Updated on 06.22.09

Friendships and Financial Responsibility

Trent Hamm

Friendship.  Photo by Paul Swee.When I first started writing The Simple Dollar, one of the biggest struggles I had was figuring out how to redefine some of my friendships – a struggle I discussed at length.

The problem was that a good number of the people I spent lots of time with were constantly engaged in activities that involved spending a lot of money. Constant golf trips, constant traveling to gaming tournaments, constant shopping for music and electronics – these were simply the things that we did.

Eventually, I came to realize that for some of the friends, these expensive activities were the sole basis for our friendships. Without the weekend golf outings or gaming tournament trips, several of my friends simply vanished into thin air. Other friends, of course, were (and still are) quite happy to do other things not necessarily based on expensive activities or shopping excursions.

In fact, one of our biggest social highlights now is inviting friends over to play board games in the evening – games like Ticket to Ride and Puerto Rico and Power Grid. An evening with dinner, a glass or two of wine, a few small snacks, a thought-provoking game, and some great conversation is a spectacular way to spend time.

Even further, I’ve found that engaging in frugal activities in my community – such as participating in service groups, attending community events, and so forth – has connected me to many new friends with whom I share a lot in common.

Some of you may be asking yourselves, “I have no interest in dumping my friends in order to get ahead financially!” And you shouldn’t! Friendships aren’t things that should be tried on and discarded on a whim like so many blouses on a discount rack.

Instead, a truly worthwhile friendship grows and changes with you. If your interests change – if who you are and what you value begins to change – then your friendship will either gradually grow with you or it will melt away, replaced by new friends.

I often look at friendships as falling into two classes:

One, you have friends that you associate with primarily because of shared interests. When I played Magic: the Gathering, I had friends who also played, and that was our primary touchstone of friendship. The same holds true for many things: location (the neighbors that you invite over for barbecues on occasion, but wouldn’t keep in touch with if either of you moved), employment, and so on.

These friends are wonderful to have, but their friendship is limited to the external things you have in common. As those things begin to change, your friendship will go away.

Two, you have friends that you associate with primarily because you care about one another. These friendships often begin with a shared interest, but then they grow into something more: a genuine interest in and caring for each other.

Take, for example, my closest friend, John. Our friendship began thirteen years ago simply because we lived on the same dormitory floor. Later, we found we had common interests in gaming (to an extent), but over time, it developed into a true friendship that has lived through many moves, career changes, interest changes, and so forth.

Why does the friendship persist? We care about each other. Not only am I concerned about his well-being (and he about mine), that caring extends to pretty much any aspect of each other’s lives that we’re willing to or wish to talk about. If John has a new interest, I’ll want to learn about it. If he has a problem, I’ll do my best to help him through it.

The problem comes in when people believe that the first type of relationship is actually the second type. They’ll keep working hard to maintain a friendship, even though the basis for that friendship is slipping away. They’ll keep going out for expensive golfing excursions, even though the cost is one that now makes them feel guilty and keeps them up at night. They’ll keep going clothes shopping, even though they’re trying to cut down that wardrobe.

In the end, the lesson is simple: don’t be afraid to lose friends if you change interests, passions, or activities. True friends will stick with you no matter what you choose, and when you do make that switch, you’ll find new friends that share your new passions.

The biggest stumbling block for this is that we all fear change. It’s easy to imagine losing the friends – it’s harder to imagine gaining new ones. Thus, we imagine ourselves lonely and empty and thus we keep engaging in things that don’t make us happy in order to stave it off.

Don’t be afraid of the right kind of change. Follow your heart – your true friends will follow, too, and you’ll find new ones along the way.

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  1. Hannah says:

    This is a good point. A lot of people fear losing their friends when they go through a big change like going to a college, graduating, getting a job in a new city, getting married, having kids… If it’s a strong friendship it will survive. If not- growing apart from old friends is not like a messy divorce. No one has to get dumped. As your priorities go off in different directions you’ll both let the friendship go gradually and painlessly. And if you reconnect in the future, great!

  2. Alison says:

    Instead of meeting my “expensive” group of friends 1-2 times a week for happy hour and entertainment, I picked the most special entertainment opportunities and met them there (once a month or so). I found we had more to catch up on, and I valued the show more than taking it for granted.

    To encourage less expensive activities, I am always the first to invite or accept an invitation to any less expensive event, like a backyard BBQ or holiday party.

  3. veer says:

    Slightly on a different tangent, what is the best way to play board games without spending $50 per game. I want to try playing all the games you mentioned, but I don’t think I want to buy them all.

    Does someone rent or can this be borrowed from somewhere?

  4. AG says:

    Aptly said Trent! It’s true that true friends will always follow :) but sure enough changing things creates a whole lot of fear in you. I am still in the process of differentiating my #2 friends from #1 friends. Hope I do that soon and I do that right :)

  5. Michael says:

    Veer, there are a lot of ways to play board games for less.

    1. Obtain the rules and make your own.
    2. Buy used on boardgamegeeks or amazon.com
    3. Borrow games from people you know.
    4. Start a game club where members chip in $5/mo. or so and the club buys games.
    5. Sell the games after you play them.
    6. Look up bars in your area that stock a lot of cool games.
    7. Start a game club, then throw events and get sponsors to subsidize the games.

    I do all of these and I’m happy with my game budget.

  6. Michael says:

    To clarify, I have two game clubs: an unofficial one where friends chip in and get together to play the shared games, and an “official one” which is recognized by associations and has official events.

  7. Brian S. says:

    I highly recommend “Settlers of Catan” as a board game option as well. It’s a fast paced game that keeps people involved throughout all turns (rather than having people sit around for long spells as can happen in Risk and Axis and Allies). Games can take as little as 45 minutes.

  8. Brian S. says:

    I highly recommend “Settlers of Catan” as a board game option. It’s a fast paced game that keeps people involved throughout all turns (rather than having people sit around for long spells as can happen in Risk and Axis and Allies). Games can take as little as 45 minutes.

  9. Jon says:

    Funny, I was thinking about this subject just yesterday morning, in the context of employment related friends who have just drifted out of my life since we no longer work together. A few of them, with whom I had other common interests than just work, have remained in touch, but the rest are out of my life.

  10. Matt says:

    Great game ideas, Trent. I’ve never heard of these before. Can anyone tell me which of these three would be least intimidating to newcomers who aren’t used to these types of games? I’ve played Catan, Carcassone, Axis & Allies, etc, but I’m trying to get the fiance’ and friends involved in strategy-ish games. Something that won’t take more than a couple hours to play a game, and won’t confuse the heck out of people.

  11. M says:

    Another idea is to buy board games from thrift stores — usually you can open them to check for all pieces or you can replace minor missing pieces.

  12. Rosa says:

    What a great post, and great definition of friendship.

    I have to make a plug for Cheapass Games – if you already have a Monopoly and Risk set in the house, you have everything you need to supplement what they send you. We play a lot of Freeloader and Unexploded Cow, which I see have now gone up to $7.50 each.

  13. Amy says:

    Ticket To Ride is very newbie-gamer friendly. Trans America and Ingenious are also good, and I have a non-gaming friend who’s hooked on Dominion right now.

  14. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    Ticket to Ride is the most accessible. We’ve played all three a ton, though.

  15. Joey says:

    @ Michael 5: Your first suggestion is what my sis and I have done for a variety of games, including chess and monopoly. Rules are freely available online, and making the boards and pieces can be done in an afternoon (and is far more entertaining than simply buying them).

  16. Carrie says:

    We experienced the same thing when we starting trying to cut costs. Fortunately, we love to entertain and have friends over for dinner. Potlucks are always fun if you invite several people over.

  17. Chris says:

    I understand where you are going with this. It is in many respects the same thing that alcohalics go through once they are sober. The people that were around for the drinking magically disappear.

    You use golf as an example and this is where I think I disagree. Activities like golf are nice, not for the golf but the quiet time out on the course, joking and chatting. We always took great pride in finding the cheapest course we could (3 dollar oakland, CA course). Now mind you if you are hitting pebble beach once a month I understand where you are coming from.

    I guess the difference is, my friends are friends whether we are spending money or not. My best friend and I are completely different spending habits. His 50k truck and my 1500 12 year old car. A weekend in Vegas, or a weekend grilling out at the house. The both run the extreme in costs but never got in the way of a friendship.

  18. George says:

    Making up rules on your own is a good way to go. Combine poker with any board game. Everytime someone passes Go, deal a hand of poker. Once around the table in Nuclear War and then you play poker with the population cards.

    [… yeah, playing poker with people as chips is macabre at best, kinda like trading slaves, but it beats having them blown up. And then you can have options like the random Zombie nation, which is where all the dead population cards go, so you deal them in and the dead Zombie nation plays randomly. Works well in Risk, too.]

  19. Sally says:

    Thanks for this! This actually happened to me – I had a “good friend” who unfortunately had expensive tastes – nice restaurants, shopping at boutiques, clubs with a cover charge and pricy drinks, weekends on the shore (where I needed to rent a car). It didn’t help she grew up in a priveleged household and would still get “help” from her parents. When I tried to suggest a less pricy restaurant or an alternative activity, she would agree, until the night of the meal and then decide she “felt like eating at another restaurant” – which would mean coughing up more money.

    I finally just couldn’t take it anymore – both me and my credit card were exhausted. I had just begun my own process of massive debt-repayment – similar to Trent. After some soul-searching, I realized that I just couldn’t afford to see her that often anymore, and we drifted apart. Honestly, while I enjoyed our times together, I always found that I was stressed about money when I was around her, and that wasn’t much fun. I also found that I wasn’t being my own true self with her, pretending that I could afford things I clearly could not. I now focus my time and energy on friends who share my values, who I can be myself around. We do a similar “game night” or barbeques where everyone brings a dish to pass. And I find I’m having a LOT more fun.

  20. This is so true, that friendships and finances are closely linked. Who you associate with is who you become, which is a very loose paraphrase of a brilliant statement by someone much smarter than me.

    I’m proud to say that nearly all of my friends fall into the second category, the inexpensive but lasting friendships that feel like family after a while. My budget can’t accomodate the other kind!

    I have a theory on why the activities friends don’t last any longer than participation in the subject activity…for what it’s worth.

    While you’re busy doing things with the friend, your connection is activity based, meaning you don’t spend much time actually bonding. The activity is central to the friendship. A friendship that requires no mutual activity participation, that’s centered instead on walking through everyday life with people–and we know life isn’t nearly always glamorous–that’s a friend who you keep, and who keeps close to you.

    Activity friends are fun to be around, but I agree that most people probably confuse them with real friends. Alas, we are a transient society and can’t always tell the difference.

  21. Michael says:

    Joey, it’s definitely more fun to make your own, especially if you’re an artist. Kids also like making their own checkers, chess pieces, etc.

  22. Rob says:

    Friends come and go. I believe they are over rated. Give me silence and a good book anyday, or simply playing with my 2 year old, over a babbling, ego, attention seeking “friend”. But….a true friend is someone you can call at 2 in the morning for help, and he/she will say “I’ll be right over” no questions asked. Thats a friend.

  23. Candi says:

    I have never confused one type or friend for the other. I have very few real friends and those are the first ones to suggest the inexpensive options!
    As for the convenience friends, they have value as long as you remember exactly what they are and don’t allow them to influence your budget.

  24. liv says:

    i’m sure the games you pick depend on your personality AND your friends’ personalities. most people are up for ANY game…one really good game (that’s kinda an investment) is Cranium (not the playoff version, that one sucks) and Battle of the Sexes (wait, are we talking kids or older games?) Classics are also fun and 1 game that you can include SO many people and it doesn’t cost a lot is the card game Uno. :)

  25. liv says:

    i forgot to mention that “catchphrase” is also an awesome game.

  26. Mel says:

    While we’re talking about games, there are 3 card-based games that I highly, highly reccomend: Bohnanza (bean farming), Mamma Mia (pizza making) and for 2 players, Lost Cities. All are considerably cheaper than full-blown board games, simple to learn and easy to take on holiday. :)

    I would also whole-heartedly second Trent’s recommendation for Ticket to Ride, it’s the board only game I have actually got my very non-gaming boyfriend to willing play a second time. :)

  27. Rob says:

    I just clicked on the ad on the bottom right about cheap designer brands. You have said in the past, you would never put an ad on here unless you feel strongly about it. So…………..you feel “srongly” about people buying a designer brand handbag? Thats really preaching frugality. A futton handbag thats a deal. Am I missing something here?

  28. Kathryn says:

    The downside of this is when you are related to folks you wish could quietly fade out of your life!

  29. Mike Pastore says:

    Friendship is not about spending too much money on expensive golf excursions or weekend shopping spree. It may be a way for others to bond with their friends but what if you are not that financially stable? You can still hang out with your friends in intimate but inexpensive way like backyard cookout or indoor karaoke. This will not only make your friendship go fonder but also save you a lot of money.

    For tips on personal finance, visit http://www.mikesmillions.com.

  30. Sierra says:

    I was just thinking about this today, recalling how my circle of friends changed dramatically when I got pregnant with my first child. The change since I started cutting back my spending has been less extreme, but its visible. I think anytime one goes through a big, internal life change, you’ll see your crowd of friends change. The people who are really at the core of your life won’t: they’ll change and adapt with you. But the general social circle you move in will change dramatically.

  31. Cade says:

    The blessing about living in such a beautiful area like I have here is that you can make outdoor activities a priority. It doesn’t cost any money to meet some buddies for a run on the beach, or head down there with my chair, cooler, and a good book.

    The trap you don’t want to fall into here is dropping $10 or more each day on frequenting one of the many little beach bars. I have friends who see this as “Living the Life.” Since they are sitting outside, they don’t make the connection that their spending habits are just like a Starbucks junkie or a pack-a-day smoker.

  32. Damester says:

    Finances–high or low– don’t determine your relationship, with true friends (versus co-workers, acquaintances and others).

    It’s really how you treat each other and how much you have in common of what you value (whether ideas, ethics, community, family, activities, etc.)

    I take issue that the amount of money someone has, or does not have, is a key factor in determining the quality and/or longevity of a relationship.

    People who genuinely value each other–as opposed to what someone has or can do for them– find ways to accommodate/adjust to (as needed, if needed) any change in circumstances.

    How much money you have is not a factor in how good a friend is to you or how good a friend you are to them. Unless, you, of course, are a shallow, user type of individual, only out to take advantage of what someone else has (and that applies to those who suck up to others with some degree of resources, even if not millionaires.)

    The key is to keep money out of the relationship, if you can. Not always easy, but gift giving for example is not a game where we count or keep score. Same with shared activities and interests.

    Ironically, generous people of all financial backgrounds will always “give” in whatever ways they can. They don’t sit there measuring it out.

    But there are also people, both financially well off and those not so much, who are constantly measuring how much they give and is given. That’s not a friendship.

    I’ve got a few really wealthy friends, some very well off and the rest of us, doing our best to stay above water these days.

    No, we don’t vacation with our wealthy friends when they jet off around the world. However, we are regularly asked to be guests at their vacation homes, where they do not expect, nor want us to pay for anything (we always bring gifts and always ask if we can contribute).

    We also invite them to our homes and entertain in our own way, which they appreciate as they enjoy our company (and vice versa).

    Real friends are always careful to make each other feel comfortable around money issues.

    (The wealthy friends, for example, ask us to pick a place to dine out unless they are say treating one of us for a birthday. That allows us to say, either: How about X (a restaurant we can afford) or our home, if we can’t swing a night out.

    it’s also easy to accommodate our most budget-constrained friends.

    The real issue is sometimes those in the middle. Neither super rich, nor fiscally restrained, they seem to have the most difficulty navigating financially related issues. They seem to place more value on money than either the really rich or very financially challenged.

    Our world is very different today when it comes to wealth. By a fluke of geography, I grew up and went to school with people (grade and high school), who were, as I later learned, from very wealthy families.

    Now, I had visited their homes over the years and noticed that they were bigger than mine and in a nicer part of town. But in just knowing and hanging out with the kids, money was not an issue.

    Maybe because we all went to the same catholic school were things were affordable and activities didn’t require the huge financial investment even average financial parents make today. (When I hear what my sister in law spends weekly on my nephews activities, I’m in shock. I could barely afford it as an adult!)

    If people are only connected by what they do together and how fancy/expensive/luxurious it is, money will make a difference.

    But if the bond is real and deeper, based on people knowing and liking and caring about each other, money is not an issue.

    Generosity comes forth in many ways.

  33. jana says:

    We love playing games too. Our favorite is Settlers of Catan! Thanks for writing about this topic…I can totally relate!

  34. This is a good topic… you can become ‘trapped’ into behaviors if you start to identify yourself through your ‘friends’ who do the same activity.

    A healthier vision is to ID yourself as someone who does something… then, when the time is right, someone who does something else.

    The acquantances will fall away and be quickly replaced. Your true friends will stay with you through our journey and growth.

  35. Mel says:

    After reading this and letting it turn over in my head for a while, I have a question: *How* does an ‘activity’ friend or acquaintance become a ‘real’ friend? That’s the part I’ve always struggled with…

  36. There is a saying, “You become what you are around”. If you want to live simple, sensible, and frugal– hang with others of a like mind.

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