How do I tell my friends I can’t afford our pricey group activities?


Need to have a financial heart-to-heart or hold a delicate money negotiation? In this weekly column, you’ll learn how to keep your relationships—and finances—healthy and happy by talking openly about money matters without bursting into tears—or breaking out in fisticuffs.

From Going Out to Going Broke

There are two kinds of hangovers you might wake up to the morning after a night out with pals. One of them is the old-fashioned kind, to be treated with a couple aspirin and a greasy breakfast. The other is financial.

Socializing can take a huge bite out of our wallets. Once your closest friends are tossing out the names of restaurants where the entrees start at $25, begging you to tool through the mall on a shopping spree, or hitting you up to meet them at that dance club with the hefty cover charge, it’s hard to put on the budgetary brakes.

There are a couple things you can do, besides change your number and get new friends. (I kid, I kid. Mostly.) One is to be up front about the fact that all these nights out are too expensive for you. This doesn’t have to be as hard as it sounds. No one likes to say, “I can’t afford that,” but it’s part of life for all but the most flush among us. The other is to offer up fun ideas for your crew that won’t break your respective piggy banks. So, let’s get started.

Be open about your money goals and limitations

As with all money conversations, it’s key to choose your moment. Don’t raise your hand when the group has just met up at the bar to make your public announcement of austerity. (Like you’d want to do that anyway.) I suggest talking one on one, either to the person you’re closest to or to the planner in the group. (You know who I’m talking about.) Say something like, “Hey, I’m trying to save money right now, and I’m wondering if we could [cook dinner at my house this Saturday, organize a picnic in the park and listen to the free concert, have a board game night—you get the idea]. I love hanging out, but it’s really hard for me not to overspend when we do expensive stuff.”

Whatever you say, stay positive. Living within your means isn’t something to be ashamed of. Your friend may embrace your “fun for less” suggestion. He could even be relieved by it, if money is tight for him, too.

Embrace the Role of Low-Budget Fun Czar

If you weren’t the planner in your group before, you’ll have to start. (Planning is the friend of budgeters. Spur-of-the-moment outings can shoot buckshot through a budget.) You’ll probably have to do a little research to find out what cheap thrills are happening around town, but your besties will probably be grateful to hear about that Caribbean food festival, or get a kick out of decorating jack o’ lanterns using pumpkins you found for 10 cents a pound at a farm stand.

You Bared Your Soul and All You Got Were Smirks

If after you take my advice, you and your friends embark on a bowling excursion on free shoe-rental night, great! But what if the conversation doesn’t go so well? Maybe the friend you confide in doesn’t think the money everyone’s spending each weekend is a big deal, or all of your cheap-night alternatives sound lame to her, or she says she’s on board, then asks you to hit the boutiques and grab tapas. If you’re getting a negative reaction or don’t feel listened to, it might be time to reexamine that friendship.

If you look around, I bet you’ll notice others in your circle of friends who don’t drop money like it’s going out of style every single weekend. Maybe you can start doing cheaper things with them—invite Sally to the fall book fest, or toss a Frisbee with Sam on Saturday afternoon in the park. If you really miss the group blowouts, you can join the gang once in a while for the old drinks-and-dinner routine—and budget accordingly, knowing how bloated the bill is likely to be.

You’ll definitely feel less anxiety once your bank balance stops dive-bombing. And you might find that you deepen your friendships with those pals who are willing to get creative to have cheap fun. You could even surprise yourself and make some new friends, ones who like playing pickup basketball games and chipping in $7 each for pizza on poker Fridays. (Penny ante, of course.)

Read more articles from the We Need To Talk series.