Money and friendship are like a volatile chemical compound. When things are balanced, everything is cool. If not – look out. The resulting reaction can blow up the friendship and/or damage someone’s finances.
It can be difficult to hang with friends whose financial circumstances are significantly different from your own. If you are the “poor friend” it’s easy to feel left out and resentful when the rest of the gang heads to the hot new restaurant or ski resort while you’re stuck at home digging change out of the sofa to do laundry. Those feelings can tempt you to overspend and take on debt to keep up with your stacked buds.
Being the “rich friend” is tough, too. If you have more resources than your crew you may feel pressure to pick up the entire check, help a struggling friend, or skip an activity you really enjoy because your pals can’t afford it. And you may start to wonder, in the face of passive-aggressive comments and constant taking, whether these really are friends.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. True friendship transcends all sorts of differences and obstacles – race, culture, distance, age. It can survive income disparity as well.
Here are some tips for preventing the most common money-related problems.
Be authentic. Be honest and upfront with yourself and your friends about your financial situation, objectives, and strategy. You don’t have to bust out pay stubs and a spreadsheet, just be honest about this one facet of your identity. If money is tight, or you are currently saving for a long-term goal, say so. True friends will accept and admire your honesty and self-discipline. Pretending you can run with the bigger dogs is a dead-end strategy that will fail as soon as your cash and credit run out.
Conversely, if you’re doing well, don’t deny it. Again, no need to hand out copies of your bank statements, just quietly acknowledge your blessings if and when the topic of money comes up. Speaking of which…
Don’t talk about money. When Madonna released her very graphic book, Sex, the megastar was more than happy to chat with reporters about the intimate details of her, ahem, romantic life. But she always refused to talk about her money. While critics mocked Madonna for that, she understood something important: It does no good to talk to other people about your financial situation.
Remember that in your relationships. There’s just no need to discuss money or gossip about who makes how much. Look, if Jake is a social worker and Katie is a cardiologist, the gang knows everything they need to about their respective circumstances.
Be respectful. If a friend can’t afford to join you for a golf weekend at the site of last year’s U.S. Open, be understanding. No teasing or mocking. Decide what’s most important to you -- golfing with your buddy or playing that particular course. Maybe play an in-town public course with him, and head to your dream course with another friend next month.
If you have successful friends, chain-up that green-eyed monster. Totally uncool to walk through her place commenting on what things must have cost. And no “Bill Gates” nicknames or referring to her as “my rich friend Amanda.”
Don’t feel obligated or entitled. Think very carefully about lending money to a struggling friend. That often ends badly – both financially and emotionally. Even offering to help can hurt the relationship by making your friend feel lame and dependent. Speak up when you think people are taking advantage of you. Leave that check right there in the middle of the table and say, “I’m not getting this one.”
Never assume wealthier buddies can or should pick up the check – literally or figuratively – just because they have more resources than you. They are friends, not sugar daddies.
Be upfront. A great deal of discomfort and awkwardness can be avoided by speaking up early. If you can’t afford to go clubbing this weekend, suggest other less-expensive activities for the gang. As soon as you get to that expensive restaurant, request separate checks, so you have total control over your expenditure.
Be realistic. If money regularly comes between you and better-off friends, you may need to reconsider the viability of hanging out with that old gang. After all, as Broadway producer Elizabeth Marbury noted, ““The richer your friends are, the more they will cost you.”