This is the seventh entry in an eight part series exploring the connections between your finances and other areas of your life.
A few weeks ago, I started a series exploring the connections between personal finance and the other “spheres” of my life. The first entry covered the connections between one’s physical life and financial life, the second entry covered the connections between one’s mental and spiritual life and financial life, the third entry covered the connections between one’s intellectual life and financial life, the fourth entry covered the connections between one’s marital life and financial life, the fifth entry covered the connections between one’s parental life and financial life, the sixth entry covered the connections between one’s professional life and financial life, and today we’re looking at one’s social life and financial life.
As noted in the first entry, I tend to view life as a bunch of “spheres,” or areas of focus. I really like Michael Hyatt’s list of nine such “spheres”: physical, mental/spiritual, intellectual, social, marital, parental, avocational (hobbies), vocational, and financial – they cover much of what life is all about. I’ve come to view these spheres as deeply interconnected, in that success in one sphere is usually linked in some significant ways to success in other spheres (and failures are similarly connected) and that knowing the connections can help people figure out how to succeed in both areas at once.
Today, we’re going to look at the social sphere and how it connects to one’s financial life.
What Is “Social Life”?
Social life simply refers to the time you spend with other people simply because you enjoy spending time with them and get value out of that time. It encompasses time spent with family, time spent with friends, and time spent in situations where you’re getting to know people.
This might seem like a common sense definition, but there’s actually a lot going on here. Does social media count here? Does interacting with someone online count as actual “social” behavior? If so, is it weakly social?
For me, digital communication with people really only counts as social if it’s oriented toward spending actual face to face time with that person in the future. For example, if I’m looking at a Facebook picture of someone I haven’t seen in ten years, that’s not really social, but if I’m talking to someone on Twitter about a game night we’re going to have next week, that’s definitely social.
There are many deep connections between one’s social life and one’s financial life. Here are a few of the key ones.
Not having a social life leads to negative health consequences and significant expenses. The social sphere tends to be one of the two areas of life (along with avocational) where people often let it dwindle until it’s almost gone, then lament the disappearance of that sphere. People are more lonely today than they have been in centuries (if not ever) and that decay of social lives has a lot of profound negative health consequences.
In short, if you allow your social life to drift away because you’re too engrossed in other areas of life, you’ll likely find at some point that you’re struggling with loneliness, and persistent loneliness is very problematic for one’s physical and mental health over the long term. Maintaining your social sphere inherently helps maintain your physical and mental health spheres, which in turn helps your financial life.
Your social circle deeply influences your spending choices. It’s often said that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. I’m not quite sure that’s true, but I do believe that our closest friends and family members have a large impact on how we view the world, what things we’re exposed to, and what things we think about.
Thus, by extension, our social lives impact our financial lives by the spending choices we’re guided to (or away from) by our social influences.
I personally find it very valuable to cultivate social relationships with people who encourage me to make smart spending choices. Friends who are always nudging me to spend have a profound negative impact on my financial life, whereas friends whose company I can enjoy without any spending pressure tend to have a lifting effect on my finances. Friends who are frugal by nature improve my own frugality; big spending friends nudge me toward spending too much myself.
We can get trapped in a desire to spend money to impress our friends and acquaintances, often those outside of our most immediate social circle. We want to “keep up with the Joneses.” We want to have the burst of social cachet that comes with having the cool new thing. We want to be the nicely dressed one in the group, or at least not be the one that is talked about as being “shabby.”
In truth, this is just the “spotlight effect” in action; because we think about ourselves so much, we over-assume how much others think about us. Yet, many of us find ourselves influenced by these thoughts, overinflating what others might think of us. It’s good practice to stop worrying what other people think and instead behave as we would like to be treated, but that’s often easier said than done.
Friends can help greatly when you need to borrow something or have a major task to accomplish (like moving). Friends can be incredibly useful when you need something in a pinch. Whether it’s a cup of sugar, a foot in the door at a job, a truck to haul a couch, or an afternoon of help getting ready to move, friends can make all the difference and keep you from spending money on services and products (and they’ll likely make the activity more interesting anyway).
Naturally, this comes with some expectation of reciprocation, so it means taking on a helpful role in the lives of friends as well.
Here are five low cost strategies I use for maintaining and improving my own social life.
Strategy #1 – Keep Room in Your Life for Social Activity
As I noted earlier, it can be very easy to let our social life dwindle away in the face of all of the demands of our other spheres of life. Our health, our jobs, our marriages, our immediate family – all of that stuff often takes priority over having a good social life, and so we’ll steal time here and time there from our friends and social connections until, one day, we wake up and realize those connections have dwindled away, and we’re feeling lonely.
Not only is loneliness a bad destination, we also miss out on a lot of fulfillment along the path to loneliness if we let our social lives be sacrificed at the altar of career and family and Netflix and smartphones.
Don’t let that happen. Block off time on your calendar each week for social events. Make sure you’re doing at least something that involves interacting face to face with people that you don’t have to interact with (meaning people outside of your professional, marital, and parental spheres).
It can be anything you want it to be. It can be a dinner party. It can be a dinner out with friends. It can be a community event. It can be a meeting of a group or organization of some kind. It just needs to be something where you go there with the intent of interacting with others (or people come to you with the intent of interacting).
Do this on a weekly basis at the absolute very least, and ideally more often than that. More importantly, block off time on your calendar for these things, and do that each week. Don’t let these things slide by, because that’s a direct road to a dwindling and disappearing social life and a bout with loneliness.
If I look ahead at the next few days and don’t have something social on it, I’m either looking at the community calendar or I’m contacting some friends so that there’s something social on there.
Strategy #2 – Be Proactive in Terms of Meeting People
While people might come to you socially by calling you up and texting you and contacting you and inviting you, you can’t rely on that for social contact. It’s not reliable, and many friendships will fade quickly if you rely on it due to short term scheduling difficulties, introverted natures, missed communications, and so on.
If you want to have a social life, you have to be proactive in terms of meeting people (to begin the process of building new friendships) and also maintaining the friendships you have. You can’t just expect people to come to you. You can’t expect everyone to always have the ideas and always ask you. You can’t expect people to keep asking if you have to say “no” with any regularity. It simply won’t happen outside of maybe one or two super close friends. They’ll get the vibe that you don’t want to associate with them any more and they’ll fade out rather quickly.
If you want to grow your social circle and your social life, those people are not going to come knocking on your door. They’re not going to run into you on the sidewalk. You have to go out there and find them.
For me, this means being involved in the community. This means putting in the work to find groups to be a part of so that I have people with at least some common interest to associate with. This means putting away my introverted tendencies and actually talking to new people, which can be hard for me.
It’s not easy. It’s much easier to just look at my phone or read a book. It’s also got a high failure rate – I don’t just go to one event and click with tons of people and suddenly have tons of friends. At the same time, it’s incredibly rewarding. I have more good friends at this point in my life than I ever have, as well as more acquaintances and people I know and who know me. That’s not a typical thing for an American male approaching middle age.
How does this happen? It’s simple, and it has just a few pieces to it.
First of all, I go to lots of community events that seem interesting to me, and I don’t go there with the intent to just stand around. I go to participate. I go to talk to people because I know that the other people there are like-minded and have at least some overlap with me (we live in roughly the same area and have at least some overlapping interests). I dive into lots of little sub-groups.
Second, when I go there, I make it a point to be social. I use everything I’ve learned from Dale Carnegie (here’s a summary) and make a sincere effort to get to know people. If I click at all with someone, I usually find them on social media and follow up in the next day or two with something meaningful (more than just “HI! REMEMBER ME!?”).
The vast majority of people I meet don’t click deeply, and that’s fine. Over time, some of those people do grow into friendly acquaintances and sometimes eventually blossom into friendships. The key is to find groups and community events you’re comfortable with and enjoy.
Strategy #3 – Plan the Social Events and Invite People To Go
One thing I’ve found is that social contact sometimes fades because no one takes the initiative to plan anything. Often, this is due to a sense of misguided politeness as they feel like they don’t want to push whatever idea they have on others, and sometimes it’s due to a sense of being overly busy and feeling overwhelmed. Quite often, people just want a clear invitation and a sense that they’re personally invited and wanted at the event.
If you want to be social, be that person that starts the event. Come up with something to do and invite people to it. Make the plans, so that it’s just a matter of the other people showing up.
Want to have a game day? Plan one, set a date, invite some people. Want to have a dinner party? Plan one, set a date, invite some people. Want to have a movie night? Plan one, set a date, invite some people.
Sure, some will say no. Sure, some others might just no-show. That’s going to happen, and it’s usually not a slight to you. Forgive it to an extent, unless it becomes a long streak of “no”s or no-shows, in which case you might want to just do something with that person one on one. Don’t just assume that the person doesn’t want to be friends with you any more – instead, assume that the person is struggling with something, because that’s much more often the case, or maybe they’re just disorganized. Let them show you that the friendship is over directly if that’s the direction they want to go on – don’t just assume that it is because the other person has some challenge in their life.
You won’t always have to do this – well, for some friends you might because they’re apprehensive about the planning for some reason – but you’re almost always better off picking the thing and the time and the place and just inviting people rather than trying to get everyone to fish for ideas. Step up and be the social leader.
Strategy #4 – Make One-on-One Contact and Catching Up with Friends Into a Routine
Over the course of every few months, I make it a goal to touch base in some direct one-on-one way with everyone in my social circle. I’ll send them a one on one text just checking in on them (a “Hey, how you doin’?” kind of thing) or I’ll stop by some place where I know they’ll be and have a chat with them or I’ll plan on having lunch with them.
My goal with these things isn’t to talk about myself, but to find out how they’re doing, especially if I haven’t seen them lately. Are they doing okay? What’s going on in their life? Do they maybe need someone to talk to?
Friendships ebb and flow all the time, but it’s easy for a friendship to just fade away not due to intent, but due to a natural low point in the relationship when you’re both busy with other things at the moment. Maintaining that thread keeps the friendship alive and allows it to bloom again in the future, and it quite often will.
As I write this, I can’t help but think of several friendships in my life for which this is true. I have friends that live far away that I contact fairly regularly in a deliberate one-on-one fashion, just to see how they’re doing. I can also think of several cases where friendships that would have otherwise faded gradually grew into something deeply valuable again.
I do this rather mechanically by using smartphone reminders and such. I don’t want to accidentally forget about a friend and let that friendship die, so I set a reminder to keep in touch every month or every other month. My phone tells me to “get in touch with Person X again” and then I follow through. It works really well.
Strategy #5 – When a Friend or Acquaintance Needs Help, Do It (Especially If It’s a Multiplier)
If a friend needs help and I can reasonably give that help, I give it, no questions asked. I don’t expect anything in return.
Don’t I feel used or unappreciated? Nope, not a bit. I choose to help. It is my choice. No one is making me do it. I would feel used if I was forced or manipulated into it, but that’s a different situation entirely.
What I find is that, if I use this policy, a lot of simultaneous good things happen.
For starters, that friend that I’m helping is almost always in a better place because of my help. Their life is better, and a rising tide lifts all boats.
That friend is usually appreciative, and the friendship we have is strengthened because of it.
The opportunity to help is often fun, and it usually feels good.
That friend usually thinks highly of me, and that often comes up when I’m not around. Again, this isn’t an “always” thing, but it’s a “usually” thing. A friend that you’ve helped without any need of reciprocation is usually going to say good stuff about you when you’re not there.
Also, when I do need help and send out a call for it, a lot of people are willing to help me because they know I’ve jumped up to help them in the past. Again, this isn’t a universal thing, but if I help ten friends and then I need help, I’m likely to get an offer from at least a few of them.
It’s worth noting that the best opportunities to help friends are what I call “multipliers.” Those are situations where the value of the help to your friend is many multiples of what it cost you to help. For example, spending a few hours helping your friend move boxes so they don’t have to hire a moving service when they give you some pizza and a drink and you have some laughs and conversation together is a big win. Putting in a good word for a friend when they’re trying to get a job is a big win. Giving a key piece of advice regarding something you know a lot about is a big win. Those should always be given, as it lifts your friend’s boat quite high with little effort from you.
Your social life is a valuable part of your personal happiness, as well as a key support for your physical and mental health. It has many connections to your financial life as well. Thus, supporting your social life is incredibly important.
The big ingredients in a healthy social life are time and attention. Set aside some time and some attention for your social relationships and you’ll find that you’re paid back with far more value that you ever would have expected.