Friends with money

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“Friendship is born at the moment when one person says to another, What? You too? I thought I was the only one.” C. S Lewis


There is a scene in the movie The Best Man Holiday where a group of old college friends meet at their rich friend Lance’s house for the holidays. Lance is a professional American football player who has amassed great wealth and the adoration of many. After being estranged from Lance, his friend Harper and his wife accept the invitation and are taken aback by the sheer opulence of their friend’s life. Harper is a struggling writer, having had a best selling book, he is struggling financially and is in a “dark place”. Harper does a good job of hiding his struggle with money but one of his friends can see past his facade. Upon noticing Harper’s anxiety and having his cards declined, Quentin asks Harper what was going on with him financially. Like any good friend he could not let it go and finally asks his friend if he needed some money. Harper cries as he nods yes and accepts his friend’s help.
When we start out as a group of friends, we are often drawn together by the economies that surround us. At university we all stood in line on the 25th of month to withdraw the entire allowance before the bank charges take effect. After university we slowly drift apart as the group is divided into those who are employed versus those who wonder the streets of Gaborone, dropping off CVs. The conversations become one sided as the friends who work monopolise the podium lamenting about their hectic work schedules with brief interludes asking how the job hunt is going. Those who work invite those without out for brunches, get togethers etc picking up the bill as it comes to preserve their friend’s dignity. The employed suddenly become the ones who dictate where and when the get togethers are as their pallets become more sophisticated with every new payday. I applaud friends who stick together through these times of growth and do their best to include their friends until they too start making money and can pay their own way. There is a down side to this of course, the side of the friend who doesn’t have money, the broke friend. This friend often hides their true feelings.
“Something I wish more people would realise is how alienating it is to be the poor/broke friend when you have financially stable/ comfortable friends,” @MamaGhoulette recalls in a twitter thread that went viral. She recalls how she would make excuses to not attend friends’ events because she simply did not have the money to attend their weddings, showers etc. These were a source of anxiety for her. She also highlights the splitting of the bill equally as “people will order and pay for what they can afford. The spontaneous suggestion to split the bill equally puts people on the spot.”
She also spoke of how she hated receiving gifts. “Many people don’t give gifts out of the goodness of their hearts, they harbour the expectation of receiving one in return on their birthday or other event. We are social beings, we can not be islands but the expectations of friends can be quite heavy, the baby showers, birthdays etc.We are socialised to see these as investments so that when it is our turn, the people whom we contributed for will reciprocate but if you have ever been to a baby shower you know how disappointing the returns on this gift insurance can be. Often leaving the person resentful towards those whom they thought would reciprocate in the same manner. We do always exaggerate our contributions in people’s lives. Money continues to be a sore spot for many people and it affects our relationships, both platonic and romantic. If we give then we must do without the expectation of getting back, we save ourselves a lot of heartache and we become less selfish. Giving often does more for the giver than the recipient.”
I remember being unemployed like it was yesterday and how heavily it weighed on me to have my friends pay for me everytime we went out. It was okay at first and slowly but surely I began to feel some type of way about always being the friend who didn’t work. Growing up I was taught the importance of reciprocity and it seemed that with every tab my girlfriend picked up I realised that I could never “repay her.” I remember visiting a friend in South Africa once and having the greatest anxiety over the bill as she ordered bottles of champagne and assortment of sushi. Just like that, my friend and I were in different economic groups. She foot the bill, of course and when we got home later with how that made me feel, she laughed it off and mentioned that as an influencer she did not have to pay for some of the things I was anxious about.
My friend and I are very open about finances, but for many the elephant in the room of what each friend can really afford is largely ignored. In my journey to financial independence I have had to be honest first to myself and those closest to me as well as disclose the goal I have of being debt free. For the most part, they are supportive although they may think I am just a little extreme.
We need to take a good hard look at the people we call friends and have these conversations about money in order to break the cycle of shame surrounding money. We may come to realise that our anxieties about money are all in our head. Please do be cautious about who you share your financial issues with, but do not be ashamed about what you can and cannot afford. Friendships are an important part of life and can be a source of love and support, but it can also be a source of financial peer pressure, particularly when you see your friends seemingly living it up on social media.
Relationships must always trump money and if you can afford more than your friends, you can organise more affordable get togethers. I know a group of friends who planned a trip and paid for things in accordance with affordability, each person paid for something according to their level of affordability. One friend offered to use their car for the trip, others paid for accommodation, another for food while the one who was not working at the time offered to drive as their contribution. Many friendships have been compromised because they simply could not keep up with the friends with money. If you are the friend with money, be sensitive to your friends and never loan a friend money as it may change the dynamics of the relationship. If you cannot afford to not get that money back then say no, but if you do give, give without expecting it back. Money has caused estrangement between even the most loving and closest of friends. If you are the broke friend, do not be jealous lest you grow resentful of your friend. We all peak at different times, this order is important so that each person has a crowd to cheer for them when it is their big moment. Comparison is truly the thief of joy.Though I am guilty of this, it is important to budget for birthdays, weddings etc because relationships will always trump money and what is having all the money in the world without friends to share in your joy.
I believe that we will be the generation that breaks black tax, pay inequality and the shame surrounding money. Instead of buying your unemployed friend drinks, let’s buy them data to search for work, buy them something to wear for interviews and help them prep. We all need help! This year, I took a Facebook pledge to help someone find work and then to encourage that person to help someone else. Though work gives dignity, money can never give identity, so be kind to your unemployed friend and remember that friendship will always trump money.
PS: You don’t have to be a hero, you just have to be what most people aren’t, consistent!
Like the “ Help, I’m broke with Nina Tladi” Facebook page.