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Can you afford to have friends?

A new survey shows that 1 in 5 of us feels money pressure from pals. Must companionship be costly?

By Donna_Freedman Jul 23, 2012 4:00PM
Image: Friends (© Rubber Ball/Getty Images)Money can wreck friendships, or at least make them more expensive. Or so says a new survey from, which indicates that among U.S. adults:
  • 19% pay an average of $500 or more per year on gifts for friends.
  • 20% cited money as the reason for "friend breakups."
  • 21% have been pressured to spend as much as their pals.
In a consumerist culture it can be really tough to say, "I can't afford that." Here's my advice: Say it anyway -- but put it in context.

For example, you might say "That's more than I can afford and still meet my financial goals." It gives a specific reason, sets a boundary and might even start a conversation. We don't talk about finances often enough, or at least in ways that matter.

Someone raised in a well-to-do family might have no idea how hard it is for you to make student loan payments on an entry-level salary. A buddy who never learned money management skills might not understand why you want to avoid credit card debt.

Keeping up appearances

Spend differently than others do and you run the risk of looking "cheap" or, worse, "poor." Ever spent more than you should have because you were afraid of what others might think?

That's understandable. It's also a really bad idea. (Post continues after video.)

"It's not fair to ourselves to try to keep up with the Joneses…to be more invested in our appearance than in our financial reality," says Kate Levinson, a psychotherapist and author of "Emotional Currency: A Woman's Guide to Building a Healthy Relationship With Money."

Are the Joneses in your life going to help you once you've busted your budget? No. Only you can do that -- by not busting it in the first place.

Don't get defensive. Don't try to make your friends feel bad about their own choices. And don't be surprised if somebody says, "Come on, live a little!"

You'll need to be ready with your own version of "I can't afford that." Maybe it's "My dollars have other places to go right now," or "That kind of spending would derail my plan to have a home of my own within three years."

And if your pals still give you a hard time? Maybe it's time for one of those breakups. Hanging out with people who pressure you to spend more than you can afford is not good for the bottom line. Friends don't let friends go bankrupt.

Do you feel pressured to spend? Has a friendship ever gone sour because of it?

More on MSN Money:

Jul 24, 2012 1:01AM
I have a friend that was laid off.  We meet occasionally to go out to eat and I usually pick up the tab, but that's because she's a really good friend I've known forever and I still have a job.  I wish I could do something more, and she really wants to pay her own way and sometimes gets upset that I pay when we go out to eat, but I know I would then have more guilt because I can afford the lunch.  Maybe it feels right to me because I know if the situation were reversed, she would do the same thing.
Jul 23, 2012 11:29PM
People (particularly Americans) are stupid when it comes to money.  Friendships, marriages...essentially all relationships here revolve around money.  If you find that your non-business relationships revolve around money, it's time to dissolve them.  Fake friends, live-in prostitutes, etc usually aren't worth the money and headache.
Jul 23, 2012 11:12PM
Never loan a "freind" money unless you want them to quit being your freind...
Jul 24, 2012 12:00AM
Socializing can be expensive. That's why I don't drink; those cocktails and beers add up, and they only end up making me feel sick afterwards. My friends and I used to talk about "treating ourselves", but I can only afford to do that once in a while. I can't do that on a regular basis. Like you said, it's hard for other people to understand that, particularly if they don't have to worry about whether or not they can afford to spend more money.
Jul 24, 2012 9:57AM

why is being poor worse than being cheap? I know alot of poor people who live content lives and are more generous than those with a surplus. seems to me that they tend to be more decent humanbeings and to me that's not worse. I prefer such associates.


Jul 23, 2012 11:00PM

Being too weak to say no is an issue that many have allowed to sink their financial ship. It's sad that many of the young adults today are pressured into spending more than they can afford.




Jul 24, 2012 12:51AM
Socializing can be particularly expensive for guys. If your group of friends wants to go out 3 times a week, thats $150 in alcohol and taxi per week for guys (minimum) and less than $20 for ladies since they get free drinks.
Jul 24, 2012 12:13PM
People need to become more selfish... Most people do not care when a friend helps them out. Learn to say NO. Some people go out of their way to help someone in need cause they are nice when in reality that person that is being helped will not remember any favors you do for them, this is especially true when a person is a pushover and gives in to the needs of others all the time, people label you as such and will only continue to leech with no remorse. Take care of your self-interests FIRST, no one else will do it for you...
Jul 24, 2012 10:57AM
WOW 10 times more spam than comments! 
Jul 24, 2012 10:45AM

Are you serious MSN I can't complain about spammers yet they have free reign?

Jul 24, 2012 2:35AM
Every so called friend I ever had screwed me
Jul 24, 2012 12:49PM
Friendship is not about money. Friends should keep their expectations of each other reasonable and financially sensible.
Jul 24, 2012 1:32PM
Whan I got a raise (some years ago) to $50,000/year, I was shocked when my "friend" was so jealous.  I explained to he that I was almost twice her age and had worked for years to get to that amount.  I was always generous with gifts to her, but, after that, I drifted away.  I don't need jealous friends.. CJ
Jul 24, 2012 2:21PM

Unfortunately money does have an effect on friendships. Its up to the more financially responsible/fortunate to monitor how it affects their friendships. I make three times what most of my friends make if not more and I am very aware of my spending around them. I dont flaunt but it doesnt take flaunting to make a less fortunate and otherwise good friend jealous and/or resentful because of thier situation.


I dont go shopping with any of my friends (even though I shop at target..LOL). They will always count your money..its natural. I dont go out to expensive restaurants with my less fortunate friends and I dont talk about vacations unless they ask and even then I minimalize the conversation.


I buy modest and save a lot. I keep my finances to myself and never discuss with any of them. I keep my friendships pure of financial talks. I only talk money with my friends that are on the same playing field (if you will) this way I get genuine and honest feedback without biased and hurt feelings.

Jul 24, 2012 8:31AM
A friend in need is a friend indeed, but a friend with weed is better.
Jul 25, 2012 1:21PM
I have broken up with at least 2 women because dating started making me nervous about reaching retirement goals (I have a strict goal of saving 30% each pay-period). I didn't tell them that this was the reason, but still-- I completely agree that money affects relationships.
Jul 24, 2012 5:53AM

Do not ever get a credit card unless you like the convenience of the receipt for records and then get just ONE not two and then tell them you only want $500 limit and no more. These things were created by the kosher boys to screw you and they will. WHen you got 10 cards loaded and paying minimum on them you have just screwed yourself. YOu're probably better off at that point to just move to another country and forget the cards.


Credit cards are created so you'll buy stuff you don't need and can't afford. You see that lawnmower for $2,500 you don[t need but it's on sale. YOu don't pay interest for a year and all  you have to do is pull out the plastic and then you are screwed. BUy stuff with cash and you'll think a lot more. Who carrries $2 .500 cash on them Things have gotten so expensive you just don't carry that much cash.


Europeans get money orders and pay with cash. They don't use cards like Americans. My happpiest times when I was poor with no debt. WHen I maxed  my cards out and filed bankruptcy I was screwed.

Jul 24, 2012 3:24PM
Wow, I thought this post was going to be actually useful: you know, with tips and ideas for how to maintain friendships without spending much money. Instead, I just got a couple of minutes of my life that I wasted and will never get back. Freedman, you are really garbage. Your frugal cool if frugally useless.
Jul 24, 2012 5:47AM
Money hangs with money. Unless you are like a 20 year old Arnold Swarzegger who could get money girls. But if you don;t have money get away from money people because poor people have to suck the genitals of the rich.
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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.