A pre-wedding bash in Paris Disneyland? Did she hear that right?
Thirty-four-year-old Dubai-based Samyaka Menon was rather stumped when her close friend decided to plan her bachelorette party in Ibiza. It was coolly announced on a WhatsApp group, months before her wedding.
“She just said, casually, that she wants us girls to plan her party there. She provided us with locations, food, and hotel ideas, and all that time I kept thinking, I cannot afford any of this,” recalls Menon. The budget ballooned astronomically, and Menon regretfully had to tell her friend that she would not be able to attend this grand bash.
“I don’t think she took that very well. I told her honestly that it is financially difficult for me; I don’t earn as much as she does,” adds Menon. “She didn’t seem to get it.”
This is just one of the many incidents related to money that finally established a distance between Menon and her friend. “I just stopped spending time with her. She would always go to some expensive place to eat that I could not afford or plan other holidays that were far out of my budget. It was as if we lived in two different worlds,” she says.
Money can’t buy you friends, for sure. But it can create rifts between friends. According to a 2017 PayPal survey taken in the US, over 50 per cent of millennials and Gen Z cited money as impacting their friendship. In 2018, Qualtrics survey, a global platform, found that nearly 40 per cent of millennials spent money that they didn’t have. They went into debt to keep up with peers. According to a 2021 survey from Insider, an American online media company, people would prefer to talk about current events, politics, and relationships before discussing money with their friends.
In essence, money can be a messy, touchy subject for people, especially when it comes to close friendships.
Why does money make us so awkward?
There appears to be a general uneasiness around money.
Leanne Monroe, a British expat, and public relations consultant in Dubai believes, “If you make more money than your friends, you can come across as privileged and entitled. If you make less, you feel that you’ve been left behind somewhere,” she explains. Monroe admits that many of her friends felt rather overwhelmed with the perks associated with her job. Some would keep comparing their salary to hers. On the other hand, Monica Matyas, an American expat, and entrepreneur in Abu Dhabi reveals she “hates” asking for money back.
Why do conversations around money with our friends make us so uneasy?
“It’s an uncomfortable conversation because it shows our vulnerabilities. It’s far more complex and deeper than most other conversations, as it brings people out of the fun and light-hearted zone,” says Lauren Cole, a Dubai-based American wellness expert and mindset coach. “There’s a fear of judgement around it, sometimes if you have too much, or comparatively less. If you have too much, you worry that you could be exploited. Or the fear that people will see you as entitled and a snob. People also fear that they will be looked down upon, if they are not as financially well-off as their friends.”
You don’t like asking for your money back from a friend who borrowed from you, because you are afraid of how you will be perceived, she adds. What if they see you as miserly and stingy? You fear borrowing money from friends sometimes, because you feel inadequate, she explains. “It puts you in a vulnerable position. You begin to associate negative words with yourself for asking a friend for money, because we are always worried about what others think,” adds Cole.
Money is a very emotive topic, says Carol Glynn, a Dubai-based Finance Coach. "We all have money stories, feelings and judgements about money that run very deep. And so it is essential to recognize that each person's financial journey is unique. In my experience, most arguments between friends are triggered by judgement of each other's financial decisions," she says. "Rather than listening to their issues, we are quick to point out financial flaws or provide unsolicited advice. Rather than celebrating our friends' success, if you are not careful, you can sink into resentment and judgement for having more than you do," says Glynn.
Most arguments between friends are triggered by judgement of each other's financial decisions. Rather than listening to their issues, we are quick to point out financial flaws or provide unsolicited advice....
Moreover, there are also beliefs that are set in stone, that publicly talking about money is disrespectful, she adds. A lot to do is with our family upbringing, which formed the ideas that we now have about wealth, explains Cole. “People equate money with success and failure. Even though everyone has different ideas about money, there usually is a complicated emotion associated with it.”
‘It’s not money; it’s the attitude towards money that’s a problem’
Money seems to be an umbrella term for several factors, as Dubai-based psychologist Ritasha Varsani explains. “It’s not just the literal meaning of money. When we talk about money, there’s an overall picture at play. Wealth could signify many things, including wearing branded clothes, going for luxurious vacations, and attending fancy parties,” she says.
This gap can pull people in several directions. It could generate a craving of belongingness in people. Those who are already battling low self-confidence and self-esteem issues, as Varsani explains, would want to try to fit in with their peers. “They want to belong, somewhere, and would go beyond their budget. They will agree to have dinner at restaurants that they cannot afford. This generates several emotions of suppressed rage, inferiority, and anxiety,” she says. And so, the result? You have an unhealthy friendship.
People want to belong somewhere, so they will agree to spend on something beyond their budget. They will agree to have dinner at restaurants that they cannot afford. This creates several emotions of suppressed rage, inferiority, and anxiety.
Varsani feels that money needn’t usually be the problem between friends; it comes down to their own attitude towards it. “It matters what meaning you start associating with these wealth differences. Everyone has a different attitude towards money,” she says. Varsani continues with her example: If you have a friend who keeps taking you to an expensive diner to eat, and you never let them know it’s difficult for you to afford it. In the end, you are out of money, because you are trying to keep up. Your friend has no idea that it’s a problem, as you’ve never told them. As a result, you stew in anger and resentment, because you wanted to belong to their world.
There’s the converse too: If you do tell your friend that you cannot afford such expenditure, as Menon earlier mentioned, and they still don’t understand why you have a problem, then the friendship will naturally grow apart. As British Dubai-based wellness expert Jasmine Navarro puts it, you need to approach matters of money and wealth differences with sensitivity and empathy.
How can we navigate money conversations with our friends?
A little thoughtfulness and care can go a long way.
As Navarro explains, friends need to approach conversations around money with empathy and a desire to understand each other’s perspectives. For starters, create a safe space with your friends. “Friends should engage in honest discussions about wealth. By discussing richness of personal qualities and shared experiences, they can navigate wealth gaps with grace and focus on shared experiences and qualities to keep their friendships strong, real, and meaningful,” she says.
Friends should engage in honest discussions about wealth. By discussing richness of personal qualities and shared experiences, they can navigate wealth gaps with grace and focus on shared experiences and qualities to keep their friendships strong, real, and meaningful...
In this safe space, address the root causes of why money makes your friend, or you uncomfortable, says Cole. There could be several deeper conflicts at play, which you could try addressing. Some conflicts might need to be explored with more depth and understanding, and it could take more internal work. You need to be secure with yourself and understand what you contribute to your friendships, says Cole. Either way, if you have the right friends, you’ll know that money isn’t a deciding factor in friendships.
Both sides need to take responsibility to understand each other, as Cole explains. If you earn more, don’t assume that your friend will want to attend a concert with prized tickets; check with them, first. Moreover, don’t do favours. Don’t try to buy them the tickets and say they can pay you later, she says. “That creates more problems, even if you think you’ve helped them out. They might feel that you’re making concessions of sorts to them.”
"Establish clear boundaries. In any relationship, open communication about financial expectations prevents misunderstandings. It's okay to decline expensive invitations or suggest more affordable alternatives," says Glynn.
Don’t make assumptions, either. Don’t think that they can’t afford something and avoid inviting them to places that you think is out of their budget, she says. Be honest and upfront, and let them decide; says Cole.
Before you plan a dinner, or a getaway, discuss the budget with your friends. Both sides need to be clear on how much they can spend, says Cole. See what fits the budget and consider alternatives if something is not fitting your budget.
There will be unpleasant emotions that might arise with such conversations as Varsani warns. Yet, engage in problem solving, as she says. These emotions will spiral if you aren’t transparent and honest. If you have a limited budget, don’t vent your anger on those who don’t. Just choose to explain calmly why you cannot attend the event.