Over the past year, I’ve cleaned up my finances a lot. I had a wake-up call when I was unexpectedly laid off from my old job and had no savings. So I downloaded a budgeting app and got serious about cutting back on spending. I got a new job within weeks of losing my old one, and it wound up paying better, so that was good. But I’m so worried about getting into a bad position again that I’ve gotten very focused on hitting financial goals, like saving 20 percent of my paycheck every month and paying down my student loans (I paid off about $10K in the past year, but I still have about $10K to go).
I’m proud of my progress. But it’s also time-consuming and takes up a lot of my mental energy. Recently, a friend told me that it’s affecting our friendship. She said that she feels judged for her spending when she’s around me. She also mentioned that others in our friend group feel the same way. I have noticed that people have been reaching out to me less (and apparently hanging out without inviting me). And now I’m embarrassed that I’ve been annoying. The thing is a lot of my friends are financially irresponsible and love to do expensive things like go out for bottomless brunch or wine tastings or whatever, which is part of what kept me from saving money before. Then they complain about being broke. I’ve tried to address this by suggesting alternative plans and talking about my own financial goals. But I guess they don’t want to hear it.
I feel really conflicted about this. I don’t want to be left out, and I care about these friendships. But I also want to be responsible. What do I do?
Sounds like you need some new friends! Just kidding — mostly. The truth is that personal growth can be hard on relationships, especially when you level up and your peers feel left behind (or, even worse, feel like you value your bank account more than their company).
All friendships ebb and flow; the strongest ones endure because they adapt to change. Sometimes that process involves some space. In taking responsibility for your finances, you’ve differentiated yourself from your friends; perhaps they can’t relate to your new choices, or your progress makes them feel ashamed of their own money issues, or they simply don’t want to hear a lecture on the bill at the end of brunch.
You can still tend to these relationships in ways that don’t compromise your savings. It’ll take some extra work to suggest plans that don’t involve spending money. But don’t try to convince your friends to make the same changes that you have, even if you know it would benefit them. First of all, it’s annoying; secondly, it’s not worth your energy. People don’t change because you tell them to. They change when they want to and when they’re ready. The best way to encourage that shift is to lead by example.
I would know because I’ve been in your friends’ shoes. In my late 20s, some of my close friends started to have kids, save up for homes, and change their lifestyles (i.e., they didn’t want to run up a bar tab until 2 a.m. anymore). At first, I was a little sad that they had deprioritized activities that we used to do together. I didn’t always handle this perfectly; I mostly stopped inviting them to things I thought they wouldn’t want to pay for, as your friends have done with you. (To be fair, my friends didn’t always know how to manage these conflicting interests, either; one friend literally had a panic attack at a birthday dinner when the bill came.)
Eventually, though, I grew to respect the choices and boundaries that my financially responsible friends had made. I watched as they gracefully turned down expensive plans and then paid off their student loans, bought their own houses, or quit their corporate jobs to start their own businesses. In my early 30s, when I was also tired of feeling broke and ready to get more organized with my own money, I approached my friends who’d gotten their shit together earlier and asked them for advice. This time will come for you. Be patient. And don’t be smug.
In the meantime, try to hold opinions, rather than judgments, of where your friends happen to be in their lives. Therapist and author Katherine Morgan Schafler has a great explanation of the difference: “An opinion reflects your thoughts and perspective, whereas a judgment reflects your thoughts and perspective alongside an analysis of your worth as compared to that of others,” she writes. Here’s an example of a judgment: I’m more responsible with money than my friends are, so I am a better, more organized, evolved human being. Alternatively, here’s an opinion: I’m more responsible with money than my friends are. But my friends are still just as worthy of friendship and love as I am. See the difference?
When you’re on a self-improvement kick, it’s natural to feel superior. But if you work on catching and reframing your judgments, your friendships have a much better chance of survival. (And you’re less likely to judge yourself when you suffer the inevitable setback.)
You might also try to form new connections with people who will celebrate you for the progress you’ve made. It’s lonely to work hard on yourself and feel like the people you’re close to don’t care about or appreciate your efforts. I promise there are a lot of people out there in a similar position who would welcome your support and be happy to give theirs. If you feel uneasy about this, personal-finance groups on Facebook or other social networks can be a low-stakes place to start.
Finally, I also want to caution you against becoming too obsessed with your finances. Known as money vigilance, the tendency to put financial security ahead of your personal relationships can often be the result of a financial trauma — say, losing your job without having any savings to fall back on, as you did. People who are vigilant with money are often great savers, but the downside is they are anxious no matter how much they squirrel away and will scrimp at the expense of their friendships and personal well-being.
Remember, the ultimate reward of saving money is that you get to worry about it less and spend your energy doing more of what you want. For most people, that looks like cultivating relationships with friends and family. Don’t sacrifice one for the sake of the other.
The Cut’s financial-advice columnist, Charlotte Cowles, answers readers’ personal questions about personal finance. Email your money conundrums to firstname.lastname@example.org.