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What To Do If You’re The Broke Friend

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Some people are smarter, some are better looking, and some have more money. How do you cope when you are the poor friend in your social circle?

I hope if you are the urchin among your friends you are also either the hot one or the smart one or both. I’m not sure how you could go on if you were bottom of the totem pole in all three categories. Life would be grim.

Socializing is expensive. Or it can be. Usually the default activities, having drinks, meeting for dinner, are. Especially in big cities. There are cheap places to eat and drink to be sure but you have to ferret them out.

And because there are so many choices, you are always tempted to try a new place. You also tend to turn your nose up at mediocrity when you are so used to being surrounded by excellence as you are in big urban areas. So you could meet your friend at the IHOP on 14th St for cheap coffee but why in the name of Brillat-Savarin would you subject yourself or your friends to that?

You wouldn’t so you don’t and you spend money you don’t have at Cosme or some such place.

So because I want you to have both a robust social life and robust bank account, we’ll explore some ways to be the poor friend without sitting at home alone or crying over you Mint numbers.

Eating And Drinking Are Not The Only Options

They really aren’t, they’re usually just the default ones. Especially as the weather starts to get bearable (although I’m still bitter that it’s nearly May and there have been like two days it’s been 70 or warmer here). There is this whole big place some people call “the out of doors.”

I know, I haven’t heard of it either. Or at least I’ve rarely ventured into it for the last six months. But it’s there. I can see it from my windows! And for now, it’s free, or pretty cheap. Parks, lakes, beaches, gardens, zoos. Pack a picnic and meet a friend at one of these places for a bit of Vitamin D, flora and fauna. You can get the added bonus of some exercise too. Stumbling home from the bar or restaurant in a state of impairment will not do much to notch up your Fitbit stats.

Exercising can also be the point of socializing. Does your city or town have a bike path? Even renting a bike won’t set you back much if you don’t have your own. If you need to get in shape after a long winter of hibernation, join a running club. You don’t even have to convince an existing friend to join you. You can just show up and make some new ones.

Eat And Drink At Home

Eating and drinking well are undoubtedly pleasurable but bars and restaurants aren’t the only places to do it. You can do it at your house or someone else’s for much cheaper than you can do it out.

I’m a pretty good cook and can turn out a nice meal but if you aren’t, you can still pull it off. The easiest thing to do is just order some Seamless and tell everyone BYOB.

You can also just do a couple of appetizers. There are tons of recipes online that will accommodate any skill level. No matter how dire your skills, you can probably manage things like sticking a cherry tomato, a mozzarella ball and a basil leaf onto a toothpick. Lots of stuff like this online.

Or have a potluck. It’s fun to have a theme if you do a potluck. I had one that had a locavore theme. Everyone had to bring a dish or drink that was made with ingredients sourced from 100 miles or less from NYC. It was great. Hudson Valley foie gras, deviled eggs made from eggs from pastured chickens (the yolks are a vibrant orange rather than the anemic yellow of battery farm eggs), goat cheese terrine, wine from a Long Island vineyard.

You could make it seasonal, base it on a holiday, have people bring a dish from a certain country or their country of origin. Lots of fun ways to try a variety of foods without spending tons of cash.

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Take Charge

Everyone hates the “What should we do, where should we go,” discussions when you’re with friends. Well, step up! You decide where to go and what to do. It will take some research on your part but scouring for cheap places to eat and things to do is fun.

Anyone can have a good experience at the hottest new restaurant where a big price tag, while not always indicative of better food, can often translate to that. There is no panache involved in planning that evening and no kudos to be had for doing it.

Finding an out of the way place with good, cheap food takes some doing and people are more impressed when you pull it off. Currently, my three favorite places to take friends are a Korean place, an Indian place, and an Ethiopian place. At all three, two can eat and have a drink each for less than $40. (I’m not telling you the names because they will get overrun by bargain hunting LMM readers and I won’t be able to get a table. You can try to bribe the names out of me though).

By being the decider of your group, you can avoid spending a fortune at a place you can’t afford and reap the praise of finding yummy food that isn’t expensive.

Make Older Friends

When I was wet behind the ears, I always had a lot of friends older than I was. Not because I sought them out purposely, it just seemed that I attracted older friends. Being the eldest child tends to that I think. You are always emotionally a few years older than your biological age.

Because my friends were older, they generally had more money than I did. And they would pay when we went out. I never expected it but they had been the younger friend at one point and knew the economic score.

Now that I am no longer the young friend :(, I pay this back. I don’t take my younger friends to Per Se but I do usually pick up the check when we go out. If someone showed you the same kindness, remember it and pay it forward when the time comes.

They’ll Understand

These people are your friends. The people you share things with. That includes your current situation and your goals. Unless you have jerks for friends, they are unlikely to shame you for admitting honestly that you can’t afford to go out or can’t afford the place they are suggesting.

So a few things will happen. They’ll choose a cheaper option. They’ll offer to pick up your tab. You’ll just take a rain check. Probably one of the first two, but if it is the third, you’ll live.

Socializing is good for you for a number of reasons but you don’t have to go into debt to do it. Eat, drink, be merry, but don’t give up what you want most for what you want now.


Candice Elliott - Senior Editor
Candice Elliott is a substantial contributor to Listen Money Matters. She has been a personal finance writer since 2013 and has written extensively on student loan debt, investing, and credit. She has successfully navigated these areas in her own life and knows how to help others do the same. Candice has answered thousands of questions from the LMM community and spent countless hours doing research for hundreds of personal finance articles. She happily calls New Orleans, Louisiana home-the most fun city in the world.

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