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How to deal: Friendships and financial status

I'm the founder of SocialJane.com (www.socialjane.com) , a women's-only friendship networking site that helps women find new friends.

When you and your friend's financial situations differ, here's how to maintain your friendship.

woman thinking with paperwork

Photo credit: Fuse/Getty Images

When we are little kids, we typically choose our friends based on whom we get lined up next to on our way to the cafeteria. And when we are young adults, it is often who we find in our dorm room on move-in day. During these phases of our lives, money or the lack of it is rarely a consideration when it comes to our friendships. But then the inevitable first job comes about… and first promotion… and trips and concerts and shopping excursions and, sadly, money is required for these pursuits.

And this is where problems can start when it comes to finances and friendships.

You are busting your hump at an internship with a great start-up, hoping against hope that those stock options will pay off and make the 365 days of cup-o-noodles worth it. She took a job at her mother’s company, and not only has an office and impressive title, but also a drool-worthy pay stub. Or perhaps you used to be neighbors, but a divorce and subsequent remarriage not only landed you a name change, but also a house in an upscale zip code accessed only through a guarded gate. It's a slightly different situation from when you two first met and became buddies.

The reality is that you and your friend are currently living in different socioeconomic classes, and this can make hanging out a bit of a challenge. Why? Unfortunately, the reality is that things cost money, and how much you have of it (or how little) typically determines your preferences for the way you spend the money that you do have.

For example, when Bruno (or Bono or Bruce) comes to town and you suggest getting tickets, if she is thinking front row and you are thinking anything under $50, perhaps you’ll catch a glimpse of her on the Jumbotron from your seat in the back of the house. Or, if a day of shopping is planned and she immediately heads to the sales rack while you beeline for the new arrivals, again your preferences are a bit unmatched and you might as well have gone shopping solo.

These are just a few examples of the problems that can arise when you and your friend have different fiscal realities. The less financially fortunate can feel anything from embarrassment to resentment due to the disparity, while the more financially fortunate can also have emotions that also range from embarrassed to perhaps guilty or sometimes even resentfully obliged to simply pick up certain tabs.

Of course, friendship compatibility is about so much more than the number of zeros and commas on your bank statement. So if you do find yourself struggling to balance budgets with your bosom buddies, then please know that there are certainly ways to overcome these hurdles and make sure they don’t become friendship deal breakers.

Friendship over Francs

Eat In

This one is a no-brainer. If one half of a friendship duo simply can’t swing repeated dinners out, then just eat in! Take turns hosting each other, or split the prep with one buying the food and the other the wine. As a single woman who rarely cooks, I know I personally love the opportunity to cook for friends, who either perch at my kitchen island sampling the vino or join the fun with their own apron and cutting board.

Cooking with someone else is much more intimate than simply meeting at a restaurant. This is why friends do it, and romantic partners do it as well. It tells the other person that they are very special in terms of their friendship. Therefore, in addition to being a cost saver, it also is a huge friendship booster.

Drink Early

My friend Jen is very social, and loves getting out and mixing and mingling frequently. Jen loves trying new restaurants as they come on the scene in our town, and while I share Jen’s enthusiasm for being in the middle of some hubbub, I admit my financial priorities don’t always allow me the expense of a meal just to see her. Our compromise? We get together for a pre-dinner drink. This actually works well for Jen and I, as it allows us to spend time together, get a “taste” of the new hotspot, and do so without busting my entertainment budget.

Grabbing a drink with a friend provides most of the same benefits as grabbing dinner, at a fraction of the cost. You get to catch up, you get to be social, you get to enjoy adult beverages and perhaps even sample a small plate or appetizer. What you don’t do is load up on a heavy meal night after night in terms of calories and cost.

Sweat Often

One of the main criteria for forming a friendship is that you share a common interest. (Other criteria include holding similar values, providing mutual and equal support and simply being available to each other, but those are topics for another article.) And when that interest involves a physical activity, this is just a huge bonus for friends with different credit levels.

See, sweat doesn’t care whether you are sporting a Lululemon or Target tennis skirt, and isn’t impacted at all by its current location; either a fancy gym or the high school running track works fine. Sweat is definitely an equal opportunity type of gal. This is why working out and being active is a great way to maintain friendships with women at different income stages. So grab your friend and hit the pavement, weight room or courts. Come mile six or match point, neither will give a hoot who has more Benjamins in their wallet.

Road Trip

When one friend insists on vacations that involve passports and five-stars, and the other friend prefers highways and Howard Johnsons, traveling together can be a problem. Unless, that is, you simply take road trips, weekend getaways or short excursions rather than full-fledged “this is my one week to relax and be pampered” types of vacations.

Most folks can fit a quick weekend getaway into their schedule and budget from time to time. And this type of low-budget travel makes sharing it with all of your friends a possibility. We all know how much fun it is to travel with your girlfriends, and how often (very often) it is these weekends that provide memories that last a lifetime. Trust me; you will definitely remember the laughs, but the plushness of the towels and the cost of the breakfast will rarely factor into those memories.

Everyone is richer or poorer than somebody else, this is just a fact of life. But when there are big differences between you and your friend’s economic positions, this can spell trouble for the friendship unless you both are sensitive to the situation.

Good friends will go out of their way to make certain that the friendship can be maintained despite the financial gap. One may cook dinner at home, the other plan a fun, low-budget getaway. You meet for drinks in lieu of dinner. And when it is time to splurge, well, that’s easy.

Planning, sensitivity (on both sides), communication and perhaps a bit of creativity will allow friendships on any economic level to flourish throughout the years, promotions, zip code changes and annual ski trips.

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