The Expensive Friend Trap and How to Avoid It

by Dana George | Updated July 17, 2021 - First published on Jan. 31, 2020

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What do you do when your friends have more money than you? Here are a few ideas for having fun while maintaining your relationships.

What do you do when your friends have more money than you? Here are a few ideas for having fun while maintaining your relationships.  

If you're lucky, you will pick up new friends at every stage of life. Some will have less money than you, while others will appear to have money to burn. If you've ever found yourself agreeing to go to a restaurant you can't afford or take a vacation you didn't budget for, you may be caught in the expensive friend trap. And no matter how old you are, it can be embarrassing to admit that you don't have the funds to keep up with your friends. 

Here, we visit the issue of the expensive friend trap and a few of the ways you can extricate yourself while maintaining your friendships. 

Create a budget

If you haven't already, create a monthly budget that includes your income and financial obligations. There are a lot of great reasons for keeping a budget, including that it can keep you on a straight and narrow financial path. One of the unheralded benefits of a monthly budget is that it serves as a reminder that you -- and you alone -- are responsible for your finances. No one is going to swoop in and pay your bills, including your friends. And because no one else is responsible for paying your bills or planning for your future, no one else gets a vote on how you spend your money. 

Have a conversation

If you have a fear of missing out (FOMO), you're not alone. Humans are social animals and we want to experience new things with the people we care about. That may be a problem when friends can afford a spur-of-the-moment trip to Puerto Rico and you can't. Maybe you earn less money, or maybe you're more responsible with the money you earn and want to save for a rainy day or make investments that will benefit you in the future. Whatever your reason for not spending, there is zero shame in being honest about it. 

A true friend wants what's best for you and will support the cause. Whether you have the conversation over a cup of coffee or on the tennis court, be upfront about your financial goals and explain that part of "adulting" for you is being responsible with your finances. It is far better to have a slightly uncomfortable conversation once than to keep up a front for months or years.

Find ways to have fun without spending money

Ask anyone approaching middle age how they hung out with friends when they were young and you will likely hear stories about backyard barbecues, evenings playing cards, and at-home movie marathons. 

Volunteer to host game nights at your place, with everyone bringing a snack or drinks to share. Form a softball team (even if you're all terrible) and join a league. Set a goal of finding one free community activity each week and invite your friends along. 

Forget all the images you've seen on social media. Having fun is about far more than a new, hot club or trip to a far-flung island. It's about spending time with people who get you and make you laugh. 

Plan in advance for what you really want

If you're dying to try a particular restaurant or dreaming of a trip with the gang, plan far enough in advance to save money for the occasion. Half the fun of doing something special is in the planning process anyway. On the other hand, if you're in the middle of a card game at your house and one of your friends decides that you should climb into the car and drive overnight to Lake Tahoe, it's okay to take a pass. Being spontaneous has its place, but is rarely a good idea if you're going to have any regrets, including financial ones. 

One of the best parts of being an adult is developing a strong sense of what constitutes a friendship, and the number one rule of friendship is that you get to be yourself. The more honest you are with your friends, the more you free them to be honest with you. At the end of the day, it's a win-win.

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