"When a man says money can do everything, that settles it: he hasn't any." - Ed Howe

Financial Misery Loves Company

By , June 22nd, 2011 | 6 Comments »

When you and all of your friends or family are deeply in debt, you can all be miserable together.

You can gripe about your finances, complain about how there’s never enough money for everything, and then go shopping anyway. You can egg each other into further debt by saying things like, “You’re only young once,” “You should get that because it might not be here tomorrow,” and “Your kids need that item because Mrs. Smith’s kids have one.” It makes for a twisted kind of friendship, but there is definitely a bond that is formed between people who are all in the same mess.

But what happens when one of the group steps out and does something different? This is where one of my friends now finds herself. For years I have been her only financially responsible friend. Most of her friends are of the “spend today and maybe pay it off tomorrow” crowd. They are obsessed with trends and making sure they have everything that their friends have. When they do something together it’s always spending related. They gripe about the money they don’t have, but they refuse to change any of their habits.

My friend finally woke up one day and realized that she needed to stop spending so much money. She has kids that will need college and her retirement accounts are underfunded. She’s gotten her act together and paid down a lot of her debt and gotten many of her neglected affairs straightened out. She’s much happier now except for one thing. She’s been ostracized from her group of friends.

It started when they would go out and she wouldn’t join in the buying frenzy. She’d just browse. If they went out to eat she ordered the cheapest thing on the menu and take half of it home. She started declining invitations to expensive outings like movies and concerts. She tried suggesting less expensive alternatives like potlucks, dollar theaters, and free museums, but the group wouldn’t hear of it. Suddenly she didn’t know what half the conversations were about anymore. They would talk about this movie or that show and she had no idea. They’d talk about things they’d bought and what was in and out and my friend had no idea. Gradually she was shoved to the fringe of the group. She declined more and more invitations to expensive outings and eventually the invitations stopped coming altogether.

A couple of the friends asked her why she wasn’t with the group anymore. When she told them that she was getting her finances together they didn’t say, “Good for you,” they said, “Oh, that’s too bad. Guess you can’t have any fun anymore.” My friend came to me wanting to know what she’d done to make them hate her.

I told her it wasn’t her. (My opinion was that these people weren’t worthy friends at all, but I kept it to myself.) Chances are that her old friends now see her as a threat to their lifestyle. If she gets her act together, she shines a spotlight on what they know they should be doing. Many of them are in worse financial shape than my friend (or so goes the gossip mill). If my friend succeeds at getting out of debt and saving for the future, it makes them look like failures. It’s easier for them to push her out than to admit to themselves that maybe she is right. When she stopped participating in their foolishness and stopped telling them that it was okay, she became an enemy. Misery loves company and since my friend decided to stop being miserable, the company threw her out.

Knowing this doesn’t make it any easier to deal with the loss, though. To help her get over her hurt feelings I’ve made sure to include her in the frugal entertainment that my group of friends puts together. She’s made a couple of new friends that way. She still sees a couple of her old friends, but only one on one now. She visits with the least out of control members of her old group over inexpensive coffee. But, she says, “I find that each time we get together, we have less to talk about.” They’re growing apart. Her interests no longer match theirs. She says that when they start whining about money now, it drives her crazy because she knows it doesn’t have to be that way. She’s no longer miserable and they are. There’s no fun in that relationship.

I told her the other day that I was very proud of her. It’s tough to weather the loss of “friends” even when you’re doing what you know is right. That she’s stuck to her new lifestyle in the face of ridicule and opposition says a lot about her character.

When your friends base their lives around consumption, misery, and debt and you decide to stop being miserable, they’re going to turn on you. You will be pointing out all of the things they know they should be doing and they won’t like it. They won’t like seeing you get happy and secure. If you’re very lucky, one or two may follow you but chances are you’ll have to find new friends. It’s hard, but financial security is worth more than a bunch of friends who only want you around when you’re as miserable as they are.

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  • Diane says:

    I absolutely agree. To me it has been even sadder because it is my own parents and some siblings who “booted” me out of the gang/family. Oh well, I sleep much better at night and very much enjoy my new found happiness.

  • Alexandria says:

    So very true!

    After moving to another city I didn’t realize how much my friendships would be defined by frugality. But the thing is once you become cautious with money, you really have very little in common with spenders deep in debt.

    Anyway, what has surprised me is how rudely I have been treated when open about being more frugal. When it comes to making new friendships, I can identify. Most my old friends and family are pretty frugal. One theory I have had is that people are often just very un-trusting of someone who is different. I felt like many people just thought I Was a straught our liar. Because obviously it is “impossible” to make the kind of wage that I claimed, and to have no debt and apparently no financial problems. So, I find people were just very un-trusting of me in general. Once they know me for 5+ years, and see that I am not full of crap, they tend to come around a bit. In fact, it’s been heart warming to have several people come up to me (5-10 years later) and tell me that I really helped them financially. When really I had no idea – just setting an example or being vocal about my feelings on debt actually helped people financially! Unfortunately, after years of being treated very rudely, I am no longer open at all about my financial status or opinions. The reward was kind of “too little too late.” But I suppose I will consider some sort of middle ground in the future (versus avoiding the subject of finances as much as possible!)

    I do think their is hope that old friends will come around, but when they do the damage will be done. In the meantime, you find new friends.

  • larabelle says:

    I am in the same boat as Diane.
    When I was $78,000 in debt with no savings I was included within my family. I thought they would be proud when I got out of debt…but the opposite occured they are very resentful about it. From beginning to end I tried to tell them how I was getting out of debt as well as keep them abreast of my progress but once I reached the finish line my mother pulled me aside and explained their resentment. So very sad……..

  • rob62521 says:

    I agree…it’s difficult to break away from “friends” like this. I have found that many people have difficulty admitting they can’t afford things to their friends and even family. It takes a strong person to do this and be honest. We all like to keep up appearances.

  • Jaime B says:

    Perhaps I’m oblivious or none of the people I’m close to are this superficial but none of us are judgy about where we are in our finances.

    However, one thing from (sort of) the other side. I have a friend, who for about 3 years would only go out to eat if she had a coupon and, somehow, only had a coupon for the SAME restaurant. It felt like her financial issues were hijacking the agenda, and none of us were flush with cash. I had no problems with coupons, I just wanted to go to a different restaurant sometimes. Variety.

    But to even notice how much someone spends on their meal or care that they take half home and all that foolishness is just crazy.

  • nitemarecooper says:

    I so completely agree with this article. My sister used to have the attitude “why bother trying to be debt free as we are never meant to be debt free. She refuses to go the rest of her life having no fun because of even trying.” Now she has already gone bankrupt once years ago due to her marriage and now she is in debt agreement with a credit councelling agency.

    On the other hand, my parents are proudly debt free as of a couple of years back for the first time in their life. I’ve talked with them about that many times as I am their primary support and contact for anything computer or financial related. I find it very encouraging to think about what a relief it is for them to now be debt free (already retirement age unfortunately) compared to the past.

    I also now spend very little time myself with my brother and his wife compared to the past due to their lifestyle and not bothering with costs, just put it on the old cc and worry about paying for it later. They’ve already refinance a good $100,000 or so into their mortgage a couple of years back. Due to lifestyle, they now have a mortgage on their 20 year old house roughly equal to the value as opposed to the fact it should have been close to paid off if they had stuck to the schedule they were on 10-15 years ago.


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