Your idea of a vacation is Portland, theirs is Prague. Your last big purchase was an iPhone, theirs was a Porsche. When they say they’re “diversifying their portfolio,” they aren’t being ironic. They really have a portfolio, while the closest thing you have to an investment is a comic book collection.
Let’s admit it: it’s tough when your friends make more money than you do.
I know this from experience. Most of my close friends are buddies from college, where we bonded over our distaste for Dubliners and a tendency toward procrastination. But many of my fellow humanities majors beat the odds and are now six-figure income earners. Who knew art history is so relevant to corporate liability insurance? Or that a degree in feminist studies made you a better sales analyst? Yeah, me either. If I knew then what I know now, would I still be a writer?
Why, yes I would.
But that doesn’t change the minefield that is a night out with friends who make two (okay, three) times my salary. As they order another round of $14 margaritas or insist on VIP passes to a weekend music festival, an ordinary get-together can do a number on the wallet — and the ego. When you surround yourself with people who have achieved a different level of financial success, it can leave you questioning your own decisions and pursuits in life. Not to mention that insecurities and resentments over money can destroy relationships in record time.
If your friends make more money than you, it doesn’t have to cost you your social life or your savings (if you have any). But you do need a few guidelines and a game plan. These tricks can help keep your budget and friendships intact:
- Speak up and make suggestions. When discussing Friday night plans, suggest places that are within your budget. You might not always get your first pick, but you will communicate the type of establishment you have in mind. If your friends think nothing of dropping $100 on a weekend (non-celebratory) dinner for one, recommend alternatives you know will please the crowd and won’t cost you a week’s paycheck.
- Don’t be afraid to say “no.” The word “no” is very effective when used in moderation. If you’re going through some lean times and your pals suggest an on-the-fly trip to Vegas, or even a Thursday night happy hour, decline if the budget calls for it. If they press you for a reason, be honest about your circumstances. You don’t want to be a shut-in, but practicing quality over quantity can give you peace of mind. And when you say “no” before the budget situation is dire, you have more flexibility to say “yes” when you really want to.
- Accept generosity with grace. This is a tough one, but it’s perhaps the most important thing to accept when your friends are high-rollers. When a pal picks up the check, sometimes you have to swallow your pride and let them do it. They may not have the motivations you expect. Think about it: if you ordered items without consulting the group, you would probably insist on paying for them. They may feel obligated to pay because they feel responsible for most of the bill, not because they feel you can’t afford to pay your share. And, some people simply enjoy treating others.
- Reciprocate — your way. Friendship is about reciprocity. When a successful friend treats you to dinner, you might feel pressured to match them dollar for dollar the next time around. Instead, make a gesture that works for your budget. A great friend will appreciate the thought. Host a dinner at your place. Or, treat them to a meal at your favorite — affordable — restaurant when you are in a position to do so.
- Don’t sweat pennies. Dinner with friends is always fun. That is, until it’s time to split the check. Breaking down the bill can be uncomfortable, to say the least. If separate checks aren’t an option, paying with cash makes it easier to cover your share without publicly calculating what you owe down to the cent. Quickly determine a ballpark figure. If you end up paying a few extra dollars, let it go. It almost always evens out in the end.
- Save money elsewhere. When you have a limited budget, you may not be able to do it all. Cut corners in other areas to give yourself more flexibility in your entertainment budget. Snag coupons and online deals for restaurants and venues in your area. Better yet, scale back on other expenses. Cancel the cable package — you’re never home anyway. Take your lunch to work — you’ll save calories, too. Make your own coffee. Spend your money on things that matter most.
Some might say the only solution to this problem is to find new friends. But good friends are hard to find, and if your pals are fun, supportive, loyal people, they are definitely worth keeping. And, good friends will respect your need to live within your means.