When Your Friends Make More Money Than You Do

female friends chatting over coffee in cafe.

Betsie Van Der Meer/Getty Images 

It’s been well documented that income inequality can affect romantic relationships, but the same can be true of friendships. According to a 2017 PayPal survey, 41% of survey respondents stated that owing money to a friend has affected their friendship.

Maybe you’ve experienced this tension yourself if you and your friends are in different career or life stages. While you might not talk money on a regular basis, nothing highlights those differences more than deciding where to have dinner, or being invited to a destination wedding.

Unaddressed, this pressure can lead to making decisions that you’ll later regret, like racking up a huge amount of credit card debt. Or it can cause resentment in your relationships if you feel that your group of friends is insensitive to your situation.

But both can be avoided with a little work and creativity on your part. Here’s how to navigate your relationships when your friends make more money than you do.

Be Upfront

Honesty is the best policy here. You don’t have to divulge the gory details of your financial situation, but simply being open about your need to watch your spending will relieve some of the pressure you’re feeling.

This might mean saying “no,” to specific events you cannot afford, like the expensive dinner or that destination wedding. Just be upfront about the reason why. Speaking up could also have a surprising result—you may not be the only one in your group of friends that are feeling the financial stress. You might hear a chorus of “Me too”s once you say something.

Become the “Free” and “Cheap” Expert in Your Group

From outdoor concerts and plays to free museum admission, to activities like kayaking and paddleboarding, every town or city has free events and things to do. Do some homework, and discover what is available near you. Take a look at Patch.com for your area, check your local paper for a calendar of events, or do a quick search online, and you’ll find several options.

Even if you can’t have fun for free, there are also likely to be low-cost options available to you. For example, discover which bars have the best happy hour specials, which restaurants are BYOB, and when your movie theater has a $5 day.

Float these low- and no-cost ideas to your friend group. Once again, you might be surprised to find an enthusiastic response from your secretly cash-strapped friends.  

Take Advantage of Money-Saving Apps and Websites

Stretch what you spend on going out by taking advantage of coupon and cash-back apps like RetailMeNot, Fetch Rewards, and Ibotta. Search Groupon and LivingSocial to score deals on dining out, activities, and even trips. 

Brainstorm Things You Can Do on a Night In

A night in can be just as much fun as a night out but without the expense. And there are many things you can do beyond game night. Figure out what appeals to you and your friends, to come up with some creative ways to have fun at home.

Here Are a Few Ideas for a Night (or Day) In:

  • Take turns hosting a monthly dinner, weekend brunch, or potluck
  • Have a themed film festival
  • Host Poker Night
  • Have an Iron Chef or baking competition
  • Host a wine-and-cheese event

Plan When to Splurge

Decide that every once in a while you will splurge on dinner, an event, or even a trip. The key is to plan ahead and save up the money. Doing this gives you something special to look forward to, and since it’s a planned expense, you won’t have to worry about feeling guilty for splurging.

Money doesn’t have to cause a divide in your relationships, so don’t let it. Keep these tips in mind so that when you do need to say “No” to an invitation that falls outside of your budget, you can offer up some alternatives.

Your friendships are here to stay, so make sure they survive the ups and downs of your bank account.

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