How real people manage real money with real friends
Remember that scene in Friends where they are in a restaurant and have a super awkward money conversation when it comes to paying the bill because the friends with money feel that the ‘let’s split it’ bill strategy is okay?
When that scene was shot the characters were in their late 20s and it was funny and the audience laughed. Because we knew that it would get better and by the time these six friends were proper adults, in their 40s, this kind of scene wouldn’t happen anymore. Everyone, even Joey, would be ordering the lobster and nodding enthusiastically at the suggestion of an equal split.
But sometimes that’s not how it works. And we find ourselves very much in our adulthood still needing to have big and small money conversations with our friends.
We spoke to some people and here are some of the most common tricky-money-situations and how they got through it.
The birthday gift
Birthday presents… Almost a reason to have fewer friends. Amirite?!? The worst is those group gift collection websites where you put in how much you are ‘willing’ to contribute – you just know the person who set it up is silently comparing donations and judging. Definitely judging. But what are the alternatives?
Jenn (39) has gone back to university and is in the final, absolutely-bloody-final stage of finishing her Master’s thesis. The last three years of studying has depleted her finances and she can no longer give bought birthday presents to her wide circle of friends. She gives spells. “I realised that just because I can’t buy a gift, doesn’t mean I can’t give something personal and meaningful. I make collages that express whatever it is that I wish for my friend which can be anything from peace and ease to success and wealth. I love making them and my friends love receiving them. They get stuck on fridges and put into journals and one friend has even plopped it into a frame and put it up in her bedroom.”
Key takeout: You don’t need money to be generous.
The Christmas gift
Christmas – a shopping festival dressed up as a religious holiday and in spite of experience many of us still get lost in a frenzy of last-minute gift buying. Most of which are total trash that won’t last past New Year. So short of faking your own death or becoming a monk and eschewing earthly things, what can be done to make this time of year less financially onerous?
Sarah’s (45) family stopped buying gifts for each other a few years ago and now give things they have made. “There was the Apricot Jam Extravaganza of 2016. Then the Lavender Bath Salt Surprise of 2017. (Too many Epsom salts.) Last year it was all about handmade Christmas decorations. This year I am considering making each family an ancient board game called The Royal Game of Ur, out of plywood and clay. What I like is that it makes me more creative in my thinking, means I am not adding to the mountains of plastic rubbish that gets thrown away by February and it feels more meaningful somehow.”
Key takeout: Budget doesn’t have to mean ‘cheap’. It can mean creative, fun and eco-friendly.
The dinner invitation
How many excuses can you make up to get out of going to expensive restaurants? Working late on a deadline? I have a ‘thing’? No Babysitter? Terrible Rash… might be contagious? Sick cat? Eventually, it’s going to get lame, or outrageous. Turns out, the only way to do this is to use our adult words.
Dave (40) has a network of friends who all earn more than him so he had to have a straight-up conversation with them. “But I didn’t talk about the earning difference, I spoke about my financial goals which are to get out of debt, and save hard. I explained that while I could do some things, I wouldn’t be able to do everything every month. Most were great and still invite me and don’t take it personally when I say No. There are some who have stopped inviting me anywhere or making plans to see me. And I guess that’s okay too. Kind of.”
Key Takeout: Friendship is more than what you spend together.
The great thing about talking about it is that we can let it go. You won’t have to think about what other people are thinking of you, try to remember what excuse you used last time or freak out because this dinner or gift means postponing your dental check-up by yet another month. Talk it out friends! (Even if you don’t’ have a canned laugh track or in-studio audience give you encouragement.)
Money can make it awkward with friends, but it’s not what real friendships are built on. Good, solid relationships are built on respect for one another and money can’t buy that. And it can’t take it away either.