The Hard Facts: Paying the Price… For Friends

It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.

A new survey from CouponCabin.com revealed that nearly 20 percent of U.S. adults spend an average of $500 or more on gifts for friends in a typical year. In addition, nearly one-third of adults spend more money on their friends than their friends spend on them.” (“How Much Does Friendship Cost?”; LiveScience.com 7/18/2012)

Five hundred dollars in gifts seems a bit extreme, no? Or maybe I’m just a crappy gift giver. I’ve spent that much on weddings over the course of a year for sure (collectively, not on an individual wedding gift, obvs), but just regular birthday or thinking-of-you gifts? No. Does that mean I’m one of those people whose friends are spending more money on her than she in on them? Ugh. Another thing to worry about.

Oh, wait. Weddings count. Phew. Because they seem to be my largest financial investment lately. Finds CouponCabin: “Weddings are one area in particular that can cost friends a fortune, according to the study. Sixteen percent of those surveyed anticipate spending more than $100 for friends’ weddings this year, on purchases like gifts, travel, parties and new clothing, with 7 percent shelling out more than $500.”

And there’s more: “More than one in five has felt pressured to keep up with friends on how much they spend on dining out, fashion and homes, while 20 percent have had a ‘friend breakup’ over a money dispute.”

This is the worst. But I believe it. Keeping up friendships is costly– dinners out, mani-pedis, movies. These things aren’t free. Now add in this “keeping up with the Joneses” type of pressure.  The idea that one might feel they need to measure up to friends regarding what they spend on their home? That’s crazytown. No wonder it has led to breakups. Who can handle that kind of pressure?

There’s a silver lining people. “Rather than money, the study found that the most important part of friendship is quality time spent together. Thirty-five percent said they spend more than 15 hours a month with friends, with just 7 percent not spending any time with them.” Time trumps cash! A free walk along the lakefront is just as valuable as a pricey dinner at the latest five-star restaurant. Remember that the next time you feel the need to buy a Michael Kors purse on a girl shopping outing just to keep up.

What do you think? Does that $500 number seem high, or accurate? Ever ended up friendship over financial differences?

14 Comments

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14 responses to “The Hard Facts: Paying the Price… For Friends

  1. As someone who loves gift-giving, $500 seems high. And yet, if I added up all the receipts from friend’s showers (sometimes three showers per friend), weddings, baby gifts, birthdays, thinking-of-you, get-well, Christmas, and housewarming gifts…I could possibly be close to $500. Scary.
    What’s scarier is that people expect it. The gifts, the cards, the Pinterest-perfect packaging, the multiple bridal showers, the travel to their wedding (transportation, lodging, attire)…it just never ends.
    Semi comforting to know that quality time is what matters most, just hard to feel that that’s true in the midst of ten pages of a friend’s wedding or baby registry…!

  2. Money is a touchy subject; I’ve seen how it can make or break friendships and it ain’t pretty.

    If you’re having to “keep up” with your friends, then that’s telling you something about the people around you. Maybe it’s time to make a change…and that’s something that will add up in your favor.

    $500 does seem high, but then again, if you look at various events in a given year (birthdays, holidays, etc)…it can definitely become expensive. However, I know people who make gifts or put thought into a gift, rather than buy something just for the name, so there are ways to save.

    That’s my two cents ;-)

  3. LucilleSpann

    What about people who aren’t friends but you still have to buy gifts for? I feel like every other week someone is going around the office collecting money for so-and-so’s birthday. Now THAT’S draining, grrrrr!

    • I’m not a fan of office group gifts – baby or wedding shower gifts. I’ve heard that some offices ban this. I wish mine was one of those. If I want to buy someone a gift, I will… a personalize gift – probably something homemade. Not a silly visa card gift that no one thought ahead of enough to put any thought into and felt like $5 into a pot was a “good gift.”

  4. Fortunately, right now $500 is more than I spend on friends. With time, we have all cut back on the number of birthday gifts we give. I exchange gifts with just a few friends and probably spend about $250/year for all. But, still the pressures you mention do exist–dinners out, etc. It can get crazy. One group of friends has organized weekend get-aways to Canyon Ranch or a tennis camp. I declined to go due to money and also family needs.
    But, to tie this topic in with your July 6 post, I do resebt having to buy gifts for the “friends” I do not like. There are often group gifts for an especially big birthday or other celebration. Since it is assumed that I do like this friend, I am included on the gift and feel completely awkward not participating. So, I must add a total of approx. $100/year that I so wish I did not have to spend on “friends.” Is this expense necessary? Is it my fault since I’ve kept them as friends? Is it better to decline the group gift and purchase a less expensive one (I rationalize that I’ll save only about $10 and risk being cast aside)?

  5. I don’t give gifts except for weddings, because I just want my friend to know from the start that we’re not going to play the gift game and always be wondering if we should give a gift and what kind. The only gift I give (and love getting!) is time. Walks are always good. I like sitting on the porch talking, too. I definitely don’t want or need the hassle and stress of gift shopping (especially on vacation!). Plus, I don’t need any extra stuff lying around the house.

  6. I do have a friend-only one, luckily-who thinks you have to be extravagant and spend a lot of money to have fun. This has definitely affected our friendship. It can be very alienating for friends who can’t afford the extravagance.

  7. I tend to go overboard on gift giving, but family is the focus of 90 pct of my gift giving, and I always find ways to justifiy my gift giving.

  8. Juliette

    After having a close friend, who’s income was much higher…and the awkward feelings that it created at times…example; we would go Christmas shopping together, and she spends 1000$ per a child, we spend 350$ per a child…unfortunately this brought out feelings in me, I didn’t like..such as it seemed like she would say things to make me not ‘feel bad’ about being on a budget..BUT I didn’t feel bad in the first place, so I felt like I had to defend myself..I think the lifestyle differences that come with different incomes, do have an impact on extremely close friendships….so the point of my comment is I am hestitant now to make close friendships with a person who makes tremendously more money…

  9. I suppose the amount of the gift depends on how much the person can afford. To me, it’s WAY too much. But then again, I only make less than a grand a month due to disability. The most I’ve ever made gross is $24,000 so $500 still sounds a lot.

    If I take in all the times I have been a bridesmaid (too many times), I have spent over $500.00. I have never lost a friend due to financial reasons.

    I have a friend I go eat chinese with every once in awhile. We go because I’m his only friend that enjoys it. We always pay every other time. I don’t think we even talked about it to set it up that way. But 10 years later, we still take turns paying for the whole meal.

  10. tunie

    I love giving really spot on gifts, esp. when they aren’t necessarily expensive. The downside is having to spend time gauging whether I want to risk ‘pressuring’ my friend out with a really perfect gift. Sometimes a really great gift just lines itself up for them – and when they feel all tormented by imaginary pressures to reciprocate in kind, before they’ve even allowed themselves the pleasure of receiving it, it kind of ruins it. I realize that this is a kind of fashionable societal neurosis, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t time for us to all become more aware of how hideous it is.

    Because it’s disheartening to see people sort of wilt when they receive a really good gift that was meant to make them happy and instead it instantly overwhelms them with their own preconceived notions of impending reciprocation – which I do not really have expectations of, within reason. It’s made me curb back, in order to avoid causing them stress.

    People who can not receive good gifts – well, it’s hard to become really good friends with them because it makes me feel like they consider the connection a burden. And that sucks the life right out of it. I want to friends who allow me to celebrate them and our connection. And who are willing and able to reciprocate – because everyone always has the perfect thing to give. It’s not necessarily about ‘buying’ something.

  11. On the flip side, I have a wealthy g.friend who can and has showered me with gifts in the four digits, which is v. nice I admit, and I did feel pressure early on to give her something equally pleasing and at first had no idea how to do that. I decided to be true to who I am, drop my worries and work on accepting and trust. The gifts I make to her are very small in comparison, so I trust that heartfelt really is enough. Because it should be in a best friend type relationship, which ours is. It’s been awkward at times, but we both want the friendship more. Isn’t that great? So even though her gifts often cost hundreds of dollars, they are also heartfelt and considered and I appreciate the thought behind them very much. And I know she accepts my gifts in the same spirit. That’s what I’ve got to work with for the moment so it has to be enough and she fully understands that. It’s humbling.

  12. I know of a couple of girlfriends whose friendships have ended because there was issues with how much it cost to be their friends bridesmaide – one of them was expected to pay more than a thousand dollars – and she just couldnt afford it. We tried the no gifting thing (ironically just before my birthday ;-) now we have a no obligation policy – if you receive a gift, its cause they really wanted to get it, but you dont have to be obliged to get something in return – it works!

  13. True friends are priceless :)

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