The LITC Series: Financing Your Friendships

The Little Intern That Could

This post is part of the Little Intern That Could Series. See previous posts here.

I still remember the look on my friend’s face when I invited her to drink Franzia and dog-watch at the park.

FRIEND: You mean, like, you’re taking care of a dog?

ME: No, not “watch a dog.” Just go watch all the dogs that are already out in the park. You know, dog-watch.

An avid dog-lover, I’ve always wanted to own one but have had to acknowledge that doing so would be an irresponsible undertaking until I had the proper means. The park seemed like a great alternative. My friend didn’t seem to think so, nor did she show an interest in coveting the dogs of my neighbors.

FRIEND: I’ll pass, I think. Why don’t we just go grab drinks and dinner at that sushi place instead?

There. That was the moment I had come to dread. I wanted to say yes. Man, did I. But somehow she had missed the clue into my financial circumstances which I had subtly hinted with the suggestion of Franzia – a 4 dollar boxed wine.

Dinner out just wasn’t a responsible choice within my less than lush monthly salary – especially in the fairly expensive city of San Francisco. To go out to a meal usually meant spending as much for one meal as I would normally spend on a week’s worth of carefully planned groceries. And yet, I still found it hard to tell her the truth which was – I simply couldn’t afford it.

Having to say no to friends is embarrassing, difficult and even downright awkward. But I’ve learned it doesn’t always have to be that way. As I’ve come to terms with the limits of my own financial circumstances, I’ve also found some ways to maintain my friendships – even on a budget.

Financing Friendships

Fancify your feast.

Explain Your Financial Motives

I know finances feel like a touchy, taboo subject, but being on a budget isn’t a shameful thing. If people seem disappointed that if you can’t join them on a particular date or activity, remember that they’re likely taking your decision personally. As hard as it is to say no, it can be hard to hear it too. But a great way to handle the financial conversation is to be honest about your financial situation and make sure to communicate your financial motives.

People tend to be more sympathetic to a budget if I explain I’m in the midst of paying off student loans. When they realize it’s not about rejecting them, but rather about accepting practicality they’re much more likely to acknowledge and accept the situation with sympathy.

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Resist Social Pressures

I struggled to turn down an offer from one person. When it was a group – boy it felt intimidating. Peer pressure is a real thing and it can make it hard to be a smart saver. But  like with any other peer pressure, it’s important to stick to your guns. After a while, it will get easier to communicate your limited finances. Filling your social space in the meantime doesn’t mean depriving yourself, but it does require some cold-hard facts. It’s more than OK to say no to an activity if it’s going to put financial pressure on your finances.

Have an arsenal of alternatives


Forming a human circle around a pile of food is always fun!

The best way to maintain your social life is to contribute to it. While it’s fun to go out to dinner or drinks, it’s also fun to do something out of the ordinary. There are so many ways to spend quality time with friend’s that don’t depend on your wallet.

Try to acknowledge the likes or dislikes of your friends, and have some ideas on hand that reflect each person’s interests. Have a friend that’s a total foodie? Search out public talks from chefs promoting their new cookbook, or hold a mini food-tasting at a park. There are always opportunities available that allow you to pursue interests with your pals – even on a budget.

Above all, remember the point

Yes- having an active social life can mean spending more money. But being on a budget doesn’t mean that you should resign yourself to a friendless future. After all, being friendless doesn’t necessarily guarantee a more frugal lifestyle (think of the brooding, solo Batman in his cave of technological toys). It’s entirely possible for friends and budgets to coexist. Make spending time – not money – the priority.

Credit For Image 2 mootown

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  • Rebecca

    I struggle with this. Luckily my outings are usually just $7-10 affairs, but I just can’t say no either way. I have friends who are only really able to hangout if it means going out to eat.

    • Claire Murdough

      Thanks for sharing Rebecca – your comment really resonates! I know it’s not easy – it took plenty of time and practice before I became comfortable opting out of things I couldn’t really afford. And even now, I still struggle. But I’ve found that keeping the conversation energized and upbeat helps a ton. Being on a budget is normal, so talking about it like an everyday topic helps keep it in perspective!

  • Louise

    Claire, you brought up some very good points. What would you suggest you say when you can afford the activity but really don’t want to? For example, eating out is not a priority and you have other plans for your hard earned pennies. How can you convey this without hurting someone’s feelings? I think this is the hardest part in all of this. I could use all the help I can get on saying “No”.

    • Claire Murdough

      That’s a great question! It seems like it’s just a default these days to go out to eat as a way to socialize. In this case, I think that there’s a way to bridge the gap! A lot of times, eating out is fun because it feels special. But there are plenty of free opportunities to do special things. An outdoor concert, a hike and a picnic, community classes or taking a drive to a beach. Presented in an energetic and enthusiastic way, they can be great and satisfying ways to spend time with others who usually prioritize restuarants. Thanks for reading, Louise!