Updated on 09.08.14

Ten Big Mistakes #9: Bad Influences

Trent Hamm

I surrounded myself with friends who constantly encouraged poor financial choices.

Most of my social circle during my early professional years consisted of people who placed a great deal of social worth on consumption. Respect and friendship were doled out based on the elecronics you owned, the clothes you wore, the golf clubs you had, the places you ate at, and so on.

If you showed up to a social event with a new cell phone or a new driver, the gang would gather around you with high-fives and looks of awe and respect and envy for the items you had.

On the flip side, if you had an old cell phone or didn’t wear great clothes or used old golf clubs or hadn’t eaten at the best restaurants, you were gradually excluded from the conversation and, eventually, excluded from the social events as well.

Your Finances and Your Social Circles

The Mistake I Made

I made a valiant effort for a few years to run with this crowd. I dressed wonderfully. Sarah and I ate at tons of nice restaurants. I had the latest gadgets, including piles of video games. I went out with the gang a few nights a week. The list went on and on.

It was just a giant game of oneupsmanship. Rather than building real relationships based on the realities of our lives, everyone just talked about stuff – and who had the best stuff. Why talk about long term goals when you could brag about your new golf club? Why discuss how to get ahead at work when we could trash talk someone for wearing slightly worn clothing?

In order to stick with this crowd, though, a person had to spend – and keep spending. Every single person in that group was living beyond their personal means. I suspect that some of them had parental help, but I’d be willing to bet all of us had some level of credit card debt.

What happened to this social circle when I finally got some sense about personal finance and realized I was driving my future into the ground? Almost universally, I was dropped from the group. They laughed at the idea of making a meal at home when you could be dropping $100 for a plate at a steakhouse. They stared at my beat-up cell phone. Soon, they stopped calling and inviting me to do anything with them.

Yeah, it hurt. What I realized from the experience, though, is that these people weren’t my friends. They cared about stuff, not about me. They only wanted people around them to reinforce the over-the-top spending decisions they were making.

Think about it this way. It’s a lot easier to spend $3,000 on a handbag if you have a circle of friends that talk reverently about said handbag and will ooh and ahh over it if you buy it, compared to, say, a circle of friends that wonders why on earth you would spend $3,000 on a handbag.

What I Do Differently Now

My current circle of friends is much, much different. We get together for regular potluck dinners. We play board games around the kitchen table. We have conversations about life goals and about ways we can maximize our bucks and our time. We share clipped coupons with each other. We laugh together and goof off together.

In short, it’s an environment that supports a healthy flavor of personal finance management. We don’t socially reward over-the-top consumption. Instead, we socially reward insightful discussion, good humor, and good life choices.

Having such a circle makes it so much easier to be in financial control. There is no social expectation of spending. Instead, there is a social expectation of rational use of money and time, of investing for the future and thinking about the future, of exploring the handful of hobbies that are actually important to each of us.

My biggest mistake was not investing the time to find a social circle that matched these values to begin with. Instead, I simply started hanging out with the first people that I had even the smallest interest overlap with and I wound up adopting that group’s values for a while rather than seeking out others that may have matched my own.

How Can You Avoid this Trap?

First, don’t believe you have to change who you are or what you value just to match what your social circle wants. If you’re buying things or doing things that mostly only serve to impress your social circle, it’s a great sign that you’re perhaps not in the right circle of people.

Second, seek new friendships in the right way. Let your own true values and interests lead you to these people. Engage in groups that match the things you want to do – don’t engage in activities just because that’s where you think people are. The bar/club scene come to mind – I’ve met so many people who basically can’t stand going there, but they continue to do so simply out of a desire for social interaction. Broaden your horizons and start seeking people based on what you value, not based on what you think they value.

Finally, don’t hide who you are. This doesn’t mean you have to hang out all of your dirty laundry, but it does mean that you shouldn’t have to hide some significant aspect of what you value or who you are. If you’re in a group that won’t like you because of some aspect of who you are, it’s time to find a different group. If you’re in a group that won’t respect you because you’re goal oriented or in charge of your finances, then it’s time to find new friends.

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  1. Cara says:

    This was an excellent post and I completely agree that it is important to have friends who share your values. My question is this, where do you find those people? Obviously not at bars, but I really only meet people at work. Some of them are great, but most don’t share my values. Any tips on how to meet people who could turn into great friends, especially when you are busy at work?

    Thanks so much.

  2. Tracy says:

    I’ll admit, this one is a little odd to me – I don’t think a single one of my friendships is financially based.

    Our activities may be impacted slightly by money – I have wealthier friends who I have to decide if I can afford a particular trip or dinner out with on an individual basis and poorer friends that I have over to my house instead of going out to dinner with them and vice versa, but that’s – that’s not the basis of the actual friendship.

    The idea of centering evenings around clipping coupons and maximizing dollars is bizarre to me. And the second relationships sound almost as superficial as the first overspending ones, just in the opposite way. (I’m sure that’s not the CASE with your relationships with them, just saying that the way you portrayed it in this post, it does)

  3. bethh says:

    I hope those former friends are more well-rounded than you recall, or that they’ve changed in the intervening years. If nothing else, that lifestyle (as you remember it) doesn’t seem remotely sustainable over the long term!

  4. Kevin says:

    “If you showed up to a social event with a new cell phone or a new driver, the gang would gather around you with high-fives and looks of awe and respect and envy for the items you had.”

    Really? This feels embellished.

    I’ve had plenty of friends show up on the 1st tee with new drivers, and it usually produces not much more than a collective yawn – or jokes aimed at the buyer along the lines of “You can’t buy a swing, you know.”

    A new cell phone producing “high fives?” Who on earth are you describing?

    I don’t doubt that you fell into a pattern of making silly purchases, but it likely had as much to do with self image and getting a short term buzz from a new toy, as anything else. From my (admittedly narrow) perspective, the behavior you’re describing seems simply, well, not credible. Perhaps it’s a case of poetic license on your part, I don’t know, but I’ve NEVER witnessed anyone swooning over a new cell phone.

    That said, there’s little doubt that if you start chasing people who aggressively acquire “stuff” (whether they can afford it or not), you’re entering dangerous territory.

    Simple truth: you matured a bit, and figured out what you really value. And the boneheads you were hanging around with – however they actually behaved – were incongruent with your newfound values.

  5. Michelle says:

    I can completely relate to this post – I used to have these friends too. They were my work crowd and I would be teased for driving a 13 year old car with broken radio and A/C – they drove Mercedes; for watching the morning news on a small bw television (though I had a better tv in my living room) – they’d brag about having a tv in every room. Sometimes I fell into the trap of keeping up with them, sometimes I’d just feel really bad about myself (I’ve matured from that!)

    Recently I reconnected with one of them on Facebook I can’t remember what I said but I mentioned the teasing about my spending decisions. She replied, “Well I bet you’ve gotten through this recession a whole lot better than the rest of us.”

  6. Ash says:

    I’ve found myself nodding in agreement as I’ve read the other posts in this series but THIS post takes me back 5 years. I had a friend to shop with (rather than doing laundry), a few friends to eat out with, and a couple friends to travel with (only the best flights and hotels!).I thought I was hanging with people I shared values with but that was only appearance.

    I began to see the light when I traveled to NYC with a friend and her well-to-do mother. I was just beginning to dabble with debt-free philosophies so I’d left my credit cards at home. 2 days into the trip I voted down a pricier restaurant. 3 days in I didn’t cave to pressure to buy any jewelry on 5th Avenue. My friend was strangely subdued the rest of the trip. She politely but firmly refused to travel with me again.

    I’d thought what I was sharing a love of fashion, of food, and of adventure in these relationships. As my relationships strained and eventually broke over the following 12 months I realized it was exactly the opposite: these relationships were rooted in a social class that could afford to spend money on activities I was sympathetic to.

    Eventually I learned I wanted to maintain healthy relationships, not status. Thank you for reminding me of this lesson.

  7. Sorry, nobody “drops” a friend over their crappy phone. They might drop a preachy, annoying friend who constantly talks about how they are better than people who pay for the iPhone data plan.

    It sounds like you dropped them because you didn’t want to keep up, and that’s fine. But don’t act like they rejected you because you were too cheap to go out with them.

  8. Holly says:

    I, too, know what Trent is talking about, and I wouldn’t at all be surprised if those ‘friends’ decided it was better to exclude a non-frivolous spender…why? Because that would force them to take a good look at their out-of-control lifestyles.

    My husband’s family was (is) like that…they were very materialstic. They would make fun of me for my ‘brick’ cell phone and my single pair of sneakers, or whatever, so I would sometimes overspend to try to fit in. Eventually I realized that they were taking me along w/them to the poorhouse.

    I wised up about 8 years ago. They are just starting to come around now that they have older, college-aged kids and no savings in the bank.

  9. Dave M says:

    I’d imagine at least one of your 84,000 subscribers is one of these old friends. How do they feel being called out once a week for their spending habits? Offended? Mending their ways? Got some new friends? Let’s hear from one of them.

  10. Julia says:

    somehow i doubt that his old friends recognize themselves. if they don’t think there’s anything wrong with their spending, they’re not going to see themselves in this post. they probably have their own theories on why they drifted apart.

  11. Kathleen says:

    Not doubting this is how things felt for Trent, but I find the very idea of people who act like this very…odd. I work and live among a fairly elite group (multiple degrees from elite institutions, great jobs at prestigious firms, all six-figure earners straight from grad school, etc.). While people might buy fancy toys, nobody would ever think to judge another person based on those consumer choices. Maybe it’s because I’m in DC (a fairly nerdy town) rather than NYC (admittedly different), but people just don’t act like that. Maybe it’s different out there in Iowa!

  12. Grace says:

    I get the idea that your peer group can have a big influence on your financial habits, but this one also felt odd to me. It didn’t seem believable, because the narrative was so simplistic: have materialistic friends, change lifestyle and values, materialistic friends drop you.

    I think real life is much more complex than that. I have a group of friends who, for whatever reasons (skill, educational choices, etc) are making a great deal more than I am. Some, more than others, do like to eat at nice restaurants and buy fancy things. And they’re still great friends. Why not? I don’t judge their spending decisions and they don’t judge me and drop me if I have to skip a brunch or two, or if I’m not carrying a designer purse. (Really? Are we still in high school?) In fact, it’s a running joke in our group that we run the gamut from completely ignorant of fashion trends (me), to supremely high-maintenance (another girl).

    Perhaps two things could be going on with this narrative. One, maybe Trent’s first social group weren’t really his friends to begin with. And two, over time, the narrative was simplified and solidified in his mind.

    People change over time. I don’t see anything wrong with drifting away from a previous social group, but I’m not sure I would reduce it to those terms.

  13. Maria says:

    This post reminds me of my ex-friends who became very rich. As they became extremely affluent, their spending habits change tremendously as well. Unlike Trent, I don’t feel like they purposely exclude me, it is just that I no longer can connect with them. I have nothing to contribute to the conversation and don’t share the experience. It is difficult to lose them but I guess it is a natural group selection.

  14. Dana says:

    If Trent’s old friends are into spending lots of frivolous money and keeping up with each other, why on earth would they be reading a personal finance blog?

  15. Clean Credit says:

    I think many of us are blind to the power of money to include or exclude from social acceptability. Several examples are in the posts above this one, such as Ash’s experience.

    Choosing my surroundings I have found (including my friends) is one of the most powerful things I can do. It can very literally be life-changing, so I totally agree with Trent on this one. Figure out who you want to be and find people like that to hang with.

  16. moom says:

    Question is: What did you like about the first group of people?

  17. Michelle says:

    I can totally see this happening. It may be more of a rural thing when taken to this extreme over relatively small purchases. I definitely see it in my town. It’s hard to believe that people are really like this, but yep.

  18. marta says:

    “If you showed up to a social event with a new cell phone or a new driver, the gang would gather around you with high-fives and looks of awe and respect and envy for the items you had.”

    Seriously?! Where the heck did you find these people and why would you possibly want to hang out with them?

    I think the last time I was dealing with that many people like that was in *high school*.

    No wonder that you still keep some Jones envy (gadgets, “shiny new car on the driveway”, etc) despite all the frugality talk.

  19. Russ says:

    I’m with the people who just don’t recognise this at all. My friends are my *friends*. I couldn’t even tell you what cellphone model each of them have. Some of us have successful careers and have nicer clothes or houses or cars, and some of us don’t. Some of us went to college, some of us didn’t. It never comes up in conversation, and none of us would ever dream of judging the teacher or the nurse for having an older car, and no-one praises the engineer with the Jaguar or the project manager with the 2nd-hand Porsche. Sometimes we go to nice restaurants, sometimes we go to a dive bar, sometimes we stay in and play poker for a few bucks. We don’t always do expensive things and we don’t sit around exchanging coupons for a few cents off a can of soup. Perhaps it’s because finance isn’t the basis of our relationship.

  20. Kevin says:

    I’ve gotta admit, I also found some of this a little far-fetched. Who cuts out a friend because they don’t have new golf clubs? Also, how do you think it looked from his friends’ point of view? Trent values money more than their friendship. They probably think HE was the jerk. And objectively, it’s easy to see why they might reach that conclusion.

    Personally, I’m on the other end of things. I’m finding that now that we’re a little further on in life (mid-30’s), and have eliminated all our non-mortgage debt, we’re able to relax a little and enjoy things. Yet for our similarly-aged friends, who indulged in much more debt than ourselves, the chickens are coming home to roost. Between credit card debt, car loans, student loans, and the enormous expense of children, they’re too financially strapped to do anything with my wife and I.

    We’re traveling more, going to more concerts, and enjoying the things that really matter to us. We still carpool with a single, paid-for, 5-year old car, we still eat 99% of meals at home, prepared ourselves, but if we get an invitation to an extended relative’s wedding 1000 miles away, the question isn’t “can we afford it?” – it’s “Do we feel like going?”

    We invite friends to come with us to vacation destinations or sporting events, and they always decline, blaming lack of cash. Yet if they’d managed their finances a little more carefully earlier on, they wouldn’t be shackled by all that debt now. So we’re finding that our group of friends is being changed, just like Trent’s was – but for the opposite reason.

  21. Ashley says:

    If this post isn’t exagerated (which I highly doubt) then it seems like you went from being an elitist snob (or at least being friends with elitist snobs) to being an elitist penny-pincher. Either way, it seems your friendships are still based on money, whether it’s spending or saving it.

  22. LB says:

    I dumped a guy who was like this once. He was very kind, smart, and an overall great person- but he talked about stuff WAY too much. He had filled his townhouse with all of the latest and greatest gadgets and was clearly living beyond his means. He always led the conversation back to the new skis he wanted to buy or what type of big screen TV was the best. It was too superficial for me and I could tell early on that if I got too deeply involved that his frivolous spending habits would drive me crazy, so I got out.

    Eight years later, I’m happily married to a cheapskate who golfs with his grandpa’s old clubs and listens to NPR on the boom box he got when he was 13. We have both spent time during the past 2 years unemployed, yet we still have lots of money in the bank and we can afford the experiences we want like weekend getaways and baseball tickets.

  23. Vanditha says:

    I am one of the recent visitors of your blog. I am really happy to read the latest series. I have been having doubts about how I handle my personal finance. Your blog has re-instilled confidence in me.

    Thanks a lot. Best wishes to you.

  24. Kat says:

    Kathleen in DC, I don’t think this is true of NYC either. NYC is diverse enough that I have friends who are investment bankers making lots of dough as well as “starving artists” and neither friend would stop hanging out because I did or didn’t get an iphone. Sure, their “circles” are different but they are friends with each other based on things other than their jobs and don’t just hang out with people who make the same salary.

    Maybe this is more a feature of it being in the Midwest and money is the bigger distinguisher in “diversity” as there is nothing else?

  25. Evangeline says:

    I absolutely love this blog, but like others, I often get the feeling Trent is elitist in his support of frugality. Having said that, I know first hand that there are those who will turn up their nose at you or sneer at your choices if they are different than theirs. And those are the people I’m not really friends with. It’s more like I met them at work and they are immediately judging everyone. Some look down on the thrifty; some look down on the spendaholics. Either way is wrong. Be polite to everyone and choose your friends wisely.

  26. Looby says:

    I agree with Marta, Russ and others; I truly can’t imagine anyone over the age of 15 giving high fives for the purchase of a new cell phone.
    Or indeed competing in one-upmanship with anyone they consider to be a friend.
    It seems that either this story is hugely exaggerated or these people were never Trent’s friends to begin with…
    Also the peer pressure excuse doesn’t really hold water after high school, you are a grown up and shouldn’t need someone repeating the “if they all jumped off a bridge, would you?” mantra in order to behave in an appropriate matter whether finance related or not…

  27. Gretchen says:

    I’d love to have one of the ex-friends write his/her version of this story.

  28. Mister E says:

    I hope that the story is embellished or else I have to wonder where you even FIND people that are as shallow as depicted and, having found them, why in the world you would ever want to associate with them beyond the first meeting.

  29. wanzman says:

    This post is complete BS, along with 99% of the things Trent says. I don’t buy a word of this. I think Trent likes to conveniently stretch reality in order to create a story that will be tilted in his favor. It’s funny how so many of HIS financial mistakes are actually someone else’s fault.

    Sort of like the title of his book: “The Simple Dollar: How One Man Wiped Out His Debts and Achieved the Life of His Dreams”

    Except, remember Trent, you have’t wiped out your debts. You still have a mortgage, which last time I checked, is considered a debt. Way to sell books by lying.

    You’re a fraud. You’re presenting a false reality here, and I think you might even have yourself convinced that these stories are true.

    High fiving over a cell phone? No way that happened.

    I think you’re on a slippery slope here. You have yourself convinced that your way is the only correct way to do things, and you are coming off very arrogant to people who don’t have coupon clipping parties with friends, or sit around playing Candyland for a good time on Friday night.

    I guess it’s correct to be a miser for everyone else, and even yourself, right up until the time when you go out and purchase a trendy car – brand new – oh, and finance it.

  30. Kar says:

    In my case I wonder how much of it is materiality or just laziness. It’s easier to eat out constantly rather than cook or pack a lunch, have other people wash your car and a personal shopper find that specific handbag.

    Same thing with the cellphone apps. I know that there’s a vague distinction between showmanship/ease but I’m constantly hearing people talking about how their iphone apps can do all of these things that would take two minutes to do themselves. I see similiarities with everyone’s GPS in their cars. Are we that lazy that we can’t be bothered to look at a map?

  31. Kevin says:

    How long does comment moderation require? Submitted 2:36pm on Thursday, as of 10:19am Friday, no action. ?

  32. wanzman says:

    Kevin, I feel your pain. I think comments that don’t just say “nice post, we love you Trent!” take a lot longer to make their way through moderation.

    Gotta love groupthink.

  33. Josh says:

    This is just hilarious. There is no way Trent’s old friends really acted that way.

    I still can’t stop laughing at the following: “If you showed up to a social event with a new cell phone or a new driver, the gang would gather around you with high-fives and looks of awe”

  34. Daniel says:

    What’s with all the carping?

    Seems to me that many commenters on this post “doth protest too much,” and the protesting suggest readers are either engaging in projection, or they see themselves in this post and feel wronged in some way by Trent’s perspective. Either way, Trent has obviously touched a sensitive nerve here.

    I think readers would be better off focusing on the message from this post rather than carping about the posts’ lack of realism or other particulars.

    Dan @ Casual Kitchen

  35. chris cruz says:

    Being in my late 20’s I have some friends like Trent described. They go out every weekend, have nice cars, eat out all the time, and have all the latest gadgets. They constantly try to buy respect and admiration because they really have nothing great to say about themselves. They don’t do anything other than their jobs. For most of them their jobs are simply a means for earning a paycheck and not doing something they love for a living.

    The most admired people in my social circle are the ones that do the things they love and create. Like the friend that is a great photographer, a DJ, an awesome cook, or made a business out of doing what he loves. Talent and skill go alot longer than money

    Also talent and skill cannot be purchased. A $500 driver doesn’t buy you a straight 300yd swing down the middle of the fairway. If you cant swing the club correctly you just look stupid buying the latest greatest club. Spend your time practicing. If you beat your golf buddies every weekend nobody will care about your material possesions.

  36. Mary W says:

    Of course I can’t speak to Trent’s situation, however, what often happens with *friends* is that you’re friends because of life style. You golf with a group of people and when you cut back on golfing you’ve opted out of the *friendship*. They didn’t drop you. The same can be said for groups that go out to dinner, shopping, concerts or whatever.

    It’s no different than becoming a parent and having less in common with your single friends. When you don’t participate in group activities, you see your friends (friendly acquaintances?) less often.

    None of this affects Trent’s core point which is that your friends can encourage you to spend money you shouldn’t.

  37. chacha1 says:

    @ Kat “Maybe this is more a feature of it being in the Midwest and money is the bigger distinguisher in “diversity” as there is nothing else?” LOL! You may be on track there!

    I think there’s a lot of protesting too much going on. We all choose our own peer groups based on a) what makes us comfortable and b) positive reinforcement. If people reward you (with positive social interaction) for having new gadgets or a shiny car, that’s what you’ll focus on. If they reward you for recycling, that will become important to you.

    Your own personal values play a big part in this of course, but if you do something you FEEL is good and yet get no positive reinforcement, it’s the rare person who will continue to engage in that behavior. Why the heck do you think people have such a hard time staying on diets – or budgets?

    Trent’s story just illustrates that his values underwent a change, and consequently he viewed his peer group differently – and chose to change it, because the reinforcement from those peers was no longer positive to his new values.

    People who call Trent elitist because he actually THINKS about these things are way off the mark. You choose your friends, too. You may just not have thought through why.

  38. @ #25 Chris Cruz–right on!

    My husband and I find that we are drifting away from some friends of ours simply because shopping as recreation isn’t really fun for us anymore, and that has come to be their primary activity. We don’t just hang out together at home anymore.

    The farther we grow apart, the more I realize how superficial that friendship was in the first place.

  39. Johnny says:

    Other’s people’s comments here make me feel like Trent and I live on a different. You guys seriously don’t understand what he’s talking about? I can completely relate. This is SFBay area in case you are wondering if I live on Mars. It is standard practice to show off your new purchase and have people gush over it. If people don’t approve, you get buyer’s regret. If you bought something nice used, you don’t show it off.

    I wish I could say I learned Trent’s lesson on my own. But I truly just plum ran out of money. The delta between what my friends’ had and what I had was wide and pretty soon, my credit card debt had no more space. I had to turn down invites to restaurants and trips. As I turned down more and more, they stopped asking. Can’t blame them, if someone always says no to me, I eventually stop asking. And now I that I make a good living, I am used to not living extravagantly.

    I occasionally hang out with the old friends. They still call me cheap. They say I value money more than friendships. That’s fine. Its true. I value my family’s financial security and independence over them.

  40. BonzoGal says:

    Amen, chacha1! I can’t believe the number of commenters labeling Trent “elitist” for contrasting his own beliefs and behaviors. He isn’t saying that he judges one group over another, but that his new beliefs and behaviors moved him toward people who shared those beliefs and behaviors. Long-time followers of this blog will remember more detailed stories of this happening.

    I’ve worked in marketing departments in high-tech companies for 15 years, and yes, people DO display this sort of behavior over material items. What type of car you drive is noticed, whether you play golf at better courses is discussed, and clothing/shoes/gadgets are admired and discussed. I recently saw two sales directors excitedly showing off their new iPads. They don’t overtly shun people who don’t have the “latest and best”, but having these things does mark your status and can affect your career. Marketing managers bond over golf, ski trips, executive travel perks, etc.

    I’m a talented copywriter- they need my skills- but I’m not “in” with colleagues at a certain level because I don’t do/buy these things. They’re not hostile or condescending toward me, but they also don’t assume I’d like to join them on expensive weekend activities. We respect each other, but we’re not bonded in that way. I’m bonded with my colleagues in IT and communications because we care more about blogs or movies or less pricey activities. We don’t look down on the folks in the other group, but we’re not interested in what they have and do (and I’m sure they’re not interested in our activities).

    I’m amazed at the number of people who jump on Trent in comments. He’s giving you his worldview for FREE yet you seem more than ready to attack him. Disagreeing with what he writes is one thing, besmirching his character is another.

  41. Sarah says:

    I don’t understand – Trent has gone from one group of friends based on money to another group of friends based on money. Trent, why are you attracted to these superficial relationships in the first place? I only have about 3 or 4 life friends that I’ve remained very close with my whole life so I guess I just don’t understand the need to ingratiate yourself with a large peer group. To each their own.

  42. Steph says:

    I think it comes off elitist becuase it makes the assumption that everyone engaging in the high priced fun a) was doing so solely to impress others b) couldn’t possibly have afforded the fun and were in the same vicious spend cycle Trent was but didn’t have the sense to see it and c) dropped Trent because as shallow frivolous spenders, they only care about people’s stuff.

    I don’t know Trent’s friends. I do know mine, and yes, I have some flashy spenders – some who geniunely pay their cards off every month despite having a lot of fun blowing coin. They like to have the newest gadgets – and they can afford to. Not everyone who spends money in a flashy way is spending themselves into the poor house.

    Likewise not everyone who drops a friend does so because of money… but Trent did come right out and say, spending money was part of the socializing. So he decides to stop eating out at the steakplace. Is it possible, out of respect for his financial concerns, that these flashy friends stopped inviting him so they didn’t make him feel “poor”? (I’ve done that a few times, both ways, I would stop taking invites out for a bit to save money, and explain to my pals why and sure enough, they weren’t on me every day to go out, and likewise, when I know someone is having financial problems, I try not to be flashing my comparative wealth at them)

    Or it could be as simple as they like spending money on their fun, and Trent no longer does. Where it comes off as elitist is the assumption that they dropped Trent because he’s frugal and are merrily racking up debt because they can’t stop spending. I mean, they’re just shallow tools who spend money they don’t have because stuff is more important than good sense…. how is that not being a bit elitist?

  43. GJW says:

    You guys, Trent is only what, 30? He’s been doing this lifestyle for several years, he was probably not long out of HS when he chose these friends, and don’t we all know people that love to show off their bling, electronic or otherwise? (I’m sure a friend and seem just as obnoxious when we show off our latest thrift treasure). We all tend to hang with people with common interests and frugal living is an interest, and way of life…Trent probably isn’t trying to ingratiate himself with a larger peer group…some of us like to have a lot of friends. I’ve got probably 3 or 4 differnt groups of friends/acquaintances that I’m around and they all have differing levels of wealth and spending habits. What’s difficult for me is that of all of our oldest friends, 20+ years, my husband and I have a much lower income (not debt, just not high paying jobs) These people love us and are true friends, but its sometimes difficult when we can’t join them in the things they do, or know we’re not invited because they know we can’t afford it. Or don’t want to get together with potlucks because they hate too cook…but I cook well and hate to pay restaurant prices for things I can do myself (often better)…or hear them talk about the colleges their kids are going to…

  44. shadygrove says:

    Trent, I’d like to hear your thoughts about coping with this when the bad influences are family, not friends. My middle-class, not wealthy, folks spend all (and perhaps more than all) of their discretionary income supporting my 30+ year old brother in what appears to me to be a lavish lifestyle — he owns a boat, a jet ski, a mercedes convertible, a land rover, a mitsubishi sports car, electronics, a lavish wardrobe, etc. For years they even paid for a lakefront condo for him, although now he lives at home. He has never worked a job longer than a year or so in his life, with long periods of unemployment, and he is claimed as a dependent on my folks’ taxes. Meanwhile, I’ve been financially independent since graduating college in 1995 and have a family, middle-class job, etc. My parents are older (60s/70s) but they are not, as far as I know, demented, so how they choose to spend is really none of my business. But, you can imagine that trying to have a good relationship with all of them, ignore the apparent favoritism, and deflect my brother’s negative comments about our lifestyle (which is within our modest means) is trying. Any suggestions?

  45. Tall Bill says:

    Hey Trent & Readers;

    Do you suppose your outlook changed once expecting & recieving you first born? Focus changed BIG TIME & like minded tend to gather.

    I used to have very large party at the beginning and at the end of the summer each year. Open bar, yard sports and activities, live band, attended by 1 – 88 years old. Smallest attendance was 45, largest was 120 – the one year a friend with a 85′ yacht stopped by and took everyone out for a sunset cruise.

    Stopped drinking the next year – little officer friendly changed my life & the bar went away. Party down to 15 next time, my first kid following & moved & now it’s peers from school enjoying family based activities at community parks.

    One True Friend remains from the past – just one.

    All others have faded into wherever.

    Life is Much Richer now with kids in the mix.

    No longing for the past – looking forward & getting more enjoyment in supporting the kids and peers in volunteering within the school district.

    We owe it to our kids to teach them well and lead them into the future. We cannot do that if living with materialism as we all become part of the world in one economic outlook.

    Where will the USA balance with the rest of the world? ? ?

  46. Connie says:

    I’ve no doubt Trent means well. But I have never had a comment come through on here. I have not said anything really bad, just a difference of opinion sometimes. I don’t get it. I don’t know how anyone gets through here. Maybe I am doing something wrong.

  47. Leah W. says:

    My question is what kind of steak house charges $100+ for a plate? Geeeez!

    Of course, I’m from the South, where steak houses mean those restaurants where you can throw peanut shells on the floor. Maybe in Iowa, steak houses are swanky.

  48. Systemizer says:

    “What I realized from the experience, though, is that these people weren’t my friends. They cared about stuff, not about me.”

    You the same guy who wrote 16 blog entries on “Never Eat Alone” ?

  49. Kevin says:

    There’s one – ONE – decent steakhouse in the Des Moines area – 801 Steak and Chop House (part of a chain) – and although you’d have to work at it a bit, you certainly could spend $100 per plate. Entrees are in the mid 30’s to $40 range. Sides are a la carte, etc.

    In any event, the description of Trent’s old friends feels embellished, and no doubt his having a baby changed his outlook substantially.

  50. JuliB says:

    I was in Milwaukee at a steak house recently and they had dishes at or near $100. These were aged dry (I think the cheaper meals were aged wet).

    Needless to say, I had the salmon :)

    We had a discussion the next day about how price plays a part in dining out. I said I checked prices to an extent, but that if I really wanted something, I would get it. The other two didn’t check prices. We were there while in Milw for work, so we were on a per diem, but still….

  51. tentaculistic says:

    In defense of Trent — my take is that Trent’s friends from the old days were the kinds of friends we all make when dropped into a new fishtank (freshman year in high school, college, new job, living abroad, etc) and have to build a social network from scratch. The friends you have in that first year or two are not the real true friends who rise to the top in the end. They’re “now” friends, more often than not.

    As someone who works in a money-talks culture, I buy his representation, and think that a lot of our cultural materialism is subconscious. A lady at work came into a staff meeting with an iPad when it had just come out, and everyone glommed around her to see its bells and whistles – talk about positive reinforcement! So you can get pulled into that cycle without even realizing, and then that can become the default group mode.

    Why they would drop him when he went all frugalista? Well, it’s hard to have someone making a change away from something you hold dear without getting defensive. If I were pigging out on cheesecake, I’d feel like I was being silently criticized if my friend were virtuously eating nothing but celery sticks – even if her brain had nothing of the sort in it, we as flawed humans tend to ascribe our own negative interpretations into others’ actions. So I can see people feeling like a move away from materialism was a subtle or overt criticism of their purchases as wasteful and useless – pretty hard to swallow. So part of that friend drift can be avoiding someone who makes you feel guilty or defensive or criticized.

    Plus, it can be hard to make conversation with a recent convert (to whatever – religion, diet, political stance…) when ALL they can talk about is that subject, and just don’t seem to care about your own interests. So the friend drift can also be ascribed both to a lack of topics, and a lack of interest in the others’ passions.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing your experience, Trent. Glad you have found friends who have more positive impacts on your life choices, they sound like nie long-term kind of friends. Peace.

  52. tentaculistic says:

    Oh, and there are TONS of steakhouses where it is around $100 per person (depending on what is ordered). It’s actually hard to find a really good steak for less, at least where I live (and by “really good” I mean nothing you can get at your local grocery store):
    -Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse
    -Fogo de Chao (Brazilian steak house)
    -Morton’s (actually $150 – $200 is closer)
    -Capital Grille
    -Bobby Van’s
    -Fran O’Brien’s (went out of business, tragically!)

    I can keep going for quite awhile! Good steak costs lotsa money. Bad steak can be quite cheap.

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