All my life I have been blessed to go to the best schools. While much of their childrearing was haphazard at best (Purple Rain should not be your three year old daughter’s favorite movie), my parents were deliberate in the choices they made for their children’s education. Not only did they move from a hood adjacent apartment to the best suburban school district in the region, they even bought a slightly unaffordable house zoned to the highest performing elementary school within that district.
Mom and Dad were pit bulls when it came to ensuring we sucked every resource from our schools. My dad even claims that he went down to my elementary school to demand I be tested for the gifted program. His advocacy paid off. From the second grade onward I was on a trajectory that took me through enrichment classes, accelerated courses, and half the Advanced Placement catalogue, then plopped me down in the Ivy League.
Birds of a Feather
I’d say that I met 70% of my friends and associates through either undergrad or graduate school. Another 29% I met through organizations and companies tied to all this edumacation. Right, wrong, or indifferent the schools I attended tend to crank out graduates who eventually make up a disproportionate share of the upper middle and upper class in this country. When it comes to education and socioeconomics my social circle is pretty homogenous.
What this means is that while I may be a down to earth, around the way girl with bamboo earrings (at least two pair), my friends are bougie AF (not to be confused with boujee, which is really just boughetto). Think Whitley Gilbert, Hilary Banks, Régine Hunter, or Kenya McQueen’s parents. And as we all know, bougie people like nice shit. When my friends suggest New Year’s Eve celebrations nine times out of ten the plan requires a flight across an ocean.
I’m not going to front like I haven’t sometimes been the one to suggest doing nice shit. Real talk, I won’t go to a concert unless I have floor seats within the first ten rows, and I firmly believe that pro sports are meant to be watched from box seats. For years it was nothing to spend $100 or more on a non special occasion dinner (or even brunch). But that was then. This is now… and right now I can’t afford my friends.
Not Even Trying to Keep Up with Those Joneses
I could go out and get new friends, but I don’t want to. My crew has been thoroughly vetted and there are no holes in the roster. Plus I’ve gotten them all used to my chronic lateness that stems from high levels of melanin. It’s not easy to find people who will still love you even though you’re 30 minutes late for life.
Since, I’m not getting replacement friends and I don’t want to be more of a hermit than I already am, the only alternative is to hang out with my peeps differently. Living off of my savings means that I now have vastly different budgetary constraints than my social circle. It’s imperative for me to find ways for us to spend time together that don’t require me to make it rain.
Initially, I thought it was enough to just tell people to pick affordable venues. However, when my favorite HBS grad took that to mean a place where the snacks were $20, I realized that the word affordable is relative.
To avoid situations like splitting the brunch tab with friends with an affinity for oysters and Russian vodka, here are the five things I do so I can have my friends and my money too:
- Be specific with the budget – As I said before what’s expensive to one person is chump change to another. When planning an outing with a friend I give a max dollar amount I am willing to spend. That’s what I did for New Year’s Eve 2018 (or is it considered 2017 since Dec. 31 is actually NYE?).There are two things you can always count on when it comes to going out for New Year’s in New York City. It will be cold. It will be expensive. This year I decided that I wanted to do my hair, put on a dress, and brave the elements to ring in 2018. However, I did not want to spend my whole severance check to do it. I told my bestie to find us some place with music, food, reserved seating, and free drink for under $150. She came through with all of that, plus bowling, more than $30 under budget. That’s friendship.
- Take control of the plans – The easiest way to keep spending in check is to be the one who says, “This is what we’re doing!” I was supposed to spend time with one of my grad school friends while I’m in NYC. He suggested lunch. I countered with a free museum outing. Not only did I get to polish off all the yummy leftovers in my best friend’s fridge to fill up before leaving the house, I also got to spend an afternoon cocking my head to the left while gazing at great works of art, noticing the use of shadow and light. I’m so fucking cultured. In many cities it’s not too hard to find low cost or free events and activities. Chicago is a veritable playground of cheap stuff. There are five free events and ten for under $10 for the month of January listed on Eventbrite. I’ll likely pass on the lecture about understanding and using trauma informed teaching practices, but I could convince a friend or two to come with me to a live music event on the Southside.
- Stay home – Or just go to theirs. Either way, a night in can be quite social when friends are invited. The world’s greatest ex-roommate and I have Bachelor and Bachelorette parties every Monday from January through August. We order in or pop a frozen pizza in the oven, and watch very basic White people find a temporary fiancé(e).
I have been in New York since before Christmas and have only been to one restaurant. That is unheard of for me. I haven’t been sitting at home though (well I was the first week). I’ve simply gone a’visiting instead. My friends have been wonderfully hospitable, opening their homes (and refrigerators) to me so we can spend hours talking, laughing, and catching up on all of the adulting we’re doing. And unlike going to a restaurant, it’s perfectly appropriate for me to undo the top button of my pants and pass out on their couch after eating.
- Groupon – Do you know what the actress Tiffany Haddish does when she hangs out with Jada Pinkett and Will Smith? She takes them on a Groupon swamp tour.
If Will and Jada can have fun on a Groupon then my friends sure as shit can too. At the very least we can choose restaurants with Groupon+ cash back deals. 35% off can make dining out an affordable option.
- Spend someone else’s money – No, don’t be a mooch and have your friends paying your way everywhere you go. Instead of alienating friends by being a leech, mystery shop instead. The best thing about secretly surveilling businesses is that I almost always get to bring a friend with me. Baseball games, restaurants, museums…I am usually required to not go alone. This lets me enjoy more pricey activities without it affecting my budget.If you’re trying to get everything for free be sure to let your plus one know the parameters before arriving to the location. Review prices ahead of time and decide who will order what so you can ensure the total tab with tip comes in under the assignment reimbursement limit. The added bonus is that I pay for everything on my rewards credit card and get all the points while someone else pays the bill.
- (BONUS) Just Say No – There are some activities where even a 90% discount will still have you spending thousands. If you ain’t got it like that (or simply don’t want to), it’s perfectly acceptable to take a pass. Yes, FOMO is real. I’m still hearing about the Kilimanjaro climb I didn’t go on. However, some of my best memories with my friends didn’t come from our most expensive times together, rather I most remember nights dancing until the wee hours at no cover bars with $2 beers and slumber parties spent talking until dawn. Missing one trip or concert or conference or dinner won’t change that.
Those Who Matter Don’t Mind
When everyone you know has gone to the same schools and has the same types of jobs it’s easy to spend the same money too. Even if you’re not funemployed like me, you likely have financial goals that aren’t helped by dinners at BondST and front row seats to the 4:44 tour. While we cannot expect our friends to get on our budget, we can definitely adjust the expectation that spending time has to mean spending a lot of money.
The easiest way to do that is to be open and talk about how you’re prioritizing your funds. I’ve found that my friends aren’t just understanding, they’re actually interested in learning more about what I’m doing and why. There’s also no pressure to participate in anything I deem too expensive or judgement for not doing so. Ultimately, the foundation of our friendship doesn’t sit on how much money we can spend together.
What about you? Are your friends big spenders? Is it difficult to spend within your means when hanging out with certain people? Have you mastered the art of inexpensive socializing? Hit the comments with your thoughts. In the meantime I will be trying to find a cheap way to go to Coachella.
Enjoying what you read? Like, comment, and share your favorite posts.