What’s Keeping You Poor This Month? Your Friends
“One of the most beautiful qualities of true friendship is to understand and to be understood.” — Lucius Annaeus Seneca (62 AD)
Our Favorite F Words Part 3: Friends & Finance
Over the past few weeks we’ve been exploring our favorite F word, Finance, and how it relates to the other important F’s in our lives: If you missed our previous posts on Food, Family, or Fine Tastes start there. This week’s post is on our Friends.
My husband and I went to see a good friend perform in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s rendition of The Tempest. We invited several other couples to join us but one of them politely declined, saying that the tickets were out of their price range. This was an Aha! moment for my husband, who asked, “Why don’t we ever say that when we decline invitations? What a great answer!”
Generally, when I get invitations to spend money on social activities I’d rather skip, I make up all kinds of half-truth excuses, generally involving being too tired (sorry, friends!). I should simply answer, “I don’t want to spend the money.” It’s not only a truthful answer, it’s elegant in so many ways. First, it explains that you’re declining the activity, not the friend who invited you. Second, it signals to your friend what kinds of activities to share with you in the future (frugal ones).
It can feel taboo to say that we don’t want to spend money because we have to keep up appearances, so we try to save face by making up excuses that bite us in the ass later, or we reluctantly tag along and suffer the financial hangover. Mutual understanding of the differences between ourselves and our friends benefits both parties. So let’s talk about how to identify the spending traps that come with friends, why it’s important to acknowledge them openly, and how to build friendships that nurture rather than drain us.
The first step to living in line with your values is to think of activities you really enjoy and to reflect on which of your friends share your interests and values. Some friends may come to mind who are harder to please. They’re great people, but they enjoy activities that you frankly don’t.
For instance, I’m really not a city person. While nearby Washington, DC has a plethora of activities, I’ve found that I can have just as much fun nearby without a 45 minute drive or hour-long metro ride. I have friends who often invite me into the District, and instead of manning up and telling them that I reserve trips to DC for special occasions, I find myself saying “maybe next time.” Of course, “next time” I say the same thing and I feel guilty again for not speaking my mind.
Learn from my mistakes: stop spending money and time in ways that don’t make you happy. The road to happiness requires us to make deliberate decisions and to accept that every choice brings trade-offs and opportunity costs. So how do we make ourselves happier today and tomorrow if we have to disappoint our friends sometimes?
Today, learn to say “no,” and to gracefully accept the same answer from your friends. “No” is a friend in itself. Saying no to the good invitations gives you more time to accept the great ones. Underpromise and overdeliver. Resolve to never again break a promise — by making very few promises at all, and maybe offering a couple last minute surprise yeses along the way. One couple I know almost always declines social invitations — which makes me want to see them more and makes those few appearances feel so special.
When thinking to the future, resolve to find out more about exactly how you enjoy spending your time and who you enjoy spending time with. This past year I went out to a fancy-ish meal with some friends and kicked myself for spending too much money. Then I spent approximately the same amount with the same friends going to a screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey where the National Symphony Orchestra played the soundtrack, and I had a wonderful time. Same money, same friends, totally different activities. That’s how I learned more about what I value. Spending less isn’t always the answer, spending wisely (in both time and money) usually is.
After high school or college, finding long lasting friendship can be incredibly difficult, especially if you move around often or don’t relate with your coworkers. The friends you can be most honest with and connect the deepest with will be the ones who stay friends for life.
Now that it’s clear why you should purposefully manage your time with friends, we can confront the difficult issue of how to coexist with our spendy friends. Let’s end this post with a quick practical how-to list for managing your time, feeling good about your social spending, and building strong relationships.
First off, take initiative! You should be the one suggesting activities to your friends and asking for honest responses. That way you control the social agenda and can gauge whether your friends want to share in the same activities. A game day grill-out, a board game night, and a restaurant reservation will draw different crowds.
Next, be honest with your friends. It’s always a pain when you have to consistently decline certain kinds of invitations, so by making your intentions known, you will gain a reputation for being the person to go to for some things but not others, freeing up your time.
Finally, be honest with yourself. Nobody can make you spend your money or your time in a way that you don’t want to. The real title of this post should have been “What’s Keeping You Poor This Month? You” because at the end of the day, it’s your decision. At this point you’ve probably accurately identified a few activities that you could do without. Now it’s time to make the call and decide if you’ll let your friends know that, or if you’ll continue letting them think otherwise.
So now that we’ve shown how to spot our spendy friends, and some good ways to take control of our money and time, I’m going to go enjoy the rest of the weekend, doing the activities I want with the people I love. What will you do this week to save money and build stronger friendships?
Nathan is the CEO of Monte Largo Financial Advisors LLC.