A week ago, I wrote an article entitled Friendships and the Financial Turnaround, in which I discussed the challenge of building and maintaining friendships when you make a major financial turnaround in your life. In that article, I discussed a few broad strategies for doing just that – building and maintaining friendships as an adult without spending a lot of money doing so.
Several readers wrote in with follow up questions that were worthy of the Reader Mailbag. Collectively, those questions pointed strongly toward an article outlining how exactly I have built friendships as a financially careful adult. What exactly did we do to build those friendships?
To summarize: I would guess that I have more strong friendships right now as an adult male approaching middle age than I had at any point in my entire life. This includes high school and college. I built most of those friendships while being pretty careful with my money – I didn’t spend on lavish parties or expensive things to impress people.
I did that by using a bunch of different strategies at once, which I’m going to list over the course of the rest of this article.
One big caveat before we start: doing just one or two of these things is not enough. These strategies work best in concert with one another, and just pulling out one or two, trying them for a while probably won’t have the outcome you desire. You don’t have to do everything I list here, but if you’re going to seriously try to build friendships, you should do a lot of these things.
Okay, let’s dig in.
I Consciously Worked on Improving My Own Social Skills
This might seem a little strange, but this was absolutely foundational for me. I’m an introvert for whom social skills don’t come naturally. My instinct in a place, particularly with new people or people I don’t know well, is to clam up, and it has taken a lot of work to just partially overcome that instinct.
To help me, I have relied on countless Youtube videos and articles, but there are three books that have had a truly profound impact on my social skills. Each of these books can feel really mechanical in places, but it was those specific mechanics that really helped. I recommend reading all of these, for different reasons.
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie was foundational. It really helped me figure out how to have quality conversations with people I didn’t know well, and how to have the courage to simply start interacting with them. I’d say this book took me from being someone who hated even going to social situations and standing in the back of the room when I did to a person who felt fine in mixed social situations and could carry on conversations that were at least good enough to start building relationships.
The Like Switch by Jack Schafer added a lot of details to How to Win Friends and Influence People. For me, this book was a great follow-up because it focused on very specific things that I could work on to improve my ability to converse and my “likability.” It basically takes a lot of the tactics given in the earlier book and refines them by adding details into something more powerful, or shows you how to connect them together more effectively.
Finally, Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi and Tahl Raz takes the elements taught in the other books and shows you how to build upon the effective conversations and transform them into lasting friendships and relationships. I particularly valued the focus on how to maintain relationships over time.
I strongly encourage anyone who is interested in how to build friendships and community relationships as an adult and finds doing so to be difficult at all to read those three books.
As I read techniques in those books (and found others in articles here and there), I consciously practiced them. I turned them into thirty day challenges, where I strove to work on that specific tactic for thirty days straight, and sometimes repeated those challenges, in an effort to make that tactic feel completely natural to me.
I worked on things like smiling more (my face naturally has a slight frown to it while resting), starting conversations with people, consciously listening more, following up with people, and so on. Most of the rest of the tactics in this article were practiced by me in some way or another.
You’ve got to practice your social skills and strive to be better or it’s going to be prohibitively hard to build relationships when you’re not stuck in a classroom with the same people for many hours a week. It was easier to build friends in elementary school and high school and college because you were forced to be in proximity. As an adult, that’s no longer true. You have to do better or you won’t build relationships.
I Intentionally Started Attending Community Events That Interested Me
I started blocking off evenings in my calendar to go to community events, both with my family and on my own.
I went to meetings of local civic groups like the Lion’s Club. I went on Meetup, the city website, the parks and recreation website, the library website, and those of nearby towns. I joined a local community group on Facebook and started looking for local event listings. I started going to every single sporting event that my children participated in and intentionally sat near other parents.
My goal was to fill my calendar as much as I could with events out in the community where I could interact with other adults.
In addition, I sought out online communities directly related to my personal interests, particularly my hobbies: books and reading, board games, home brewing and fermented foods, and so on. I particularly looked for groups with a local bent, but wider groups with occasional opportunities for face to face meetings (like conventions) were also on the radar. Social media, like Facebook and Twitter, is a good place to start – just find conversations by searching for key terms of interest and dive in.
For those more distributed online communities, I started planning to occasionally go to conventions where I could mostly meet up with some of those people face to face and hang out together, really cementing the friendship we built online. This came later, however; I met up with people I had conversed with for years in public group settings.
At Those Events, I Intentionally Made It a Goal To Talk To a Certain Number of People in a Meaningful Way
Whenever I go to any kind of public event, whether it’s something as simple as watching my kids play soccer or an ordinary meeting of a civic group or a public lecture or a free concert or something I learned about via Meetup, I make it my goal to have a meaningful conversation with some small number of people there. Three, five, ten – it depends on the event and also on how I’m feeling.
For me, a “meaningful conversation” is one in which I learn a person’s name and something significant about them, or if I casually knew them before, I learn something new about them. I usually do this by asking questions pertaining to what we’re doing there, and then following up.
So, let’s say I’m at a soccer game. I’ll sit my chair down next to a parent I’ve seen at games in the past and introduce myself. “Hey, I’m Trent… my son is #46 over there.” They’ll usually introduce themselves back. Then, I’ll ask some follow-up related to the event at hand. “What do you think of the new coach?” or “I’ve never been to this town… are there any good restaurants here?”
The point here is to serve up a question where I’m interested at least a little bit in the answer and to give them something easy to talk about. Almost always, their answer gives me a route to another follow up question, and then we’re off to the races.
If I ever sense a lull, I’ll usually ask them what they do for a living or what they like to do when they’re not working. Whatever hobby they name, I express interest in it, period, because people are almost always happy to talk about their hobbies.
I can usually figure out by this point whether this is a person I am going to connect with. Not connecting with someone doesn’t mean that they’re a bad person, it just means that we didn’t click for some reason. Sometimes, I’ll find that I “click” with a person later on after having had some conversations with them that didn’t initially click.
I Aim to Obtain Some Way to Follow Up with Each Person I Felt Some Connection With
If I feel some good connection with someone, I try to obtain some contact info that’s low in terms of life intrusion, like a social media handle or an email address. I’ll say something like, “Hmmm… that’s really interesting. I’m going to have to give that some thought. Do you have an email or a social media account? I’d really like to follow up with you about X.”
Most people do this. They usually figure that if they don’t actually want to respond, then they can just ignore anything I send their way. And, yeah, sometimes they do, and that’s fine with me. There are millions of people out there – they’re not all going to wind up being a good friend.
Once I have that contact info, I usually jot down the reason why I want to follow up with them and any information I need to know about that.
Let’s say I went to a presentation at the library and afterwards I found myself talking to a guy named Jim. It turns out Jim is really into heirloom gardening and loves to save seeds, something that’s a mild interest of my own. Because of follow up questions, I find out that Jim has a particular tomato variety that he really loves, but he can’t remember where he got the seeds originally.
I’ll simply say, “I’d love to get a few of those seeds or at least find out where you got them from and try to grow them next year. Do you have an email or something so I can shoot you a message about them?”
When that person shares their contact information, I’ll immediately jot it down somewhere before I forget it. I’ll put it in my pocket notebook (I don’t go anywhere without a pocket notebook and a pen)
Then, a day or two later, I’ll type out an email to Jim.
This is Trent, we met at the talk at the library on Tuesday and you told me about your tomato variety.”
I’ll ask a few questions about it, like where he got the seeds and so on and whether he has any cucumber heirlooms that he really likes for this Iowa climate.
I’ll finish off with friendliness, like “It was great to meet you! I love to find other people who are into gardening, especially someone who got heirloom tomatoes to work well around here!”
This usually results in at least a few back and forth emails that, even if they dwindle away (as they usually do), create a foundation for future contact.
I Use Ryze to Manage Social Follow-Ups
If I feel a connection clicking with someone, I add them to an app on my phone called Ryze.
Ryze is a combination of a calendar and a contact manager. What it does is that it reminds you on a set schedule to get back in touch with each of the contacts that you add. It is incredibly effective at helping me stay in touch with people and maintain older friendships. It’s just a gentle nudge so that I don’t get lazy with my friendships and acquaintances.
For each person in Ryze, I have a few things listed that I want to follow up on the next time I’m nudged by the app to contact that person. This isn’t because I’m not thinking about the person, but just because my memory is fallible and the thing I want to keep in touch about is something I don’t want to forget. It’s like an external social memory for me.
So, let’s say I have an old friend named Tina listed in Ryze, and it’s set to remind me to contact her once a month. I do so by sending her a Facebook message just to say hello and ask about how her job is going (which I’m reminded to thanks to Ryze) and I find out that one of Tina’s family members has cancer. I’ll bump up that reminder to once a week for a while and I’ll ask for updates about her family member and ask how she’s doing. Again, this isn’t because I wouldn’t naturally do this, but that I don’t want it to fall through the cracks – being supportive of this friend and being in contact with her is genuinely important to me and probably valuable to her as well.
It is so easy for a friendship to fall through the cracks and to just forget to follow up with friends. Ryze keeps that from happening. I check it daily and contact anyone it says that I haven’t contacted recently.
I Host Dinner Parties and “Game Nights” Rather Than Going Out with People
This is simply a move for keeping up with friends while being busy with adult life and also trying to keep my spending low. The solution is to just regularly host dinner parties – particularly potlucks, where I ask each person to bring something – at my home.
People come over with some food item in their hands that works as a side for the meal or a dessert or a beverage. I’ve usually prepared something in the slow cooker or have it cooking slowly in the oven or on the stove top when they arrive. We sit around and chat for a while, then we eat a meal together, then we chat for longer.
Sometimes, we’ll play a few board games. I have ones that I bring out for people who aren’t necessarily board gaming fans – nice light fare that stirs conversation, like Codenames. Sometimes, I’ll have a dinner party with other gamers and we’ll play something deep.
Sometimes, we’ll have a movie night and watch a movie together. I particularly enjoy our “bad movie” night where everyone is free to just make fun of the movie.
The goal, as always, is to cement friendships and connect with people and just enjoy time spent with people I like. Plus, it costs very little and it’s often met with reciprocal invitations down the road.
I Never “Eat Alone”
Whenever I eat a meal, I aim to eat with someone else face to face if possible. I eat breakfast and dinner with my family most days, and most meals on the weekends.
If I’m not eating with my family, I try to find somewhere to go where I’m not eating alone, if I can. I have friends that I brown bag with once or twice a week. I set this up by looking for friends in my area that work from home and simply suggesting that we meet up for lunch once a week to “get out of the house.” We usually meet at some neutral place where a brown bag lunch is fine, or alternate houses.
If all else fails, I’ll spend my lunch break eating at my computer while intentionally reaching out to people for social reasons. I’ll go through my list on Ryze and contact everyone on it with care and thought.
I Ask People for Advice All the Time
Whenever I have any sort of issue in my life, I look for people I know who can kick some advice to me. I do this with lots of personal decisions, almost every significant purchasing decision, and many other choices.
I’ll simply identify three or four people that I know and send each of them a message laying out my choice and asking for their advice.
I do this not just because I really get value out of their advice, but because people feel valued when you ask them for advice. It’s a great way to signal “your opinion really matters to me.”
I find that some of those friends often ask me for advice in return, which is great. Sharing advice back and forth cements that relationship.
When People Need Help, I Try to Actually Provide Meaningful Help, Especially When It’s Multiplicative
Whenever I see someone that needs a helping hand that I can actually provide with genuine action, I do so without worrying about it being reciprocated. I don’t worry whether or not my neighbor is going to repay me for a gallon of milk. I don’t worry if a friend is going to give me a couple hours of help after I spent the morning helping him move. I don’t worry if someone is going to give me something after I lend them a helping hand in a public setting. I don’t expect a friend to laud me if I come through for them in a pinch.
This is especially true if it’s multiplicative help – in other words, if I can do a small action that provides a big benefit for that person. I just do it if I possibly can and don’t worry about getting paid back.
I keep my eyes open for situations where help might be useful and I just jump in if I think I can help.
What I find is that a lot of that help isn’t ever reciprocated in any direct fashion, but when I need help, I almost never lack a helping hand. It’s just there.
I Smile and Greet People as Much as Possible When Anywhere Outside the Home
A final strategy that’s been really helpful is that I’ve practiced and become very used to smiling at people and greeting people. If I see people on the street, I look quickly in their eyes and smile and say hello in a warm way. I used to just keep my eyes down and say nothing and sometimes I still fall into that trap, but I consciously strive to do better.
If I see someone I know, I make an effort to say hello to them, even if it’s just a shouted hello and a wave across a parking lot if I’m in a hurry or stopping to talk for a few minutes.
Isn’t a Lot of This Obvious Social Stuff?
Much of it is, but it’s so easy for us to overlook these things in the busy rush of our adult lives and in our own personality quirks. It is much easier to overlook these things, come home and collapse in a heap of mental exhaustion, and then one day notice that our friendships have eroded. On top of that, I’m unabashedly an introvert, which causes me to naturally want to be quiet and clam up in mixed social situations.
For me, digital tools combined with a consistent effort to be better at conversation really help navigate these waters. Filling in my calendar with social events keeps me interacting with people, Ryze helps me follow up with relationships, and good social habits (practiced with thirty day challenges) also helps. This allows me to be social and build lots of friendships as an adult without going out on the town and without engaging in a lot of expensive social activities. These tools all work together to create a social framework for my life, one that has really helped me cultivate a lot of friendships without spending much money at all, and I encourage you to do the same.