When it comes to friendship, most of us would like to believe we’ve built bonds with our closest buddies based on respect, loyalty and compatibility that run way deeper than something as fluid as finances. But this summer I learned, just like relationships, money and spending styles can make or break friendships. It’s only one of the sad realities behind why your late twenties are often filled with letting go of relationships that you discover are past their prime.
More than money, it’s about lifestyle choices. And I realized how much a friend resented mine when he hit me with a, “Money just seems to fall into your lap.” Harmless, right? Maybe even complimentary, only coming from him I knew that what he was actually doing was discrediting all of my hard work. He was justifying some of his own bad financial decisions by saying somehow God bypassed him and made it rain on me. It was hurtful, but more than that confusing as he had a front row seat to me working 2 internships my senior year, the job rejection pile I couldn’t bring myself to throw away and working 2 jobs for most adult life just to get by. If anyone could attest to the fact that my post-graduate struggle was real, it was him.
I am by no means balling, but luckily by 30 I’ve been able to steadily climb in my career to a point where I can afford to have the basics plus take a decent vacation every year. And it isn’t without a whole lot of work and sacrifice. But with that, I have friends that have definitely caught some bad breaks after undergrad who haven’t made quite as much progress or who just have yet to find that same place of financial stability. As a result there’s often a lack of meeting of the minds when it comes to everything from picking a restaurant to eat at to who’s filling up the tank to drive there.
In the past few years I’ve found myself really altering my behavior to accommodate my friends. What’s the point of a vacation or karaoke night at a sushi bar if you have no one to enjoy it with? When someone is low on funds, I’ll pick up the dinner tab. Can’t afford the flight? Just pay me back. I find myself biting my tongue when I refer to what I think is expensive or inexpensive. And I do all of this trying my best to not appear arrogant or pretentious. In the process when it comes to job leads, saving money, paying down debt and building credit I try to give advice when asked on what’s worked for me because as cheesy as it may sound, I have a dream that one day my friends and family will be able to live the good life together.
As much as we’d like to pretend it doesn’t, money makes a difference. And whether you’re the friend who’s always pulling out their Visa at Olive Garden or the one ordering breadsticks because you don’t want to be a burden, it can create tension between all involved. What I started to notice after I realized my wallet was getting work is that I started to attack my friends’ lifestyle choices. I got tired of always footing the bill for our fun and it became hard to tell if my friends were even trying to contribute anymore. Also, it seemed like the one with the money was making all the decisions so our friendship revolved entirely around what I wanted to do all the time which got pretty boring.
I turned from a person who thought it best to stay out my friends’ pockets to a judgmental financial planner who criticized every purchase they made I considered frivolous. I was someone I didn’t want to be: Dangerously close to being a plaintiff on People’s Court because I was turning from a BFF to a snarky loan shark.
What I learned though is that good people can be bad with money, and no one is immune to a bad break, even myself. Who knows? In a few years I might be in financial ruin and find myself declining a happy hour or two because my wallet decided that gas money was more important than a margarita. The key to money not being so big of a deal is to admit that it does matter. Be honest with your friends about your budget, and if you’ve got a good set they’ll find a way to have fun with what you’re working with. If you are always the one reaching for the bill, do it because you can and want to, not because you think you can’t have fun (or friendship) without it. Don’t harbor resentment or assume being broke is always the result of bad decision making.
Whether you’re balling or riding the bench on Team Brokeback, remember this: You shouldn’t have to front for your friends. It’s like Oprah once said, “Everyone wants to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.” And luckily I have friends that will (and have) walk with me long after the bus stops running. And when you can get past who’s picking up the tab, that’s what makes the difference.
Toya Sharee is a community health educator and parenting education coordinator who has a passion for helping young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health. She also advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about everything from beauty to love and relationships. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee or visit her blog, Bullets and Blessings.