“Who wants to go out tomorrow night?” A simple question that should evoke a positive emotion. There’s nothing like going out with your friends – they’ll make you cry from laughter or be with you in times of need. But while their company can be therapeutic, it’s starting to get expensive.
The cost of living crisis is affecting nearly everyone, with petrol, food and electricity prises all rising. So understandably, it’s having an impact on our friendships too.
The sudden stretch on finances has only created a bigger disparity between the higher and lower earners of a social circle. Rising bills shouldn’t prevent us from go out-out with friends, but they are making it very hard to do so.
Hannah*, who is a 32-year old PR manager from London, has found herself constantly having to say ‘no’ to things since the cost of living shot up in April.
“My friendship group are the types that want to plan every second of downtime with food, drinks, tickets to things – which as a really social person I’m into,” she says. “Now I have to be more moderate with what I’m doing.”
Hannah and her friends have only recently started speaking about money, she says. Previously, they had a lack of awareness that she couldn’t do all the things they were asking her to do.
“When I say no they offer to front you the money, which personally makes me feel awful and also doesn’t help, because it’s just postponing it for another month,” she says. “And at the moment it’s not like there’s hope it will be better next month.”
She makes a valid point, because the cost of living is only expected to rise further without government intervention. Households have already seen their finances stretched since the energy price cap increased in April. Now, energy consultancy Cornwall Insight has forecasted that bills will soar to around £3,582 per year in October – up from £1,971 today – before hitting £4,266 in January.
While financial disparity in friendship groups is nothing new, the sheer scale of the problem has never been so pronounced. Some of us have gone from “I really shouldn’t go on that night out” to “I really can’t”.
Not being able to afford the same things as her friends now frustrates Hannah, especially as she enjoys her job and says she experiences FOMO (fear of missing out) when she turns down invites.
“Also, it creates a weird dynamic where people try to relate to you,” she says.
“Some people will say ‘yeah I’ve had a really tough month too’ in the same breath as talking about huge bonuses and shopping sprees they’ve done. Whereas [my] tough month is literally just existing.”
Bolu*, who is a 31-year-old project manager from North-West London, can relate to this. She tells HuffPost UK that there’s a 3-5K salary difference among her friends. “However some are married or in long term partnerships, so have the financial backing of a partner,” she adds.
With the cost of living skyrocketing, Bolu now has to plan “fun/socialising” into her monthly budget, removing any opportunity for spontaneity.
“Once I’ve agreed to ‘x’ day party and worked out how many birthdays/baby showers I can attend, I don’t have any financial capacity for impromptu socialising,” she says, adding that it’s created some awkwardness in the group Whatsapp.
“Whenever a link to tickets or a screenshot of an event gets dropped in the group – by one girl in particular who lives at home and is lucky that she contributes a small amount to the house each month – it’s met with silence in the group until someone else strikes up new conversation,” she explains.
“I think it’s because no one wants to say that they don’t have the money for it. We’re in our early 30s and I definitely feel like I should have more disposable income for things like this, but also know its not my fault due to the cost of living crisis.”
As well as cutting back on socialising with friends, Bolu is having to cut back on dating, because she can’t afford the added expense “of travel and having to spend on a new outfit”.
The most recent data from the Office for National Statics suggests nine in 10 (89%) of adults reported their cost of living had risen over the past month, and three-quarters (75%) are either “very” or “somewhat” worried about rising costs.
We’re all being forced to look at our finances in new ways and different approaches to budgeting can bring more tension into friendship groups.
*Natasha, a 23-year old paralegal from London, explains: “It’s caused rifts where Friend A, who is the lowest earner in the group, would make a ‘financially unwise’ decision to treat Friend B, C and D for their birthdays (i.e. using credit cards, or buy now pay later).
“Friend A would then feel upset because Friends B, C and D say they can’t treat friend A for their birthday, because money is tight.
“It has highlighted the difference in decisions made to maintain a friendship, which is borrowing money vs being honest about your current financial state and adjusting accordingly.”
One of Natasha’s friends wanted to go on on a group holiday for her birthday but Natasha said she couldn’t afford to go. “My friend was quite upset with me as she felt I should have done more to prepare for the holiday,” she says. “I felt that she was being inconsiderate of the fact that I couldn’t afford it.
“The disparity between earnings in friendships can cause issues when expectations are based on your own reality, rather than your friend’s reality.”
How to bridge the friendship money gap
Speaking about money in general is taboo and it can be more awkward discussing finances with our best buds. So how can we navigate the issue?
Friendship coach Danielle Bayard Jackson explains that when we’re spending time with our friends it often happens against a social backdrop that requires money. So don’t panic, navigating financial disparity is something a lot of friendship groups have to figure out.
If you’re the friend who has smaller means, Jackson advises establishing some boundaries with yourself. “A lot of times I see friends who will sign up for the trips, and they’ll go to the expensive outings, and they’ll do all the things in an effort to keep up,” she says.
“Ask yourself what your financial limits are, where are the places you can go without having regret the next day?”
We should start identifying the the boundaries we have before we live beyond our means and misdirect that anger at our friends, she adds.
“So when they tell you they’re going on a trip, you can playfully say ’oh, well you guys go ahead on your trip and we can do something more affordable when you guys come back.’”
And remember, you can always take the initiative and organise a low-cost meet-up. A picnic in the park won’t break the bank – but you’ll still connect with your pals.
For those friends who are the bigger earners, it helps to be more mindful.
“Think about where people can afford to go without assuming it won’t be an issue,” Jackson says.
Regardless where you are financially, Jackson says there’s no need to feel shame about it.
“If you have a lot of money and you have friends who maybe don’t make the same income, you shouldn’t feel embarrassed about it,” she says.
Equally, if you don’t have more means you shouldn’t feel bad about that either. Things are hard and you have to be kind to yourself and realistic about what you can and can’t afford.
“Adjust the personal boundaries that you can make financially, so that you don’t have regret and so that you can comfortably connect with your friends,” she says. “And then also the ways that you can communicate your situation in a way that doesn’t make you feel embarrassed.”
*Some surnames have been omitted or names changed to provide anonymity.