As we have pursued financial independence, we’ve started to engage (and even become friends with) others from the FI community. Because we’ve sought out the diversity within the community, we’ve had an opportunity to connect with people from different backgrounds with an even broader set of beliefs.
While I appreciate this diversity of perspective most of the time, one thing I’ve noticed is that there is a subset of people who have bought into a deprivation mindset.
Early on, I remember seeing many posts in FI forums asking questions like, “How do I say no to social outings that will cost money?” There are a lot of beliefs tied up in this question about what you SHOULD do if you are pursuing FI. I often saw people looking for creative ways to turn down their friends because they were convinced that they shouldn’t spend money this way.
As we begin to emerge from the pandemic, I’m starting to see a similar sentiment. People are starting to say things like, “I saved so much money during the pandemic because I never went anywhere. How can I say no now, so I can keep saving money?”
While I do think that it’s important to be intentional about our spending, this doesn’t seem like the right question to be asking.
Instead, could we be asking how we could intentionally spend our money (and time) on the things that we value most. Otherwise, we are missing the entire point of financial independence. For me, the point of FI is to pursue my passions, build strong relationships, and design a life I truly love.
Financial independence is not about depriving ourselves of things today so that we can have freedom tomorrow. It’s about making conscious decisions with our money (and our time). We may even want to intentionally choose to spend more money on things that we value.
Close friendships are one of the most important things in my life, and they are challenging to form as an adult. Therefore, spending money to build and cultivate friendships, to me, is worth it. I’m not saying that you need to spend a lot of money to cultivate strong friendships. But, sometimes to build and maintain close friendships, spending money is well worth it.
It’s Hard to Make Friends as an Adult
Corey and I have found that making friends in adulthood is REALLY hard. Making friends when the budget is tight or you are purposefully keeping your spending low can be even harder. Add the fact that we’ve moved around quite a bit and are both introverts. That’s a recipe for loneliness.
I can’t even imagine how hard it would have been to try to make new friends during a pandemic. I’m glad we were able to focus on established relationships for the past year.
We both had solid friendships in college, but it was hard to maintain those relationships afterward. We went to a small liberal arts college in the south and the majority of our friends were from out of state. After graduation, everyone dispersed to places like San Francisco, Senegal, North Dakota, North Carolina, Georgia, Ohio, and more. We still keep in touch and see these friends every once in a while, but we knew that they couldn’t continue to be our main support system.
For the last 12 years, we have been seeking out strong friendships. For many years, we struggled to make new friends. Or if we did, it was for a shorter period and then they moved away.
When we moved to Boston, I knew we needed to get serious about making friends, and I started to read articles about making friends as an adult and why it’s so hard. I soaked these up like a sponge and started applying the ideas to my own life (some worked and some didn’t).
It was a long and effortful process to get to where we are today. I would love to share what I learned from this process about making friends and why it’s worth it to intentionally spend money and time to build up the right friendships.
What is Required to Make Friends
Since the 1950s, Sociologists have considered 3 things to be crucial to forming close friendships.
- Repeated, unplanned interactions
- A setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other
This is why it was so easy for us to make friends when we were kids and in college. We saw people our age in school every day. We would bump into them in our neighborhood, the dining hall, the dorm hallway, or in the quad. We’d spend lots and lots of time together, and we’d open up about our dreams, our struggles, and our love lives (or lack thereof).
It’s not so easy once you are an adult.
Why It’s So Difficult to Make New Friends as an Adult
There are so many reasons why it’s difficult to make friends in adulthood. Here are simply a few.
Adults often live far away from friends and colleagues
To be clear, I am very happy that people will reduce their commute time and be able to live where they want to. However, this trend could make it harder to make friends. We will no longer be physically close to the people we spend the most time with, our colleagues.
As it becomes harder to build friendships at work, we’ll need to proactive look elsewhere. This is complicated by the fact that about 60% of people know few or none of our neighbors.
People are more transient
In the last 100 years, more and more people have moved out of the state where they were born into other areas. I was born in Michigan, went to college in Tennessee, lived in New Jersey for graduate school, and now live in Boston. The majority of our friends in college and graduate school were transplanted from other areas, and therefore, we all moved away after college and graduate school.
In Boston, our best friends are from New York, Minnesota, California, Texas, and a few from Massachusetts. Now that we’ve grown older and are all more established in our careers, I’m less worried that all of my friends will move away.
The prevalence of social media can make it difficult to be vulnerable
This is a sentiment that I’ve heard often from friends, typically on social media (ironic, I know). From my personal experience, I’ve seen that people share only a limited amount of things about their lives on social media. These things typically happen to be the 5-10% best things (or their highlight reel).
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want people to share their deep dark secrets with their hundreds of friends and followers. I just think that sometimes we forget that this is the case.
Subconsciously, I start comparing my entire life to the 10% best of other people’s lives, and I begin to feel alone in my struggles. This can make it more challenging to be vulnerable and ask for support.
We lack time (and/or don’t prioritize) building strong friendships
While the average American has more leisure time than they did 50 years ago, this isn’t true for college-educated people. So many of us spend 40-50 hours per week (or more) working and get home with only enough energy to eat dinner and relax in front of the TV. Then, we get up and do it all over again.
Even though work can be extremely busy, we still have about 100 hours of “leisure time per week (including time for sleeping). Even if we sleep 7-8 hours/night (approximately 50 hours/week), we still have 50 hours.
Are we using these hours to prioritize our most important relationships? Or are we filling them with things we feel like we should be doing?
We get “choosier” about who we want to spend our time with
According to Dr. Suzana Flores, there is a decline in friendships as we get older. We prioritize the type of individuals we want to spend time with. This makes sense.
We choose to spend time with our great friends rather than spending time with our mediocre friends or acquaintances. We are more likely to drop unhealthy or one-sided friendships or those with limited common interests.
For many, the pandemic has resulted in a culling of friendships with people with whom we had weak or moderate ties. I’ve had friends that I’d only see in large groups or out at gatherings. It didn’t make sense to “keep up” with them when I was trying to keep up with my closest friends during the pandemic.
Even before the pandemic, though, I have started to reprioritize friendships as I grow older.
Helpful Framework to Conceptualize Friendships
A few years ago, I read an article about making friends as adults. It was life-changing for me. Not only did it provide me with a new framework to think about friendship, but I also credit this article with providing me the insight I needed to create a solid group of friends over the last several years.
This article uses the analogy of a mountain. You are at the top and everyone you know is somewhere on or around the mountain. The mountain can be broken into various tiers, and similar to a pyramid, the higher someone is, the closer they are to you and the smaller the section is. Where people fall on your “life mountain” is not fixed. People can move up or down the mountain because of life circumstances or by intentional choice.
I’m going to explain the various friendship tiers briefly, but I would recommend reading the entire article.
Tier 1: Closest Friends. These are the friends that feel like family; the ones that I can call or text anytime anywhere. We don’t need to plan anything specific because we enjoy each other’s company. When we go to a Tier 1 friend’s house, if we are thirsty or hungry, we help ourselves, because their home is like our home. If we need a place to crash, we know where we can go. If I’m panicking about something and need support, these are the first people I call. If I read a funny article, I send it to them.
Tier 2: Pretty Good Friends. These are the friends that I see every once in a while. I might go to their wedding, but I’m certainly not in it. Pre-pandemic (and hopefully, post-pandemic) we might have met for coffee, a drink, or a meal, typically out. They aren’t likely to come over unless I’m planning something specific like a barbecue, a game night, or a party of some sort. I enjoy their company, and I might occasionally seek them out for support, but not on a daily or weekly basis.
Tier 3: Not Really Friends. The people in the orange zone can be on their way up or on their way down your life mountain. It could be that I met some people recently and don’t know them well yet, and therefore, we are only in Tier 3. We might only spend time together when a large group gathers. Tier 3 friends can also be people who are on the way down the mountain. If a Tier 2 friend moves away, they may become Tier 3. If a Tier 2 friend does something mean (like sending you a nasty email about raising money for a charity for your birthday…? ), they would quickly become Tier 3. When you realize that a friendship is one-sided, that might also be a reason to intentionally move someone to Tier 3.
Getting People to Move up your Life Mountain
From all of this, I learned three critical things about friendships:
- Movement up or down the mountain is natural.
- I want to focus more of my time on building relationships with the right people (i.e. tier 1 and those on their way up the mountain).
- Every friend doesn’t need to serve every purpose; I can build strong friendships in different areas of my life.
Luckily, I read this article around the time that I realized one of our previously “pretty good friendships” had become one-sided. We always initiated plans. They never did.
Had I not been introduced to this framework, I likely would have spent my precious friend-building time trying to hold on, rather than seeking out new strong friendships.
This framework not only empowered us to let these friends go but also made us realize that we wanted to build new friendships.
We started putting ourselves out there and say “yes” more often. We started going to parties and gatherings, even if we didn’t know the person well to see if we “hit it off” with anyone there.
We ended up meeting a couple at one of these parties. They invited us to their weekly dinner nights, and we jumped on the opportunity to get to know them better. Pretty soon, we were at their house ever Sunday for their dinner nights. Then, we were being invited over early to watch a game or hang out. We met another awesome couple at the dinner nights and became friends with them also. Pretty soon, dinner nights turned into the 6 of us hanging out almost every weekend.
Fast forward a few years, and now these friends feel like family. They are our support system. During COVID, we formed a “framily” bubble with them (at least until a few had to go back to work). We can easily spend a full day together without planning anything specific. We’ll end up playing board games, cooking meals, relaxing and chatting, and just doing whatever.
We have searched for these friends for a long time. We put in the time and got to the point where we could have repeated, unplanned interactions, which has led us to confide in each other and serving as each others’ support system.
These friends are what will keep us in Boston for the long term. They are why it would not be worth it to us on our FI journey to move to a lower cost of living area (even if that would mean getting to FI faster) unless of course, our friends moved.
At first, when we started pursuing FI and created our blog, we kept it a secret. We didn’t want to rock the boat with these friends or make them think differently about us. Within a year, it felt like the blog had become a big part of our lives, so we decided to share it with them. Not surprisingly, sharing this part of ourselves didn’t negatively impact our relationship in any way. It simply allowed us to understand each other better.
One thing I’ve learned through the process of starting a blog and business is that it’s okay (and even good) to build different friendships in different areas of life. I’m not going to bombard this great group of friends with talk about FI, lifestyle design, and entrepreneurship. I’m open about my journey with them. I share updates. And, they can ask whatever questions they want to.
I’ve talked a lot about building a supportive community and how it can help you reach your goals. It’s important to know that not every friend will be able to be all things though. Because of this, I’ve also sought out other friends who are pursuing FI and becoming entrepreneurs who I can look to for support around those things.
A lot of people say they are worried they’ll lose friends if they take a new life path. I simply think that we don’t need to force our friends into boxes and ask them to support us in every area of our lives.
Tips to Make Friends as an Adult on Your Path to FI
If you want to make friends as an adult, I’d encourage you to do 3 things:
- Start saying “Yes” to the right things: This means that you are intentionally spending time and money with your friends who are in tier 1 or are people who are on their way up your “friendship mountain.”
- Start saying “No” to the wrong things: Spend less time with people who are moving down your mountain. Letting go could open up more space to make new and better friends.
- Make friends with different people for different purposes: Maybe your current BFFs won’t understand or share your financial or lifestyle goals. That’s okay. You can seek out friendships for support and encouragement in different areas of life. For tips on where to find them, check out this post I wrote about supportive communities that can help you reach your goals.
FI is about Intentionality
It’s time to stop asking, “How can I say no to social outings that cost money?”
Instead, let’s ask, “What do I value most? Is this worth spending money on? Will it add value to my life?”
Remember, FI isn’t about deprivation.
It’s about being intentional about spending money on things that will add value to your life.
Because we value building strong friendships, we will choose to go out to eat with our friends who are foodies, who love trying new restaurants. Because our friends are gift-givers, it is worth it to us to spend money to give a meaningful gift.
Because I also want to build strong relationships with the FI friends I met online, I’m investing time and money to attend several in-person retreats or events in the latter part of 2021 and 2022.
And you know what? It’ll all be worth it.
This reciprocity, generosity, and time have helped to strengthen our friendships, which add a lot of happiness and meaning to our lives. To us, FI is about pursuing precisely these things.
What have you done to meet people and build strong friendships? How do you balance this with your FI journey?