Friends and Goals

Roll back the clock to 2002, when I graduated from college. Virtually all of my friends graduated within a year of my graduation date and they spread themselves throughout the country, meaning that my former social circle existed only online and through occasional meetups.

Frankly, I had a rather difficult time building a new one. I found sets of friends that were mostly acquaintances who happened to be interested in the same things I was interested in, and for quite a while, this was my social circle. I’d hang out with the boys, play cards, occasionally go on road trips, have a pint or two in the evenings, and so on.

But as I began to take a serious look at my life, especially after the birth of my children, I realized that the people I was spending time with didn’t share many of my goals or even that many of my interests. I was already aware that there were big swaths of personal interest that I might as well not talk about or engage in with that group, but when I became a parent and realized I had to get my financial life straight, I began to see that most of my personal changes and new goals were off-limits, too.

To put it simply, your friends help define who you are and where you’re going. They can push you towards your dreams and help you along the way – or they can squeeze those dreams off at the roots. They can help you with good advice – or they can criticize you (and others) all day long. They can provide discussion that makes you learn and grow – or they can sit around and demean the things that you might otherwise personally value.

Just yesterday, I was leafing through Larry Winget’s strong personal finance coaching book You’re Broke Because You Want to Be and I came across the following passage, which is worth sharing here:

Ask yourself these questions about your friends:

What do you and your friends talk about? Do you make fun of rich people? Put other people down? Do you [complain] and gripe and whine about work and how unfair life is?
What books do your friends read? (If you answer this question with “Books?” that would be a clue.)
What do your friends expect from you?
What do your friends let you get by with?

If the answers to these questions are not ones you are particularly proud of, then you face the tough decision of keeping friends who are keeping you from your goals or choosing new friends who move you closer to your goals.

When I think about the circle of friends I held for a time after college through this filter, they were a pretty poor influence on me. We spent most of our time talking about sports, games, and famous people. There was also a lot of griping about how the world was out to keep individuals from succeeding and to keep people in dead-end jobs. There wasn’t much insulting of individual people, thankfully (other than one-liners that could basically be applied to anyone). No one read much of anything and those that did didn’t talk about it much. Mostly, no one really cared that much about anything except winning our card games and coming up with good one-liners.

In other words, it wasn’t all that great of an environment in which to grow as a person. It was fine for burning an evening, but no one ever motivated anyone else to really succeed at much of anything other than playing cards or golf.

I harbored dreams of becoming a writer, of succeeding on my own terms, but they didn’t start happening until I surrounded myself with new friends – or at least extracted myself from that group.

Here’s another way of putting it: if you harbor a dream or want to achieve a goal but you hide it from your social circle because you know they’ll make fun of it or oppose it, what are the odds you will succeed with that dream or goal?

Think about it: if all of your friends spend like it’s going out of style, how will that square with your sudden desire to cut back big time on your unnecessary spending?

If you want to go back to school or educate yourself about the world, how will that sit with a group that ridicules reading and never picks up a book?

You’ve voluntarily surrounded yourself with people hostile to what you yourself want to achieve, giving yourself a huge strike against your dream right out of the chute.

I’m not suggesting abandoning all your friends because you’ve decided on a new goal. There’s no reason to just walk away from a long-time group of friends simply because you’ve had a revelation about your goals in life or about your personal finances.

Instead, make a conscious effort to seek out new friends that are likely to share your goals and dreams and highest aspirations. If you’re going back to school, seek friends who are also learning about these things – look around your classroom. If you’ve decided to take up reading and educate yourself, join a book club and seek out friends there. The best way I’ve found for meeting people interested in keeping their spending low is through volunteering in the community or by taking classes on topics of interest (like cooking). No matter what your new interest is, see if there are community groups for that topic – and if you can’t find one, check out meetup.com. You may find that you have more in common with some new friends than your old group – and if that’s the case, grow with what you’ve found.

A great friend will always support you in what you do and will always focus on what you have in common, even if that changes over time. Seek these people out in all stages of your life. If you find that a person you considered a friend is actually standing in the way of your dreams, it’s time to look at things in a different light.

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  1. Nick says:

    I don’t know, my personal belief is that friends accent your life. They make you think. Having friends that are interested in both common and different things helps to enrich you.

  2. Stacey says:

    Sharing your goals can also lead to a closer friendship. When we finally told some friends our financial goals (pay the mortgage off in 10-15 years and retire early), they got on board with us and are paying down their credit card debt.

    It’s nice to have friends who enjoy “Frugal Fridays” – our favorite activity is cooking inexpensive, healthy meals together.

  3. Shanel Yang says:

    Friends can and do “accent” your life as Nick mentions, but they can also be tremendously toxic to your goals if their “differences” wander into the realm of always playing your devil’s advocate when it comes to your important life goals. They can even mean well — or at least that’s what they say — but the effect is still to tear down your dreams. I wrote about this problem in “Fire Your Devil’s Advocate” at http://shanelyang.com/2008/09/08/all-about-you-day-21-fire-your-devils-advocate/

  4. Chad @ Sentient Money says:

    Reinforcement is great, and good friends would help by adding some reinforcement. Plus, if friends aren’t challenging your thoughts or helping expand your thinking, then they aren’t helping you grow.

  5. rebel says:

    This question really hit me:

    if you harbor a dream or want to achieve a goal but you hide it from your social circle because you know they’ll make fun of it or oppose it, what are the odds you will succeed with that dream or goal?

    I actually have some friends that are and would be encouraging, but I don’t share my goals with them. Doing things in isolation is setting yourself up for failure. Good stuff!

  6. I am fortunate to have friends who share my frugal ideas, but also balance me out beacause I don’t spend moeny on anything really.
    My wife (my best friend) is a gerat example of this. She and I share goals of early retirement by paying off our mortgage and investing in dividend paying common stocks and rental real estate to fund the rest of our lives.
    However, she likes to travel (as I do once I get over the sticker shock) so we have made an agreement to take vacations once every two years as long as we can pay cash without affecting our retirement plan.

  7. RT says:

    I’m starting to think that you have my house bugged, Trent. LOL! I was just having this conversation with my husband last night. Routinely, at least one or two post topics a week have been related to conversations or thoughts I had just had the day before. Talk about being on the same wavelength or something!

    I agree with you 100% Your friends can either boost you up or bring you down. You have to decide your goals in life, and if you are content to become complacent and stay with the friends that you feel are keeping you down.

    However, I also feel that it’s good to have some of those friends to help keep you grounded. I think it’s all give and take. Find friends that you can learn from, but also be that friend that others can learn from.

  8. Interesting this post about friends. I read it and reflected on my best friend, who is the greatest kind of friend in every sense- smart, believes in me, has goals I respect, is dead interesting and all-around fabulous.

    But it also made me think of ways in which I may have not been an ideal friend in the past (not to her, you see. Old friendships, from when I was not so grown-up.) I like this little list as a way to be a good friend as well as a way to evaluate one’s friendships.

    You graduated college in 2002? You’re so YOUNG! and so grown – UP!!!! (marvels.)

  9. luvleftovers says:

    Wow Trent, you’re bugging my house too! I recently (as recent as 2 days ago for some) started sharing an idea with my closest circle of family and friends. I was stunned just how enthusiastic they would be! They are sharing their ideas and advice as well. Now I’m on fast forward and can’t wait to implement, though it will be a few years to finish the research and such. Their support has even cut a few corners, just in two days and has saved some time and aggravation. One may even have an investor for me.

    This has been a huge B-12 shot in the arm! Tell your friends.

  10. MKL says:

    An oft repeated comment on Dave Ramsey’s Radio show (name of the original quoter escapes me at the moment) goes something like this: “five years from today, the surest sign of the person you will become will be defined by the books that you read and the people that you srround yourself with”. the key idea is that, if you want to be an entrepreneur, hang out with other entrepreneurs. If yo uwant to become a musician, hang out with other muisicians. If you want to be rich, hang out with rich people (LOL!). the last one is tongue in cheek, but yes, you will often do things and set goals and actually achieve them when yo uare surrounded by people that either share that dream or have an interest in seeing you succeed.

    In my everyday life, I have a lot of interests ,and some of them are just unusual, so I don’t expect everyone of my friends to be into everything that I am. But for those endeavors that I love, I communicate with and spend time with others that have those same interests. I’ve been a Boy Scout leader for 15 years. It should surprise no one that many of my closest friends are also scout leaders. It comes with the territory. I’m an avid snowboarder, so of course I like to hang out with goys and girls who like to ride and push to try to get better (this has taken a back seat as I’ve gotten older and no longer compete at races or events, but I still enjoy talking to these people). My interest in Korean dramas has helped me develop a small network of friends who also enjoy these programs, and we talk about ones that we enjoy and what ones others recommend seeing. Book clubs, craft groups, you name it, they are there to help encourage others towards develioping an interest or taking that interest to a higher level.

    the other point I liked from the original quiote is that “if you keep hanging with the same old gang, don’t be surprised if after five or ten years you’re still in the same place as the old gang”.

    Hmmm, methinks I know what my next blog post is going to be about (LOL!)

  11. liv says:

    All my friends are always tight on money, since i started reading PF blogs, I like to try an inspire (or help…or nag! :P) them. My one friend and I are still working on my other friend who’d rather go out and live in the moment and keep putting off her IRA. I like sharing what i learned with them.

  12. ELD says:

    My best friend since high school (some time ago) had developed a very toxic personality over the years. His negative attitude was really dragging me down and I struggled for a long time over how to handle it. I tried addressing the issue with him and I tried accepting him as he is. Neither worked. We had an arguement several years ago and that was my opportunity for a clean break. I have not regretted it. We all have the right to choose our friends. As we grow older and our interests change, some of our relationships must change as well. I believe that you should always be on the lookout for those who can help you grow into the person that you want to be.

  13. GettingThere says:

    MKL wrore: if you want to be an entrepreneur, hang out with other entrepreneurs. If yo uwant to become a musician, hang out with other muisicians. If you want to be rich, hang out with rich people (LOL!).”

    This is interesting, because when I graduated from college — 15 years before Trent did — I went to work for a fella who was often listed as the richest man in Congress. He was a retired CEO of a Fortune 500 firm and his family had been major-league wealthy for generations. (He was also voted the nicest member of Congress by the staff of the Capitol — the janitors, cops, etc. — and for good reason.)

    I often served as his driver (not my job, but I was smart enough to realize that driving him around meant time to talk with him) and we became friends. I was often invited to join whatever group was having dinner at his house, so at the age of 22 I’d be across the table from the Secretary of the Treasury and two chairs down from the President of Nicaragua, or chatting with the owner of a major league team and a major bank, or discussing my career with three Senators. My boss knew everyone — for advice on constitutional issues he’d call a retired Supreme Court justice — and he was incredibly generous about introducing me to all his friends.

    And from listening to him talk with his old friends about life and family and all the stuff friends talk about, I learned an incredibly valuable lesson very early on: wealth does not protect you from life. His friends had the same issues about love, and family, and faith that my roommates and I did. Their money often gave them opportunity, but it didn’t give them peace or protection.

    It was one of the greatest lessons I ever learned. It allowed me to pursue a low-paying profession (I’m now a minister) and be OK with my more reduced circumstances, even as my siblings went into corporate work and gained great wealth. Too many people pursue money because they think it will shield them from the hard parts of life or because it’s presence somehow defines their value. It doesn’t. Money gives you more freedom to make choices, but it doesn’t help you make the right ones.

    So, in my life, hanging out with a very rich man allowed me to choose a very low-income life, and know that I was rich in the things that were most valuable to me.

    And, btw, it was when I was with my boss that I went to church for the first time in my life, so I even owe my current career to him!

    He was and is a very special human being.

  14. battra92 says:

    I’m having a sort of similar situation. After college ended the gang I had a lot of fun hanging around with just up and scattered. I am fairly confident I will never see some again. I also since moving up a bit on the financial ladder have lost touch with many of my old friends. I want to call it jealousy since many of them (my age or older) never went to college and make far less than I do but I know it’s not really so much that as it is just differing lifestyles.

    But yeah, I can understand what you mean about people pulling you down. I had some ignorant acquaintances who thought they knew the business world inside out and are convinced they know all about the current Wall Street and banking practices when in fact it’s obvious they’ve never cracked a book on banking or ever researched or had any facts to muddle with what they know.

  15. Tracy says:

    I spent five years working in a miserable, stressful job, in the IT department of a small company. My only “friends” were the other people in the IT group – work was my life at that point. Our conversations were always the same – complaining about work, making fun of others in the company, this person is an idiot or that person is a moron. Three years ago, we all left the company within a few weeks of one another, and went to different companies. We sort of stayed in touch, but eventually the contact stopped. Life was good, I was happy with work (finally), and wasn’t going home stressed out and in a bad mood every night. I stopped eating lunch out every day. I was healthy and happy.

    Last October, one of them called me about a job opening in his company, with a significant pay increase attached. The money was nice, and I thought it would be good to be hooked up with a friend again, so I took the job. Two weeks later, a third member of the “old gang” was hired at there. Within a month, old habits resurfaced. I was eating lunch out every day, lunch conversation was a hour-long gripe session. We were making fun of people again. I was going home angry and tired every day. The change was dramatic.

    My boss from the previous job stayed in constant contact with me, asking me repeatedly to come back. He even offered to match the pay increase that I had gotten at the “new” job. In December, I took him up on his offer, and returned to my previous job. It was like I had just gone on vacation for 2 months – I got the same desk, same laptop, even the same access card for the building. The only thing that changed was my circle of friends. None of the “old gang” will talk to me now, but I’m happy once again. There is absolute truth about surrounding yourself with the right people.

  16. Trent, while you’re pointing out the negative effects a group can have on the individual, what about the positive effects an individual can have on the group?

    I’m the youngest in my circle of friends but also the first to finish college. After I finished, 3 of my friends went back to school and got their degrees. I help keep my group active and am always discussing the future with my friends. I keep an RSS on craigslist for new job opportunities not only for myself but for my friends as well.

    I think you’re underestimating the role of leadership amongst friends. If you have nothing but negative loser friends, then yes, they probably will drag you down. But most people do have aspirations and goals, just maybe they don’t know how to get there. That’s what The Simple Dollar is about, right? Helping people pursue their dreams. I follow my own path and am my own man – and maybe I can help some of my friends find their own path as well.

  17. Kenny Johnson says:

    I actually consciously dumped friends in my early 20s because I felt they were a bad influence on me and may hinder my goals.

    I had a lot of friends who smoked pot (and used other drugs) and partied all the time. None of them were going to college and none seemed to have any long term goals. When I made the decision to go back to school and get my degree, I stopped hanging out with 90% of my friends. I eventually met new, more positive friends who encouraged my long term goals.

  18. I think as your goals change your circle of friends will for the most part reflect that change as well. There are of course those friends who are by your side your whole life. They support me emotionally as I return back to school late in life. Then there are those “friends” that wonder why you would want to waste your time on such nonsense……Of course they would rather be shopping instead of studying.

  19. michael says:

    For me, the most important thing about my friends is that they are different from me. I can’t imagine anything more boring than a bunch of people with all the same views sitting around agreeing with each other. That’s why I’m not active in any political party or religious organization, and why I only read opinion blogs where the owner’s views differ at least a little from my own (which isn’t to say that I’m not politically active — I am).

    Life should be an exchange of new ideas, or there can be no education.

  20. deb says:

    I am the oldest child in my family and one of the lessons I learned early in life was to pick your friends carefully. I made some poor choices my first year of college and paid for it academically and socially. When my younger sibs were making similar poor choices, the only thing I told them was,”Pick people who you would like to be like as your friends, because eventually, you become like your friend, be that good or bad.”

    Great article

  21. Kenny Johnson says:

    If you think everyone at a church or in a political party agrees with each other, you need to get out more.

  22. Carrie says:

    So, how do you handle family (spouse, parents, siblings) who demean the things that you value? I keep some of my goals private after experienced discouragement from the people who should have been the most supportive. I’m sure this is pretty common too.

  23. Treva says:

    I don’t really hang out with anyone from college at this point in my life. NONE of my friends from college have kids yet, but I had a child 4 1/2 years ago. She completely changed the course my life took! She made me re-evaluate what is important to me and the life my family has. My college friends, when I do catch up with them, are still living like they’re in college with disposable income and that’s just not me anymore.

    I’m very involved with my daughter and husband (as I should be). My husband is a stay-at-home-dad by default — disabled and cannot work. My daughter is exceedingly precocious and requires more time than we ever imagined. It’s a challenge to find areas to keep her mind stimulated and learning and keep her out of boredom.

    Following them is my extended family and a couple of ladies who are old enough to be my mother and grandmother, but who are dearly important to me. I think I’ll come back around to a point in time where friendship needs to take more focus in my day-to-day life, but right now my life is very full and enriched as it is.

  24. michael says:

    Kenny says: “If you think everyone at a church or in a political party agrees with each other, you need to get out more.”

    Been involved in both, unfortunately. Too many folks are too willing to walk in lockstep with each other, changing beliefs and even core values from day to day on the whims of their ‘leaders’.

    Of course, I have friends in my circle who belong to major parties and religions (and minor ones as well), but actually involving myself in those activities in search of intelligent, thinking individuals would be time consuming indeed, and life is too short.

  25. CLC says:

    “Mostly, no one really cared that much about anything except winning our card games and coming up with good one-liners.”

    Of course, that may be the impression they had of you as well! Wouldn’t it be sad if each of you were sitting around that card table thinking, “Man, I wish I could talk to these guys about the book I just read, or how I’d like to get ahead in life. Too bad these none of these guys care about anything except cards and joking around! I should dump them all.”

  26. Troy says:

    Getting there@

    “Money gives you more freedom to make choices, but it doesn’t help you make the right ones.”

    Quote of the week!!

  27. marie says:

    Sometimes it takes changing friends to make major life changes. Being rich or poor is one of those life changes: and it’s too important to keep it hidden.

  28. Ray says:

    Personally, I have different friends who has radically different ways in treating wealth and money.

    To me, they enrich my life in different ways, and as such I value them for their friendship, even if we have radically different goals.

    Sure, I have friends who are as keen on building their net worth radically as I am–with those friends we share each other’s goals and discuss about these things.

    But there are other friends who are almost always broke and are not really bothered by it. With them, I don’t share my net worth goals or anything–they won’t be interested in it anyway. Just meet up and enjoy the human connection, that’s all–I need a break sometimes from thinking about money and net worth, no matter how much I like it!

  29. Ryan McLean says:

    Cool post about friends. All of my friends pretty much come from church. All of my school friends I never see anymore.

  30. Lyn says:

    My friends seemed like pretty genuine people in High School, but they completely changed when they went to College (I guess it’s called growing up?).

    They all chose to move to the big cities, rent apartments and live some kind of high spending party lifestyle.

    I was the only one out of my friends who chose to stay in our home town and attend the local university. I work part-time and save pretty much everything I earn. I don’t have rent to pay and the only living expenses I have are food and gas. I also kicked my partying habits because that was not the person I wanted to continue to be and was wasting a hell of a lot of money on alcohol.

    As far as I’m concerned, none of my friends are thinking about saving for the future and are living in the moment. Lots of spending on clothes and partying.

    The funny thing is, I was the most immature one out of the group during High School. Now I am the most mature. I guess I am deemed ‘too boring’ now because none of them bother to contact me anymore.

  31. Sara says:

    I moved to a new state, and all of my friends were work friends. The only thing we really had in common though was work, and once I left I realized what a huge drain on me those relationships had been. Now, I essentailly have no co-workers (at least none that aren’t already family members – I take care of my grandmother) and I had NO social life. Well, I found this site: http://www.okcupid.com which is a dating site of sorts, but its also just for meeting people. Its free, and it has a matching feature where you answer tons of multiple choice questions, and it give you a percentage match with other people. I found my new friends this way. It is so gret to find people who share the same goals, and principles as I do. I have since become much more selective about the people I spend my time with.

  32. TParkerson says:

    Good morning Trent…great post on the value of friendships. Isn’t chemistry wonderful?

    One of the first lessons I learned on friendships was that life is fluid and sometimes they will change. As a youngster, I had a doppelganger best friend who was closer than a sister. I moved, she moved, we married, had kids, mortgages, jobs…you know, all the blah blah of life. I still see her, not nearly enough, and we can usually catch up fairly well. Funny thing is, she still sees my folks alot and has helped a bunch with some of their needs too. She is actually closer to my mom than to her own…I suppose that if my life were still in the same zipcode as when I was younger, we would still be doppelgangers!

    As I have gotten older, I can appreciate the need for more diversity in my friends. I am the one who hold interesting parties because you literally never know who you’ll be talking with. I build big circles! But here is a really cool thing, at least for me to understand…even with literally hundreds of friends, there are only 4 that I would call at 3 in the morning to help! All animals stratify our social relationships and I suppose that classifying our friends is really no different.

    I am glad to see that some of the posters have begun to recognize toxicity in relationships and can jettison those folks that are causing / allowing harm.

    I hope you all have a blessed day…my thoughts are with you all! Time’

  33. The quote, “birds of a feather, flock together” chimed in when I read your article, Trent.

    I’ve made some drastic changes with respect to my social circle over the last few years and soughty only to associate myself with people who have a positive outlook on life and growth oriented.

    It’s crazy how much momentum you can get when you’re aligned with people who share similar beliefs and values.

    Nice way to sum up your thoughts on social circles and goals, Trent :)

  34. Bill Ross says:

    Please excuse the political overtone of the link. This article hits on a critical point: survival is the ability to adapt correctly to environment. Choice of friends, acquaintances and beliefs (read: political lies) IS your environment. The meaning of this is PROFOUND.

    Learn How to Think:
    http://www.nazisociopaths.org/modules/article/view.article.php/c1/33

    Bill Ross
    (Electronics Design Engineer)

  35. Fawn says:

    Great post! :D

    I have a few close friends that are very encouraging. One of them even figured out her own debt repayment plan!! We help each other get there. You don’t have to nag them or press them with your thoughts, they will come around eventually when they see how well you are doing! :D

  36. Kate says:

    On re-reading this after a couple of years have passed, the perfect (fictional) example of what Trent means occurred to me.

    Think of Danny Zuko, at the very end of GREASE. Danny has graduated. He’s even lettered. He is moving up, leaving the grease behind. Sandy is a new friend, as well as girlfriend, and he’s taking her example: he’s beginning to use his brain. He’s not leaving Kenickie and Putzie behind, necessarily, but if they continue on the dead-end track, eventually the connection will weaken, even if the affection does not.

    Trent, if you’re monitoring these older columns for new comments, what do you think?

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