Ask Damon: I can’t afford to hang out with my rich friends

Comment on this storyCommentHi Damon! I think you might relate to this one: I’m a journalist and I make a good, slightly better-than-average salary for the industry…but I also have a good amount of debt and the high cost of living in NYC keeps me in the cycle of living paycheck to paycheck. I’m not struggling per se … I treat myself often but, coming from a poor background, I admit I do still have a poverty mentality. I am money-conscious and always on the lookout for cheap options for things that I enjoy. However, my inner circle of friends each have careers that are far more lucrative than mine (all making high six-figure salaries) and they frequently spend $200 on a meal without batting an eye, no special occasion needed. It’s not unusual for them to spend $500 on a bottle of wine. I love fine dining and luxury as much as the next person, but I simply can’t afford/don’t want to do that for every group hang. They are all generous, approachable people who work extremely hard and deserve every penny they’ ve earned, so i’m not begrudging their lifestyle. I just think they’ve forgotten that some people (me) still live on a modest budget. I’m almost embarrassed to suggest things like a game night or a budget-friendly meal, because that stuff seems so basic compared to what they usually do and I’m not sure they would show up. How do I tell them that their ideas of a casual hang-out are outside my tax bracket without offending them or seeming like a cheap skate? I’m worried that if I start opting out of these expensive friend dates, I’ll see less of them and alienate myself from the people I value most. And in the long term, how do I keep up with them AND save my bank account? Follow Damon YoungFollow In THIS Economy?: Ten years ago, while working as a freelance writer and editor for a publication I will not name, a few delayed paychecks snowballed into a financial crunch that led to my car getting repossessed. (Repossession is a deeply disconcerting — and, admittedly, darkly funny — experience. You get up one morning thinking your car has been stolen. You call the police. And they say: “Yeah dude, you’re not a victim of a crime You’re just broke.”) I was able to cobble together enough cash to get the car back. But since then, whenever I hear the “beep, beep, beep” of a large truck backing up, I get a little anxious that it’s a tow truck coming to take my car again. Doesn’t matter that the car I drive now is fully paid for. The feeling is still there. What you’ve experienced, financially, with your “poor background,” is trauma. And what you’re experiencing now — at least, what compelled you to write to me — is shame. This is nothing to be ashamed of. Nor is it unique. America shames people who are broke, struggling and poor into believing that their financial circumstances are evidence of a moral deficiency. A spiritual rot. I believed this fallacy when I was young and my parents didn’t have much. As I got older, that belief didn’t dissolve as much as it found new and tricky and messy ways to be distributed in places I’d least expect it to be. I’m doing much better now than I was 10 years ago, but I haven’t quite extracted that shame yet. I can locate it better, sure. But it lingers. What I’m saying is that, if you remove shame, your ask is simple: “Hey, Braydlin and Topanga. Do you mind if we try some more creative and less expensive hangouts, because I just can’t afford these bottomless mimosa brunches every weekend?” But what’s standing in the way, blocking your vision, is your belief that your relative lack of money is so shameful, so … offensive, that it might even repel your friends. If these are friends worth having, you should trust them enough to be honest with them, and they should be willing to accommodate you. It’s very possible that they assume you’re doing well enough to keep up with them, because, well, you’re keeping up with them. You should also know that your particular situation isn’t uncommon. I would guess that at these expensive brunches, there are other tables full of friend groups with the same dynamic. Some who can safely afford it, and some discreetly checking their bank balance on their phones, silently negotiating if the waffle station is worth the impending overdraft fees. (Depends on the waffle.) Also, are you certain that Braydlin and Topanga are doing as well as they say they are? One thing I’ve learned, over a lifetime of pretending to have more money than I actually do, is that even some of the people I assumed were doing much better than I were playing the same game. (And you’d be surprised by how many people making six figures are still living paycheck to paycheck.) There’s a possibility that speaking up might release some pressures to “fake it” that your other friends are feeling, too. are obvious and easy. This is obvious and hard. But you have to find a way to communicate your situation to your friends before you don’t even have enough money to pretend any more. Most important, though, is that you find a path to let go of that shame. If it helps, try to remember that it’s not your fault.

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