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Friends with money: What to do if you make more or less money than everyone else

June 18, 2015

By Alissa Green

There’s a movie by the same name that came out the summer after I graduated college. In Friends with Money, Jennifer Aniston plays a woman who ends up having far less money than her best friends. It’s awkward. And it strains their friendships because money’s a difficult subject, even among the closest friends.

After my first year of work, I recall wishing we could all go back to college, where we were all at the same level. But really, even then, it wasn’t true. Some of us had families able to help more than others, which took the form of new laptops and take-out food when the dining hall’s menu got monotonous late in the semester.

So, how can you best handle social gatherings if your income doesn’t mesh with your friends? It’s not actually so hard, since most of us likely have friends who have both more and less than us. But it does take care and, most importantly, consideration.

If you have a friend who was recently laid off:

Recognize that his/her money concerns can be very real, but that he/she may not want to talk about it at all. Also, even if your friend is okay when it comes to money, going out and meeting new people at parties can be tricky, since Americans are so career-oriented. Try to think about the last time you met someone new and how quickly they asked what you did for work. Lucky for me, when I was laid off (six years ago now), I had friends who would find great free events and insist on buying me small items I could be comfortable accepting, like ice cream and the occasional sandwich. When you’re laid off, the last thing you want to do is take your friends’ money. But a home cooked meal or making the effort to find fun, free events? That’s golden. 

If you make more money than your friends: 

Recognize that there are some restaurants, plays and social events that you should do with your significant other or with others who are at the same income level as you. Inviting friends who make a much lower salary to $60+ dinners just makes everyone feel bad. Instead, focus on more reasonable price places, (think $-$$) and watch the number of drinks you order, especially if you and your friends split the check. You shouldn’t feel bad for your success; just acknowledge that you have a different budget before suggesting plans. 

Most likely, you’ll have various groups of friends and different people will naturally be interested in different activities. There are certain friends who love spending their extra cash on nice dinners while others prefer shopping. Some, meanwhile, may choose to always go the cheaper route, no matter their bank account balance. 

If you make less money than your friends:

You, more than anyone, likely realize the true value of money – and all that it can and can’t buy. Things like time, flexibility, passion, etc. Whether you realize it or not, you have an opportunity to remind your friends with money how many awesome activities there are that cost little to nothing – like picnics on the beach, brunch, or a throw-back ’80s movie night. You shouldn’t ever feel guilty about not being able to keep up with your friends’ spending. Because good friends shouldn’t ever make you feel bad. That said, sometimes people forget. It’s not because they don’t care. Instead, it’s because we are all human and we can all become self-absorbed.

Try subtly reminding your friends about your needs. For instance, change the restaurant suggestion if the menu looks too pricey. Or take the lead on giving some options for eats. Also, consider asking the waiter about getting separate checks when you first sit down. That way, you can control your spend.

Friends with money watch outs:

As we get older, we tend to meet more of the same types of people. We meet friends in our neighborhoods and at work . . . friends who live very similarly to us. While these new friendships may feel like the easiest ones to nurture, don’t neglect the friendships you’ve taken with you over the years, before you were an invaluable social worker or high-powered MBA.
 

If you surround yourself with people just like you, the money issue will be less awkward – but you’ll ultimately miss out on different ways to see the world. Friendships in the sandbox functioned fine, even if some kids always had the best toys. The best adult friendships should be the same way, regardless of income or spending habits.