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It’s Not About The Money, Until It Is

Finding your own worth when your friends make more money than you.


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Alecia Kennedy

3 years ago | 4 min read


In my twenties, I dated a man eight years my senior. I had never dated anyone that much older, and at that age, the differences were pronounced. He and his friends were further along in their careers and they all seemed to make loads more money than I did. They owned while I rented. They scored VIP boxes while I sat in the nosebleeds. Their cars were new, their clothes had designer names, and their purses were an investment.

They spent more on Sunday brunch than I spent for a week’s worth of groceries.

In truth, it’s difficult being the poorest person in the room. It can get to you if you let it. It can make you feel less than. It can make you self-conscious. But it shouldn’t, and what I’ve learned since then has since helped me navigate situations where there is a marked difference in wealth between friends and acquaintances. How do you explain you can’t go on a vacation because you can’t afford it? How do you handle awkward situations like splitting the check for dinner or deciding you can’t attend an important event because of money? I have been on both sides of the wealth divide since first dating the older boyfriend and here is what I’ve learned:

Remember your worth. We are not our money. There is a reason your friends want to hang out with you and it has nothing to do with your job or how much money you make. When you are less affluent than a close friend, it is important to remember what you bring to the relationship. If they value you, your lack of money will not be a problem. Be you.

Honesty is the best policy. The best way out of awkward situations like splitting a check you couldn’t pay if you wanted to, is honesty. Just calmly explain that the cost of the dinner/vacation/concert/etc. is beyond your budget. For example, “I’m sorry I can’t go but I didn’t budget for this expense this month.” or “I only had the salad, I don’t think it’s fair for me to split the cost of wine and dessert but I’m happy to pay my part.” Your friends will either accept your reason or they will offer to pay, which brings me to my next point.

Accept gifts graciously. It is highly likely that if you hang out with people who are wealthier than you for any length of time, they will offer to pay for something you can’t afford. Maybe they invite you to a week at the beach and you would love to go but the airfare is a deal-breaker. So they offer to buy your ticket. What do you do? If you are comfortable accepting their offer as a gift, then you should accept. But be gracious. Do not grovel at their feet. Do not develop a chip on your shoulder. Say thank you. Be sincere and then enjoy yourself. Be the friend that they already value enough to want on their vacation.

Don’t let their “things” bother you. It can be overwhelming to walk into a person’s home who is significantly wealthier than you. First there is the physical space — it is probably much bigger than your house. So what? It’s fine to admire their furnishings, art and space. Let them know if you think their home is beautiful. But then let it go and just hang out and chat or watch TV or whatever you came to do.

Don’t gawk. Don’t go on about how much they have. You are on equal footing as friends. Don’t do things that suggest you don’t belong in that space. They invited you therefore you belong. Conversely, do not be ashamed to invite them to your house. Be proud of what you have and make it look nice for their visit. Never apologize for your life, your house, your stuff. Again, this makes your relationship unequal and that makes people uncomfortable.

Don’t become a user. It is easy to get accustomed to the good life. If you have a significant other or friend who frequently invites you to places you can’t afford, buys you extravagant gifts, or just lets you hang out at their crazy, nice condo, you can slip into using behavior without realizing it. You may find yourself suggesting going out when you want a nice meal, hoping they will pick up the tab. You may find yourself hanging out at their place even when they aren’t there. You may slyly drop hints about things you wish you had.

Stop it! This is not appropriate friend behavior. I used to fantasize about the future life that my older boyfriend and I might have — then he broke up with me. I was devastated until I realized that I was more upset about losing my imaginary future lifestyle than I was about losing him. Here is the test. If you had a million dollars would you still want to hang out with this person? If not, you’ve fallen into user behavior.

Don’t ask for money. Accepting a voluntary gift from a wealthy friend is one thing but asking for money is another. For better or worse, it will change the nature of your relationship, at least temporarily. Here is my feeling about loans, if you are close enough to your friend to ask for money, then they will probably already know your financial situation and offer it to you before you ask. However, if you are in dire straits and are comfortable asking, go for it on two conditions: Number 1. Understand that they can say no and resolve not to hold a grudge if that’s their answer and Number 2. Have a loan repayment plan ready to share with them. This shows that you are not a user and respect for them and their money.

Keep your self-respect. If at any point in a friendship, you feel as though you have to give up your autonomy to be with your friend, it’s time to cut the cord. A friend who keeps you around for entertainment, sexual favors, or as part of an ass-kissing entourage is not a friend. They are a person who believes that they can buy other people. Get out.

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Alecia Kennedy

Trader·writer·photographer·truth-seeker·all around curious person. https://medium.com/@shadawn1212 snaphappyphotos.smugmug.com/


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