I’m on a beach in Tel Aviv when my friend suggests hiring sunbeds at a rooftop pool. ‘It’s only £20 a day,’ she says. I look up at the gorgeous pool, then back to the crowded beach we’re on, where beds cost a fiver. I know what I’d prefer, but I also know what my budget says. ‘Let’s stay here,’ I reply. ‘It looks... fun.’
Welcome to the friendship pay gap, where people like me try to convince friends it’s better to play sardines and drink cheap beer than enjoy £13 Negronis in luxury – all because we can’t keep up with our friends’ finances.
That particular friend and I have known each other for 16 years. We went to the same school and university and have both been working for five years. The difference is that while she went into investment banking, I became a writer. Result: she now earns three times as much as I do and our social plans have become an exercise in extreme compromise.
We’re not alone. Friends who’ve known each other since school or uni tend to grow up with comparable finances, until they hit their late-twenties/thirties and suddenly realise one of them has an executive Addison Lee account while the other can barely afford Uber Pool. For some, it’s because of the careers they chose; for others, it’s down to their partners.
‘My university friends all married rich,’ sighs Sofia*, 31, who works in marketing in London. ‘I’m single and the last guy I dated was a struggling DJ. I can’t afford to meet them at Chiltern Firehouse where the bill comes to £100 each – and it’s always split equally, even if I’m not drinking.’
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But it’s awkward on the other side, too. Mia, 29, earns £80,000 as a consultant in Edinburgh, while her best friend is a teacher earning £32,000. ‘I’m happy to still do the same stuff as normal, but Kate makes snide comments asking if I’d rather be somewhere else, and she’s really weird about money around me. I hate the fact it’s actually started to create distance between us.’
It’s uncomfortable to think that the number of zeroes on a pay cheque can ruin a friendship but, sadly, it can. Gita, 29, an advertising exec, has tried hard to maintain a friendship with her best friend Kim, a lawyer on a six-figure salary, but has found they can no longer relate to each other. ‘She’s so inconsiderate. She moans about not getting pay rises, while I can barely afford my bills. It’s got so bad that I don’t talk to her now. It was upsetting at first and I still miss her, but I’ve had to accept she’s not the same person anymore.’
Of course, friendships can survive the wage gap, but only if both parties agree to old-fashioned compromise – be it forfeiting rooftop pools or splurging £40 on overpriced cocktails. It’s not always enjoyable to deal with credit card debt or crowded beaches but, if you want to keep your friends, it’s a sacrifice you’ll have to make. Take it from someone who knows...