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Dear Izzy,

I need help with my friends. They’re always going to fancy places, eating at expensive restaurants. And while it’s cool and I’m comfortable, I’m not earning as much as they are. I’ve missed out on a lot of these fancy get-togethers, and they’ve called me out on it. I confided to one of them about my situation and she even said she’d lend me money. But do you get it, Izzy? It’s not even about borrowing money. Maybe it is, but I really can’t find it in my heart to burn money the way they do, and try and keep up with them. I miss them and wanna hang out and I’ve suggested modest coffee sessions. But it always turns into an excessive little thing at a hip and expensive coffee joint. Am I whining? Is this even a legit problem?

Modest Mary

Dear MM,

You’re not whining. It’s actually a very serious thing. We’ve been raised in a culture that doesn’t like talking about money. The subject of money intersects with our beliefs about status, class, and polite society.

There are times talking about money is tacky. When we meet people for the first time, we don’t ask them what their parents do for a living, what their credit score is, or how much their monthly salary is. It’s tacky because these questions involve peeling away so many layers about about a person you’ve just met that it becomes intrusive.

But as you get to know someone, topics related to money SHOULD come up. We don’t have to get into the specifics of how much a person earns, but the everyday agony of maintaining a budget, making enough to pay the bills, and worrying if you have enough set aside for emergencies — these are real things! These are things that determine the course of your life. We have friends because we intend to share our lives with them. The anxieties that come with allocating our resources and making sure we have enough are universal human experiences.

The only way these things don’t come up are because of two things. 1) Your friends have everything taken care of. Someone does the budgeting for them. They make enough or are given more than enough that they don’t have to worry about anything. 2) Maybe they do worry and they struggle but they decided to compartmentalize this away to maintain an illusion of good living and good times.

Either way, it doesn’t bode well for you. Your friends either have a lack of empathy or an abundance of delusion. Maybe it’s both. By the sound of it, your friends may just be of the first category. It doesn’t make them evil people, but it does make them dense.

You’re right, your friend doesn’t get it. Her lending you money is just a quick solution to avoid talking about what the real issue is about. The fact is you cannot afford their lifestyle and they don’t seem to want to listen to you.

Take a cue from my best friend A. The last time we planned to go out for brunch, our other friend suggested eating at Wildflour. A blurted out quickly, “I have no money, can we go somewhere cheaper?”

God damn, I love Wildflour but A was right. I only go there when I have cash windfalls. If I wanted the kimchi fried rice with steak, a mimosa, and a slice of strawberry shortcake to top it off, that meal will already cost me my weekly grocery budget. A is a freelancer like I am and the week we wanted to meet up wasn’t good for her financially. No biggie!

We ended up going to Swagat next door and split a delicious cauliflower curry with tamarind rice. It was also affordable enough that we were able to order lassi to go with it! Yum!

We talked about boys, sustainable agriculture, Philippine art world conspiracy theories, the Batanes fishermen’s co-op, and clothes that don’t make our boobs look like porn tits. We had a grand old time, in short.

If you haven’t noticed, my friends and I love to eat. What we love more than eating amazing stuff though is to be able to see each other and talk about our favorite things.

I think that’s what you want from your friends. You can’t be afraid to talk to them about this and you should be able to stand your ground.

Bring a cup of McDonald’s coffee (that shit’s good, by the way) in a thermos next time you go to the latest third wave coffee shop du jour. Eat your baon in the office before seeing them for dinner and don’t feel any shame about it! I’ve done things like this many times and my friends don’t care about it. You’re there to hang out!

Convictions about money define our lifestyles. You know this. I’m hoping that cheap hacking your way to spending time with your friends might work. Being frugal is not a character flaw. Ask my Ilocano mom.

You have to be prepared though if your friends keep ignoring your concerns or get uncomfortable with the way you do things. You strike me as something who cares about the future – people who are careful with their money usually are.

There will be many times in your life where money will affect your life decisions. Money problems have the capacity to tear families apart and break down relationships. If your friends cannot even have this dialogue with you about where you guys can hang out, what happens when bigger things come into play?

You shouldn’t be the only one keeping up with them, they should also be keeping up with you.

Love,
Izzy

Got problems? Email Izzy at mb.life.official@gmail.com

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