Most of us are determined to be on our best behaviour for the rest of this year. Whether it be working out, eating healthy or finally starting that retirement fund… we want to build on what we had and who we were last year.
As a young couple, my husband and I are just at the beginning of our journey towards financial security for ourselves and our (future) children. It’s one of the things we’ll be working on this year. The thing is though, it’s not just up to us.
As adults, friends can influence our behaviour as much as they did when we were in high school. Peer pressure is real… and it never goes away! Here are six ways that your friends may be holding you back on your journey to financial freedom…
1 – Restaurant Dinners
Whether or not we’re aware of it, the way we choose to socialise is based on our budget. This is especially true for those of us embarking upon a journey to financial freedom. One of the most expensive forms of recreation is eating. Crazy, right? A few drinks at a pub, an evening at the cinema… so many things are more affordable than dinner at a restaurant. Daytime eating (breakfast or lunch dates) is a cheaper option, but also less likely to happen because – let’s face it – most of us work during the day. Because of this, I pretty much never go to restaurants unless it’s a special occasion or a budgeted ‘date night’ with the hubby.
If your friends’ main means of socialising is going out to restaurants, a great alternative can be at-home dinners. Even if you don’t do it potluck style, you’re likely to save some pennies if you invite your friends over, rather than going to the restaurant where you’ll pay extra just for the luxury of 1/ not preparing the meal yourself and 2/ not serving it yourself.
2 – Sharing the Bill
Why do some people assume that this is the standard way to deal with a bill after a night out? I’ve always found this one a little presumptuous. It’s pretty rude to make an assumption about what another person might be willing to pay. I’d like to be asked first… Do you mind if we share this or would you rather we all just pay for ourselves?
On countless occasions I’ve chosen to make do with a salad and water… in an effort to control my spending, only to end up paying for that, plus some of the tiramisu and the wine that my friends had for dinner because somebody assumed it was cool to share the bill.
The only way to get around this is to speak up for yourself. Dave Ramsey advocates that we “Live like no-one else… so one day we can live like no-one else…”
This means that sometimes we just have to bite the bullet and do the awkward, embarrassing thing, if it helps us to keep a firm grip on our budget and on our future. If you want to pay your own way, be sure to clearly inform everyone that you would prefer to settle your portion of the bill separately. There’s no shame in it!
3 – Expensive Presents
This one is pretty hard for me; I may be super frugal but I’m no scrooge. I LOVE presents. I love giving them and I love receiving them. If I can’t afford a birthday present for a friend… or a baby shower present… I might actually feign illness just so I don’t have to attend the celebration in question. If I can’t afford a nice present for someone I care about… it can make me downright depressed. This becomes even more challenging when the person in question is likely to get something insanely expensive for me.
Granted, this isn’t a problem that I frequently face… but I know that some of you may be under considerable pressure to live up to expectations – based on the things you were able to afford in the past, or the things that other people have bought for you. If Christmas dinner always happens at your house, or maybe the annual Easter Egg Hunt that all the kids in the family have been looking forward to… how do you tell everyone that this year it just can’t happen?
Sorry to say it, but you just tell them. There is no easy way around this one. When you know that a gift-giving occasion is coming around, let your family members know what your budget is for gifts. Ask that they stick to a similar budget if they plan to purchase anything for you… to spare you any guilt.
Additionally, YouTube is an awesome resource for affordable meals and holiday decorations – because if you can cook and decorate affordably, it leaves you a bit more cash for gift-giving.
Another handy tip (that pulled me out of some sticky situations for Christmas 2015) is to gift-shop all year round. Because I’d bought small items in sales throughout the year and kept them as potential birthday/Christmas presents, I managed to spare myself a major budget meltdown last December!
4 – Casual ‘Borrowing’
‘Oh, can you buy me a coke on your way here? And a snickers bar?’ People ask these small favours so casually and so often that they might go unnoticed. I certainly wouldn’t notice them, if I weren’t such a careful planner. When I go out with $20 in my wallet because I want to restrict my spending to $20 – and then someone asks me to buy them a drink or a snack for $5 (which I certainly won’t ask them to repay) – all of a sudden my meagre lunch of a sandwich and fruit juice turns into a meagre lunch of fruit juice. If this happens a few times each week, it can really add up! Then, guess what happens? Out comes the amazing, life-saving, soul-destroying, budget-wrecking credit card! So what do we do if we want to give but we also want to stay in control?
In my financial plan for my husband and myself, I have incorporated a special fund for ‘Gifts and Giving’. Even if it means cutting back on spending in other areas, we make sure to put something into that ‘Gifts and Giving’ fund each month. This covers birthdays, baby showers, anniversaries, house-warmings… all the special events in the lives of those we love. It also covers the odd, “Hey, can you get me … on your way here?” request. It’s easy to forget about this in your monthly financial plan, but trust me… if you want to continue to live in a society (as opposed to living under a rock somewhere) you have to expect to give away some of what you have. Decide how much you are able to give and hold it in reserve for your friends’ occasional casual borrowing. If you still have any left over at the end of the month, put it into a sinking fund for gifts, donations or tithes.
5 – Recreational Shopping
We all want a social way to have fun sometimes. Some people play group sports. Some join a book club. Unfortunately, for many women, shopping is just another fun social activity that has very little to do with acquiring items that they need. As part of my journey towards financial freedom, I’ve made it a point not to go for a stroll down the high street or to the mall just for fun. If I really want to take a walk, I’ll go to a park. Even if you don’t go into a single store at the mall… how likely is it that you’ll actually go there and leave without buying a cup of coffee, some ice-cream… something? Are you sure you can resist that SALE sign?
Many of your friends might be recreational shoppers. Having to say ‘no’ each time someone suggests that you go shopping together can make your journey seem like a very lonely one. You’ll inevitably have to turn down a few invitations… My advice here is to be proactive: Invite a few friends home for popcorn and a movie. Suggest a trip to the beach… or the lake… or another free form of entertainment. Be the host rather than the guest!
Another great tip is to keep a running list of things you need or items that you’ve run out of and need to replace. Keep it in your phone, so it’s always with you. Save up to purchase these items and mark off the items on the list that you can actually afford. That way, if you ever succumb to the temptation to accompany a friend on a shopping trip, you can get things you would have purchased anyway and enjoy some relatively guilt-free shopping of your own!
6 – The Power of Comparison
It can be something as simple as what you take to work for lunch each day. Or the fact that you pack your lunch for work at all. Sometimes, exhibiting frugal behaviours can be downright embarrassing. We look at our friends; what they do, what they have, what they wear, where they go on holiday… and we COMPARE. We can’t blame this one entirely on our friends. It’s something that we do to ourselves. In the age of social media, it’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s not… and super easy to become convinced that everyone else’s life is better, easier and more glamourous…
I once heard some great advice (I can’t remember where) that went something like this; “Live in a neighbourhood where everyone makes a slightly lower salary than yours… that way you won’t be tempted to keep up with the Joneses and you’re more likely to live within your means.”
Now, I’m not saying that you should pack up and move, but the simple fact is that we can never, never tell what is going on in someone’s life by the financial choices that they make. The fact that your co-worker just got a new car doesn’t mean that you should be able to get one too. Maybe his father paid the down-payment. The fact that a former schoolmate is a stay-at-home mum doesn’t mean that your family should make the same choice. Maybe her husband’s well-paid job keeps him away from the family for months at a time. The fact that your friend always buys breakfast at the fancy French pastry shop doesn’t mean that this is the ‘normal’ thing to do. Maybe she has Ramen for dinner every night. Maybe she’s up to her ears in debt!
Essentially, my advice is that you forget what your friends do… and don’t worry too much about what they think. Be bold enough to live according to your goals, your means and your needs.
I know that these situations can be uncomfortable. It might seem easier to spend those extra pennies rather than risk looking like a cheapskate. I get it, nobody wants to bring up the awkward budget conversation…
If you’re still worried about how you’ll be perceived, remember this; A real friend will understand and support you on this journey, even if they don’t make the journey with you. A real friend will want to see you succeed!
So if the phone calls and invitations slow down a bit, remind yourself that you haven’t lost anything. Unless you really want to surround yourself with people who only value you based on how much money you spend….