How money issues can affect a friendship – and what to do about it
- Ever been tempted to move in with a friend, but their idea of ‘affordable’ rent is very different to yours?
- Ever been unable to join them at a fancy restaurant because you’d only be able to afford half a starter?
- Money can impact friendships in all sorts of ways – here’s what to do about it
How can money affect friendship?
You might think that how much money you have would never impact your friendships. True friends would understand that material circumstances can fluctuate and the number in your bank account doesn’t change who you are, right? And besides, isn’t it good to mingle with people from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds?
That much is true – but money can affect friendships in lots of implicit ways you might not have noticed. Have you ever spoken to a friend about moving into a flat together, but soon realised that their idea of affordable rent was a lot higher than yours? Ever been unable to go to an event that they wanted to go to because you’d already spent your weekly budget? Have you ever felt conscious of the fact they’ve got a new outfit every weekend, while you’re stuck wearing the same three tops on rotation? Evidently, money can have an impact on friendships – even if you’ve never explicitly argued about it before.
In a lot of instances, you’d don’t need to worry if you’ve never really felt affected by the wealth gap between you and your friend. As long as you’re both happy, it doesn’t really matter if you’re on minimum wage and they’re pulling in six figures. But if you’re getting niggling thoughts about the financial disparity between you, read on.
Why it’s important to talk about money with your friends
“Talking about money is part of showing vulnerability to your friends,” Relate counsellor Simone Bose tells Refinery29. “You have to challenge yourself to be vulnerable if you want a deeper friendship.”
She continues: “If you’ve got a friendship where you’re never vulnerable with the other person then you should think about what’s going on there and what type of friendship that is. Money is an emotional issue; you should be able to talk to friends about it and for them to hear you out. Taking that risk might actually strengthen the friendship.”
It’s important not to get emotional or jump to conclusions when you do broach the subject. “Try not to make assumptions about how much your friends have, just because of how much they earn,” says Bose. “You don’t always know how things like debt, other priorities, dependencies may affect them. Second, try to talk about your own experience, rather than what you assume is theirs. Don’t blame the other for their situation, whether that is earning more or less than you.”
If you have a frank and honest conversation, hopefully you and your friend can both get a better understanding of each other’s circumstances and move forward with more empathy towards each other.
What to do if you’re the poorer friend
Perhaps you’re dealing with a specific instance where money issues are disrupting your plans. Speaking to The Cut, Erin Lowry, author of Broke Millennial: Stop Scraping by and Get Your Financial Life Together, recommends being forthright and telling your friend something like “I want to spend time with you, but [insert costly activity] is out of my budget right now, so instead could we just grab bagels and go for a walk in the park?” Suggesting an alternative to your friend’s plans leaves them little room for complaint and demonstrates that you are still keen to see them.
Therapist Nicolle Osequeda, a therapist who specialises in financial issues, agrees: “If I am on a limited budget and my friend continually asks me to do Soul Cycle and an expensive brunch every Sunday, I may say no to avoid a conversation about not being able to afford it,” she says. “But my friend may take this as a sign that I don’t want to spend time with them. A better way to approach this is offering honesty.”
Bose suggests steering clear of accusations like “You always want to go to fancy places” and proposes that you centre your own feelings instead and say something like “I’m feeling anxious about money and can’t afford to go to that place at the moment.”
What to do if you’re the richer friend
It is normal to get frustrated if you’re wanting to do stuff with a friend who can’t afford it. Your vexation is probably borne from love, too: it’s likely the case that you’re getting upset because you genuinely want your friend to be there with you and are annoyed that they can’t be.
While it’s OK to be frustrated, it’s important that you don’t misdirect your anger. Get angry at the situation by all means – but remind yourself it’s not your friend’s fault that they’re unable to do everything you want to do. “You should never begrudge your friends for opting out of an expensive outing,” Lowry says.
If you come from a privileged background, try and remind yourself of all the ways in which your financial circumstance has been made a little easier. Have your parents always been there to bail you out? Do they pay for any – or all – of your living expenses, such as your bills or rent? Did connections or schooling make it easier for you to get a well-paying job? If your friend hasn’t been afforded the same opportunities as you, try and put yourself in their shoes before getting angry at them for not having as much money as you.
Bose also recommends talking about your own feelings rather than lashing out: so instead of saying something like “You use money as an excuse to get out of things,” consider saying “I feel sad that we don’t see each other as much as we used to.” It may be annoying to have to miss out on certain events you want to go to, but try and suggest things that you can both afford or let your friend suggest things they’d be happy doing.