5 ways to navigate a friendship wage gap

Kathryn Wheeler
By Kathryn Wheeler,
updated on Jun 22, 2023

5 ways to navigate a friendship wage gap

When one friend earns significantly more than another, it can cause tension and pressure. So, how can you handle these scenarios, without it costing your friendships?

Frank conversations about money aren’t easy, even with people you’re close to. This goes some way to explaining why so much is left unsaid, even through tough times when you may need the support the most.

Things can get particularly tricky when one friend is able to afford a lifestyle the other cannot. While not all socialising involves spending money, a lot of activities can rely on transactions – whether it’s a few pounds here and there to grab a coffee for a walk, all the way up to group holidays and day-trips. These disparities can lead to feelings of shame, guilt, and anxiety. And one person may end up spending more than they should in order to keep up the friendship. The problem is, this can only lead to further hurt – both emotionally and financially.

So, how can we navigate friendship wage gaps in a healthy and upfront way? With help from financial expert Pete Ridley from Car Finance Saver, we’re sharing some tips.

1. It’s time to be honest, no matter how hard it is

“Talking about money can be difficult, especially if you’re the one with less money,” Pete says. “No one wants to feel inferior, but if you don’t talk to your friends about how you’re feeling, they’ll never know. They probably have no idea how tight your finances are at the moment, and keeping it to yourself will mean that the cycle of overspending or missing out continues.”

You can approach the conversation in many different ways. You might want to sit down with your friend, and open up about your situation, explaining that you really value their friendship and the time that you spend together, but that you need to be careful with money so would prefer to stick to low-cost or free hangouts. Or, you may want to drop it into the conversation more casually, or perhaps put it down in writing in a text message.

The truth is, with the current cost of living crisis, a lot of people are having to be more careful with their spending, so you might find that opening the door to the conversation comes a lot more easily than it might have done a year ago, and your friend might be equally as relieved to finally be talking about it.

2. Set a spending limit each time you go out

You may be used to applying a budget to other areas of your life, such as in the weekly food shop, and it would also be good to have a figure in mind each time you plan to socialise.

“When you’re making plans, set a spending limit that you’re all comfortable with and stick to it,” Pete says. “This will mean there are no surprise additional costs that you’ve not prepared for. If you’ve agreed to go for dinner, make sure your friends know you only want to go for dinner, not spontaneous drinks and a night out after the meal.”

3. Suggest some free or low-cost alternatives

“No matter how small the suggested spending limit is, it might still be too much,” Pete explains. “Rather than opting out completely and staying home with FOMO watching their Instagram stories, suggest alternative plans. Your friends want to see you more than they want to go out, so suggest cheaper, or free, activities like dinner at home or a movie night. You can still spend time together without breaking the bank.”

Happiful has shared plenty of suggestions for low-cost things to do with friends, so let your imagination run free, and challenge yourself to create new, fun, free experiences with your loved ones.

4. Try to stop falling into comparison traps

We can all appreciate how hard it is to navigate a world that is constantly encouraging us to do more, to buy more, to be more. We’re constantly faced with targeted adverts bidding for our attention, and our social media feeds are flooded with pictures of other people seemingly living their best lives. All this can contribute to those anxious, shameful feelings. But it’s important to remember that you can’t always be sure what’s going on in other people’s lives.

“Constantly comparing yourself and your finances to your friends never helps, and only makes you feel worse,” Pete adds. “Making assumptions about your friend’s finances is also not helpful. Your friend with the highest-paying job may have debts they’re struggling to pay off, whereas the friend you think earns less may be doing really well with a side hustle and making more money than you thought. Your friends may be having the same money worries as you, so talking openly about it can benefit them as well as yourself.”

5. Remember the core values of friendship

“Rethink the friends that make you feel bad for how much money you have, or don’t have,” Pete says. “Friends who are happy to put you in situations they know you’re uncomfortable with, whether that relates to spending money or anything else, are not your friends!”

It’s a helpful reminder, and one that many of us may need every now and then. The chances are, your good friends just want to spend time with you, and your company alone is more than enough.

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