Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them." However, you should never let your friends convince you to make stupid financial decisions. One of the most difficult things for people on a budget is spending time with someone who has no idea what the word means. We all have a tendency to be influenced by those around us, so the temptation to avoid people who cause us to spend can ruin our relationships faster than your well-meaning girlfriend can talk you into that hundred dollar pair of Nine West® heels.
Here are some practical ideas to help you continue enjoying a relationship with those that put you in a spending dilemma:
Ask for their help. Let them know up front that although you love spending time with them, you are on a budget, and you need their cooperation to make your outings a pleasant experience for both of you. Be sure to make it clear you desire to be thrifty and not cheap, so they should not buy your meal and pay for your movie ticket, nor does any other form of spender pity need to be wasted on you. This is usually offered innocently, as they think this will allow you both to have a good time, but don't be fooled. It's enabling at its worst. Your budget is a choice you're making and just like you wouldn't tell your friend not to buy something, he or she should not encourage you to buy an item if you don't express a desire and the ability to pay for it first.
Avoid comparisons. Everyone's financial situation is completely different, so supporting your spending decisions with the fact that your friend is buying something and they make the same salary as you do is not a logical conclusion. Some people inherit money or property that allows them to have more fun money than you can afford at this point in your budget. Others may seem like they're making ends meet, but you have no idea how much debt they've incurred to keep up with their perceived lifestyle. You can only base your purchases on two simple factors: How much money you have to spend on the item and whether it's a necessity or for fun. The latter should not deter you from the purchase, but be sure it's something you want and not just something you've been talked into.
Watch out for spending by proxy. Sometimes the problem is not that your friends have more money to spend than you do. Instead, it's that they don't, and they want to feel the thrill of an after-purchase rush without having to fork over their own cash. If you sense this is what's happening when your friends are constantly badgering you to buy something you've already stated you don't need or really want, question their motives. Comments as innocent as "That's so cute on you. You should get it" or "You just got a raise. You need to celebrate" can quickly turn a harmless get-together into a buying free-for-all. None of us are immune to having selfish moments like this, not even our dearest friends, so don't let comments that appeal to your sense of self-worth bully you into making a decision you'll regret later.
Ignorance is bliss. The easiest way to still enjoy shopping with your friends is to learn to ignore what they're doing and saying about the merchandise you're looking at. Determine ahead of time, especially if you know you'll be in a mixed crowd of budgeters, what you'll spend or if you plan to buy anything at all and stick to it. It really can be that simple.
Know when to cut and run. There are times in your life when you just can't be around certain people. If spending time with a certain friend consistently causes you to stumble in your finances, it may be time to reevaluate the relationship or at least the situations you place yourself in with them. Just like everything else, there are seasons in your life when it's okay not to pursue a friendship with someone whose lifestyle conflicts with yours.
Allison Martin is a freelance writer and trained financial coach who writes for the popular blog The Budget Maven: Living on Less with Style. The blog provides tips on budgeting, saving, and living within your means while still having fun and being stylish.
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