Is there any experience more dreaded than deciding how to split the bill at brunch or budgeting where to go for a bachelorette weekend? Not that I know of, except for maybe a PAP smear or asking that new guy you’re dating “where things are going.” But like it or not, when it comes to most types of relationships, money plays a big role. It influences the activities you do, where you eat, and the general tone of your friendships. And what if the money dynamics are out of balance? Well, things can get awkward—fast. So what’s a girl to do when one friend rolls up to happy hour with the newest iPhone while another is working two jobs just to make rent? But don’t worry, there’s hope for your group! Here are some tips to help navigate those stressful and awkward moments.
Recognize that the Situation is Normal
First, take a deep breath and realize that this is a super common scenario among friend groups. Unless you met your friends at work or an industry-specific networking event, it’s unlikely everyone will be bringing home the same income—let alone be comfortable spending it the same way. It’s always been very normal to have a wide range of salaries in a friend group (cue the infamous Friends scene below that was filmed over 25 years ago!). Someone working as a teacher is likely going to make a different amount than her friend who is a freelance jewelry designer or an investment banker. People may also be in different stages of their career, which will impact their financial situation as well.
Don’t Make Assumptions
Glassdoor is a powerful thing, and so too are stereotypes about specific roles and industries. Unless you and your friends have spoken about how much each person makes, try to hold off on making any assumptions or doing investigative research online. Your architect friend might have a great salary but also a ton of student debt she is working on paying off. Meanwhile, your artist friend might be absolutely killing it with her Etsy sales and contributing steadily to her retirement account. It can be easy to assume someone has or doesn’t have a lot of money based on their job title, company, or education, but that thinking can gradually impact your relationship if you convince yourself you know someone else’s financial story.
Start a Conversation about Financial Goals
Instead of jumping right into talking about how much you make with your friends, start by casually discussing general financial goals next time you grab coffee together. This will relieve some of the pressure if you haven’t brought up the money topic before and give your friends insight into your situation as well. Perhaps someone is cutting back on their happy hour budget to save for a down payment while someone else is trying their hand at negotiating their new salary for the first time or saving up for a once-in-a-lifetime trip. Financial goals aren’t always tied to salaries, and you might even find that you and your friends are working toward the same goals and can share tips and strategies. This can be a great, non-judgmental way to start conversations around finances that can help everyone understand each other’s behaviors and motivations.
Brainstorm New Activities
If you’re the one with extra to spend, be mindful to not always suggest activities with an expensive price tag. While you may be dying to try that new vegan brunch spot, your friend might not love spending $27 + tax and tip on gluten-free pancakes that she could have made at home for much less. Try changing up your routine and incorporating things like coffee dates, window shopping, or an at-home movie night. Better yet, host a potluck and have everyone bring one thing, and then rotate where you meet up. These low-cost activities can be just as fun and made to fit all budgets!
Alternatively, if you’re the one in the friendship with a bit less money to spend on activities, be strategic about what you do spend on. If you and your friends love concerts, suggest skipping brunch or happy hours in favor of saving up to see your favorite performer together. If you’re all working toward a common goal of a truly memorable experience, it can take away the sting of saving on other activities.
Set a Budget
If you start booking a bachelorette or girls’ trip without aligning on what everyone is able to afford, you’ll find someone going full Bridesmaids and punching a giant heart-shaped cookie in no time. It’s always best to start any kind of planning for a BFF activity or trip by talking about the budget and aligning on what people value spending money on. Will you be splitting the bill for a cheaper group hotel room to be able to splurge on food? Is one person comfortable footing the bill for alcohol if someone else covers the limo or evening entertainment costs? If these elements aren’t agreed upon in advance, you can quickly find yourself becoming resentful, and that can ruin the whole experience. A little bit of upfront work before booking will make sure everyone is on the same page and can avoid any surprise bills down the road.
As much as we wish it weren’t the case, finances have a say in almost every relationship. If you’re finding that being on different pages financially with your friends is starting to drive a wedge between you—or is making you feel bad about your situation—take stock of the relationship and see what you can do to make it better. Sometimes, an honest conversation is all that’s needed. If you’re close with your friends and feel comfortable, open a bottle of wine and have the salary chat to be fully transparent about where everyone stands. If you’re not there with your group yet (which is 100% normal, see tip #1!), you can always casually bring up that you want to save more money when hanging out and offer suggestions for new activities to try. Alternatively, if you’re looking to spend more on certain activities, bring that up as well to see if your friends are feeling the same way.
With a little bit of thoughtfulness and an open mind, you can find a balance that works for everyone’s budgets, regardless of how much you each make. Income differences might always exist, but they certainly don’t have to be an ongoing issue for you and your friends. So pour your girlfriends a glass of chardonnay (or cup of tea) and get chatting!