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I'm sure you've been there before… your kids are eating breakfast and you hop on the computer or your phone and scroll through your Facebook news feed. One of your good friends posts a bunch of pictures from their latest vacation to Hawaii. It looks soooo awesome and you would love to go someday, but it is nowhere on your financial horizon. You are truly happy for them… but maybe there is a little bit of envy in your heart, maybe not. Either way, you wish you could take that vacation… but you can't.
Or maybe a few couples from your social group plan a nice group dinner out without the kids. You are excited and have been looking forward to it for weeks… until they pick the restaurant. Your stomach drops. Finances are tight this month, and you simply cannot afford a dinner at an upscale restaurant this month. Do you back out? Do you suggest a different restaurant?
On Valentine's Day you see pictures from your friends showcasing their dozen roses with teddy bears, chocolates and a fancy dinner, and you look over to your single rose from your husband and your heart sinks. You want those dozen roses and chocolates but you know you can't afford it and your husband loves you for staying within the budget. But you still want more… and then you feel horrible for even having those feelings in the first place.
In a perfect world, money and social interactions with friends wouldn't have anything to do with each other. Your friends and the experiences you share with them would be based purely on the bond of your friendships… but we all know that this is not the case. Money and social interactions collide on a daily basis; and they can be very uncomfortable to talk about or deal with internally.
I remember how money changed our social interactions when we lived in South Carolina. For the first year, even though we didn't have the income to justify it, we spent like we had money. So we hung out with certain people who spent similarly… nice dinners, outings with the kids to the expensive indoor play areas, etc. But when reality hit us hard, we scaled WAY back (read our article answering the question of ‘why is a budget necessary‘) and suddenly we couldn't do a lot of the things that we used to do. I felt terrible, almost like a failure… we would get invited to nice dinners but simply had to say no quite a bit. And if we did say yes, we would have to get a separate check and order on the cheap.
We still had the same groups of friends, but found that we were seeing less of the ‘big spending' friends and more of the frugal friends. It wasn't a conscious decision; it just happened. But our ‘big spending' friends totally understood and didn't think differently about us at all. In fact, they respected us because of it.
There are many ways to deal with the situation of socializing with less money than many of your friends. I've read many articles that deal with this very topic, but the overriding solution is honesty. Talking about money is a taboo topic in our society, but there are ways to communicate your situation without going into much detail. I'm going to go ahead an assume that your friends are good people and really do care about you. If that's the case, don't be ashamed if you are less well-off or going through a financial hardship; they will understand and be more accommodating than you might think. If you can't go to that expensive dinner or to the amusement park with the family, here are some options:
Just about the worst thing you could do financially is to pretend that you can afford someone else's lifestyle when you actually can't. Speaking from experience here, that's a huge source of consumer debt. And something else to keep in mind – many who flaunt a nice lifestyle are living a life that they can't afford! Things aren't always what they seem.