We’ve all heard the stats about how money is traditionally the biggest cause of tension (read: blowouts) in romantic relationships. But how does money
affect our friendships? The expert prognosis is bleak—money plus friends often equals a disaster zone. In fact, while conducting research for their recent book
Isn’t It Their Turn to Pick up the Check?, authors Jeanne Fleming and Leonard Schwarz discovered that eight out of 10 people believe that lending money is a good way to ruin a friendship.

Fleming and Schwarz also revealed the results of an original survey they conducted: given the choice between being asked for a loan or coming down with a severe case of the flu, 67 percent of the people they surveyed would actually choose the flu.

With those numbers in mind, we’ve identified three “friends and money” situations: if you make less money than your friends, if you make more money than your friends, and if you have a friend who never pays her fair share. Is it possible to navigate financial divides between friends without
damaging your friendship? Read on for our expert advice.

The situation: You make less money than your friends.

According to Fleming, having wealthy friends is rarely seen as a bad thing. As she points out, “It’s the folks with more money who are most likely to give us loans, invite us to their vacation cabins and introduce us to their successful friends— friends, say, who are hiring or who might be willing to invest in a new business.”

Still, financial disconnect among friends can create discomfort — even tension. Take the experience of Katherine, a young journalism student at Carleton University in Ottawa, who lived with three well-off roommates.

“As much as I liked my roommates, they had no concept of financial responsibility,” Katherine confides about her friendships. “Their parents paid for everything so they would buy brand name items, leave lights on all the time and always want to go out. Meanwhile, I was supporting myself with scholarships and a less than glamorous part-time job flipping burgers. We split household expenses and they didn’t get it whenever I talked about cutting back and saving money.”

Ultimately, the girls decided that alternative living arrangements were the best way to preserve their friendship. “With such significant financial differences we found it best to do our own thing, while still making time for each other, so I wasn’t hindering them and they weren’t pressuring me,” explains Katherine.

Want to know what to do in this situation? We have the answer and more situations and solutions for saving your friendships, on the next page…


What to do: If you can’t afford to go shopping, to the spa, or out for dinner at a trendy new restaurant, don’t go. Giving in to pressure to alter your lifestyle to
fit in with your friends will only lead to resentment—and a whopping credit card bill. Instead, take the initiative by suggesting fun ways to hang out that don’t cost (much) money: Make dinner at home, get into an amazing show on DVD, go out for ice cream or to the beach.

Don’t be shy about insisting on separate cheques, but do resist the urge to comment on how your friends spend their money. If they want to hit up Holt Renfrew on a weekly basis, that’s their business. And if they offer to treat you to the odd lunch or manicure? Consider taking them up on it. You don’t want to feel unduly indebted to your friends, but you also don’t want to become fixated on the bottom line. If your friends are offering to treat you, it’s because they love your company—and if they’re spending an extra $20 here or $50 there, it’s worth it to them to be able to hang out with you.

The situation: You make more money than your friends.

Being on the opposite end of the financial-friendship spectrum can be equally awkward. You work hard, you make good money and you don’t want to apologize for your financial success—especially when you’re around the people closest to you. You shouldn’t feel like you have to lie to your friends about things like new purchases (“Oh, this? I’ve had it forever”), but you should always be attuned to how you talk about money.

The famous Season 2 money episode on
Friends offers an interesting example of the dynamic. In the episode, the tight-knit group is divided when Rachel, Joey and Phoebe refuse to spend extravagantly to keep up with Ross, Chandler and Monica, their more affluent besties.

Ross’s initial reaction to the issue is telling: “I just never think of money as an issue.” Rachel snaps back, “That’s ‘cause you have it.” When you don’t have to worry about whether you can afford the beautiful bottle of Pinot Noir on the menu—let alone paying your rent—it’s easy to forget how stressful money woes can be for many people.

What to do: Be sensitive. If you want to check out the new wine bar downtown, float the idea with your friends, but be attuned to their cues if they’re uncomfortable with the idea. Make an effort to hang out with them in ways that show that you both value their company and understand their financial situation. Have a night in with board games and a bottle of wine, visit a museum or art gallery, go out for breakfast instead of dinner. When the cheque comes, don’t feel like you have to reach for it, but understand if your friends want separate bills that don’t include your foie gras starter. As the characters from
Friends learned, although vocalizing concerns can cause tension at first, being aware of each other’s situation ultimately helps everyone to be sensitive to money matters without continually discussing it. If you want to cultivate more expensive interests, go for it, but understand that you might have to expand your social circle to encompass them.

Do your friends leave you with the bill? Find out what to do on the next page…

The situation: Your friend never picks up the tab.

We all have a person in our life who, despite advance notice, never seems to pay her share of the bar tab, the cab ride or meal out, and conveniently forgets the fact that she owes her friends money the next time she sees them.

“There’s a name for that kind of friend,” says Fleming. “And it’s ‘moocher.’ The best way to handle one is to explain—very nicely, of course—that as much as you love her, you cannot pay her way. Then stick to your guns. Moochers have thick skins, so saying ‘no’ once is almost never enough.”

What to do: If addressing the issue directly does not work, Schwarz recommends an even harsher course of action: “Drop the mooch as a friend or accept that you’ll continue to be her personal ATM. Otherwise, there’s no magic way out of the situation. You have to say ‘no.’”

Read more:

Can being a guy’s girl lead to problems in your relationship?

Can jealous friends mend their relationship?

Can you ever move beyond the friend zone?