One of the biggest concerns that people have when they’re financially rebooting their life is how they’re going to find people to fill their social circle. Many, many people have social circles that engage in activities that are expensive – a constant cycle of going out for dinners, drinking at bars, going clothes shopping together, and so on – and while you might be fine with stepping back from those activities, it’s often much more challenging to step back from the connections with people.
If all of your friends are spenders, what do you do when you choose to step back from all of that spending?
It’s a question I faced myself during the early stages of our financial turnaround. My main social circle prior to that consisted of a group of young professionals in my field at the time. They went out for drinks most nights after work. They often went out for meals together. They went golfing on the weekends. Sometimes, they’d shop together. They’d constantly try to one-up each other with purchases, particularly regarding clothing, electronics, cars, and luxury experiences like eating at a new restaurant.
Frankly, it was incredibly expensive to hang out with those people. Virtually every activity I did with them involved shelling out money left and right.
It was readily apparent that if I wanted a financially stable life where I could build toward my big dream of financial independence, I had to make some big changes to how I spent my time after work and on the weekends. However, doing so meant that I would have to walk away from this social circle I had built.
I did it anyway.
Today, I easily have a larger social circle than I had then, but there was a rough period of transition where I had to figure out how frugal and financially responsible people found friends. Here are the strategies that really worked for us.
Invite people in your social group to do more financially responsible things. As we started to withdraw from the more expensive social lifestyle, we didn’t just cut ourselves off from our friends. Instead, we made a concerted effort to invite those friends to do other things that weren’t perhaps as financially strenuous.
We hosted dinner parties (more on this in a bit). We invited people to go to free community concerts with us. We invited people to play disc golf with us. We invited people to picnic and hike with us.
What happened is that some people just weren’t interested at all and they somewhat faded out of our life (this was the largest group, but not overwhelmingly so). Another set of people went along with it simply because they liked our friendship. A third group loved it and were glad to have an excuse to get off of the spending train and still have people to hang out with.
To this day, I still have good friends who were part of that initial group of overspenders that I hung out with back then. They weren’t driven away by our lifestyle changes; instead, they were fine with the change or, in some cases, very glad to see it.
You might find that changing your activities doesn’t mean losing your friends after all.
Look at Meetup.com (and the community calendar) for things that might interest you. While it’s easy to come up with a handful of cheap ideas off the top of your head, almost everyone eventually starts to run short on ideas of fun things to do on the cheap. That’s where Meetup.com and other “community calendar” services really come in handy.
Just look on Meetup and see what kinds of events are in your area. Combine that with a search through the community calendars of your town/city and all adjacent towns/cities to see what’s going on there. Add on top of that the calendars from the libraries and parks and rec departments in your town/city and nearby towns/cities as well as the calendars from nearby universities.
When you go through that huge pile of events, you’re probably going to find a bunch that you’re not interested in. Even if you discard 95% of the events as not interesting to you, you’re still going to have a pile of options to explore almost every night of the week.
Dig through them. Explore each of them. See if they’re for you. There’s a good chance that somewhere in that flood of options is something that will really click with you, full of people who are likely to become your future friends.
Be outgoing when you attend public events. This is hard for some people. I know – I’m introverted myself and I can bottle up tight when I’m in a group of people I don’t know very well.
Over the years, though, I’ve learned two things about situations like this. One, many of the people in the room feel the same way as you. They’re introverts. They don’t feel comfortable talking either. If a room full of introverts gets together, no one talks and you get the impression that everyone’s unfriendly when that’s not actually the case.
Two, if you keep to yourself, the only way you’ll ever talk to people is if an extroverted person happens to notice you and chooses to focus on you for a while or a courageous introvert does the same. If neither of those happens, you’re going to sit in the corner and probably not have any fun.
So talk to someone. Don’t worry about making a fool of yourself – if it turns out that you do and you don’t click with anyone, you don’t ever have to come back. Start some conversations.
I find that the easiest way to start a conversation is to ask that person about themselves or about their perspective on what’s happening with that group. There are few better ways to get a conversation started than to just ask someone else to talk about themselves or their own thoughts. Listen. Ask questions. Don’t just jump in with your own thoughts, at least not right away. You’ll find that things go quite well if you do things that way.
If you find this really hard, I strongly recommend reading How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. It’s a very effective book if you treat it as a “how-to” for social occasions for introverted people. Yes, some of the examples are a little dated – this book was written decades ago – but the principles still work like an absolute charm.
Look for people in your life that you might have otherwise overlooked. Whenever we enter into a new environment, we often build relationships with certain people and overlook others due to pure happenstance. Someone happens to talk to us and a conversation begins while you just happened to miss someone else in the breakroom.
Are there any people in your workplace that you perhaps don’t know well but seem to have always gotten along with? What about any people in other civic or religious organizations you might participate in?
Quite often, there’s a treasure trove of interesting people and potential friendships on the periphery of your life that you just never took the time to build anything with. Take a second look at those people. Invite them to do something with you. See if anything clicks once you’re giving them some focus.
Master the low-cost dinner party. One of the most successful things that I’ve ever done is figure out how to host a good low-cost dinner party for several friends, and it’s something that Sarah and I do many times a year.
Our strategy is to keep it really simple. We make something very straightforward that’s going to be widely liked – such as homemade pizza – and if we want to impress, we impress by making something from scratch – like a completely-from-scratch pizza crust. We’ll often make soups that include lots of vegetables from our garden and homemade rolls, as another example. Once, we had a simple pasta meal where I made the pasta from scratch. Very straightforward stuff, very inexpensive stuff, and food everyone’s going to like.
We also ask that our guests bring something to share, like a bottle of wine (or two) or a simple “finger food” dessert like cookies.
Since our main meals are pretty inexpensive, even when we make a lot of it, it means that our dinner parties usually end up costing us $20 or less. Even better, friends will often reciprocate and invite you to a dinner party, which means a nearly free meal (we usually bring something along with us when we go to a dinner party).
Being financially responsible or frugal doesn’t mean that you have to sit at home all night never interacting with anyone. If you put forth just a little effort – and use a few smart ideas – you can have a thriving social life without constantly shelling out money.