How to stop a wealth divide from ruining a friendship

Journalist Colette Sexton looks at why you shouldn’t allow income disparities to destroy important friendships.


'The One with the Five Steaks and An Eggplant' was an iconic episode of Friends. Okay, who am I kidding, all 236 episodes were iconic but this episode in particular has stuck in my mind.

It showed the six friends all going out to dinner together. So far, so normal. Then it emerged that not everyone in the group could afford to eat in such an expensive restaurant. Rachel ends up ordering the infamous “side salad” that she tells the waiter to place on the side of her water.

It caused a huge argument within the group with Rachel, Joey and Phoebe pointing out that Monica, Chandler and Ross make a lot more money than them, but do not seem to be aware of that fact at all.

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Wealth gaps

The show was an excellent example of how wealth gaps can impact negatively on friendships.

Depending on their work and life status, friends often end up with very different financial means. Over a third (39%) of people in Britain have cut ties with friends who earn less than them due to  “incompatible lifestyles”, according to a study from Expert Market.

This is horrific, but to be honest if that is how they act or think, you probably wouldn’t want to be friends with them anyway.

Just because you make significantly more, or less, than someone does not mean that you should not or cannot be friends. The key to it is compromise.

Wealth can cause a psychological divide, as proven by the study which found that the majority of wealthier people (69 per cent) felt more confident because of their extra cash, while nearly two-thirds of the lower earners said they were stressed due to their lack of money.

Not an excuse to brag

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It is important to remember this, particularly if you are well off. I recently wrote a piece about why we should tell our friends how much money we make, but do not use this as an excuse to brag or gloat when you know that you are making significantly more money than your friends.

Sharing this information should help both parties in the discussion, and not be used to make someone feel bad about their financial situation.

If you are relatively well-off or comfortable, and you get irritated every time a friend turns down an invite to spend time with you, maybe take a look at how much the invite might cost that friend.

Are you asking them to buy expensive concert tickets? Or go on a mini break with a big budget?

Do you repeatedly suggest pricey spa days? The answer here is not to offer to pick up the bill. It is unlikely that your friend wants charity. They just want you to be a bit more considerate. Try inviting them over to yours for dinner or a movie night and see if they are suddenly available to meet you when the cost is greatly reduced.

On the other hand, if you feel you are the lower earner in the friend group, do not feel forced to keep up with the Joneses.

Michelin restaurant

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Do not put yourself in a situation where you cannot afford your rent because you have agreed to an invitation that will cost you a fortune. Instead, decline but suggest another activity that is within your budget. If you trust your friends, then it is best to be honest with them about why you’d prefer to order in a takeaway instead of going to a Michelin-starred restaurant.

Try to avoid feeling bad about not having as much money, and don’t drive yourself crazy looking at photos online of your friends at something you had to decline.

Your salary is not a measure of your self worth. Just because a friend might make more money than you, does not mean that everything in their life is perfect.

Of course, it is nice not to worry about how to pay your bills, but there are other things in life that money cannot buy. Your high earning friend might be jealous of you. They might have a terrible work/life balance or a hard family life or poor health or any one of a number of issues.

Real friends should care about you for who you are, not how much or how little is in your bank account.


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