Not Keeping Up With the Joneses

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If you’re hanging out with pals who have a lot more money to spend than you do, it can be awkward. Money expert Ruth Hayden offers rich advice.

Pricey game tickets and concert seats, impromptu shopping trips, eye-popping tabs at expensive restaurants. They can all come with the territory when you’re hanging out with friends who have a lot of disposable income. But what if you don’t? Do you admit that something is too expensive for you and risk being left out? If they offer, do you agree to let them pay, and risk feeling guilty or ashamed about it? Maybe you make excuses to avoid hanging out with them, dreading the moment when they stop asking. Or do you just pay and pay until you’re on the verge of a financial meltdown?

According to financial coach Ruth Hayden, author of For Richer, Not Poorer: The Money Book for Couples (HCI, 1999), you can have fun with wealthier friends without feeling bad about yourself or breaking the bank. “The key,” she says, “is to develop a firm sense of who you are, and then to use a few simple rules to socialize sometimes with them, in ways that don’t hurt you financially.”

Here, Hayden suggests some strategies for doing just that.

Barriers To Overcome

Feelings of inadequacy. Not being able to participate in social activities because of financial limitations can shake your self-confidence and self-esteem.

Feelings of deprivation. You may really want to see the football playoffs from a corporate box or eat at the hottest new haute-cuisine restaurant.  Bowing out can leave you feeling sorry for yourself, or jealous and resentful of your wealthier friends.

Fear of abandonment. You may fear that if you keep saying no to outings with your better-off friends, you’ll be marginalized and pushed out of the tribe — invited less often or not at all.

Excuse anxiety. It can be stressful to explain why you are continually ducking out of certain social engagements, especially if you find yourself making up false excuses: Keeping track of your fibs can be confusing, shame inducing — and exhausting.

Money-taboo discomfort. It’s tough for some people to admit — even to themselves — that they simply don’t have the resources to keep up with their more affluent friends. In this culture, we almost never talk about our fiscal realities or cash flow because of a basic insecurity about how we’ll be perceived by others. Our financial status is closely tied to our sense of self-worth.

Strategies For Success

Build self-acceptance. Establishing authentic relationships with any circle of friends starts with knowing who you are, where you are in life, and being OK with that. Realize that the main thing you bring to any social experience is the gift of your presence.

Choose thoughtfully. As with any expense, you can decide to budget for the pricey outings that really matter to you. Add money to your “entertainment fund” by saving in some other area, and then go to only those high-end events you can afford. And what if, on occasion, a wealthier friend genuinely wants to pick up the tab? If it doesn’t wound your pride or leave you feeling indebted, fine. Only you can know for sure.

Reach out. Proactively suggest options that are more in your price range. That way you build connections without breaking the bank.

Diversify. To fight feelings of isolation, connect with some friends at your own income level or who don’t have such expensive tastes.

Don’t fib: Instead of offering excuses or overexplaining, keep your answers short, straightforward and honest. Simply opt out: “I appreciate the invitation, but I won’t be able to go with you this time.” You don’t have to go any further than that.

Jon Spayde is a regular contributor to Experience Life.

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