The Cost of Friendship

Last month I taught my second course in How to Find a New BFF. In Friend Finding 201, we discussed the importance of saying yes. As I explained back then, becoming a “yes girl” (except for the one time I said no) has led me to fortune tellers and birthday parties and sushi dinners galore. Since then, yes has also earned me a spot in an improv class, many more blind friend dates, and some delicious dinner dishes (pork belly!) that I would never have tried alone. Yet all this yessing comes at a cost. Literally. Sushi is not cheap. Neither is pork belly or improv or psychics (in fact, a fortune teller is remarkably expensive, but should you find yourself in need of her services, haggle. You can talk her down).

When I wrote the post, commenter Darlene wrote a thoughtful note in response: “In these times, I can’t possibly be the only who has to decline plans because I can’t afford what’s being suggested—but I feel like I am! … I’ve tried suggesting less expensive or free entertainment instead of whatever’s being proposed, but people usually aren’t interested. They want to go to the fancy bar, the expensive concert, the hot new restaurant, etc. So I often end up sitting at home because I just can’t come up with the cash. It’s a sticky situation because on one hand I don’t know that I want to discuss my finances with potential friends I don’t know well. On the other hand, I don’t want people to think that I don’t want to hang out with them.”

Darlene’s comment inspired a whole chorus of yesses of a different kind. As in “Yes! You’re exactly right! What choice do we have but to say no?”

There’s a great episode of Friends (yes, I know I’ve referenced my favorite show a lot lately, but it’s relevant! I swear!) in which Phoebe, Joey and Rachel are upset because the other three are always planning fancy and expensive outings. Says Joey: “They’re always saying let’s go here, let’s go there. Like we can afford to go here and there!”

The obvious solution is to suggest less expensive options—instead of going to a restaurant, do a potluck or a make-your-own-dinner party (I like to host fajita nights. A few easy ingredients from the grocery store and everyone can make their own); instead of coughing up for a movie, settle into the couch for a TV marathon (TV nights are better anyway since you don’t have to whisper and can drink alcohol); pass on the blockbuster concert tours, instead scope out the free outdoor entertainment that’s abundant this time of year (approach finding the coolest option as you would any great challenge, you’d be surprised what you can do on the cheap)—but as Darlene notes, it’s not always so simple. Sometimes people are determined to try out the new hot spot. And sometimes it’s just uncomfortable to tell people you hardly know that you can’t afford their suggestion.

One commenter suggested going to said fancy dinner, having a small meal or just water, and making clear that it should be a pay-for-what-you-get outing. But I don’t know. I’ve found that pretty awkward too.

These days I’ve decided to save money in other areas, like bringing breakfast and lunch to work so I feel less guilty about eating dinner out. And I try to look at this whole friend search as an investment—more friends now means more money later, right?—but I’m lucky to have that luxury. I don’t have kids to support, I still have my job in this tough economy, and I’ve got a gainfully employed husband who saves us money by eating home every night while I’m out making friends (according to Charles Schwab, my financial fitness is “middle of the road.” I’ll take it). Like I said, I lucked out.

How have you handled this sticky situation? Any tips for saying yes, but keeping it light on the wallet? Is there a graceful way of explaining that while you’d love to hang out, you just can’t afford the latest club/play/concert ticket? Advise below!

Disclaimer: This post is part of the 20SB Blog Carnival: Friends & Money, sponsored by Charles Schwab. Prizes may be awarded to selected posts. The information and opinions expressed in this post do not reflect the views or opinions of Charles Schwab. Details on the event, eligibility, and a complete list of participating bloggers can be found here.


Filed under The Search

16 responses to “The Cost of Friendship

  1. Ris

    I’ve run into this issue before and cope by being extremely frugal in most areas of my life (taking my lunch every single day, cooking at home most nights, using netflix and going to free concerts instead of splurging on those by myself) so that I can spend a little more when it’s a new crowd or new situation. This also keeps me from being too frugal (weird, I know) and encourages me to try new things.

  2. Megan

    Is there a graceful way to say no to spending exorbitant amounts to support a throw-away, materialistic, consumeristic culture? Maybe, but if you want real friends, it’s probably best to start out being honest. If your potential friends would rather spend money than compromise so they can hang out with you, does it matter if your exiting the outing on account of bank accounts was awkward? I know, easier said than done, but you shouldn’t have to be forced to spend money to make friends. I’ve always just said, “You know, I can’t afford that. What about this?” That way, they at least know where I stand and then, it’s THEIR choice whether they want to waste money or hang out with me. But then, that could just be because friendships are about RELATIONSHIPS, not money. And, there is plenty of free stuff to do – as my mom used to say, “if you can’t entertain yourself for free, maybe you’re just not a very interesting person.” (Sorry, this is somewhat of a sore spot, obviously, but I HATE how the poorer among us get discriminated against).

  3. I’ve definitely been in situations where it doesn’t matter if I have the money or not, I don’t want to spend the money on a concert whose musician I do not like, a play I don’t want to see or a restaurant that just isn’t my style. Isn’t the whole point of making new friends, finding things you have in common? That said, whenever I’ve had to turn down plans (for money reasons, other commitments, etc.), I’m always the first to try to make alternate plans. So long as the other person gets the feeling from you that you like them and aren’t just blowing them off, they’ll be sure to include you in the future.

  4. san

    Fortunately, I have not been in this position lately that I had to decline meeting friends because I couldn’t afford the activity that they suggested. However, I don’t think I would have a problem letting somebody know that I don’t want to spend that much money on a certain activity… if they don’t want to compromise (at least, next time they suggest to meet up), then I don’t think the potential friendship is worth it in the first place.

    It’s not about what you do, it’s about the company.

    • Jen Q

      Well said!

      I find myself with rather poor friends lately, and they are the salt of the Earth. I have never been rich, but my husband has a nice job and we have 5 kids, so we budget everything thoughtfully. This means I might have more money then some, but not others. I never ever talk about money to my poorer friends and always do whatever is free or nearly so with them as they like. There can be fabulous food at a pot luck! If I really wanted to do something pricier, and I knew a friend couldn’t afford it, I’d treat them too it if it meant that much to me to do something specific.

      With richer friends, I have had to decline the restaraunt dinners, ticktets to concerts, etc.. at times. If it is always about spending to have fun and If they are put out I can’t financially keep up, then I find they didn’t care as much about my charectar so much as my ability to entertain them or be their audience.

      Having good company is priceless!

  5. Rachel, thanks so much for this post! It couldn’t have come at a better time — since my original comment, my boyfriend (we live together) has been laid off so money’s now even tighter. Oddly, I find it a lot less awkward to say we can’t do something because he’s been laid off! I mean, who doesn’t know someone who’s lost a job through no fault of their own?

    I think that to some extent this is regional, too. A close friend recently moved out of state and she was astonished at how people were content to open their homes to people for low-key, low-cost fun. That just doesn’t happen where I live — at least, not with the people I am meeting.

    Megan, I couldn’t agree with you more. It’s a sore spot with me as well — obviously, since I made the original comment! I enjoy finding free or low-cost things to do but I seem to be failing at finding others who are like me in that respect. I keep plugging away, though — they have to be out there somewhere!

  6. This sounds crazy but my husband and I recently lost a friend over this. We went out to dinner with four friends – it was a fancy French place. My husband and I each got a main course and dessert. We drank water. Everyone else drank wine and had appetizers, a main course and dessert, basically spending about 20 – 30 bucks more a head than we did. At the end when we asked if we could pay by what we ordered instead of splitting it evenly, one of our friends (I’ll call her Maria) became huffy. My husband felt uncomfortable and later emailed our friends explaining why we did what we did. We are frugal, and although we enjoy spending time out at a nice place, we also have to watch our finances. Maria called us cheap and said she can no longer go out to dinner with us! We emailed back, again trying to explain our point of view. That since we don’t drink alcohol we usually end up paying a lot more than other people. She didn’t care. She stuck to her point that we are cheap. Nevermind that we’ve cooked for her, had her stay over, helped her through her divorce and treated her on countless occasions. Okay, I’m done ranting. But yes, this is a serious topic.

    • Ana

      Yes, the split-the-bill is often the sticking point with this issue. I believe everyone in the group should be asked if they are OK with that; if not, divide the bill up by order and that is that. I’m also very anal and the one that usually ends up “dealing with” the bill & the numbers…so I notice if the ordering was unequal & point it out.

      In general, I think the closer friends you become, the more likely you are to do more unconventional and FREE stuff, like watch TV together, go window shopping, or have each other over for a home-cooked meal. Maybe it feels like you need the fancy restaurant or venue to gloss over the awkwardness of the new relationships?

      It is unfortunate that friend-y outings have to revolve around consuming of things, especially food & drink. Besides money, this also gets into the area of healthy living. What if your body just can’t “afford” to go out and eat french fries & have beers once a week? Sure you can suggest a nice healthy walk instead…and get laughed out of town! Unfortunately, when I’m on a healthy kick, I notice I spend more time alone; happy hours cut into my gym time, and boozy dinners out can really ruin my resolve!

      • Ali – That’s horrible! I can’t believe someone would treat a friend like that. I’m so sorry you had to go through that.. Especially when it comes to alcohol–that’s a very expensive split if some people don’t drink.

        Ana – You’re so right! I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my friend search has coincided with some weight gain. And I think the same is true of romantic dating. Definitely something to think about.. And I think you hit the nail on the head: sitting at home watchign TV together is definitely more intimate than a restaurant, so perhaps harder to pull off until you are great friends. I do have one friend who is a workoutaholic, and we go on long walks together and it’s great–for our friendship and my butt.

  7. I love your blog! I just stumbled upon it today from another blog, and I love the concept of tips on making friends. It’s something I didn’t even really think about until I read your blog, but I’m new to my town (2 years here after moving for a job) and haven’t ever had to work to make friends because of going to high school, college, and living in my college town for a year. Once I moved, I didn’t even realize that I would really have to put myself out there to make friends.

    On the topic of being frugal, some suggestions might be trying to find happy hour nights and times when bars are doing drink specials and appetizer specials.

  8. haha, my friends and I have an affectionate name for the kind of person who is always game for any activity: Activity Whore. Really, meant in the kindest possible way. This is my favorite type of person, and is the perfect description of my [now moved away] bff!

  9. I guess I’m lucky in the fact that all of my friends are poor too… none of us are above saying “$2 beer? Done.”

    That said, one of my FAVORITE things to do is go to an improv/stand up show, which usually run about $20. I know Chicago definitely has some venues- you should check it out! 🙂

  10. I have a certain group of friends that tends to do more expensive things – so if they are doing dinner, i will maybe meet them out afterwards for a drink.

    When I am really tightening up the spending belt, I will suggest activities like walks around a local lake. The time together should be about getting caught up, so I love to combine that with a brisk walk outdoors and then maybe some ice cream afterwards.

    It’s tricky though, because you don’t want to come off as cheap. With my close friends, I am pretty blunt about my financial situation and how I am feeling about spending money on dinners, etc. So they understand if I have to pass because I am saving for something, etc.

  11. A great substitute for going to an expensive for us is to actually go to that expensive restaurant, but only have dessert and coffee. It works out well. Dessert is my favorite part anyway!

  12. Eva

    This is so tricky, and it’s really an issue that lasts throughout life: negotiating everything that comes along with friends of differing financial means. I love Meghan’s point about taking advantage of happy hour specials. And what about becoming the expert on up-and-coming hot places in town? Restaurants that are still below the radar but getting great buzz – and thus are still reasonably priced. That’s a great experience in itself.

  13. Pingback: Investing in Happiness « MWF Seeking BFF

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