"Differences in financial status can pose serious challenges to relationships."
-Ted and Brad Klontz
"Truly confident people do not need to prove anything."
My wife and I sit down to watch Friends. We have both seen the show before, but never not all the episodes and certainly never in order. We happen to be watching an episode that caught my attention. Three of the friends have well-paying jobs, while the other three don't have as much. One of the well-off friends, Chandler, suggests going to a concert, but the three with less think it's too much money. Later, Monica wants to go to an expensive restaurant to celebrate a promotion. The three with money order expensive dishes while the other three order the cheapest things they can find. When Ross suggests they split it evenly comes up, causing the three who ordered the cheap food to have to help pay for the three who ordered expensive food, the situation gets awkward.
Later, to make up for the awkwardness, Ross, Monica, and Chandler buy tickets for everyone to go to the concert. Not wanting to feel like charity cases, the three without money turn down the offer.
I realized while watching it, is the reason it's so funny is that it's so relatable to almost everyone. Most of us have been in a situation where we felt awkward saying no to something we can't afford to do or don't want to spend our money on, and we've likely been on the other side as well, worrying about offending those with less.
It can get awkward when one friend has more or less than the other.
Judgement, Shame, and Blame
Money is full of negative emotions and as a result it's hard to talk about. When it comes to friends and family members who have significantly more or less money than you (or are perceived to have more or less than you), it's equally hard to voice concerns or try to be fair.
For example, if your friends have more than you and want to go out to eat at an expensive restaurant, it's not easy to tell him or her that you can't afford that restaurant. If you do go, do you try to hide it by just ordering the least expensive meal? What if someone has the check split evenly (like in the Friends clip) and you ordered a less expensive meal; do you speak up? Are you comfortable if your friend pays? Do you expect your friend to pay?
On the other hand, if you friends have less than you do, do you consider that before going out to eat? Do you feel obligated to pay? Do you go to less expensive restaurants just because you don't want to put him or her into an awkward position?
These are just some examples of tough decisions and conversations that can come up between friends with different income and wealth levels. It's not just eating out, either. There can be this kind of tension when it comes to vacations or traveling, hobbies and events, or even just talking about frustrating money topics.
It's difficult to have these conversations, so many times we don't. Or we do and we end up having an argument. We are afraid that if we say that we prefer a less expensive restaurant or that we want to have the bill divided into who ordered what, that someone will judge or blame us and we'll feel shameful.
We spend a lot of energy considering what others are going to think but the truth of the matter is that nobody really cares. For real. They are too busy with their concerns about what you think of them.
Boost Your Confidence
Once you begin to understand that most difficult conversations are mostly only difficult in our own minds, you can begin to take steps toward increasing your confidence. The knowledge that people really don't care (or whether we want people in our lives who do) about our preferences, combined with a solid understanding of what money's role is in our life and what's important to us, gives us the confidence to speak up. With that confidence you'll understand that the other person probably doesn't care but that doesn't even matter - because you won't care what they think.
If someone tells you they are going to a restaurant you can't afford or taking a trip that doesn't align with your values, there is nothing wrong with saying so. You don't even have to provide a rationale. A simple, "I appreciate you thinking about me, but no thank you," goes a long way. If you would like to participate, maybe, "I would love to go out to eat with you. Any chance you're up for XYZ Restaurant instead?"
It's None of Your Business
Another way to view how other people think about your situation is to consider that their opinions are their own and they are entitled to them. I was told recently that someone's opinion of you is none of your business. That's a short, simple statement, but there's a lot to unpack there.
If (big if) someone has criticisms about a particular restaurant being out of your budget or for suggesting one that's too fancy, I'm giving you permission to let it go. Those criticisms are none of your business...and along with your newfound confidence, you won't care about the criticism anyway. You can work toward a solution without feeling ashamed or embarrassed.
Use Your Money to Support Your Values
If you start to align your use of money with what's important to you, increase your awareness of your financial life, and stop spending money in ways that don't energize you, you will gain a certain confidence and peace of mind that helps you understand that everyone has their own opinions.
So how could our friends, Chandler, Joey, Monica, Phoebe, Rachel, and Ross have handled their situation differently? Before suggesting a place that is known to be upscale, perhaps Monica could have asked everyone's opinion. That works well if everyone answers honestly. If they had confidence and the ability to navigate money emotions, Joey, Phoebe, and Rachel could have suggested a different place, or a celebration at home. They could have told them that they don't have room in their budget at the moment. If they got into a situation where they were at dinner, one of them, or all of them, could have mentioned ahead of time that they intend to pay for themselves. Alternatively, Ross, Chandler, and Monica could have indicated ahead of time their intent to split the bill evenly, to which the other three could have voiced concern for early. Ross, Monica, and Chandler had a good idea to buy concert tickets as gifts for their friends, but the negative emotions associated with thinking of themselves as charity cases caused them to miss out on an experience. If they had a better relationship with money they could have accepted their gift and enjoyed the show.
This stuff is rooted deep in our minds. There is a concept called our financial comfort zone that makes it difficult to be comfortable with more or less than we are used to. I'm not saying it's easy to gain confidence and a healthy relationship with money, just that it's possible to be more comfortable with "awkward" money conversations.
Dan Ariely, Jeff Kreisler: Dollars and Sense
Friends: "The One With Five Steaks and an Eggplant"
Brad Klontz, Ted Klontz: Mind Over Money
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