If you’ve had a major financial change lately, it can be hard to transition to a more frugal lifestyle, especially if going out with friends frequently includes dropping $50 or more. Believe me, I’ve been there. I used to take six people out at a time and pay the whole dinner bill without batting an eye. But when my income suddenly dropped, I didn’t know how to adjust – and how to tell people that I couldn’t pick up rounds of drinks anymore.
Acknowledge it openly.
If you’ve lost a job, had a serious medical crisis, major house repairs, or some other big life event that is causing the financial stress, your friends should know about it. This is what friends are for. At the same time, you can briefly mention that it’s taking a real toll on your wallet. Don’t follow this up with a dour “So I won’t be going out with you guys anymore.” Just acknowledge that this has happened and that it’s causing financial consequences. Then…
Laugh about it.
Your friends are going to be tiptoeing around your financial situation like it’s a stack of crates that will fall on them if they so much whisper. If you bring it up first, you can set the tone. When you’re laughing about your financial situation – I sometimes refer to “back when I actually had money” – your friends will breathe easier knowing that they’re not going to make you burst into tears if you have to refuse an outing that will be too expensive. If you seem at ease with your situation, your friends will take your cue and not stress about it either.
Take the lead on outings…
In order to start having things to do that cost less, start inviting your friends to things that will cost less. Find free concerts, cultural festivals, hiking trails, or other low cost activities that you’re interested in, and invite your friends to accompany you. Don’t lament having to step down your activities with an “Oh, I’m poor, this is all I can afford,” but more “This is something cool that I want to do.” People aren’t going to notice that it is free unless you publicly call attention to it.
…but you’re going to have to pass on some.
Sometimes your friends are going to suggest things that they really want to do, but that you can’t afford. Unfortunately those are the times you’ll have to beg off, and occasionally feign non-interest. Absolutely don’t be that guy who whines that he would just LOOOVE to go to the concert, but the tickets are SOOOO expensive and isn’t that JUST terrible? That just makes your friends who do have $70 to cough up for a lawn ticket feel bad. Some white lies may be in order here – if you kind of wanted to go, but you know you can’t afford it, it’s okay to have an “unmissable event” or a late work project that so unfortunately is going to keep you from being able to go. You don’t want to put any wishing and hoping pressure on your generous friends who (like I would) offer to pay for your ticket or cover your tab in exchange for dinner at your house. If they offer, that’s great, but you don’t want to guilt them.
Some of your friends will be annoyed….
If you have friends with whom you normally hit the bars up, go see first-run movies, or have other expensive outings, you may find out that they aren’t really interested in going for a picnic in the park or a minor league baseball game. Some people will be willing to sit around and count nose hairs just to have a reason to hang out together. With some, it might be evident they enjoyed going to the movies more than they enjoyed going to the movies with you. This is life. And it helps you see who is going to be a good friend through thick wallet and thin – and who’s going to be whining about how she’d rather be going to the outlet mall as you tromp through the woods. And considerate friends won’t exclude you from knowing about events that you can’t afford. If they do, deploy step 2, and laugh about it with them. You can also insert a little nudge that you can partake in some of the things but not all of them.
….but some will be relieved.
You may discover that some of your friends who had been buying one beer instead of three weren’t doing it because they had to get up early tomorrow like they’d been telling you – it’s likely there are others in your circle who will welcome your new suggestions of spending-free events. My friends seemed a little relieved when I stopped taking them all out for dinner and started making pasta at home, because now they were able to reciprocate without going broke themselves. We also started just hanging out more, watching movies, or playing games, because there was less expectation that our evenings together had to be THE MOST FUN YOU’LL HAVE ALL WEEK!, and more that we simply liked to spend time with one another.