise program so that they don’t tempt you with chocolate at 3 p.m. I found it helpful to let my friends know I was working a Total Money Makeover. But, I also agree that having a fun/friends budget is important too! you don’t want to miss seeing or spending time with friends because the budget doesn’t allow it.

Ricky Buchanan
Ricky Buchanan
12 years ago

If you’re the poorer one in the equation and people *want* to treat you sometimes, don’t take it as an insult. It took a while before somebody pointed out to me that if the choices were not having me at an occasion or them paying for me to attend that they’d prefer to pay before I realised that it can be worth it for a more afluent friend! I’ve generally been “the poor one” in all the equations because I’m disabled and unable to work, and receiving things graciously is one life lesson that I think people need to work… Read more »

Ricky Buchanan
Ricky Buchanan
12 years ago

If you’re the poorer one in the equation and people *want* to treat you sometimes, don’t take it as an insult. It took a while before somebody pointed out to me that if the choices were not having me at an occasion or them paying for me to attend that they’d prefer to pay before I realised that it can be worth it for a more afluent friend! I’ve generally been “the poor one” in all the equations because I’m disabled and unable to work, and receiving things graciously is one life lesson that I think people need to work… Read more »

Ricky Buchanan
Ricky Buchanan
12 years ago

If you’re the poorer one in the equation and people *want* to treat you sometimes, don’t take it as an insult. It took a while before somebody pointed out to me that if the choices were not having me at an occasion or them paying for me to attend that they’d prefer to pay before I realised that it can be worth it for a more afluent friend! I’ve generally been “the poor one” in all the equations because I’m disabled and unable to work, and receiving things graciously is one life lesson that I think people need to work… Read more »

Sara
Sara
12 years ago

I recently ran into this dilemma with my 18 yr old son, he lost his job (his Fault) and wanted to hang out with his friends and do stuff. They have jobs, and money, My advice to him was First you need to get a job and keep it, second is to get insurance,because medical bills can wipe you out for a long time ( he has a medical condition) #3 you need to live below what you make, If your friends cannot or will not accept this, then those kind of friends you don’t need. I work 2 jobs,… Read more »

Bonnie
Bonnie
12 years ago

@Laura: I hear you! Birthday dinners are real budget-busters. I think the first few posters were a little harsh. Not all of my friends know exactly how much debt I’m trying to pay off, even though they know in a general sense. But when you’ve been the “fun” friend for years–the one who was always willing to put the concert tickets on your credit card, willing to finance a road trip at a moment’s notice, etc.–it’s hard for your friends to change their perception of you overnight. I think my friends are getting a little more used to hearing “I’m… Read more »

Fred
Fred
12 years ago

I have a friend whose fiance just left him, and he “needs to get out of this town” every other weekend. He’s in a less stable financial situation than me, and he’s the one who always wants to spend like there’s no tomorrow. (hmm, see a trend?) He makes less than 30k per year, and wants to go to 4oo dollar a night hotels and theme parks on a regular basis, as well as rent a luxury vehicle to drive up in so he can make a big impression. I’d rather forgo the hotel altogether, and our cars work just… Read more »

annonymous
annonymous
12 years ago

Make this short.
I have lots of CC debt
S.O. (not married) has none.
Wants to do things and offers to help me out (paying for me).
I feel bad not paying for my share of things.
I have the money for the things, but I could be using that to lower my debt instead.

Angelo
Angelo
12 years ago

I’ve been in this situation TOO many times in the past..and my friends dont get it. I’m a scrooge and I am happy. I’ve turned down trips to Vegas, stopped binge drinking, and just don’t buy ticket items. I’ve decreased my debt to only a student loan. Instead of increasing debt…pay down your debt and stay at home. But dont sell yourself short, do try to spend time with friends…and u dont have to spend money to do it :O)

Mark
Mark
12 years ago

Number four is a great idea … but a bit risky. There may be a situation that arises that requires spending a substantial amount of money, or at least more than 5, 10, or 20 dollars.

getagrip
getagrip
12 years ago

@ Sara You may want to remind your adult son that he is getting money from you already. He uses your electricty, eats your food, and sleeps in the shelter you heat, all of which *you* pay for. While you are providing that for him right now because you love him, he is welcome to seek it elsewhere at any time. The Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps may be willing to accept him (depending on the medical condition you mention) and they will also pay him. If he wants his own money, then he needs to go and… Read more »

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