Unequal Wealth among Friends

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Do you have a friend who is richer than you are?  What about a friend who is poorer than you are?  In general, the old adage “birds of a feather flock together” tends to hold true for the people we hang out with most often.  In other words, we tend to hang out with people who have financial means similar to ours.

But this isn’t always true, is it.  While you and your friends might have started out with big dreams and no money, over time it is quite common for the financial balance in a friendship to shift.  And that is when problems can occur, if you let them.

There’s no debate, unequal wealth among friends can be awkward.  Let’s look at some of the issues you might face.

When you are the poorer friend

If you are the friend of lesser means, it is easy to feel jealous of your friend who is better off.  It’s human nature to want to better our own situation, so watching your friend jet off to exotic locations or upgrade their ride to the vehicle you’ve always dreamed of owning can be hard to stomach.

We know the dangers of trying to keep up with the Joneses, but when it is our close friends one-upping us, it becomes a bit harder to tolerate.  After all, you communicate with your friend frequently, so it’s tough to avoid noticing her upgrades.

It can also be uncomfortable when your friends are making plans, and you realize you cannot afford to participate.  You get thrust into a difficult choice: you either go along with the plan and blow your budget, or you don’t join in and end up feeling left out.

In some instances, your wealthier friend might enjoy picking up the tab for you.  This can lead you to feel guilty and as if you must repay your friend’s kindness in some way.

As the poorer friend, you should be up front about what you can and cannot afford.  While awkward, it is important to express your concerns about plans that are out of your budget range.  The trick is to communicate it in a loving, constructive way.  Avoiding bitterness and coming across as a killjoy is key.  But difficult, no debate!

When you are the richer friend

In a similar manner, if you are the friend with more resources, awkwardness can also ensue.  You might feel perfectly fine about treating your friend without any expectation of payback.  The trouble is, it is difficult to know how your friend feels about your generosity.

And what if your friend becomes a mooch?  Let me be clear: not all friends you are generous with will become mooches!  But occasionally it will happen.  It really boils down to the person’s ethics.  If a person is inclined to take all she can get without remorse, a mooch is born.

You have probably experienced both, right?  There are people who are willing to accept help because they genuinely need the help (and are grateful for it).  There are also people who are willing to take advantage of a free ride, and often they will actively seek those types of opportunities.  Friends in the first camp are great.  Friends in the second camp?  Not so much.

Communication is key here.  Being open about your willingness to pick up the check is a good starting place.  Letting your friend treat you once in a while can also balance the scales in a way that keeps bad feelings at bay.

It’s also helpful if you are sensitive to your friend’s situation so that you can suggest plans that are within reach of both of your budgets.  There are plenty of things to do for fun that cost little to no money!

And most of all, be aware of how you talk about your wealth.  There’s a fine line between being proud and grateful for your circumstances and being a pompous ass.

Loaning money to friends

Another problem that can occur with unequal wealth among friends: money lending.  Good friends help one another, and that might include an occasional loan of money.  Loaning money to friends can work just fine, or it can absolutely ruin your relationship.  (Of course, the same is true for loaning to family members, but that dynamic is different, and beyond the scope of this article.)

I have loaned money to friends in the past, and fortunately it always ended well.  But there was definitely some awkwardness there for the period of time that the loan was outstanding.  I always wanted to play it cool, but the fact of the matter was that it felt unnatural and made me uncomfortable.

If you are considering loaning money to a friend, be sure it is money you can live without.  It does neither of you any good if loaning your friend money to cover her rent will put you in a position of not being able to pay your own bills.  Without a doubt, that sort of lending is bound to ruin your friendship.

Also, if loaning to a friend, be willing for it to be a gift instead of a loan.  In other words, don’t expect to be paid back.  It’s fine to call it a loan, but in the back of your mind, you must be okay with never seeing that money again.  Otherwise, when the repayment plan goes amok, it will introduce tension at a minimum, or utterly ruin the friendship.

Unequal wealth among friends: A summary

I’ve been both the poorer friend and the richer friend in various periods of my life.  I’ve also loaned (successfully, thank goodness) money to a friend or two.

In the worst cases of financial disparity between friends, the relationship might just drift away.  The lack of common interests and ability to fund those interests might just become too overbearing.  Finding new relationships can be a simpler, but unfortunate, solution.

On the other hand, if maintaining the relationship is a priority for both people, open communication is key.  Avoid resentment and anxiety over financial differences by discussing your feelings instead of bottling them up.  If you both care about each other, money should not be a deal breaker.  Getting past the awkwardness of unequal wealth among friends is possible.


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