When it comes to relationships and money, things can get sticky fast. It’s easy to compare your finances to your friend’s or your house to your neighbor’s or your work clothes to your coworker’s. Up close, it can feel awkward and icky when someone can afford more than you can.
But it can help to take a step back and look at the big picture. There are 7 billion people on this planet. Hundreds of thousands of people make less money than you, hundreds of thousands make more (unless you’re Bill Gates) and most everyone falls somewhere in between. We are each responsible for our own choices about money, and it’s not anyone else’s business what we make or how we spend it.
With that perspective in mind, how do you handle situations where others have more money to spend than you?
- Be honest with yourself. Like the little reality check above, knowing what money you have to spend and keeping a budget are just part of being a responsible adult. You can spend your time wishing you had your friend’s bank account, but you don’t; that’s just time wasted and a friendship potentially hurt.
You also don’t know their exact situation, so while they might appear to have endless cash, they may in fact have mountains of debt or zero savings. Stick to what you know—your own bank account—and try to drop any shame or envy you may have about others’ finances.
- Be transparent with your friends. This is easier said than done, but it starts with number one above. If you refuse to be uncomfortable about your finances, then you can be clear with friends, family, coworkers, etc., about what you are and aren’t willing to spend.
You don’t have to be blunt and say you can’t afford it. You can say something like, “Our budget for the month is totally accounted for, so a dinner isn’t possible right now.” Then see numbers three and four below.
- Stay in control of the situation. Things get awkward when we don’t speak up and let money decisions get out of our hands. If you’re going to a restaurant with a group and plan to dine frugally (e.g., an appetizer and water), let the waiter know up front that you’d like your own check at the end. If your friends insist on splitting the bill evenly (while they consume cocktails, appetizers, entrees and dessert), then you can tell your friends, “My meal should only be about $20, so I’ll throw in the cash and you all can divide the rest.”
- Suggest budget-friendly options. Sticking to your budget or turning down activities that are outside your price range doesn’t always mean saying no. Instead, find ways to contribute what you’re comfortable with. If coworkers are putting together a group gift, tell the organizer up front what you can afford (Ex: “I can contribute $15”). Even better, suggest a gift that, when divided, fits your finances.
Other options to counter pricey invitations are to suggest free outings (like hikes or walks), breakfast, lunch or dessert instead of dinner (it’s usually the most expensive), or homemade gifts instead of store-bought.
- Reciprocate in thoughtful ways. Often, people recognize they may have more funds available than someone else and are happy to be generous. If these are your friends, lucky you! But to avoid feeling like a charity case, find ways to say ‘thank you’ without hurting your budget. This can include homemade gifts or contributions of time and assistance (like picking up the group gift at the store and wrapping it).
Money matters only get weird if we let them. Treat money like what it is—a commodity or tool to be used—and not a measure of success or worth, and it will lose some of its power. Then you’ll be able to enjoy your relationships no matter the status of someone’s bank account.