Updated on 11.03.09

A Reflection of Your Closest Friends

Trent Hamm

It’s often said that people are reflections of their five closest friends in many ways: behaviors, income levels, values, and so on.

Five years ago, almost all of my closest friends spent money like it was water. They were constantly doing things like playing poker, pushing each other to “one up” the rest with better gadgets and other material things, going out for drinks all the time, making fun of each other for looking less affluent, and so on. To put it simply, if you didn’t show many signs of material affluence, you were made fun of and ridiculed. You felt like less of a person if you weren’t spending money hand over fist.

Today, all of my inner circle of closest friends are pretty happy just spending an evening together playing cards or a board game. Instead of constantly going out on the town, we go to each other’s homes and hang out, watching each other’s DVD collections or playing each other’s games. We’ll make meals together and eat them together instead of going out for dinner all the time. Instead of talking about who has the latest gadget, we talk about who’s developed a better strategy at a well-played game or what sort of things we’ve been doing to improve the property we already have.

In that same time frame, my own feelings about spending money changed drastically. I went from spending rampantly to being careful about my money. I started spending more time at home rather than out and about, focusing my energy on getting good at a smaller number of things instead of chasing the new.

Perhaps most interestingly, I went from feeling pretty awful about myself to feeling pretty good about myself.

Look at your close circle of friends. What do you see? Chances are, you see something that looks much like you.

If you like what you see in your circle of friends when you look at them from a detached eye, you’re probably doing well for yourself. A good circle of friends is supportive and reinforces your best attributes.

On the other hand, if you don’t like what you see there, you’re probably struggling. A poor circle of friends brings each other down and reinforces one’s worst attributes.

To put it simply, if you want to find success beyond what you’re able to find right now, you may want to look at your circle of friends.

I’m not saying “ditch your friends” at all. Instead, my belief is that people change and grow over time and that growth is often reflected in who you choose to spend your time with.

In my own case, I observed my friends gradually shifting over time. The first major shift occurred when I had my first child. Since I was no longer nearly as available to go out on the town, some of them stopped emailing and calling me. Some of the rest continued inviting me to do social things, but I found that we had less and less to talk about because they weren’t genuinely interested in my life.

After my financial epiphany and, later, my second child, this became even more stark. The things filling my time were my family and my work, so when I would do anything with these riends, we would have very little to talk about. I couldn’t talk about the latest movie or much of anything else, simply because it was no longer any sort of priority in my life.

Over time, I found myself digging deeper into friendships with people who were either going through the same experience I was or were at least supportive of the things I wanted to do. I actually re-established some close friendships from an earlier period in my life and, today, my circle of friends once again reflects me. A single, introverted, frugal guy who loves to play games. A married couple where the husband loves gaming and works at home and the wife is kind, frugal, and has a quirky sense of humor. These are the kind of people we socialize with today.

To put it as bluntly as possible, this change in friendships was in large part responsible for many of my personal changes for the better over the past few years.

What can you do if you don’t like what you see? If you don’t like what you see, it likely means you’re growing as a person in a direction away from some of your friends – and that’s fine. Simply seek out others in your life that reflect your current values better and work on establishing a relationship with them.

You are a reflection of your closest friends. Do you like what you see in that mirror?

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  1. karyn says:

    My close circle of friends changed when I became a stay-at-home mom, but I didn’t realize it because we just moved. I’m now in limbo because I’ve become the only homeschooling mom in the group so my schedule doesn’t match theirs but I haven’t formed close friendships with the homeschooling moms yet. It can be a painful process when it’s abrupt and when you had a pretty good circle to begin with!

  2. Kate says:

    “I’m not saying “ditch your friends” at all. Instead, my belief is that people change and grow over time and that growth is often reflected in who you choose to spend your time with.”

    While I largely agree with this post, I think it really doesn’t take into account that you aren’t the only one changing: your friends are too.

    As we moe into different stages of our lives, our priorities change. Some friends will drift in and out of that circle, but many of them will be goign through the same things, and making similar choices (like having kids and needing to spend more time at home, wanting to be more frugal, etc.)

  3. Cara says:

    Once people start having kids, sometimes it’s really hard to be as close friends as you were previously. There’s clearly the schedule issue- the person with the kid doesn’t have nearly as much free time to just hang out. But there’s also the issue that interests have diverged. The person without the kid gets frustrated that the friend no longer has any interests outside his/her child – can’t we talk about anything else? – and the friend with the child perceives the lack of interest in the topic of children as a lack of interest in his/her life. Sometimes this is just the way it is and you will drift apart. However, my recommendation is that both friends bend a little to the other- let’s not talk about your kids ALL the time, but a little bit of interest and talk is important… but then move on to other topics. You do still have some interests besides your kids, right?!

  4. Jonathan Vaudreuil says:

    What’s important about this is understanding what associating with certain people means for your lifestyle. My fiancée and I are always looking for relatively inexpensive ways to have a good time with friends, yet some of our friends are always down to drop big $$ and are looking to do so. The hard part is staying friends with them for all the reasons besides money, something easier said than done.

    I’d love to see you address that topic, Trent.

  5. Johanna says:

    It’s for this reason and others that I sometimes wonder whether people who go to grad school are better with money than people who don’t. For the first five years of my independent adult life, I was living off a stipend in the neighborhood of $20K/year AND I was socializing almost exclusively with people who were also living off stipends in the neighborhood of $20K/year. We all regarded it as completely normal to pinch our pennies until they cried for mercy.

    I make more money now, I socialize with people who make more money, and I’m a little more relaxed with my spending, but a lot of the basic habits have stuck.

  6. Joanna says:


    Right on the money, this was a HUGE issue in my book club. Over the years, we’ve had several “Come to Jesus” talks and we actually agreed to some rules to help keep ourselves on track. We had dissolved into potty talk often even DURING the book discussions. I’m glad we stuck it out, though, because several of those relationships have deepened for me at least & as one of the non-moms who is thinking about soon becoming, it’s a fantastic resource for me! :-)

  7. Brian G says:

    Kate, I think he meant his friends literally changed, they were not the same people.

    Great article, posting it on Facebook for my friends to see. Good to remember. If your friends are toxic, it’ll eventually harm you in some way.

  8. John says:

    I don’t really have any friends. I hate to think about what that means.

  9. Bill says:

    My group of friends always seem to be frugal. We all have potluck dinners, and borrow each others stuff, pitch in help at each others houses, swap babysitting duties.

    Our downfall, we live in Alaska, we like to hunt and fish. Fishing usually not that expensive (except for the friend that owns the boat), but we spend a lot (5-10K a year) on hunting trips. Yeah we never buy meat at the store, but it would be lot cheaper. I guess that is the one downfall, other than that we’re all tight wads.

  10. Steffie says:

    Again it is all about balance. We have friends that stay at home, watch tv, play cards etc. We also have friends that go out and seem to know all the cool places when we need to get out and let go. Yes the party time $ is built into the budget. We consider it to be a medicinal therapy so we don’t get cabin fever, especially in the winter. We still need all kinds of people in our lives to get different opinions and views.

  11. Wonderful advice, stick with winners, and avoid the losers.

    John DeFlumeri Jr

  12. Meagan says:

    @ John #8

    I don’t really have friends either. what does that mean for us? We are our own influence for spending habits and self-worth?

  13. chacha1 says:

    Friends generally come into our lives only when we’re in a position to meet people. For adults, that often means we are “friends” with people we knew in college or high school, or with people in our workplace.

    It’s never a bad idea to put yourself in a position to meet different groups of people, so – John & Meagan – my advice would be to 1) think about the things you like to do; 2) think about whether those activities are ever communal; 3) if answer to 2 is “yes,” go find the community; 4) if answer to 2 is “no,” ask yourself why! People can be a lot of trouble, but friends are worth it.

    DH has a couple of friends who were close when they were in college together, less so now that the others have had kids and live fair distances away. Our mutual close friends are all from our sport/social activity – ballroom dancing – which is a great way to meet a lot of people you would never come across otherwise.

    Our close friends are all similarly situated to us, as in Trent’s case. We all deal with our situations differently, and it’s good to bounce things off of people who see things differently BUT who care about your well-being.

  14. Outdoorseaguy says:

    This is somewhat going on in my life right now. I’m going through a period where getting my finances to a healthy place and living more simply are becoming a priority and spending money is not. Many of my friends make a lot more money than me and have no problems spending, spending, spending. I’ve stopped comparing myself to them and feeling like a failure for not having what they have. That’s been really difficult…more so than making tuna fish sandwhiches for lunch. I’m afraid that we may not have much in common any more. My desire to live more simply doesn’t really fit in with their desire to consume and have the newest, fanciest toys. It sucks, but I may be totally OK with that.

  15. Betsy Talbot says:

    We’re leaving in 330 days for a trip around the world. It sounds really glamorous, but the truth is that we completely remade our lives over the last few years to make this happen. And even more than the savings and decluttering efforts, I owe that accomplishment to the kind of people we surround ourselves with.

    It is hard to give up old relationships, even when you know they aren’t working for you, but when you see the power of hanging out with people who share your interests and genuinely want you to live the life of your dreams, well, it is hard to beat it.

    So here’s to friends who also save money, like to take walks instead of go to the mall, and enjoy a potluck as much as a dinner at a fancy restaurant.

  16. Laurie says:

    @karyn: I’m in the same boat just two years further down the road. It is really like having two totally separate groups of friends. I have learned though that most of the non-homeschooling friends are interested in what I’m doing – they are just a little taken aback at first.

    Only caveat is that SOME public schoolteachers did seem to take what we were doing as an affront to them personally. But not all – one of my best friends is the principal the the elementary school my kids would go to!

  17. Todd says:

    “The person without the kid gets frustrated that the friend no longer has any interests outside his/her child – can’t we talk about anything else? – and the friend with the child perceives the lack of interest in the topic of children as a lack of interest in his/her life.”

    This reminds me of a great line in a short story I read a few years ago, by a single character talking about all of her married friends with children: “They don’t need friends anymore. They make their own.”

  18. michelle says:

    I agree that your friends definitely change with you. When I started dating my boyfriend who is from a family of multimillionaires, he used to spend quite a bit of money on clothing and going out to eat (in comparison to me). After a few months of dating, he started to see that the culture of my close group of friends relies more on “chill out time” spent at someone’s house eating homemade food and playing music or games. . . and he also stopped shopping for clothes so often. He doesn’t miss it much, and he’s been able to build up some savings. . . on a grad student’s stipend, no less!

  19. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    “This reminds me of a great line in a short story I read a few years ago, by a single character talking about all of her married friends with children: “They don’t need friends anymore. They make their own.””

    No one besides us in our closest circle of friends has any children. Since we’re the only parents in the group, we rarely talk about parenting issues, and our friends actually love playing with the kids because they don’t have kids of their own and we don’t overwhelm them with “kid talk.” We’ve actually been asked unprompted when our kids will be up from their naps because our friends want to see them or play with them.

    Diff’rent strokes for diff’rent folks.

  20. ChrisD says:

    Lots of my friends have kids and I feel it hasn’t hurt the friendships at all. Of course you have to visit at their house, but for me that is still ‘out’ and I too like seeing the kids and playing with them. One is my godchild now.

  21. Matt says:

    My close circle of friends share a lot of the same qualities that I have. I’ve never been one to lead a keep up with the Joneses lifestyle. I’m perfectly content having a stay at home night playing board games and preparing a good home cook meal as I am going out to dinner.

    I’ve always been one to care more about creating memories over spending tons of money to make myself happy. Excellent post once again Trent- you give people food for thought as you are looking at events that occur in your own life.

  22. Kevin says:

    I think whether or not someone has a child is a much bigger determinant of your “circle of friends” than finances. My wife and I are middle-income, childfree, and quite frugal. Yet I have friends who have much lower incomes, a friend with similar income but who is much more spendthrift, and some poker buddies who are retired (no income), but have big piles of money in retirement assets. It runs the gamut, really.

    But the one thing they all have in common is a lack of young children. In the one case where our friend does have children, the kids are old enough that they play the games with us.

    Two of our best friends were a married couple the same age and income level as my wife and I. They even had similar spending patterns. We were very close, until they started having kids. Then they moved away, to be closer to their own family (for help with raising the kids). We grew apart and talked less and less. When we did talk, it was almost always about their kids.

    I think you can have friends with different outlooks on money. But unless you have kids yourself, young children drive an enormous wedge between friendships.

    But then again, what do I know. I’m just a candle in the wind.

  23. Russ says:

    I’m not convinced by this; I have some frugal friends, some spendthrift friends. Some of my friends spend a great deal of money on cars and clothes, others like a quiet evening in with a couple of beers and a rented videogame. I think I’d go nuts if all my friends thought and behaved like me.

  24. Jenny says:

    My friends all drove big, newer cars than I did, and seemed to be shopping and buying all the time. I never felt a need to keep up with them in these respects, and that is how I have managed to keep savings and a comfortable life in these scary times.

  25. Vicky says:

    I lost a lot of my friends when they had children.

    Of course, they were all still in high school, so it’s no surprise. I have very, very few friends now becasue everyone I know either has children or goes to church all the time – neither of which are activities I particularly enjoy…

  26. Michelle says:

    Some of our friends spend more than we do, but as long as all of us enjoy hanging out and talking/gaming/watching movies at somebody’s house, we do just fine.

    My husband and I don’t have children and are still deciding whether we want to eventually. We’ve recently made friends with several people who do have children, and one couple we’ve been friends with for a long time now has a baby. And yeah, kids change things. Our friends with kids are less available for social stuff, or they bring the kids. Bringing the kids works for the most part, although the couple who lets their kid completely run wild doesn’t get a lot of invitations. The kid talk really hasn’t been an issue. If they’re not offended by having a conversation about a class I’m really enjoying (and another that I’m not), then I’m not offended by having a conversation about what’s going on in their lives.

    One of the important things my husband and I have in common with our friends is a laid back, live-and-let-live attitude. It makes our differences easier to deal with.

  27. Joanna says:

    @ Betsy Talbot: That is so AWESOME! I met a family while traveling in Peru who was from England and doing an around the world trip in one year. Mom, Dad and four kiddos. Since then I’ve been marinating on the idea. I think it’s fantastic and would be an incredible educational experience both for parents and children. Kuddos to you for being so brave!

  28. Evita says:

    I was single for a long time and sadly lost all my girlfriends when they had babies and all my men friends when they got married. The women all preferred to socialize with other mothers and the men did not want to create jalous feelings in their spouses. It is pretty painful when you know that you are being dropped from the lives of people who were so important before. It made me wary of making new friends. My husband of 20 years is my best friend but somehow I feel he should not be the only one……

    From the comments, I see that I am not alone, this is a comforting tought!

  29. Adam says:

    I really don’t see ANY correlation between my friends and my income levels or spending types (frugal versus spenders).

    I think I read in one of those “You’re broke because you want to be” Larry Winget type books that your 5 closest friends average out to your income, and my income is about twice the average income of my closest friend.

    I also have friends of all different backgrounds, education levels, and living situations (married, single, living togethers).

    I made my friends in highschool or while I was in university, and I’m now in my 30s. The people have all grown up in different ways, but we’re all still close friends. I continue to add to my friends but my closest ones don’t change because they get rich or poor or married or become frugal.

    *But* I have seen people having kids suddenly drop off the face of the earth (understandably). I think that’s probably the biggest factor…which I know is a hot button issue around here. None of my close friends have had kids yet, thankfully.

  30. Patty says:

    I’ve been learning similar lessons. A group of us new graduates started work together and were best friends but then I got married and bought a house. I kept trying to be friends but noticed I was invited to fewer and fewer activities. Its hard because I still work with them but I’m happy to pack my lunch and stay in touch with those that genuinly care about me. Something I was told was that we have friends for a season, for a reason or for a lifetime.

  31. Amateur says:

    The good friends usually remain good friends despite life changes, varying incomes, geographical distances, and other challenges.

    One really important thing is to keep making new connections and be open to meeting new people. I’m not saying leave the old ones behind, but do understand people have to evolve as well and they may not be part of your life as you were accustomed to. Close and supportive friendships are hard to come by and they don’t always last, it’s important to understand that and not feel that it is their intention to hurt you by drifting away over time.

  32. Surround yourself with supportive friends, and eliminate the unsupportive ones from your life—a few words of wisdom I recently came across…

  33. DB says:

    It has been said before ; “Do they give you energy or do they just take your energy ?” That’s what I have been saying to myself the last couple of years.Maybe hard in the beginning but ultimately so liberating…

  34. laura k says:

    @ John and Meagan-Are you saying you’re introverts (as defined by the MBTI)? I know I am. I also don’t have many friends, and don’t feel any need to find more. It may, however, also be the way “friend” is defined. Just last night my boyfriend said something about my friend “James,” though I would not consider James anything more than a mere acquaintance.

    Being an introvert has its financial advantage (to bring this around to money): I don’t feel the need to spend time with others, so I never need to entertain or spend money to go out. This is not to say that I don’t do these things; it just means that I do it rarely enough to spend far less than someone who needs to be social.

    @chacha1-If John and Meagan are introverts (and I apologize if my assumption is incorrect), they may simply not feel the need to go out and find friends. Given that only about 10% of the population are introverts, it is not surprising that the other 90% do not understand us. Heck, I hardly understand myself, except to know that the amount of time I need to spend alone would drive most people batty!

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