How To Keep Your Friendships Strong When Your Bank Balance Is Weak

I really hate being that friend.

You know – the eternally broke one that forever lets mates down because you can barely scrape enough funds together to buy a drink. It sucks. It’s demoralising and diminishes self-worth beyond words.

A 2017 study by PayPal found that nearly half of our generation have felt strain in their friendships over money. I’m glad it’s not just me.

I’ve always struggled with money, not because I’m bad at saving or that I swan around flash joints like I own them, but because I haven’t carved out a lucrative career. I’ve favoured casual jobs, meaning no steady income. The coveted salary seems to be reserved for the majority of my friends. And herein lies the problem; their financial stability leaves me unable to keep up.

I simply can’t afford the restaurants and activities they pick. Whenever an invitation comes up I feel my body tense in shame and fear. My go-to thought is how to get out of this as quickly and painlessly as I can. And that makes me sad. It also creates a divide between me and them, which translates as me (failure) and them (successful).

I remember one particular friend was planning her birthday at a beautiful restaurant. I knew there was no way I could do it unless I sat there and feigned the “I’m not hungry” stance as my stomach growled with hunger and I angrily berated a lettuce leaf. I had to cancel with another excuse, though I’m not sure how many sick Aunties one person can possibly have. Her boyfriend messaged me to say he would like to pay for me to go as my friend would love me to be there.

Oh the shame. My lies had been uncovered, no one was addressing the problem outright and I was mortified. If I did go I wouldn’t enjoy myself anyway, as I’d be totally aware of my financial position among this group of people – as well as knowing someone else had to fork out for me.

So I didn’t go and another friend got let down.

Because I don’t want to be friendless as well as penniless, I’ve had to come up with some fool proof tips and tricks over the years so I can deal with these stressful situations. With a little help from Life and Business Coach Lauren Bryant and Life Coach Cara Egan, here’s some ways to navigate messy monetary issues with your mates.

Take control

Going out to eat is probably the biggest issue I’ve come across concerning friends and money. It’s a bonding experience to chow down on a burrito while having a chinwag, so how can you still go out to socialise over dinner when you’re broke?

Simple – don’t leave it up to mates suggest times and places; take the initiative (which also shows you’re making effort). By taking charge it alleviates much of that stress and enables you to hide your financial status to a degree.

Suggesting a night out at Maccas might give the game away but generally many mid-priced venues will have cheaper options, and there are heaps of great food joints around that are cheap and cheerful.

Sneak a look at the menu

If a dinner date is sprung upon you, don’t go into meltdown, just get online. Most places have menus online, so you can work it all out beforehand. The last thing you’ll want to force on your mates is resuscitation when faced with a 40 buck salad at a swanky restaurant.

Be the designated driver

Often I’ve resorted to this little hack. It also gives back to those mates who probably help you out when you’re down and out. Business Coach Lauren Bryant agrees.

“If you have serious FOMO but your hip pocket says no to a dozen Espresso Martinis, offering to drive is the perfect solution. You don’t miss out on the night and you get to hang with your mates. Plus, no hangover the next day!” she says.

Relieve anxiety by knowing your money situation

A lot of the time my anxiety over money is because I actually have no clue where I’m at with it. This means when a dinner dates on the table I automatically freeze without really knowing if I can afford that night out or not.

Life Coach Cara Egan has a ‘Money Monday’ where she spends 15 minutes going over her finances and seeing where she’s at. “One of the most beneficial things I’ve implemented was putting aside a small amount of money each week purely for me. It could just be $20 but that’s my guilt free 20 bucks to spend on making me feel good; nails (could do with a friend) or a bottle of wine (can have with a friend).”

Sometimes I feel the world is against me when 3 million birthdays come in the one month. However I remind myself it’s not out of the blue; it happened the year before, funnily enough. Lauren believes budgeting for the milestones in our mate’s lives is a must.

“We all know when our closest mate’s birthdays are and who’s getting hitched when. If you budget in advance for these big events you don’t have to find excuses not to go to parties or buy gifts as you’re prepared.”

Be honest

Being honest around personal struggles with money is never easy. You have the shame factor and the comparison-to-your-friend factor, among others.

Ironically, I’ve learnt that actually being honest when you hit hard times is the only way to lessen these feelings. I try to explain what’s happening for me, how situations can make me feel and ultimately ask for what I need from friends.

They may come back with their needs too of course but at least the discussion starts. It stops the resentment, stops some unease around situations in the future and creates more of a bond with the people I fear I’ll lose because I can’t partake in every activity.

Cara says asking for support like this is really vital.

“Ask your mates for what you need. Reassure them that you want to hang but you just find it difficult to see if they’d be up for other things that don’t cost money,” she says. “There’s heaps of cool stuff to do, especially in the cities and coming into summer; there are markets, festivals, beautiful coastal walks, we’re pretty lucky!”

As Lauren says, your friends are friends because they like you, not your bank balance.

“If you can’t tell mates that you’re struggling with finances right now, why are you friends at all?”

Friends support each other and as long as you aren’t exploiting their generosity, I’ve found it’s also important to let them help when they want to. Paying for you to go to the movies with them also benefits them, so let your guard down and practise the art of acceptance.

Money is just one part of any relationship. Repayment to a mate may just mean you give back in other areas through support, time and care for your friendship.

A published freelance writer from print to online, Katy’s passion is honest authentic writing. From the mundane experience to a sensational observation, Katy always finds a way to voice what she sees. Relatable and quirky, she writes with warmth and familiarity. She also loves lists, matching socks and edamame beans.

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