I have a group of friends that I’m immensely thankful for. We’ve known each other for over 20 years; we’ve held each other through heartbreak, marriages, the births of our children and other momentous life events. Although we are scattered across the country, we talk frequently, updating each other on the minutiae of our daily lives.

We are all approaching a milestone birthday in the next few years, and in our planning of the various celebrations a problem has emerged. Our income levels — and spending priorities — have always been different, but as we age the money gap seems to loom larger than ever. 

Somehow, we landed on the idea that each of us deserves a custom weekend getaway to celebrate our milestone birthday, during which we’d all gather and spoil the birthday girl rotten. Herein lies the rub: Some of us have developed, shall we say, expensive tastes. So what do we do when one or some of us can’t afford to participate?

My friend group is hardly the first to grapple with this delicate issue, so thankfully there’s plenty of advice out there. The answers aren’t surprising, but they might help you create a script you can use in your own life if you also struggle with this experience.

Set Boundaries

When a money gap exists, the absolute worst thing you can do is keep your worries to yourself. Don’t sweat through a lavish dinner, worrying about whether you’ll be stuck chipping in on that $200 bottle of wine your friend just ordered. Instead, make your needs known from the outset. Ask the group ahead of time if they mind splitting the bill based on who ordered what. Even better, suggest a place to eat that won’t have such a hefty price tag. Your friends may or may not be aware that they’re placing this stress on you, and it’s up to you to communicate your boundaries to them. 

Before you can do that, though, you need to make sure you know what those limits are. Sure, you could max out your credit card so you don’t miss out on a “trip of a lifetime,” but that could jeopardize your finances and leave you with resentment toward your friends. The healthy approach is to be honest, acknowledge your feelings and offer alternatives. 

Be Considerate

When everyone is transparent about what they can and can’t do, it is easier to come up with plans that make everyone happy. If you’re struggling to make ends meet, try to suggest something that you’d be comfortable committing to but also be prepared that you might have to sit this one out. On the other hand, if you’re the one who is rolling in piles of money like Scrooge McDuck, be sure to take your friends’ limitations into consideration.

Sort Out Difficult Emotions

If you’re the one who can’t keep up financially, you might feel embarrassed to admit it, even to your close friends. In a recent article on Katie Couric Media, Tonya Lester, LCSW, suggests using any feelings of inferiority you may have as motivation rather than staying quiet and wallowing in your bad feelings. Assess why it is you feel ashamed: Are you unhappy with your career path? Do you have regrets about your life choices? From there, you have two options: make a change, now that you’ve recognized the problem, or reframe your viewpoint. For example, if you cherish the impact your work as a high school teacher has had on your students, you’re less likely to feel diminished because your hedge fund manager friend was spending those same years raking in cash. Prioritizing principles over monetary rewards can help us “feel validated regardless of how much money we have,” says Lester.

Prioritize the Relationship

Ultimately, it’s up to each individual to own their financial capabilities and hope that the friendship will overcome any sort of money gap. By having open and honest conversations about this touchy subject, you might work out an arrangement that satisfies everyone’s needs without sacrificing anyone’s comfort. Because in the end, true friends will want to enjoy you in any way that you’re available and will appreciate you for doing what you can. 

Top image by PeopleImages from Getty Images Signature, via Canva.com


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