It seems like everyone in America feels like a member of the middle class. We all know some people who have more money than we do, and some who have less.
Look at it another way: We all have some friends who are more wealthy, some who are less, and some who are about the same. Given all these differences, does it ever seem to you like money gets in the way of your friendships?
At my solo blog, San Antonio Charter Moms, I help parents investigate school options for their kids. (Read more: School choice guide.) One of the benefits of researching and writing for that blog is that I interact with people across the whole spectrum from wealth to poverty. Some families can pay private school tuition without breaking a sweat; for others, the challenges of carpooling or after-school care put some schools out of reach—even schools that do not charge any tuition. Thinking about how differences in wealth affect our school choices got me wondering about the broader impact of money on our lives and friendships.
Have you found yourself in any of these situations?
- The wine angel. You are out at lunch with the girls; the restaurant is a little pricey, but it’s worth it to have a special time with your friends. Then, someone says, “Let’s get a bottle of wine!” Or two. When it comes time to split the check, you get sticker shock. That was some expensive grape juice.
- The forever scholar. Your friend is a great conversationalist who has travelled the world and recommends interesting books to read. But, she will be paying off student loans until the grim reaper comes. So, fewer trips to the bookstore . . . more trips to the library.
- The cash envelope. Your kids want a playdate to see the latest animated movie. But, their friends’ mom is using a cash-only budgeting system, and the entertainment envelope is empty until the end of the month.
This kind of friction can happen when friends have different size budgets to play with, or different priorities. What are the underlying causes for these differences? Some young families get a financial boost from the older generations, and some do not. Some professionals choose to work in public interest, government, or education careers that pay less than the for-profit world. Working moms may have more cash than stay-at-home moms, but they may be especially pressed for time; Brooke talked about these trade-offs in her post about the Mommy Wars, and they were part of the Moms for Moms Day project on March 4, 2014. Cash budgets are an effective way to meet financial goals, but may be too strict for some families. Some families hire household employees and some do not.
Here are some do’s and don’ts for putting friendship ahead of money:
- Do: Cheap fun. Find low-cost ways to have fun, so no one is left out because of money. Have a playdate at the park, then go out to eat on “kids eat free” night. (Check out this list of kid-friendly restaurants.)
- Don’t: Pick up the tab. Always offering to pay may seem generous, but it emphasizes the difference. It creates a patron-client relationship, not a friendship of equals.
- Do: Coolness factor. Talk about what’s new and interesting around town, new experiences, new recipes, making new friends, finding new ways to go green, etc.
- Don’t: Materialism. Avoid talking about shopping or how much things cost. There’s an exception, though, if you are talking about shopping at Goodwill or the dollar store.
Why have I been thinking so hard about this? Because I believe that friendship, more than money, is the key to happiness. A classic article on that theme is “The Sandra Bullock Trade”, David Brooks, New York Times, March 29, 2010. Beyond a certain amount, more money will probably not make you happier; what matters is the quality of your relationships. Let’s spend less time worrying about impressing each other and more time caring for each other.
Have you been in a situation where money differences impacted a friendship? Please share your tips for strengthening friendships.