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How to Watch Your Wallet With High-Rolling Friends

I received an e-mail from a 28-year old budget-conscious reader with a common conundrum. She’s watching her wallet. Her friends? Not so much. How do you deal with friends that perennially spend, splurge, and squander?

Unfortunately, “keeping up with the Jones’” plays a big role in the psychology of spending. We spend to keep up because we envy things other people have. We spend more with friends to win and maintain their acceptance. And when we do it, we usually spend more than we have.

When we assert our frugality before our desire to fit in, however, a new problem emerges: We risk offending our friends, standing out as a cheapskate, or—worse—becoming alienated from them.

Seeing Both Sides

I’ve been on both sides. Before my “financial awakening“, I was the guy rallying my friends to hit the hottest restaurants, throw lavish parties, even jet to Vegas for the weekend. But my frugal friends had no problem telling me “I’m not paying for that!” Others came along, but tempers spiked when it came time to split the tab. (It’s easiest to split, but what happens to the guy that just got water and a salad? Separate checks, please!)

More recently I’ve been the one declining plans (or carefully budgeting for them). Fortunately, most of my friends are cheap and/or broke too, so finding affordable entertainment isn’t as much of a problem.

Just Be Honest

The next time your friends want to grab $200-a-bottle table service at a club, use honesty to squelch their complaints at your reaction. Saying something like:

“As you know, I’m trying to be smart with my money and put some away. I’m not sure blowing a couple hundred bucks here is gonna help that. Do we really want to spend our money this way? Can we do something cheaper?”

Unless your friends are legitimately loaded, chances are they are almost as uncomfortable spending that much money, too. They may just be afraid to question it for fear of standing out.

So yes, it does take courage to call out your friends‘ overspending. But the more you do it, the more comfortable your group will get with talking about money and choosing affordable activities.

What Not to Do

Only excuse yourself from plans as a last resort. If you can’t get your friends to turn down that costly club, make a polite excuse and head home. (Avoid going with as paying the check may cause some controversy even if you don‘t drink or eat as much).

If you do have to turn down one or more events because of your budget, try planning another less-costly get-together shortly thereafter so your friends know that you haven’t been bailing on them, just their expensive affairs.

What about you? Have you had to deal with friends that spend way more than you? How have you handled it? Were you able to remain friends despite your fiscal differences?

Published or updated on October 22, 2009

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About David Weliver

David Weliver is the founding editor of Money Under 30. He's a cited authority on personal finance and the unique money issues we face during our first two decades as adults. He lives in Maine with his wife and two children.


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  1. frugman says:

    Great article! I use to be the guy who can’t say no to events, drinks, dinner, and social gatherings that cost a pretty penny. I find that having a GF that is money conscious helps- and if anything you can just throw her under the bus (as an accuse that is) to escape costly outings! Be firm and hopefully your friends will understand. And if they don’t… then hey you guys aren’t on the same page right now with finances- big deal (at least you get it).

  2. Cat says:

    My two cents:
    Do not underestimate the entertainment value of cooking out on the grill with your friends instead of going out!

    My partner and I used to eat out a lot with another couple that we’re good friends with. Our friends bought a house last year and they have a great porch with a nice grill. We’ve been eating over at their house a lot this past year and taking turns with buying food, beverages, etc. One of our friends is a wonderful cook and I prefer her cooking to a lot of the restaurant food! I don’t drink, but the other three do, and it’s a lot cheaper for them to split a bottle of wine or make mixed drinks at home than it is to order drinks out at a restaurant. Now that it’s fall, we have added another layer of clothes and continued to grill :)

  3. Great topic and I think the key is to plan ahead and broach the subject in a way that doesn’t sound as if you are simply cheap or not willing to be gracious and sharing with friends but yet still convey that you are trying to adhere to a budget.

  4. Great post.

    Here are some of my old tricks.

    1.) Eat dinner at home, and only order apetizers at the new trendy restaurant. You could even skip dinner all together, and meet your friends out later at the bars.

    2.) With my friends, alcohol was always the expensive part. Try being the designated driver, you save money by not buying drinks, and if your friends chip in a few bucks for gas, you might even make money.

  5. Matt Jabs says:

    This is a great topic.

    What works for me is to embrace being the one who stands out from the crowd and focus on bringing sound money management to light among your sphere of friends. You’ll be surprised how many of them agree with you once you take a stand.

    Avoid being presumptuous and judgmental, but make your position clearly known so that you don’t have to go over it every time you’re around them.

    Trust me… after awhile most of them will jump on board with YOUR plan. Why? Because you are doing the right thing!

    Even if they don’t admit it… everyone needs sound financial principles in their life, and encouraging your loved ones is an honorable work.

  6. Jason says:

    I’ll be completely honest; I think it’s rude whenever someone suggests to split the check evenly. Nowadays I’m usually the guy who overspent (I’ve taken a shine to top shelf liquor, and that adds up) and anytime someone suggests this I usually throw out there that some of us spent more than others (knowing that *I* am probably one of the ones who spent more) to save the people who had water and a caesar salad. We don’t all make the same money and we don’t all make the same choices, it’s not fair to split the cost evenly.

  7. Ben says:

    It’s a trap that you can easily find yourself in, because you won’t want to be the “cheap guy”. I think you can avoid these situations before that awkward point where you have to say something and make everyone uncomfortable. Know who you’re going out with and ask where they want to go. If they name really expensive places, then just pass on going out altogether.

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