How to navigate relationships as your finances change

Have you ever lost a close friend because your financial situations were too different? Maybe your friendship started when you were on similar financial ground, bonding over bowls of ramen noodles, for instance. But once out of college, your first job paid a lot more than theirs did; or perhaps, the shoe was on the other foot — you’re still flipping burgers and your friend is working in the corporate world with a bigger paycheck.

Benjamin Franklin once cautioned:

“Beware of little expenses; a small leak will sink a great ship.”

But that’s not the only ‘ship’ finances can affect. As you improve your financial situation, you may find that your friendships change too.

While not every relationship (oops, I did it again!) can be saved, you can patch most holes in your friendships by being aware of common problems.

The financial icebergs in your relationships

Despite their best efforts, people often unconsciously compare themselves to others.

I am in better shape than he is.

The food in my shopping cart looks more healthy than that junk food over there!

I am saving more than the average, because I am naturally gifted with money management skills.

Need I say more?

Maybe you don’t have these thoughts. If not, that’s great! But seeing someone who is more successful in anything can trigger unpleasant — and unhealthy — emotions in your own mind.

Guilt, jealousy, and fear

When you see someone who is exercising more often than you do, does it make you feel guilty about your own lack of exercise?

When your friends tell you they just paid off their mortgage — before they turned 30! — do you feel a little … jealous?

If you see someone who is getting their life together, are you scared that you may lose their friendship?

So far we’ve covered, guilt, jealousy, and fear. But many more emotions can threaten your relationships. Especially where money is involved. It helps to remember that, if you have these emotions, your friends are sure to have similar emotions too.

Keep friendships afloat by going first

Sometimes it’s hard to have an honest conversation with yourself, let alone anyone else.

I’ll give you an example. That example of friends paying off their mortgage in their mid-20s? Guess whose friends they are? I’m not proud of my behavior, and it’s embarrassing to admit this in a public forum, but I do want to show my human side.

When I found out my friends paid off their mortgage, I said, “Wow, that’s great!”

But this is what I thought: That is just not fair that they already have their mortgage paid off. Why can’t we have our mortgage paid off?

Lots of whining went on in my head. Embarrassing. And then I stopped whining and started undermining our own mortgage-paying progress.

That’s what comparison does to people, folks. It helps NO ONE.

What does help? Honesty. Openness. Good communication.

And just being happy for the success of others. For my friends, paying off the mortgage was a significant accomplishment. Once I got beyond myself, I was really proud of them.

I also have to realize that, while I can be proud of them and wish that we too have paid off our mortgage, I can still be satisfied with our own progress. After all, our mortgage is almost 50 percent paid off. Could we have paid off more? Of course. I can use our friends’ example to inspire us to work harder at paying it off. But it doesn’t work to compare our results to theirs.

Throwing out a life preserver for your relationships

1. Be the person you want your friends to be. If you see your friends making good choices, applaud them. Great job paying off your student loan! Or, hey, I know it wasn’t easy to stay at the office and eat your PB & J in the break room when everyone else went out for lunch.

2. Show your human side. Do you have friends who seem to make the best financial decision every time? Maybe you seem that way to your friends. If you are the first one to admit your mistakes and missteps, don’t be surprised if your friends start to share their own financial disappointments.

3. Deepening your relationships by sharing your challenges can actually provide accountability. For example, if you know your friend is trying to keep her food budget in check, and she knows you are trying to build your savings account, you can encourage each other to keep meeting your goals. When you have built trust in your relationships, you won’t be afraid to admit your mistakes, and you’ll have the encouragement to keep going.

4. If you want to preserve your friendships, keep the lines of communication open. If your friends are feeling threatened by your financial success, just keep talking. Start small, stay open, and encourage your friends by noticing their financial successes.

5. If they ask for financial advice, give it humbly. If you want to give them a recommendation for a personal finance blog or a personal finance book, be careful how you present the opportunity. Again, consider how you would like to receive advice on one of your problem areas.

How to know it’s time to abandon ship

Sometimes relationships don’t succeed. Years ago, I had a great friend. We had so much in common: We talked every week and often exercised together. When she moved away, I naturally missed her friendship.

Throughout the years, we’ve kept up our friendship, even though our lives are different. However, I can see our paths continuing to diverge. We see each other less and less often, and I think it’s just a matter of time before we become acquaintances.

An older, wiser friend once told me that people come into our lives for seasons and reasons. Sometimes — as callous as this may sound — friends serve their purpose and then move on.

How will you know?

  • Do you want to keep up the relationship?
  • Is it too stressful?
  • Do you feel like you are giving too much or making most of the effort?
  • Are you making progress with building trust or deepening communication?

Only you will know the answers to these questions and whether it is time to move on.

Every relationship has bumps, especially one in which you’re not on equal financial footing. While it’s okay to move on from challenging friendships, you also don’t want to miss the chance to develop great friendships that can help both of you become better at handling your finances.

Have you maintained friendships with different finances? Share your experience and wisdom below!

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