Money is a weird thing. Everyone is born with a different understanding of it, and therefore, different relationships surrounding money form. For some, it’s a source of constant stress. For others, it enables them to support every single want, desire, and need they have. For myself, I felt pressure to spend more than I had in order to maintain my friendships — when in reality, I had to end my toxic relationship with money.
The summer before my sophomore year of college, my parents were finally honest with me about the secret stresses they had been harboring about my relationship with money. They worried that I had a misguided view of how to use it and that it would one day affect my ability to support myself. The conversation began with the acknowledgment that while I had spent my entire life in private schools, surrounded by vast wealth and luxury, that I was not like my peers. My parents would not and could not support me once I completed my undergraduate education. Long story short: if I wanted to live life in New York City and pursue my dreams, it had to be on my own dime. This conversation eradicated the false notion that there would always be someone else to help me if the financial stressors of my life became too much. My financial safety net was long gone.
I am thankful that my parents had this conversation with me because it instilled in me to have a fierce need for financial independence and security, which created a ripple effect in other aspects of my life. My social life, for instance, was deeply impacted by my new relationship with money. I could no longer live the fast life and spend every weekend trying to emulate other peoples’ lives. Peer pressure, social media, and the nasty habit of comparison initially deepened my insecurity surrounding my finances, and there were many times when I wanted to ask my parents to just “help me out,” or pay for that spring break trip that everyone else was going to. To help transform my relationship with money, I created my “Five Cardinal Rules of Spending and Socializing.” These rules help me stay accountable to my budget while still letting my friendships and social life thrive. Keep in mind, while these rules work for me and my financial situation, everyone is different.
Don’t Let FOMO Indebt You
I’ve got an unfortunate bad habit of letting FOMO cloud my financial judgment. I’ve said yes to grabbing dinner when I knew I had leftovers waiting for me at home (oops). Only you know your budget and it’s going to be up to you to stick to it, and that means exercising some self-control. I tend to keep it conservative during the week by cooking at home and limiting post-work drinks to once a week, so I can go allllllll out during the weekend.
Sometimes, it sucks to not be able to do everything you want. Unfortunately, that’s life. Having limits on what you can and cannot do financially helps you assess what is truly important to you. What do you enjoy spending your money on? Once you’ve taken care of your needs (i.e. rent, bills, subway fare, more bills) what’s left over? Whether you love concerts, shopping, or endless happy hours and brunches, it’s important that you factor that thing into your budget. Remember how crucial it is to spend your money on what makes YOU happy, and not what everyone else chooses to invest in. Sticking to a budget is tough, and there will be moments when you’re tempted to overspend when it comes to socializing. I find it helpful to keep in mind that saying “no” every once in a while will not ruin a friendship, or be the end of my social life.
Not every plan you make with your friends needs to be over dinner and drinks at your local happy hour spot. While it’s an easy go-to for making plans, those after-work dinners and Sunday brunches will start to kill your bank account if you’re lean on the green. I’ve learned that people who truly want to spend time with you will be open to doing so regardless of if you can participate in every single social outing. If it’s a “no” to Sunday brunch, but a “yes” to free yoga in the park, then that’s okay.
If you’re trying to implement some cost-friendly activities into your lifestyle I recommend doing a quick Google search for any free events happening in your town/city. I’m also a big fan of picnics and home-cooked meals. A meal in NYC can average around $20+ per person, plus tip and tax. When you make an effort to grocery shop and split the cost of a home-cooked meal, this can cut the cost in half and allow you to save that money for other important things.
Don’t Let Shame Keep You From Being 100 Percent Honest
The worst thing I did when I struggled to implement these new rules was being dishonest about my reasons for saying no to certain plans. Or worse, saying yes at first and then backing out last minute. No one likes a flakey friend, and you shouldn’t let money insecurities impact your integrity. Be upfront and clear about the reasons why you’re saying no. There is ZERO shame in saying “I prefer not to spend money on X” or “I’m saving money at the moment.” If this person is truly an understanding friend, they won’t pass judgment on your choices. Better yet, you’ll find an alternative plan that works for the both of you. However, if they give you shit—drop ’em.
Everybody’s Got a Different Money Story
You’re going to have friends in different financial situations — there’s no way around that. As you progress into adulthood, people’s financial situations will change and fluctuate in ways they may not expect. Not everyone is going to understand your point of view, your relationship/history with money, or have the same financial goals in mind.
Understanding the parameters of your friendship, what you can share, and what may be best left off the table is crucial. If you have a friend that can relate, look to them for support and accountability when budgeting. But if you’re trying to limit how much you’re spending on clothes this month, don’t look for advice from that friend who can afford to shop weekly. Being mindful and aware of this, doing so will allow your friendships to flourish without having to deal with any potential judgments.
Stop Comparing Yourself
I’m still learning how to master the art of non-comparison, so take this last piece of advice with a grain of salt. It served me no good to compare myself (or my family) to others. I spent many summers in high school feeling angsty that my family could not afford pricey European getaways like all my friends and letting it affect my self-esteem. Not only was this incredibly unfair to my hard-working parents, it stirred up a nasty jealousy that got in the way of what could have been great friendships. So, just don’t do it. Don’t let any jealousy or insecurity surrounding your friends’ finances prevent you from recognizing your own self-worth, as well as the quality of the friendship you could have.
While these rules work for me, they will not work for everyone. Find what works best for you, your lifestyle and your relationships. Allowing honesty, accountability, and a “no-shame” attitude to be the foundation of your relationship with money is key.
Feature image via Vanessa Granda