The world likes to assess you based on your finances, or what they think your finances are, based on your lifestyle. If you live in a nice neighborhood, wear expensive clothes, or have an impressive job title, the world tends to view you in a better lens - as someone they would want to spend time with and befriend.

If you have a green thumb and garden to save money while your best friend eats out all the time - can you maintain that friendship without stepping on each other’s toes? Can you choose to spend your money differently than the people around you and still be friends? Or do you need to find a community that fits your financial style?

Andrew and Jaime think that finances and friendships should be able to mix. That we can look past the superficial and embrace each other for who we are, allowing amazing friendships to develop! Here are some of our thoughts and stories.

Jaime (a personal story)

Chris and Jaime's living room setup

Last month, Chris and I hosted our bible study group. We were a little self conscious about welcoming everyone into our little apartment.

We are the only family in the group who lives in a small home, let alone an apartment. There are a lot of nice homes in our neighborhood and we aren’t living on one of those streets.

We also don’t have the nicest of furniture. We’re talking an old futon and Ikea chair we bought on craigslist and a hand-me-down chair that my parents gave us to use.

To say we were nervous about being looked down upon is an understatement. Luckily, we had a great discussion full of laughs. I pulled out a kids table with a tray of cheese, sausage and crackers (few bottles of beer too). It was a great evening. Our home may be a humble abode, but we all had a great time.

Andrew (a personal story)

Street view in city

Last year, Annelise and I moved out of a large apartment in a fancy, amenity-rich building where lots of our neighbors had high incomes and lavish lifestyles. We moved into a much smaller apartment in an old row home, and our rent was significantly lower.

When we moved, Annelise pointed out to me that her portion of the rent amounted to the least she’s paid for housing since she relocated to DC in 2010. She’s paying less to live now than she did in her mid-20’s. That’s pretty crazy to think about! It isn’t often that people choose to deflate their lifestyle as they get older.

The move didn’t diminish our quality of life at all – our apartment is on a beautiful tree-lined street in one of DC’s most attractive neighborhoods. But by most metrics, our move would be considered a step backwards. While our peers are upgrading their lives by moving into larger/more expensive homes as they get older, we’re doing the opposite. Instead of adding space and filling it with expensive things, we subtracted space and got rid of many things.

From the outside looking in, it might look like we are adjusting our lifestyle down due to financial struggles. In actuality, we are making intentional decisions about how we want to deploy our money so that we can live the lifestyle we envision for ourselves. This includes creative pursuits, travel, and an opportunity to leave the workforce at a significantly younger age. We don’t want to be slaves to our jobs in middle age, so we are making decisions today that will give us the freedom and flexibility we desire. Barring unforeseen circumstances, we are on track to obtain full financial freedom by our mid-40’s.

If You Have Different Incomes + Lifestyles

Friends on swings

Jaime’s Thoughts: I think a lot of friendships start with a common ground in finances. You may be co-workers, live in the same neighborhood, or send your kids to the same ballet class. You find that you have a common lifestyle with similar financial backgrounds and bond over those similarities.

It’s great to get to know people you can relate to and these relationships can turn into great friendships. As the years go by and we grow into the person we are meant to become, our financial path may change.

This might include going back to school, leaving corporate America/union job, or maybe the business you were in or running collapses. All these changes lead to handling your finances differently than before. Sometimes with those changes friendships end as you have less in common. Sometimes they persevere - those are amazing friendships - the ones that support and love outside of our financial situations.

We’ve been blessed with a friendship that has continued as we’ve made our crazy financial + lifestyle changes. As we went into mini-retirement mode and scaled back on our spending, we still enjoy each other’s company and are excited for each other in our own journeys!

Friends joking and looking out over the mountains

Andrew’s Thoughts: I have lots of friends that share my interest in financial independence, because I’ve been an active member of the FI community for awhile. My closest friends and family do not share this interest, though. They have varying incomes and lifestyles, and they aren’t as motivated by the idea of saving aggressively or clamping down on their lifestyles. The factors that sustain these friendships and relationships have nothing to do with money or lifestyle choices.

My close friends and family know about my pursuit of financial independence, and they know that I’m here to help them with any money questions/issues they encounter. But they have to come to me because I’m not going to give unsolicited ideas, advice, or feedback (although I often made the mistake of doing this earlier in my journey).

Maintaining Balance Despite Financial Differences

Friends eating together

Andrew’s Thoughts: Our culture focuses on social activities that revolve around spending money. Because of this, it can be challenging to balance a healthy social life with reasonable spending. I live in a vibrant city, so most social outings with friends include bars, restaurants, or some form of entertainment that comes with a cost attached to it.

I also come from a large family that often celebrates birthdays/holidays with big meals out and gifts. My siblings and I are close in age, and we all like spending time together. Because there are so many of us, there are always invitations and ideas floating about, and the activities can be expensive.

This can be tough to navigate, and it’s something that I struggle with. It’s difficult to say no without feeling guilty, or worrying that my family thinks I’m being a cheapskate. There have been times in the past that I’ve caused tension by letting money stop me from partaking in family activities. I’ve found that communication and providing attractive alternatives works really well to help alleviate this.

It’s important to be intentional with how much you are willing to spend in these categories every month. Tracking how much you’ve spent can help decide what to say yes/no to. For example:

  • If you are comfortable spending $100/month out at restaurants and bars, and you’ve committed to 3 occasions in the coming month, it’s a good indicator that you need to push back and say no to any further opportunities.
  • It helps to have cheaper options in mind, such as a picnic, free cultural event, or a potluck-style meal at someone’s house. I recently caught up with my parents over lunch, and they suggested a few restaurants to meet at. The assumption was that we would be eating out. But I’m crunching down on my dining out budget this month, due to some other big expenses. I suggested we have a simple lunch at home, and it turned out to be just as enjoyable as going out (if not more so). The important thing is spending quality time together, and this doesn’t have to cost money.
  • I’d also say it’s important to make this agreement with yourself, but it’s equally important not to let it consume you to the point that it makes it painful to do anything at all. That could put a damper on your relationships in a hurry. As with anything in life, moderation is key.

Gift-wrapped packages on a doorstep

Jaime’s Thoughts: Maintaining balance when you want to spend your money differently can be tricky. For us, Christmas is a really good example.

Christmas time used to be a big spending season for us. We had dollar amounts to spend on each family member (on each side of the family). The funny thing is, as you grow up, you have your own money to spend on the things you want. So what do you get each other?

Sometimes we made lists and sometimes we would take a guess. The lists took the meaning out of the gift and the guess was usually wrong. We found all this to be stressful and inconsistent with our values. We wanted to change this, but we we didn’t want to upset anyone.

Eventually, we reached out to our family members and said that we would like to pass on getting gifts and just wanted to focus on enjoying our time together. In the same vein, we wouldn’t be purchasing gifts, but we didn’t ask our families to stop gift giving as a whole (that’s not for us to decide).

It was nerve racking to express ourselves, but our families respected our request. It’s important to speak up in a loving way when something doesn’t fit your financial values. The balance is in finding a way to ask for what you need without requesting others to live like you. When you are able to do that, respect and understanding can usually find their way in.

Having an Open Heart + Mind

Hands spelling out the word Love

Andrew’s Thoughts: I have many friendships that have lasted despite largely differentiated lifestyles. It’s sometimes challenging to understand the decisions some of my friends and family members make, especially when they express frustration or anxiety about their financial situation. So it’s not always easy to be a quiet observer.

In situations like this, it’s important for me to remember to separate my thoughts and observations from the relationship or the person. We might not always see eye-to-eye and it’s OK to have disagreements from time to time. I’d argue that something is probably wrong if you pretend everything is perfect. Frustration and disagreements are natural and to be expected in any human relationship.

Many times, my friends and family are happy with the decisions they make, even though I might not fully understand them. In these cases, I try to learn from it, and understand what is driving them. That can only help me be more open-minded and understanding towards others.

For example, my sister has a completely different outlook on lifestyle than I do. However, it works for her and her family, so rather than judge it, I find it admirable. She and her husband have always wanted a large house with ample property, and they like to dedicate time and money to decorating and fixing up their home. It makes them happy, and their happiness makes me happy. What works for me might not work for someone else, and I try to remember this.

Happiness is the key to healthy friendships and relationships outside of the context of financial or lifestyle decisions. As long as my friends and family are genuinely happy, deep down I don’t care if they make decisions that I struggle to understand.

Having friends that don’t think the way I do (or believe the same things I do) helps me keep an open mind. It serves as a reminder that there’s no single right or wrong way to do approach something.

I never considered a difference in opinion, in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.
Thomas Jefferson

Friends on the beach

Jaime’s Thoughts: We are all trying to live our best life, whatever that may be for each of us. And whatever that best life is (or looks like), it will definitely include finances.

Some people want a big home to host friends and family while others want to spend their money traveling the world. Others may focus on a super thrifty lifestyle in order to invest in early retirement. Any of these options can be good, you just have to follow your heart and push out all the clutter, negative comments, and comparisons.

When you start following your unique path, you find a joy that you can never find when letting the world’s opinions lead you. I’ve also found that when you focus on yourself, you find a more open/less judgmental mind towards others. What’s right for you, isn’t what’s right for someone else.

When we have an open heart and mind when it comes to our own and other’s finances, we find ourselves in an uplifting community. One that encourages and celebrates, instead of tears down. And with that mindset, amazing friendships can flourish!

What do you think? Can you mix friendship and finances?