Friendships and the Financial Turnaround

Back when I was at the peak of my foolish spending days, I had a set of three good friends that I will call Manny, Moe, and Jack. The four of us got into a routine of going golfing after work at least once a week and golfing together each weekend. We were also part of an informal “young professionals” group in town, where a bunch of people in similar professions under the age of 35 or so would meet for drinks after work most nights, where people would meet up, talk about their careers, and show off their latest possessions (for example, smartphones were a new thing then and people were constantly one-upping each other with the latest gear because device innovation seemed to be happening on a weekly basis, but people also showed off the clothes and jewelry they wore, their watches, their cars, and so on).

In other words, running with Manny, Moe, and Jack was an expensive proposition. I had to have a good set of golf clubs – cheap clubs were basically ridiculed. I was spending money on greens fees twice a week, splitting the cost of a golf cart, and dropping some money at the clubhouse afterwards. On weekdays, I was buying a drink or two after work, splitting the cost of appetizers, and I was regularly buying things that would impress that group.

That’s an extremely expensive lifestyle, and it was one that really showed up on my credit card bills.

At the time, I felt that I had a really strong circle of friends, particularly Manny, Moe, and Jack, but also several of the people in the larger group that met up for drinks. These were my people – young, career-oriented folks with at least some interests that overlapped with mine.

But then a few funny things happened.

The first thing that happened was that Sarah and I had a child. This obviously had a big impact on our life. When the child was born, Manny, Moe, and Jack – as well as a few others – checked in on me fairly frequently and were amused by the idea of me having a child. There was a lot of talk of “when can you go golfing?” and “when are you going to be back for drinks?” which I interpreted those as people missing me.

Obviously, though, I couldn’t quite return to the frequency of golfing and after-work meet ups that I once had. I had a baby to take care of. I had to pick him up from daycare most days and I also couldn’t just ditch Sarah every weekend to spend Saturday afternoon golfing. I could do that occasionally, but not every week.

So I cut way back on my golfing and somewhat back on my after work meet ups. I went golfing after work about once every other week and maybe once a month on weekends, and I went from going to that meet up every night down to maybe once or twice a week.

When I did go, though, I tried to make a big splash. I’d usually buy a round of drinks for everyone and spring for some appetizers to share. I stayed in touch with Manny, Moe, Jack and others via texting and social media and things seemed okay, though I felt not quite as “tight” with everyone as I once did. They still sent me texts and usually responded when I sent them, but I felt a little out of the loop, which I was okay with because I understood the constraints of having a kid.

Several months later, we hit our financial bottom and I started to really re-evaluate our spending.

Two big things that were gobbling up a lot of money were my golfing excursions and my after work drinks with the gang, so I came to the conclusion that I needed to seriously trim back on those things. I decided, for the time being, that I’d go golfing once a month with the guys and go to the after work thing once every other week.

That seemed to cross some sort of threshold.

Manny, Moe, and Jack decided to add a different person to their golfing foursome and then were suddenly not available for a Saturday golfing outing. I’d text them and they’d say that they already had plans, which I learned from others was golf with some other guy. I was out.

I went to a big handful of additional after work meet ups, but I felt like more and more and more of an outsider. There were new people in the group, lots of inside jokes that I didn’t understand that were developing, and I wasn’t keeping up in the “arms race” of new things. The last time I went, about three months after our financial bottom, I basically only talked to one person who was mostly just being polite.

People stopped texting me. Manny stopped by my apartment a few times afterward just to say hello and see my kid, and then stopped by my house once after we moved into our house. Moe and Jack never did.

It wasn’t through lack of effort on my part. I texted people to see how they were doing and got no response. I’d suggest doing something that didn’t cost money and always got an “I’m busy” response until I got the hint and stopped texting them.

I basically haven’t spoken to anyone in that circle for many years aside from a few spontaneous instances of running into them on the street and, strangely, a fleeting friendship between my second child and the first child of another person in that group, a friendship that dimmed after they started going to different schools.

At the time, this really hurt. I felt like my financial changes had cost me a lot of friends and I felt like a social outcast.

Here’s the secret, though: I have a larger social circle now than I did back then.

What exactly happened? It was a mix of three things.

First, I had a few friends in the area outside of this group, and most of them were actually very welcoming of my financial changes. I simply started spending more time with them. I started having a regular board game night with three friends where we’d meet at one of our houses and have a potluck dinner – a board game night that’s still a regular thing and has now grown to about 12 attendees. Sarah and I were already members of a few civic groups and we’ve built a few friendships via those groups and become more involved in them.

Second, I started actively attending and getting more involved in existing community groups that didn’t come with a price tag. I found groups via Meetup and via our local community calendars, city websites, newspapers, and other civic groups I was already involved with. I tried a lot of such groups, as did Sarah, and we settled into several that really clicked with us. Through them, we’ve built a lot of friendships that aren’t centered around spending money.

Third, I’ve been working on being more friendly and actively working to build and maintain friendships and acquaintances. This was something I chose to do to improve myself. In the past, I was pretty lackadaisical about building and maintaining friendships. I’d contact people only when I wanted to do something with them or needed something from them. Now, I make an effort to just touch base with them. I try to text or message many people I know at least once a month with a personal “how are you doing?” message or a direct question about some aspect of their life as a follow-up. Believe it or not, if you do that consistently with people, they view you pretty high on their personal list of friends and they’re often very open to more social interaction, often even suggesting it themselves.

At this point, I’ve cultivated a great group of close friends for which there’s almost no expectation of spending at all. We don’t have to go “out on the town” to have fun together – and rarely do so. I have so many social opportunities and group meetings, even with that constraint, that I literally can’t keep up with them all and I’ve had to devise polite ways of saying “no” without devaluing the relationship (usually, explaining why you had to say “no,” suggesting a specific alternative time for doing something, and continuing to follow up does the trick).

The harsh truth is this: friendships that revolve around spending money in some fashion will probably dry up once you turn off the money spigot. That’s okay, though. Those friendships weren’t “true” ones, anyway – they were extensions of a habit of spending money.

Focus instead on cultivating relationships and friendships that thrive regardless of spending. Look through your life for relationships like that that already exist and cultivate them. Seek out more friendships like that in the community by getting involved in groups that don’t require spending money as an admittance fee (i.e., not at bars or clubs). Intentionally cultivate those relationships over time and don’t let them wither.

You’ll eventually find that your social network is stronger than ever, even without spending money.

Good luck!

More by Trent Hamm

Trent Hamm

Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.