Is Being Rich a Requirement for Maintaining Friendships in 2019?

Photo: Getty Images/Jacoblund
Whenever I stop and wonder why my savings account is so skimpy—as I often do—I need only refer to this recent tweet from comedian Chris Burns (aka @fatcarriebradshaw):

Oh, how true does that sentiment ring. I'm a single freelancer living in one of America's most expensive cities, and I have no six-month emergency fund, healthy retirement plan, or other hallmark of fiscally responsible adulthood to speak of. I often feel like an ambassador for that paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle—especially during months when my social calendar is full.

Brunches, happy hours (and the accompanying round-trip Lyft fares), coffee meet-ups, workout dates—none of these things on their own are particularly bank-breaking, but they can quickly add up to hundreds of dollars over the course of a month. And let's not forget the more crushing costs of being close friends: extravagant bachelorette parties, destination weddings, baby showers, and birthday getaways, to name some heavy hitters. In many cases, this kind of social spending isn't just stretching our budgets. It's actually pushing us into debt. According to Charles Schwab's 2019 Modern Wealth survey, nearly half of millennials say that they spend more than they can afford in order to do things with their friends. So, what gives—do we have to be rich to maintain friendships in today's world?

For me, this is a paradox: I want to experience as much of my city (and the world) as possible while connecting with others because that feels like a huge reason we're even here on this Earth in the first place. I also realize that strong relationships are a requirement for happiness and good health. But I often feel like keeping up with my close friends and our social life comes at the expense of my financial well being.

"Many people want to feel that their friendships are close and exciting. Excessive spending is often used to fill a void that has to do with feeling disconnected or lonely." —friendship expert and therapist Miriam Kirmayer

According to therapist and friendship expert Miriam Kirmayer, there's nothing wrong with spending on friendships in general, if that's what you value and can afford. "The difficulty comes when we feel that we have to spend in order to connect with friends, when we spend beyond our means, or when friends feel pressure to do the same," she says, adding that social media can intensify this pressure. "We're flooded with an overly curated version of reality that leaves many people feeling chronically left out or 'less-than. Many people want to feel—and, perhaps, show—that their friendships are close and exciting. Excessive spending is often used to fill a void that has to do with feeling disconnected or lonely."

Then, there's the fact that opting out of plans for financial reasons is straight-up uncomfortable—so uncomfortable, in fact, that many of us just bite the bullet and pull out the Visa. "Money is so taboo," says finance expert Ashley Feinstein Gerstley, founder of The Fiscal Femme. "We don't really talk about it, even with our close friends. And if they don't know what our financial goals are, they can't help us reach them."

Even if you're totally open about your finances, adds Kirmayer, it's never fun to feel like you're disappointing close friends or missing out on a meaningful experience. "This is especially true when it comes to big life events like birthdays, bachelorette parties, or showers," she says. These experiences also cater to a sense of community that's especially vital to cultivate if you live far away from your family and friends, after moving for school, a job, a relationship, or anything else. And given the societal shift toward valuing Instagram-worthy opportunities—that Charles Schwab survey found that nearly half of millennials are most likely to spend on experiences related to something they saw on social media—when you do have visits with your long-distance pals, shelling out for the best things to do can overshadow simpler (and often free!) pleasures available, like taking a walk or cooking dinner together at home.

Left unchecked, overspending for the sake of socializing with local and faraway friends alike can have some pretty serious implications for your health and your relationships, says Kirmayer. "Financial stress can lead to anxiety, interfere with sleep, and affect immune functioning." In fact, Chicago-area psychiatric center Yellowbrick recently surveyed 2,000 millennials and found that 46 percent experienced burnout related to their finances, while nearly 30 percent attributed their burnout symptoms to credit card debt. Kirmayer adds that hiding financial stress from your friends can make matters even worse. After all, when you're constantly footing a bigger bill than you can afford—and not being upfront about it with your crew—resentment is sure to follow.

Close friends feel expensive to maintain; you can change that
Photo: Getty Images/andresr

So what can we do to nurture our money and our friendships?

Clearly, it's important to consider your finances before sending an affirmative RSVP to just about anything. And if you feel conflicted, the following tips from experts can help you decide what's worth shelling out for—and how to say no to plans without damaging your relationships in the process.

1. Conduct a social audit, and adjust your spending accordingly

When it comes to saying yes or no to a social invite, A Tribe Called Bliss author and mindfulness expert Lori Harder suggests first getting clear on what your values are. "You need to take inventory on who you want to invest relationship capital in," she says. "Ask yourself, In five years, who do I want in my life? Who will be at my baby shower or wedding? This isn't normally fun for people, but it helps you invest your time and money into your most valuable relationships."

The same goes for the plans themselves: Like, how does dropping $40 on two cocktails fit in with your biggest goals and values? If it's not aligned, that's a sign that those weekly happy hours with your work wife aren't the best use of your money.

2. Be open with your pals about your financial situation

"Our friends love us and want what's best for us, so they wouldn't be encouraging us to do things that aren't good for us," Gerstley says. (And if close friends are urging you to spend more money than they know you can afford, you should probably consider spending less time with them, she adds.)

"Share why this is important to you—not just 'I have to save money,' but 'This credit card debt is really bumming me out' or 'I want to go to your bachelorette, so I have to chill on the spending right now.'" Not only will the specifics help to avoid hurt feelings, but you might end up surprised to learn that your friends are secretly feeling the same way.

3. Create a savings account for socializing

Budgeting for your social life is also key, especially where big-ticket experiences are concerned. Gerstley suggests tallying up the estimated cost all of your major plans at the beginning of the year—including travel expenses, special-event clothing you need to buy, and gifts—and transferring a percentage of that amount into savings with each paycheck. That way, you won't feel the sticker shock of having to pay for, say, a $1,000 wedding weekend in one lump sum.

4. Support your friends in ways you can afford

If you do have to decline an invite because it doesn't fit into your budget, Harder recommends doing something to let the honoree know you're still thinking about them—for example, sending flowers to the bride-to-be's hotel if you can't make her wedding in Hawaii, or recording a sweet voice memo for a friend in lieu of spending all your grocery money on her pricey birthday dinner.

"We underrate what our thoughts and words mean to people. We think our presence is so important, but at a big event, the person may not even get to see everyone who's there. —Lori Harder, A Tribe Called Bliss author

"We underrate what our thoughts and words mean to people," she says. "We think our presence is so important, but at a big event, the person may not even get to see everyone who's there."

5. Consider inexpensive or free ways that you can bond with your friends

Doing this requires some effort, but it shows you're still invested in your friendships. Gerstley recommends asking your close friends what they enjoy most about your usual plans, and then finding ways to partake in those elements on the cheap. For instance, if you're all foodies but don't care about being seen at the hottest new restaurant, try a luxe potluck. "Everyone can bring an ingredient to someone's house and it can be a themed night," Gerstley suggests. "Honor what you all value about getting together, and let go of the rest."

As you simplify your social life, you may just find that your friendships improve as a result. "The most beautiful experiences of my life have been sitting in a circle with my friends and having awesome conversation," says Harder. "That's when you actually understand what it means to see people and be seen. In life—and on Instagram—isn't that all we're trying to do?" I'll double-tap to that.

Friendship Imposter Syndrome could be another hidden cause behind your (over)spending habits—here's the scoop. And this is what you should be looking for in a a pal, according to your Myers-Briggs type

Our editors independently select these products. Making a purchase through our links may earn Well+Good a commission.

Loading More Posts...