Friendship shouldn't come at a cost

Sparked by a controversial tweet, one writer reflects on whether friendship has to come at a – very literal – cost

Feature by Rhiannon Walsh | 04 Sep 2019
  • Friendship and Money

While scrolling through Twitter, I saw a (since deleted) tweet with thousands of retweets and likes that read, "Having 'no money' is not an excuse not to be able to make plans with your friends, something as simple as going for coffee, £3. I've realised that some people only actually have money when it suits them.” While some responses condemned and challenged the statement, the vast majority of replies were littered with stories of “stingy pals.” 

The tweet echoed in my mind for hours after I read it. Not just because it’s a selfish and lazy viewpoint that places the blame of a strained friendship on the person with no money, but because I have been that friend. There have been many times I’ve not had £3 to spend on a coffee because £3 is all I have until the end of the week. 

Job Seeker's, working poverty, and the price of socialising

Last year I had to stop working due to my health and was placed on the standard Job Seeker’s Allowance for under 25s: £57.90. Less than £60 per week to cover rent, heating, food and council tax. The many months of receiving this payment as my sole income and attending weekly meetings on how I could 'get back to work' when I could hardly get myself out of bed affected me in ways I had somewhat mentally prepared myself for, including my quality of life, self-worth and motivation. One thing I hadn’t predicted was its impact on my friendships. 

On the dole, the thought of being asked to catch up with friends or see a film quickly turned from one of excitement to one of dread. The prospect of socialising left me feeling anxious and frantically calculating how much I would have left for the week if I decided to venture further than the free confines of their flat or mine. More often than not I would rain check until after payday… for the third month in a row. 

We live in a time where working poverty is a problem that affects nearly one-fifth of households in the UK and where people are often having to work two or three jobs simply to make ends meet. It is no surprise that after worrying about housing, bills and food, socialising is the category that can fall to the wayside. 

That is certainly true for Bethany*, a 22-year-old full-time student and barista. The little money she has leftover from her £7 an hour wage goes towards attending gigs and networking events within the music industry, where she is pursuing a full-time career. For Bethany, the trade-off in making a name for herself is having little money and no time to socialise with friends. "I feel isolated a lot of the time because I feel like I can’t reach out to friends because it might involve money that I can’t afford,” she tells me. While she feels like she can use the excuse of being broke once or twice, it’s an excuse that holds more prejudice due to its unpredictable nature and invisible end-date. “You can't foretell how long it is going to last and it discourages people from inviting you again.”

While many of our friends can understand the odd postponing of plans due to money woes, what happens if they get sick of excuses? A recent study showed that one in three people would "cut out a friend due to incompatible lifestyles." Rebecca*, a part-time customer service worker knows this feeling all too well. When her financial status differed to that of her friends' they stopped asking if she was even able to make it anymore. “It just felt more like my lack of money was used against me or as an excuse to not hang out with me,” she says. “It caused a great deal of stress in regards to my mental health state. I was constantly stressing over my drifting friendships and feeling a strong sense of FOMO."

Feelings of isolation, anger and shame are common emotions felt when our earnings impact the relationships with the people around us. When Louise*, a full-time student from a working-class background moved to an elite university she quickly realised that most students were supported entirely by their parents. This, in turn, had a huge effect on her mental health. "My anxiety disorder deteriorated massively. It’s exhausting having to maintain the façade that you’re just like anyone else there.”

'People, not money, should be at the heart of our socialising'

The truth is that regardless of our financial state we should not have to create a façade to be treated equally by those who are meant to have our back. We all deserve to connect, socialise, chat, vent, laugh, eat and share with our friends, whether we are in a high-paying job or relying on benefits to make it through the month. 

Friendship wage gaps have various causes, but failing to empathise and compromise is the root of many. Check-in with yourself to ensure you're not the person who demands to split the bill equally when your freelance mate has just had soup and water. Or the friend who insists on visiting the nightclub with £15 entry every time you go out. 

People should be at the heart of our socialising, not money. By suggesting cheap and cheerful activities from karaoke flat parties to repeats of Friends, we can keep the cost down while connecting and allowing everyone to feel included, seen and relaxed. As hanging out with friends is an activity that should be stress-relieving not inducing.

And if you're sick of Netflix and pot-lucks, Eventbrite offers a Free tab which showcases the plethora of complimentary happenings in your city from cooking classes to exhibition openings. Community hubs like Kinning Park Complex in Glasgow host weekly pay-what-you-can dinners offering a safe space to socialise, eat good food and not be judged by what is in your purse.

We should all be able to afford friendship as the basic human necessity that it is. With unlivable Living Wages and looming political chaos it is crucial that we look after our friends, communities and ourselves. Friendship is something that makes us human and should be cherished and protected at all costs. Let's not make money the cause of its demise. 

* Names have been changed