Money And Friendship Get Even More Complicated In Your Late 20s

How do you deal with having more money than your friends? What do you do if you earn less than your friends? Money is one of the things you’re not supposed to talk about. But, inevitably it comes up. Whether you want it to or not. Regardless of whether you have any or not. So, why do we find it so hard to talk about money?Illustration by Hailey Hamilton

Money And Friendship Get Even More Complicated In Your Late 20s

by Vicky Spratt |
Published on

Five words that can make your heart sink and stomach lurch: ‘shall we split the bill?’ You deliberately under ordered, said you just weren’t that hungry. You only had one glass of wine, you factored in the amount you would leave for a tip as you ordered and calculated what you would owe before you’d even eaten.

Cast your mind back to episode 5, season 2 of Friends. The One With Five Steaks And An Eggplant. The gang go out for dinner at a swanky restaurant to celebrate Monica’s new job, but only Monica, Ross and Chandler can afford to order properly from the menu. They go for a starter and then some grilled prawns, Joey asks if he can get a pizza without any of the toppings to make it cheaper, Phoebe has a small soup and Rachel has a garden side salad to accompany her glass of water. When they’re all finished Ross suggests the split the bill, Phoebe and Joey then point out that they deliberately ordered cheaply and want to pay only for what they had.

And there you have it, even amongst the world’s most famous friendship group money was an issue. They say you should never discuss money with anyone. It’s uncouth to talk about money, gauche, vulgar, not the done thing, a massive faux pas and, definitely, ‘not very English’.

Money is one of the things you’re not supposed to talk about. But, inevitably it comes up. Whether you want it to or not. Regardless of whether you have any or not.

In any case, it’s what goes unsaid that speaks volumes. Youth is a great equalizer. But even as a teenager it was clear who got more pocket money, because those people didn’t have Saturday jobs. You knew whether someone was getting hand outs from their parents because they had the latest trainers for PE, a nicer handbag for their school books, a new coat every winter, carried their PE kit around in (an albeit battered) Burberry carrier bag as opposed to a Jane Norman one, smoked Marlborough not Sovereigns and went on long haul instead of short haul holidays, or no holiday at all, during the Easter holidays. Throughout school there were visual markers which spoke volumes about people’s financial situations in a culture which told us ‘you are what you have’.

Then, at university (if you go) you meet people from different backgrounds. You might speak to someone who went to Eton in the same conversation as someone who went to a once failing comprehensive which is now an academy. In theory you’re equals but it’s still clear, or at least it was at my university, who belonged where because those with money beyond a student loan could afford to live in the nicer rooms with en suite bathrooms, not the ones in ageing halls with shared showers which you had to walk down two flights of stairs to get to.

Irene S. Levine, friendship expert and psychologist, says that when we’re all in education there’s more ‘income equality. But then some people might take higher paid jobs while others might go into lower paid professions, like nursing or social work for instance.’ Divides start to appear.

And, perhaps, today life for young adults is even more unequal than ever before. There are reports that claim that social mobility all but stops after university, increasing divides between those who own and those who rent property and wages, on the whole, are pretty stagnant.

The primordial ooze that is graduation is no more of a leveller. Some people move home, far and wide across the country, while they regroup and work out what happens now. Many flock to London for a graduate job, once again money is the great divider. Social groups are formed based on who can afford to pay what in terms of rent, some people through fortune are gifted money by their families or, through untimely misfortune, inherit a deposit early on and become buy-to-let landlords in their 20s. You might benefit from the reasonably cheap rent they offer, but you know you’re paying off their mortgage.

Salaries, unfortunately, do also begin to determine who can go on holiday with whom and where. And, there even comes a point in your late 20s, while some people are still living at home, when others are out buying second homes to begin their careers as baby buy to let moguls.

Dr Levine confirms that income does start to define the circles we move in, inevitably. But, she says, it doesn’t have to. ‘If you’re going on holiday with a friend you can agree a budget before hand’, for example. But, whichever group you fall into: the one where people have money, the one where nobody does money or the one in the middle where you have some but never quite enough, it’s potentially a minefield.

It’s can be as uncomfortable to admit ‘I can’t afford this’ as it is to discuss your privileged (unless you’re a massive dick, of course). People on lower incomes rarely want to discuss the ins and outs of a using a credit card to get to the end of the month, in the same way that people with a fair bit extra left over rarely want to admit they paid full price for something they know most people couldn’t even afford if it was on sale.

Despite the fact that we struggle to speak about our finances with those closest to us, our society is obsessed with knowing about how much money ‘rich’ people have. Every year the Sunday Times publishes it’s ‘Rich List’, we grew up gawping over MTV Cribs and, even, a reality TV show like Made in Chelsea is supposed to offer viewers a glimpse of what it’s like to be wealthy.

It’s a lot easier to pretend your lives aren’t all that different before people start buying property. But, at any time, within any friendship group, there are several people living similar lifestyles on very different budgets.

However, Dr Levine points out that it’s really important to remember what friendship is actually about. To hold onto why you became friends in the first place. It’s not about money, ‘it’s about more intangible things, like shared values and interests. It’s about the things you have in common and the experiences you’ve had together.’

She advises that you don’t put yourself in situations where money will be an issue. If you have a friend who likes to shop ‘and you know that’s your Achilles heel but you can’t afford to do it’, she says, then ‘don’t go shopping with them’.

While you might know the most intimate details about your friends emotional and sex lives, arguably you might even know too much, but it’s very unlikely that you will know the balance of their bank account, credit left on their credit card or number of zeroes on their last pay cheque. Because it’s simply just not something we speak about, perhaps this is, in part, because money speaks for itself, loudly. We don’t need to talk about it because it’s clear where it is and where it isn’t.

Why, then, is money such a taboo subject? Like ‘anything personal, like politics and sex, it’s a difficult subject’ Dr Levine says, we worry about the ‘judgement of others’.

But there’s a balance to be struck, she says. Dr Levine says, while it’s probably best not to ‘ask about specifics when it comes to your friends’ finances’, equally, communication is key. ‘Agree before you meet which restaurant you will go to’ for instance, ‘that way one person won’t be left with different expectations of how much something will cost.’

Things are tough out there and it’s ok to be honest about that. The average salary for millennials, according to the most recent NatCen social research data, is £19,278. That’s compared to the generation above us, Generation X, who were born between 1965 and 1980, and earned £20,128 at the same age. Meanwhile housing and cost of living overall has got more expensive. In times where money, for most people, is pretty tight, things like choosing where to go for dinner to catch up can become incredibly loaded.

Real friendships, good ones, aren’t about money. The ones that are made to last won’t be made awkward if you say something is to expensive for you right now.

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Follow Vicky on Twitter @Victoria_Spratt

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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