Friendships and Financial Responsibility

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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