We’ve all been there: you’re trying to organise a low-key catch up with your mates when suddenly, someone suggests dinner out, followed by drinks, followed by taxis home, followed by brunch the next day. Everyone seems keen, so you make your excuses and put the WhatsApp group on mute.
Earning less than your friends can be socially isolating, because sometimes, it’s easier to pretend you’ve double booked yourself than feel like you’re ruining the party for everyone.
But that’s not to say your high-flying friends are the bad guys. Money is such a taboo topic, your BFFs might not even realise that a big night out could be the difference between you paying your rent or spiralling into your overdraft.
With that in mind, we asked money experts for their top tips on avoiding financial fall-outs with friends.
Whether you’re the mate who’s raking in the moolah, or the friend who’s strapped for cash, here are the dos and don’ts you need to know.
Do have conversations around money
As we get further down the career path the wage gap in friendship groups can widen. While you don’t have to be explicit about your earnings if you’re uncomfortable doing so, Hannah Maundrell, editor-in-chief of free online comparison service money.co.uk, says “honesty is the best policy” for group budgeting.
“If you can’t afford to take part in expensive activities you’ve been invited to, talk to them about your situation otherwise they’ll never know,” she tells HuffPost UK.
“Whatever you do, don’t over extend yourself to avoid an embarrassing conversation. You could end up in debt and that could make you feel resentful towards your mates.”
Don’t split restaurant bills
Meals out can be treacherous if you and your mates earn different amounts, something Kerry Cabbin knows all too well.
A few years ago, she was left feeling awkward on a meal out for a friend’s birthday when orders got out of control.
“I checked the menu before to ensure I could afford to go and stuck with a plan of what to order to stay within budget,” she tells HuffPost UK.
“Friends sipped champagne, had starters, sides and dessert, and when the bill arrived asked for a equal split from all.”
Kerry had no choice but to say she was only going to pay for what she’d had.
“The host pulled a face, but she did agree. I was left feeling like a real cheapskate. I always check how the bill will be split beforehand now,” she says.
Helen Saxon, chief analyst at MoneySavingExpert.com, says being upfront about how you’re planning to divide costs can prevent awkwardness when the final bill arrives.
“Let the others know at the start that you’re a bit short this month and you’ll just be paying for your meal,” she says.
“That way, everyone else can decide during the meal whether they’ll pay for what they have, or take yours off and then split the rest.”
Equally if you fancy splashing out on lobster and champagne, Maundrell says you should make it clear you’re happy to pay for what you order, so cash-strapped friends don’t spend the meal feeling stressed.
Do agree a budget when booking group holidays
Sophie, a 29-year-old fundraising assistant, has first-hand experience of travelling with loved ones who earn more money.
“I keep letting my brother persuade me we should do day trips to Europe,” she tells HuffPost UK.
“It got to the point that I asked him to write off some of my debt to him for Christmas instead of giving me a present because I can’t afford to pay him back for flights.”
Maundrell says although group holidays are great fun, it’s important to remember what’s affordable for one person may be too much for another.
“Have an open conversation with your friends about what their budget is. Don’t push for the most expensive destination, you’ll put your friends off going or if they wind up in debt they might feel resentful about it,” she says.
Saxon adds if someone in your friendship group can’t afford an expensive holiday, consider scaling back. There are plenty of low-cost alternatives to a week abroad that everyone can enjoy.
“The UK is a beautiful place. Consider staying in youth hostels or going camping. Or, if friends in different parts of the UK are going on hols, can you house-sit for them?” she says.
“Or, if it just has to be sun and sea, it may pay to wait until the last minute, when you can snap up an unsold package holiday, often really cheaply.”
Don’t let special occasions get out of hand
Celebrating big life events - such as a 30th birthday or friend’s wedding - should be an exciting prospect, but in reality, it can be pretty damn stressful.
In fact, previous research of more than 2,000 Brits from financial comparison site uSwitch found more than a third (35%) of wedding guests resort to credit cards to help cover the spiralling costs of attendance.
To stop this, Saxton says big earners need to consider other people when planning celebrations.
“It’s a big day for you, of course, but they might have several weddings to go to this year, and lots of friends with big birthdays. Try and do something that will make you happy, but won’t blow the budget,” she says.
Maundrell advises keeping in mind not everyone will be able to afford to join you if you choose to have your hen party, wedding or birthday bash abroad.
“If you have the funds you could offer to subsidise flights or have a small gathering and then hold a party at home that all your friends can attend,” she says.
If you don’t want your guests to feel obliged to buy you a present, Maundrell also recommends stating that you don’t want gifts when you invite guests.
Do be cautious about borrowing money from friends
Both borrowing and lending money among friends is risky.
Even if you set out with the best of intentions, circumstances among both parties can change: the borrower may no longer be able to honour a promise to pay the money back, or the lender may need repaying at short notice.
If you are going to sub one another through tough times, Maundrell says you need to establish some ground rules - and stick to them.
“If your friends or family offer to lend you money so you can join them [for a social occasion] and you really want to go, think about whether you can really afford it,” she says.
“If you can treat it like a loan, agree to a strict deadline for the money to be paid back, set it out on paper and offer to pay a small amount of interest if you can afford to.”
Don’t let money worries ruin your friendship
If your friends earn more than you, be honest about your needs, but remember to be happy for your high-achieving pals.
“It’s important you don’t blame your friend’s choices – don’t make them feel bad by saying something like ‘I could come to your wedding if you weren’t getting married in the Philippines’ – this won’t help you or them,” Maundrell says.
“Ultimately communication and openness is the key and making sure you’re happy with what you have. Staring longingly at photos of mates enjoying themselves at a lavish ski resort on Facebook won’t make you feel better and could leave you feeling resentful.
“True friends will love you regardless of what you can and can’t go to because of cash flow.”