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.