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friends eating foodAfter college, it was challenging for Corey and me to make friends.

We lived in northern New Jersey (suburbs of New York City) for graduate school. The only young people who live in the NJ suburbs either grew up there and have their childhood friends or are transplants themselves.

While we did make some friends through graduate school, all of them ended up moving away about a year before we moved to Boston. We were friendless in our last year in NJ. it didn’t feel worth our energy to build new friends because we were planning to move and were busy finishing graduate school and starting new jobs.  

When we moved to Boston, we didn’t know anyone.

We became friends with a couple that lived in our building, but after a year, they moved to California for graduate school. What bad luck we had!  

We were back on the market looking for new friends, something that is very challenging to do as adults. We were putting ourselves out there, attending parties and gatherings, going to book clubs and other meetups, etc.  

When we finally met some fun and amazing people through a mutual friend, we felt like we had won the friendship lottery.

We began hanging out with these two other couples on a weekly basis, sometimes more. We’d go out for brunch or lunch one day. Another day we might go out for dinner and drinks.

After being invited over, we’d ask what we could bring and end up stopping at the store to grab whatever snacks or beverages were recommended or would complement whatever others were bringing.

When we were invited out for activities like concerts (even if we didn’t know or like the band), escape rooms, or wine tasting, we’d say yes without a second thought. When we were invited to an out of town camping trip, there was no way we’d ever say no.  

Because we knew how hard it was to make friends, we were committed to not let anything get in our way of building new friendships. We knew that it would time, energy, and money to build up new friendships.

We’ve never officially tracked our friend spending. It has always fallen into the restaurant, groceries, entertainment, or gifts categories of our budget.

However, at one point, one of the couples shared with us that they split out the spending with friends into a new category. They shared that they spent upwards of $500 per month just with our core group of friends.

WOW! That’s a lot of money. Because we share costs for activities that we do together, it meant that we were spending a similar amount of money. And we didn’t even realize it.

Why I’m Focusing on Intentionality Instead of Frugality

When we began our FI journey, we began to think more intentionally about our spending in all areas of life. The hardest part for us was the review of our friend spending.  

As I’ve shared previously, I believe that the most important thing is to align your spending with the things that you value. That way you will feel good about spending money on things that add value and happiness to your life, and you’ll also feel good about not spending money on things that don’t.  

Because I genuinely value friendships, I am happy to spend some money cultivating them.

However, it was getting out of hand.

We were saying “yes” to everything without even thinking about it.

One notable example was that I spent $50 to go to a concert where I didn’t know the music and ended up not enjoying it.

Another time, I spend $20 going to a brunch where I left hungry because the restaurant had very little that I could eat, because of my food allergies.  

I realized I was saying “yes” to things I wasn’t enjoying and spending a significant amount of money doing it. I needed to think more critically and intentionally about my friend spending.

I’ve begun to ask myself the following questions:

  1. Will spending this money add to my happiness?
  2. Will it help us build our friendships?
  3. Could we do something lower cost that meets the same goals?
  4. Will there be negative impacts if we say “no?”

For me, this isn’t about deprivation or frugality. These questions help me to be more intentional about both the ways I spend my money and how these decisions will lead to stronger friendships.

Because our real-life friends don’t yet know about our pursuit of FI, we also don’t want to be too extreme about it.

We’ve had situations in the past where friends have thought that we were judging them merely because of the ways we’d chosen to live our lives.

It wasn’t the case and likely wouldn’t happen again, but we are worried that it could by communicating our goals to achieve FI. This doesn’t mean we would never communicate these goals in the future if the time feels right.  

What our friends do know about us is that we manage our money well, that we are attempting to save more money especially now that I’m going part-time at work, and that we are committed to improving our quality of life.  

How I’m Being More Intentional about my Friend Spending

It’s important to us that our intentionality regarding the money we spend with friends does not hamper our relationships.

I believe that this level of intentionality has helped us to cultivate deeper friendships in the past year. We’ve realized we don’t need to be spending a lot of money to have fun together.

We have friends (the same ones who tracked friend spending) who are saving for a down-payment on a house, and we feel like we’ve been able to help them reach their financial goals by proposing free and low-cost activities.  

There are many specific things we’ve done over the past year to reduce our friend spending while not lowering the quality of our relationships.  

We Proactively Propose Low-Cost Activities

If friends ask us to do something that we want to do, we will very likely say yes, even if it costs money. We’ve been more intentional about proposing free or low-cost activities in advance before someone else has the opportunity to propose a higher-cost activity.

We’ve invited people over for potluck style dinners (which are a fraction of the cost of going out), game nights, barbeques, and to do outdoor activities like hiking.  

When Going Out, We Often Propose Less Expensive Alternatives

To build new friendships, I don’t always feel comfortable inviting someone to come over. I also think that it’s also fun to go out and spend time with friends in a new environment.  

restaurant eating burgers fries

Here are some of the things I’ve been trying to do to save money:

  • Coffee instead of breakfast or lunch
  • A drink and/or appetizer/dessert instead of dinner
  • Proposing less expensive (but still excellent) restaurants
  • Sometimes choosing not to drink alcohol out or limiting myself to one drink  

Contribute Something We Already Have on Hand 

When we would go over to a friend’s house, we used to ask what we could bring. Now, when we are going to a friend’s, we look at what we have and propose something to bring based on that. We keep our house stocked with cheese and crackers from Costco and wine and cider from the wholesale distributor or our fairly inexpensive wine club.  

This prevents us from stopping at a grocery store, typically Whole Foods since that’s what is in our neighborhood, and picking things up on the way. Since it’s almost impossible for me to get in and out of Whole Foods without spending at least $25, this has helped us reduce costs significantly.

Only Say “Yes” to Activities I Want to Do or I Believe will Help Build the Friendship

I used to say yes to everything, and I didn’t always enjoy myself.

Now when I’m asked to do something, I am much more intentional about whether or not I actually want to do the activity, whether it will build the friendship, and understanding if there would be a negative impact if I say no.  

I’ve realized that concerts aren’t conducive to conversation anyways, so if I don’t know or particularly like the artist, I will say “no.” If I’m invited to a movie that I don’t want to see, I will often say “no,” but consider meeting up before or after for dinner or drinks.

I will usually still say “yes” to group activities that will be fun and that will give us ample opportunity to connect. These types of activities include escape rooms, camping, cider tasting, etc.

Several months ago, for a friend’s birthday, she wanted to go out to lunch and get mani-pedis. While I don’t like mani-pedis, I knew that this would build the friendship and it was her birthday, so there would probably be adverse impacts if I said no. I ultimately said “yes.”

We had an enjoyable day together, and I’m glad that I went. Upon reflection, I realized that I could have said “yes” to lunch and the manicure and “no” to the pedicure, saving me both $30 and the foot pain caused by soaking my feet in the warm water (because of a foot injury my foot gets easily swollen).  

Give Thoughtful but Inexpensive Gifts

Giving gifts doesn’t mean that you need to spend a lot of money. Getting a thoughtful gift often means that you don’t need to spend a lot of money.

For this friend’s birthday, I bought her socks that had tacocat (from the game Exploding Kittens) on them. I knew she loved socks with patterns, and she loved tacocat (yes, it’s a palindrome…). It was a perfect gift for about $10, and she loved them.

One year for Christmas, I crocheted scarves for my girlfriends. They loved them. The yarn cost about $8, and because it was an intricate pattern, each scarf took me about 10 hours. The gift was appreciated and they still wear them!

The Impact of Spending Money Intentionally on Friends

Friendships are one of the most important things in my life, so I’m focusing on intentional spending that will help me to cultivate my friendships while also reducing the impact on my wallet.

While I can’t give you a specific reduction in dollars spent, there are some indicators that we have been able to reduce our friend spending significantly:

  1. We reduced our food spending by $500/month. Since much of our friend spending was coming out of the restaurant and grocery categories, this is significant.
  2. We reduced our entertainment expenses in the second half of 2018 once we decided to be more intentional with our spending.
  3. We achieved around a 60% savings rate in 2018. Earlier in the year, we had projected a 57% savings rate. Even with some lost income from medical issues, we surpassed our savings rate goal, which I credit to being more intentional with our spending in many areas including this one.  

For us, it’s been important to focus on intentionality rather than being frugal or cheap. This intentionality has not only impacted our wallet, but it has also improved our relationships.

Because we value our friendships if we found that our reduction in spending negatively impacted our friendships, we would choose to intentionally spend a bit more.

What additional things do you do to be intentional and proactive about your friend spending?

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