Balancing friends and finances

When You Can't Keep Up Financially with An Expensive Friend

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My "Can't Afford" Friend

I have a friend who works full time (I work part time and make half the income that she does) who just doesn't seem to understand that I can't do the things that she does. She is having a holiday from her job soon for two weeks, and when I went to see her a few days ago, she asked me what "we" are doing for her holiday. I have to work and told her so, but she knows that I work mornings and she wants to do things in the afternoon. Everything that she wants to do involves money, which I simply don't have. I have some bills to pay at the moment, and I am trying very hard to keep on top of my bills and pay off the debts that I have. I simply don't have the money to travel around and visit places with her. She won't pay for me and I wouldn't ask her to anyway. She wants me to take her places and go on trips with her, but I simply don't have those resources. She lives with family as do I, but she doesn't pay board nor have a car. My car is acting up too and I need to save money to get it fixed.

How do I explain to her that I simply can't keep up with her social life and let her know that my expenses are more important than running her around without her getting offended? Has anyone had a problem with someone like this? She told me that she doesn't want to sit at home on her holidays and I know that she expects me to run around after her as I have stupidly done in the past. If you or any of your readers have some advice, I would be grateful.

Give Frugal Alternatives

It sounds to me like you need to come up with some alternative activities that don't cost money. Naturally, your friend wants to do things together during her time with you, but so far, the only ideas are hers. Since she is not strapped for cash, she is coming up with ideas that cost money. Why not propose some other activities that don't cost money (or don't cost very much)? For example, you could play board games together or watch movies checked out from your local library. If she "doesn't want to sit at home," how about some day trips to places that don't charge? You might try hiking at a local park, visiting museums that don't charge an admission fee, or going to free local events, such as film series, concerts, street fairs, or poetry readings. Check with your local recreation department to find out what's going on in your area. If you live anywhere near a college campus, this is often a great place to find free events and activities. Also, check out the archived articles here on the Dollar Stretcher site for more ideas for cheap or free entertainment.

Whatever you do, don't use the words, "My expenses are more important than running you around." That makes it sound like she's not important to you and you see her request to go out together as an annoyance. She might get the message that you can't be bothered to spend time with her, rather than that you can't afford the specific kinds of activities she has in mind. If you are honest with your friend about your financial situation, she should be willing to make plans that will fit into your budget.

Have a Heart-to-Heart

It sounds as though Cheryl will just have to sit down with her friend and have a heart-to-heart talk. She might say that she has chosen to take this year to concentrate on her finances, and that while she values her friend and their time together, she will have to bow out of activities that are not of a frugal nature. Then she can ask her friend to help brainstorm some activities that they could do together that they both are comfortable with. If the friend does not respect Cheryl's situation, then Cheryl may very well have to reevaluate how much of a "friend" this person truly is.

It's About the Time (Not the Money) Spent

Friendship is a two-way street and your needs are important too. Maybe you can commit to one activity during her time off that isn't very expensive. Consider making a homemade pizza and watching a DVD from the library, taking a picnic someplace she wants to go, or just meeting for a fancy coffee. I have often been in this situation as I make a lot less money than many of my friends, but we have been friends well over 20 years and they understand. It's the time we spend together, not the money we spend that counts.

Video: Keeping Up with Expensive Friends without Going Broke

Tell the Truth

I would suggest telling your "friend" the truth. If she is your true friend, she shouldn't expect you to ignore your responsibilities in order to go and have fun. Who can have fun when they are worrying about the bill waiting for them when they return? If she doesn't understand, then she isn't your friend. Instead, she is using you to her advantage.

The Ever-Evolving Friendship

Be blunt with tact. Tell your friend that you do not have the income to spend like she can. Let her know that you are more than willing to have her and other friends over to watch movies, play board games, have a BBQ, but cannot afford dinners out and trips. Truth is truth.

Friendships are ever changing and evolving. For this period in your life, you have less and she has more. Be truthful about your finances but be careful to not whine to your friend or judge her for her financial choices. Five years from now, the tables may be turned. It's the relationships that matter in the end, not the money.
Monika in Wisconsin

Creative Fun

I have had this problem in the past. Here are some of the ways I dealt with it:

  • Where I live, the cover is free to many dance clubs before and after certain times. You can call to find the times. If you are the designated driver, most clubs and bars will give you all the free soda that you can handle; it is reasonable for the designated driver to expect some help with gas/parking.
  • Most museums have free days.
  • The public library usually has many free classes. My local library has a series that is taught by chefs from the "it" restaurants in the area.
  • I have a ladies' party. We do hair and make-up and then have a dinner of pasta and a cheap bottle of wine.
  • We also have "The $10 Challenge." Who can come up with the most lavish affair for the two (or more) of you for $10 out of pocket?


Having a Goal

I have several friends and relatives that fit your description, so I understand your dilemma. Also, having two teenagers doesn't help the matter! I think honesty is always the best policy. Coming up with an "excuse" will not help, since the person often will try to help come up with a way to "solve" your problem, so that you can either go with them or buy whatever is in question.

Simply telling the person that you have a financial goal and are trying to cut costs so that you can reach it usually works. The person will usually honor and respect your wishes.

I wouldn't tell the person that it's because you "can't afford" it, because that often makes the other person feel uncomfortable or guilty. Just tell them about a goal of saving for a big item or paying off a specific bill.

I often tell my kids that it's not a matter of being able to afford a lot of things that they want us to do or buy, but it's actually a matter of priorities. I would rather not spend money on certain things, so that we can afford other things. This often helps them to understand about balancing the wants with the basic needs that all people have in life.

Keep It Light

I totally get where you are coming from. I am sort of in the same situation, but I feel I solved my anxiety right up front. I tell my "rich" friends, "Hey, if I could, I would!" They know I am trying to pay off my bills and not to bother asking me to go somewhere that will cost me more than $20. I say it in a cute, funny way but make it clear to them that I would love to be in their company but I am really trying to obtain a financial goal that is very important to me. They all seem to "get it" and it seems I'm actually saving them money. I'm saving them money because they are always looking for inexpensive ways to entertain so I can join! So, confront your friend and take a firm stand. If she's really your friend, she'll get it! However, it might take a few tries.
Stephe in Delaware

Set Limits

You tell her just what you said in your question. You have some debts and priorities that you have to consider and that you can't spend a lot of money on fun right now. Arrange to do something on just one afternoon with her. That way, you have set the limits and can control your expenses. If she is a true friend, she will understand. If she's offended by your explanation, then perhaps she isn't a sympathetic pal. Good luck on achieving your financial goals.

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The Fun in Frugality

I would suggest that Cheryl respond with some creative ideas for cheaper fun. If her friend wants to go to the movies, suggest renting a DVD and buying a two-liter bottle of soda and a package of microwave popcorn. If she suggests lunch, you suggest a picnic in the park with each of you contributing something to the feast. She can buy expensive, pre-made items, while you can bring yummy homemade treats. If she wants to go shopping, head to her favorite high-end store (window-shopping is free), then follow up with a trip to the thrift shop or dollar store. If she's dying to go to the spa, give the beauty college a try, or have a relaxing at-home DIY pampering day.

And some Saturday morning, suggest a yard sale day. Map out your route ahead of time, and bring plenty of small bills and change, a thermos of coffee and some snacks. If your friend is only accustomed to retail shopping, this might be a fun adventure for her if she's open to new experiences.

If she doesn't get the hint, you may have to come right out and tell her that, while you love spending time with her, you simply don't have the budget to do the expensive things she does. If she's a decent person at all, she'll understand and appreciate your honesty.

Be sure you present those low-cost suggestions with a fun, positive attitude, not a "poor me" pout. If she sees that it's not a tragedy to spend less, she might even come around to your way of thinking.

But if she still won't budge from demanding you do things her way after explaining your situation and offering some creative, budget-friendly alternatives, frankly, you might want to reconsider the value of her friendship in your life.

Reviewed April 2017

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