I love my friends, but boy do they have expensive taste.
Every time we we go out to dinner, I walk away $50 lighter. I admit that I’m partially responsible for the expensive bills. I can’t seem to say no to ordering that second round of appetizers.
At the end of last year, I reviewed my spending habits and found that my social life was costing me a pretty penny. Happy hours, yoga classes, and unnecessary shopping trips seemed to occur more when I was with my friends.
The final straw? Last summer, I spent three months on the opposite side of the country away from my friends, and my spending screeched to a halt.
I found that when my “social” outings were with my fiancé, I didn’t spend so much. He’s very cost-conscious and is happiest when reading, going on a nice walk, or relaxing at the beach. He doesn’t care about fancy dinners or craft cocktails. I enjoy those things, but I have more self-restraint when not influenced by my friends.
For the record, my friends would never encourage me to spend money I don’t want to spend. But I know I’m guilty of letting my budget slip when I want to relax and have a good time. I decided it was time to challenge myself to not spend so much money with my friends.
Over the course of a month, I tried to be more conscious of my social spending habits.
I kept note of these outing’s fiscal, and sometimes emotional, costs. At the end of the month I was able to reflect on the changes I needed to make.
Here’s how I find myself in these pricey social situations.
It starts with an innocent happy hour.
I plan on discounted drinks and food followed by a home-cooked meal and a night in front of the TV. All without sacrificing quality friend time.
By the time two or three of us can meet up after work, it’s 6pm. If we manage to make it in time to take advantage of any happy hour deals, the order usually goes like this.
One order of $6 Brussel sprouts, $8 worth of flat bread, and $5 fries. Combine that with two rounds of drinks that cost $7 each for three people and we’re looking at around $85 after tax and tip.
That innocent happy hour could end up costing me $28.
And let’s be honest, we order more food once we all realize we aren’t going to make it home in time to cook dinner.
I knew that to solve my social overspending, I needed to get to the root of my spending problem. Why was it that I forgot about my financial goals whenever my friends were involved?
I realized during the course of this challenge that when it came time to say no to my friends, they couldn’t be more gracious.
I still felt nervous every time I had to say no to spending more.
For example, one night I was at a big dinner with half a dozen of my girlfriends. It was the kind of restaurant with $18 pasta dishes, and prices only went up from there. I agreed to meet two of the girls at the bar for happy hour drinks and appetizers. It was Friday and we got off work early—that’s worth celebrating right? That set me back $10. No big deal.
Then came time for dinner and drinks.
My total ended up being $65. And it could have been more. The girls had ordered a large charcuterie board for the table. Cheeses, meats, crackers, the works. As a proud card-carrying vegan I couldn’t eat any of those things. And I wasn’t exactly thrilled at the thought of paying for foods I am morally opposed to eating.
When the bill came and people began to discuss the possibility of splitting it evenly, I was dreading mentioning that I’d like to pay separately. But when I did, no one batted an eye. The first crisis of the night averted.
But I wasn’t in the clear yet. Some of the girls wanted to continue the fun and hit up some local bars. This is when I threw in the towel. After happy hour and dinner there was no way I could justify more drinks and the expense of calling a car service. I was out. I announced that I was going to go home to see my fiancé and that was that.
Was I nervous I was missing out? Of course.
Did I? Marginally, yes. But the next day I heard that some of the other girls went home too. Meaning, it was no big deal that I didn’t join them after dinner.
With the friends I was more comfortable having financial conversations with, I explained I wanted to cut back on my social spending. I was surprised at how receptive they were and that a few of them felt the same way I did.
Will I have these conversations with every friend? Probably not, but I felt I would make more progress by being open with the friends I spend the most time with.
I knew that if I wanted my spending to change, I had to take charge of the social situations I found myself in.
Yes, not ordering that second drink helped, but so did planning more social outings myself.
I suggested a beach walk with my best friend instead of a pricey pilates class. I avoid shopping trips now, because I know I let my friends convince me to buy clothing that they love but that I don’t need. Hey, it’s hard to say no to a dress that your closest friends tell you looks amazing on you.
I’m more likely to plan an inexpensive museum visit than a Sunday brunch now. Movie nights, dinner parties, and wine on the couch work for me too.
I believe the root of my anxiety was coming from feeling like I didn’t want my friends to think I was blowing them off.
I also didn’t want to experience what we now refer to as FOMO. But I realized that either way I’m missing out.
By spending money I’m not comfortable spending, I’ll be missing out on other valuable experiences too.
Traveling, buying a home, and having children don’t come cheap. I don’t take my friendships for granted. But I’m glad that I was able to overcome some of my social spending anxiety.
I’m happy to find ways to show my friends I care about them without damaging my bank account.
Jacqueline DeMarco is a writer and editor based in Southern California. She has written on everything from finance to travel for publications including The Everygirl, Apartment Therapy, LearnVest, among others. In her spare time, she enjoys going anywhere she can spend time with animals.