Peer pressure and money: Do you spend differently with friends?

Have you ever sat down at a restaurant, reviewed the menu, wanted to leave but stayed anyway? Did you stay because you didn't want anybody to think you were a cheap tight-wad?

Did you ever go shopping with a friend and bought clothes that were too expensive? Did you do this because you didn't want your friends to think less of you?

Did you buy the wrong car because you felt pressure to make an impression on the friend who went shopping with you?

Do you avoid going shopping or dining with other people specifically because you hate being in these situations?

If so you aren't alone. I struggle with these problems too.

Several years ago I went clothes shopping with some buddies and found myself in that situation exactly. I wanted to upgrade my wardrobe, and since these guys were pretty smart dressers, I asked them to take me out for a shopping man-date.

They are great guys so of course they were only too happy to help me out. They took me to all the stores that they shop at and we found some really neat items. I tried the suits on. I have to admit it…..I liked the way I looked in them. I tried on one particular Zegna suit that was especially snappy. I felt like a million bucks in it. But then when I saw the price tag, I just about had an aneurism.

I was scared and frustrated. I wanted to run for the nearest Ross Dress for Less I could find but when I saw my buddies giving me the thumbs up, I felt trapped. I worked up the best fake smile I could, unleashed my credit card, and took the suit home.

As it turns out, I'm glad I bought the suit and I still love it to this day. But the point is, I was definitely out of my comfort zone. And rather than say anything, I spent money I didn't want to spend because I didn't want my buddies to think less of me.

That suit cost me a lot of money and self-esteem. I felt weak because I didn't have the grit to tell my friends I didn't want to spend that much money. What could I have done differently?

  • I could have been honest with my friends when I first asked for their help. I should have communicated what my comfort level was before we went shopping. When I think about the money these guys make and the professions they are in (both are actors) I should have realized that we define “expensive” differently. (Actually, these guys don't really have a definition of expensive). I should have thought about the kind of money they spend on clothes and I should have told them what my limits were.
  • I should have been honest with myself. Part of the reason I wanted these guys to take me shopping was to show them what a big spender I was. I didn't realize this at the time, but thinking back, it's very clear to me what my real motives were. Had I spent a few moments to think about it, I would have understood this immediately and possibly done it differently.

Trying to impress somebody is a lie. It's inauthentic and it's dumb. Why should I try so hard to get other people to like a person that isn't really me? It makes no sense.

I believe that if I take these steps in the future, I won't find myself in this kind of awkward and dishonest situation again. But even if I blow it and wind up back in that clothing store (or equivalent thereof), the solution is still the same — honesty.

I think it's better to admit that I made a little mistake quickly than continue to lie and make a bigger one.

I'm a bit of a people pleaser by nature. The process I described above is sometimes difficult for me. I'm getting better at it even though I haven't mastered it yet.

Do you struggle with this issue? Do you spend money differently when you are around certain people? How have you dealt with this?

Photo by Danielle Blue.

More about...Psychology

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adam
adam
11 years ago

I definitely do respond to peer pressure in regards to my spending. I order bigger meals than I really want, and I bought a nicer car than I really needed. My father was one of those uncomfortably cheap dads who picked up things off curbs and gave them to us kids as presents, and so whenever I start to feel that “don’t be cheap” vibe, it really pushes me to spend more, even though I’m not in line with my real financial goals and values.

Dasha
Dasha
11 years ago

I am pretty open about my finances and what I can and cannot afford so I don’t really feel any peer pressure at all. Honesty is really the key. The amount of money you have or make it not something to be proud or ashamed of- it just is what it is.

JCos
JCos
11 years ago

I understand how to avoid shopping situations like this, but meals at places with prices you don’t really feel are worth it are sometimes harder to avoid. Anyone have any tips beyond checking out the menu before agreeing to attend?

Mike Piper
Mike Piper
11 years ago

I used to fall into this trap all the time back in college. I think you’re right, the best approach is simply to try and avoid finding yourself in these situations.

Also of note: you said that “As it turns out, I’m glad I bought the suit and I still love it to this day.” I’ll bet that if you hadn’t bought the suit, you’d also be happy with your decision. One of those quirks of human nature–after making a tough decision, we set about trying to confirm that we did the right thing, no matter which route we took.

Kevin@OutOfYourRut
11 years ago

Maybe it’s the rebel in me, but I’ve come to a point where I feel a certain sense of liberation in not going along with the herd.

I make it a rule not to shop with friends! As far as eating out, my friends are a lot like me when it comes to money so we dine on the frugal side of town without much thought. A lot of the problems with spending come about when you’re over-bought on your social situation.

Kate
Kate
11 years ago

I have had this problem in the past. My new year’s resolution this year was “No in ’09”. I decided that I would speak up and say no when invited to do things that I couldn’t afford or to buy gifts within my means, etc. One way that I’ve succeeded is that when I’m asked to do something like go out to dinner or to an event that I can’t really manage, I say no, but offer to do something else that is in my budget. (Ex. I can’t make it to the movies and dinner with you all, but… Read more »

Amy
Amy
11 years ago

It totally depends on which friends I’m with. I have some friends who are frugal, either by nature or by necessity, and so when I’m with them I spend less. It’s so relaxed and easy, and we still have a good time, going for walks or bike rides or to the park or a less expensive restaurant or vacation. I had a chance to be friends with someone who spends large sums of money regularly, and I knew I just wouldn’t be able to keep up with her so I did not accept invitations to do expensive things with her.… Read more »

katy
katy
11 years ago

I’m ok being honest about what me and my husband can afford. We go to thrift stores and invite people over for dinner or coffee and cake. Most people are very happy with that. My struggle is being honest and not being heard by two longtime acquaintances of my husbands’. I told them I’m out of work and struggling to pay for rent and food. The wife says ‘it’s not that much money to fly jetblue and visit us in Florida in the winter’. The husband is equally obtuse and a braggart. I wish they didn’t live in our building!… Read more »

Tracy
Tracy
11 years ago

I am going through this right now. I just moved closer to a lot of my friends so I am hanging out with them more, and as a result spending more money. Eating out more, spending more on groceries (for parties and potlucks, etc.) Before, I spent a lot of saturday nights home alone with my dog, which is ok once in a while but really gets lonely. But, my friends want to spend money (and spend time complaining about how little they have) How do you deal with that? As far as the suit goes, I’m gonna say that… Read more »

Rhonda
Rhonda
11 years ago

The fact remains that you do love the suit. Sometimes I look at my pathetic wardrobe and want to cry. I cannot bring myself to buy myself nice clothing. And it shows. I think that deep down you knew that you would have gone to Ross, and bought something that looks like you bought it at Ross, and you didn’t want to do that again.

ldk
ldk
11 years ago

This is a great post, and something that I struggle with from both sides of the equation. We have friends who have not been as financially successful as we have as well as friends who have seriously ridiculous amounts of money….and it can sometimes be a very tricky situation to manage. As you mention, “expensive” can mean very different things to different people. I hope, however, that I never default to the ‘easy out’ of only hanging with people who earn a similar amount of money as I see that happening more and more as people get older.

Kevin@OutOfYourRut
11 years ago

JCos (3)–My wife and I try to make it a policy to eat only in restaurants that offer coupons. Not only does this save money on the bill, but it seems that most coupon offering establishments are in the low- to mid-price range to start, and are trying to reach out to their cost-conscious patrons and potential patrons. We haven’t seen many coupon offers by high end restaurants. We pay attention to the circulars that come in the mail, and if we find a restaurant that offers coupons we’ll check it out on the web, where they often have a… Read more »

Abby
Abby
11 years ago

I’m with Mike Piper. Once upon a time, I used to do this constantly. It usually involved buying event tickets to charity events. Good causes, yes – but budget busters anyhow. Not that we HAD a budget. So I didn’t know that we couldn’t afford it … So yeah, the biggest problem wasn’t the $100/here, $75/there – or the $12 martini before or after the event. Or even the $300 dress to wear. But I did think “I just can’t say no to the Good Cause Cocktail Hour because so-and-so is the chair …” No more! We still donate to… Read more »

Steven
Steven
11 years ago

I never understood what was wrong with being seen as cheap/frugal. To me, money is the means to an end. Money is not what I’m after, the experiences that the money can get is. I enjoy food and drinking, so I spend a premium on eating good food, whether I go out to eat or I am cooking. My bill is always the highest when I go out with my friends, and when my pantry and full of spices so I can make almost anything. I don’t eat to live, I live to eat, so I’m willing to spend more… Read more »

Faye
Faye
11 years ago

There comes a point when you have to go against the flow or it will swallow you up. If you don’t have the money, don’t create debt which you may or may not be able to repay depending one whether or not you job will go south in this economy. If it out of your paygrade stay away from it. Chances are someone else in your group is in the same position.
Go have a beer instead.

Eden Jaeger
Eden Jaeger
11 years ago

No doubt that the company we keep has a big impact on our financial lives, but all aspects as well.

Shane
Shane
11 years ago

I find myself spending money to go out to eat when I hang out with my friends. I hate going out to eat, but enjoy conversing with everyone. Last week, I started a new habit of cooking at home instead, with a budget of less than $50 a week. I’ve had some conflict between some people on my decision, especially my girlfriend’s mom. She says that I need to take my girlfriend out to eat every week. I told her that I enjoy going out for entertainment, but not to eat. I have even planned most dinners to accommodate my… Read more »

Hogan
Hogan
11 years ago

Thanks for a great post, as it reminds me of how much time I used to spend shopping with friends as a recreational activity! It makes me glad that in my town (Pahrump, Nevada) there are very few outlets for this except thrift stores and garage sales. When I lived in London and Paris, it was an entirely different ball of wax…no wonder I ended up broke!

Denise L
Denise L
11 years ago

Hi,

This was a good post (clear idea, well-written, etc.). However, I was not able to relate to this guest blogger as much as AJ and Jason. My friends and I are in the “poor grad student” phase of our lives, so convincing one of them to buy anything really expensive would be just plain mean. We just flat-out wouldn’t do this to each other.

Liz Kay
Liz Kay
11 years ago

I try to be conscious not only of other people’s wallets as well as their values/priorities. Personally, I’m much less willing to risk my cash on a band I’ve never heard of than a meal at a new/interesting restaurant — not interested in paying $12 plus drinks to see that show, but I’d be happy to meet you for a meal before or after. :] When planning a dinner outing I try to send people a link to the restaurant menu ahead of time so guests can take a look and suggest an alternative if that’s not going to work… Read more »

David Carlson
David Carlson
11 years ago

Sometimes I find myself spending a little more than I would on my own when I am with a group of friends. To solve this, I try to plan my days a little more than most people so I don’t always end up in a situation where I’m at an expensive restaurant then end up at a movie theater spending $12 to see a movie, after buying some new clothes at the mall of course. Fortunately for me, most of my friends are pretty broke right now. That doesn’t mean they don’t spend freely even though they shouldn’t, but it’s… Read more »

Darren
Darren
11 years ago

Most of my friends are bigger spenders than I, though ironically I can more easily afford such expenditure (in part because I don’t regularly indulge). I find that the same negotiation skills that allow me to obtain better deals on my purchases can also be applied to avoiding excess when with friends. Remarking that a restaurant is “overpriced; let’s find somewhere more reasonable” often elicits relief from my friends. That said, when I’m entertaining friends, I do tend to spend a bit more; once my needs are cared for – retirement plan in place, emergency fund… funded – what else… Read more »

Sierra Black
Sierra Black
11 years ago

I definitely spend more when I’m out with friends and discover their tastes are more expensive than mine. I try to counter this by talking and writing a lot about my efforts at frugality. I’ve become kind of the “frugal gal” in my crowd, the person people expect to spend less. That means people seek me out for free fun, and I get invited less to the expensive outings. Mostly this is great for me, and my friends. Quite a few people talk to me about their own money troubles or transformations. On the other hand, giving up frivolous spending… Read more »

Stacey
Stacey
11 years ago

Loved this post! It really gets to the psychology of money too. So often money is used an extension of ourselves and our ego, instead of merely a tool for meaningful living. I know that I am prone to spend more when I am feeling emotional or hormonal (ladies, am I right?).
Posts like these remind me that I am not always a rational being and it’s good to reflect on why we spend, and whether we are really getting what we want/need out of the experience.
Spending reveals character, doesn’t it? How you regard yourself, others, and your image…

Ann
Ann
11 years ago

#3 JCos – we go out to eat very rarely, maybe once a month, twice on occasion. We use Restaurant.com. We can get $25 gift certificates for $10, or like this week while they are running a special we can get $25 for $2. The restaurant choice is limited, but there are some good ones in our area. Other limitations – must spend minimum amount, such as $35 to use $25 GC, one GC per party, some will add in gratuity automatically, some limit the days the GC can be used. Great article! Some of my friends make quite a… Read more »

trb
trb
11 years ago

I’m improving on this front. In college my friends were into sporting events, eating out, big TVs and video games. Me, not so much, but went along often enough to keep me broke. Since then, I’ve been consciously choosing my friends based on our ability to spend time together without spending money. A hard bike ride, followed by a good discussion about books, is a lot easier to maintain in the long term than a baseball game and beers. Like Sierra @23, some friends slip by the wayside when you realize your relationship was built on buying stuff instead of… Read more »

Brooke
Brooke
11 years ago

@ Shane:

Good for you! Don’t give in to your gf’s mom’s pressure.

I can’t stand those kind of manipulation games.

Foxie@CarsxGirl
11 years ago

I’ve never felt pressured in any situation to spend money… I just don’t do it. Shopping for me isn’t spending money, it’s spending time (alone or with someone else) browsing stores and either thinking about life or talking about it. Of course, it helps that most of our friends make about what we do. On the rare occasions that we join other people for dinner or going out somewhere, it’s something that’s comfortable for all of us because our incomes are close. Then again, I’m sure we can make some people feel weird… We spend a lot on our cars,… Read more »

Kristin @ klingtocash
Kristin @ klingtocash
11 years ago

My friend group has actually gotten more frugal. A number of my friends rush to tell me about the good deals they’ve gotten because I am the group appointed Coupon Queen. I think it’s much easier when you surround yourself with people who will help keep you in check. If you want to be rich, do what rich people do: Save your money. That’s the kind of friends I want to have.

Craig
Craig
11 years ago

A lot of times it’s natural to spend more money when with friends. The combine group can convince another that it’s acceptable and you can find yourself spending more than you would like.

Megan
Megan
11 years ago

I totally agree that we need to be up front and not let peer pressure lead us to spend more money than we wanted. But to me the most interesting part of this article is that you love the suit, wear it to this day, and feel great in it. Isn’t it worth it to get stuff that is exactly what you want, that you will use and cherish and take care of, even if it costs more? I think that spending more on a quality item is a wise and frugal move, and though you weren’t used to it,… Read more »

Sarah
Sarah
11 years ago

One good thing about getting older, you figure some of this out. I know which friends I am comfy telling about my great buy at the consignment store and which ones not to. I also know which friend to avoid dinner out with because it means an expensive restuarant that is “the place to eat” but I am uncomfortable in. Funny during this economy I really see a lot. Some friends, we are sharing savings stories and a few others that would die first before making any cut backs. Even though they are hurting financially and it must be exhausting… Read more »

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
11 years ago

I don’t shop as a social activity, so that’s not a problem for me. I *do* play a game called “credit card roulette” with my co-workers, which some of you will probably find insane, but it’s never really been a problem for us. We all (a group of 4-6, usually) go out to lunch every day (I’m in the office three days a week), usually at a place where the bill will come to about $12/each, plus or minus a couple of bucks. Anytime we eat at a place that brings one check for the entire table (as opposed to… Read more »

Carla
Carla
11 years ago

Before going out with friends, I try to get an idea of what they have in mind before we go. I like to check out the restaurant online to get and idea of the price points before hand so that don’t I get sticker shock. Most friends are not very spend happy by nature (regardless of their financial situation) anyway. There was this one time where another couple invited us to spend the weekend with them up in Napa. They chose a hotel that was about $350/night and we politely told them this was beyond what we wanted to spend.… Read more »

Bear
Bear
11 years ago

I have to thank my mother for not having to struggle with this issue at all. She always hammered it home to us that we had two choices, swim downstream with all the other fish and become weak and ineffective or swim upstream against the current and become much stronger! That and the usual, “if they jumped off a bridge would you do that too…” comments (LOL) drilled it in my head that a successful person was someone that had personal confidence and was true to themselves regardless of what the rest of the “stream” was doing. Neal – I… Read more »

Debbie M
Debbie M
11 years ago

I definitely do some things socially that I wouldn’t do on my own, the way some people drink only socially. I see movies out, eat at sit-down restaurants, and go to malls only socially. On the other hand, many of my current favorite things to do are things I tried only because my friends wanted me to. So it works both ways. Ideally you can find friends who provide the sort of peer pressure that actually makes your life better. I like your strategy of describing to your friends better what it is you’re looking for. And it can be… Read more »

E
E
11 years ago

We had a problem once, meeting for dinner for a friend’s b-day. The restaurant chosen was waaaay out of our range but we didn’t realize it until we got there. The friend was a dear one we don’t see often, so we sucked it up; the restaurant was chosen by his clueless wife. It was painful and we were very careful about eating out with that crowd for a while. These days most of our friends are cost-conscious and most fun is had at someone’s house. When we do go out, the worst offender is my husband; he has champagne… Read more »

Becky
Becky
11 years ago

My mother in law says that there is a difference between shopping and buying, and on this I agreee. We can go shopping as a group, but I usually won’t buy until I’m on my own. And there is always a return policy.

I almost feel more pressured to have great meals for people here at home! I love to make new things, my family doesn’t love everything. It is nice to have company over to share it with!

chacha1
chacha1
11 years ago

@Shane #17, hold your ground! And watch out – manipulators can take the low road like you would never imagine. Use condoms RELIGIOUSLY with a girl from a family like that. It appears you have ambition and they want to hitch themselves to your wagon. To the commenter who has friends who insist on going out … when you’re young, it can seem like going out is the only way to have fun. But a lot of fun can be had doing things at home; for example, set up a home cooking project where you all can learn to prepare… Read more »

Gee
Gee
11 years ago

With friends, I don’t really feel pressure to spend more than I can afford. Though I do sometimes go places that I wouldn’t pick. Being a good friend means sometimes being flexible. I’m lucky that my friends are just as happy to find something to do that saves them some money. But my sisters are another story. This year we’ve had several fights about money. They wanted me to give them a large sum of money for a joint present for my parent’s anniversary. I love my parents, but I just couldn’t afford it. Mine and my husband’s pay has… Read more »

Neal Frankle
Neal Frankle
11 years ago

Gee,

I’m with you – as I’m sure everyone else is. Your sister is off base. Just because she doesn’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

Good for you for sticking to your guns. Bravo!

Jennifer
Jennifer
11 years ago

I understand Gee- it is the family in our lives who I feel more pressure from than friends. Maybe because I’m at a point now of feeling comfortable with myself and my decisions and if I start to feel that friend peer pressure I try to reflect a- the person is usually NOT peer pressuring on purpose- they just have different priorities b- how I react to the situation is my choice, and if that means not hanging with that friend again then so be it. However, with family it is much more difficult. A few weeks ago I was… Read more »

realserendipity
realserendipity
11 years ago

@JCOS My group of friends are all in the same boat and we have just moved to going to each other’s houses and doing stuff. In the winter it was Friday night poker with the host covering a dinner for all but it was usually cheap dish that fed a small army. For the summer, we have moved to Saturday afternoon horseshoes that leads into an evening around a firepit and food from the grill.

Shane
Shane
11 years ago

@Gee,

Good job for putting your foot down! Also, I think your parents would be happier knowing your family was financially secure versus receiving a present, especially since y’all took a pay cut. And if you have kids, they should always be your #1 priority!! Just imagine the poor little guys not having anything to eat if an emergency happens! 🙁

Vijay
Vijay
11 years ago

Great article. I have made this mistake back in my college days. Since then, I have decided to be honest with me and everyone around me regarding what I can afford and what I can’t,and make my preferences be known ahead of time.

If people accept me for what I can afford and go along, I accept such friendships. If not, I simply move on. I have a good circle of friends whose value systems vibe with me.

For those others, I still respect and move with them, but don’t go shopping with them.

JAK
JAK
11 years ago

I’ve been in this situation before, but with a slight twist. Although I may not dine out with friends if the budget doesn’t allow, I’ve found myself avoiding hanging out with a certain portion of friends and acquaintances. You see, they are in a better financial place than I and I really feel uncomfortable about not being able to participate in the conversations about travel, being a stay-at-home parent, other luxuries, etc. The aftermath of these encounters leaves me feeling resentful to myself for not being in a “different place” and also feeling resentful to my husband for not providing… Read more »

Adrian
Adrian
11 years ago

I find this to be a VERY relate-able post. There’s so many psychological components of society associated with money beyond it being simply viewed as a materalistic form of trade. Many times self-esteem, impressions, acceptance, social status etc. seem to be unjustafiably tied to the money we spend. Being a frugalist is DEFINETLY not easy; it doesn’t mean individuals must scrimp and save continuously and deny themselves all outings with friends, but I find once the frugal mindset begins, it is your PERCEPTION and ATTITUDE towards money that changes. You tend to value your money so much more than you… Read more »

Kevin@OutOfYourRut
11 years ago

It only hurts to tell people you can’t afford something the first few times. Once you get used to saying it, you’ll do it without even thinking about it. If people are your friends, they’ll work with you, and may even be relieved that SOMEBODY has the guts to take a stand. If they ditch you because you can’t keep up with them financially, they’re weren’t friends. Friendships shouldn’t cause you stress. If you have to spend a certain amount to impress them (and you don’t have it to spend) then you’re putting yourself in a stressful situation. Enough of… Read more »

Aleks
Aleks
11 years ago

I can’t even imagine buying clothes I don’t really want, let alone a car. Are people really that weak-willed? When I bought my car, I already knew what I wanted and what I was willing to spend because I’d been researching it for months. I went by myself but there’s no way it would’ve made any difference if someone else was with me. I went to the lot to look at one specific car, and was either going to buy it or not. I went bed shopping with a friend, probably the biggest purchase I’ve made with another person. We… Read more »

CSmith
CSmith
11 years ago

My fiance and I are house hunting, so having a big goal that others can relate to (“Sorry we can’t make it, we are saving for a down payment”) helps when explaining to friends why we can’t go out with them. If you still want to go out sometimes, one option is to find the best happy hour deal around and be strict about leaving when it is up! The hard part of that is actually leaving when you need to and not ordering the full price drinks later on. Actually, now that we are saving for our house I’m… Read more »

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