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Keep Your Friends, Keep Your Money

By Laura J. Bagby
Guest Writer You have been staring cross-eyed at your budget all day trying to crunch those numbers in a way that will get you on the fast track to financial freedom. And then the phone rings.

“Hey, Buddy, whatcha doing this weekend?” your friend asks lightly, unaware of your new plan to spend less and save more.

“Uh…well…I actually think I better do laundry and organize my files,” you hedge.

"Oh," you hear your friend sigh. That disappointed tone followed by a brief awkward pause makes you quickly fill in the gap.

“But I guess I can do that Sunday night,” you respond more positively than you feel.

“Cool!” your oblivious friend says without missing a beat.

You groan inwardly at your lack of fortitude in sticking to your freshly inked money savvy bylaws.

“There’s this mall that just opened a couple of hours from here that has all the name brands we like. How about we grab some lunch, do a little shopping, and maybe catch a late movie after?”

In your mind, you have exactly two options: say “yes” and potentially blow your budget, or say “no” and return to life as a hermit. What should you do?

Many of us singles continue to consistently overspend without thinking, because we are trying to make friends (and that can sometimes take money), keep friends (cash helps in this department, too), or simply don’t have the guts or the self-discipline to limit our spending habits (bingo!).

The last thing you want to do is go and blow your budget. And, singles, it will happen when you are out with those friends of yours who are enjoying their single lives, too, unless you explain your new lifestyle. You will be having so much fun you won’t realize that you are draining your life savings.

Hey, it’s not your friends’ fault – they aren’t necessarily the enemy. They are responsible for what they do, and you are responsible for what you do. They won’t know that you have changed your fancy-free ways unless you say something. And, hopefully, you won’t be in their face about it; you can make them aware of your financial limits without being rude or angry.

I know, I know. You have to swallow that pride. No one wants to say, “Hey, I would love to, but I can’t right now” or “I am on a budget.” But if they are your true friends, they will support your decision to keep a close watch on your green, even if they might complain a little at first.

And please don’t resort to a hang-dog, self-pitying attitude when you tell this to your friends, as if you are depriving yourself to the point of martyrdom. They might want to cheer you up by suggesting you split an ice cream Sundae or tell you maybe you need to buy a new outfit because life just can’t be that bad. And then where will you be? Um… if I added that up correctly… going for broke again. No, you are making an adult decision, so act like one.

Don’t think that you can’t ever have a nice dinner out or go on a fun shopping excursion or even enjoy a fabulous vacation with a few of your friends – and don’t make it sound that way to your buddies. You should plan fun in, just as you would your necessary expenses like housing and utilities. It just means you can’t always do those things at a moment’s notice.

I hate to break it to you, but spontaneity can really wreck havoc on the budget. The older you get, single or not, you have to become major friends with planning. That’s P-L-A-N-N-I-N-G. Ugh. As much as those fun types (myself included) hate limits and long-term tracking devices (major yawn), spur of the moment can equal a major deficit in your bank account.

The nerds (a Dave Ramsey reference) have it right. You might not do it the way they do, and that’s OK, but be sure to find some system to know how much cash is going out, where, and when you are at your spending limit, even if that system is less than perfect. Inevitably, that spells the word B-U-D-G-E-T, or if you prefer it renamed as I do, a “spending plan.”

So what do you do when you have just talked about your cash flow paradigm shift and your friends still want to get together… because they will if you tell this to them nicely. You have several options – and it is way better than the two extreme options that you thought you had to choose between.

Suggest a cheaper (or even a free) option.

Do you have a coupon book lying around or some coupons clipped from a circular? Perhaps there is a two-for-one option on a meal that you could split with a close friend. Or perhaps your city has one night during the week when movies are only a dollar. Or maybe you can join some friends for coffee and – shock of shocks – you simply not order a coffee confection for yourself. Consider renting movies from the library for free, instead of renting from the video store or going to the theater. Enjoy cooking a meal at home instead of eating out.

Yes, there are ways to still have fun and not break the bank. I have some friends who are absolutely resourceful when it comes to the really great deals on entertainment around town. If you have someone like that in your life, learn from them! They are one of your best advocates in keeping you on budget.

Say “no” to expensive recreational requests.

If you don’t have the money, you are going to have to be honest with yourself and your friends. This is hard. Believe me, I know. Who wouldn’t want to join Bono on his humanitarian world tour, explore the Great Barrier Reef with Hugh Jackman, or send a FaceBook picture of you from the Eiffel Tower in Paris? OK, maybe you won’t ever get to do those, but you never know. All I know is that I have turned down some awesome vacation opportunities that sounded just as good simply because I didn’t have the money at the time and putting it on a credit card wouldn’t have been wise.

Delay your fun until a later timeframe.

The third option is to delay your fun until a mutually agreed upon timeframe down the road.  For those big-ticket items, give yourself enough lead time to save up, and then plan to enjoy them later when the money to pay for them is in your bank account. This way you don’t always have to say “no”; just “not yet.” And you aren’t swiping your card and hoping that you can pay back your credit card before the grace period ends and you owe mucho mullah. Plus, you won’t feel quite so deprived and you won’t have to miss out on enjoying some awesome fun with your buddies.

If you are staring at me with that befuddled face of yours, I can pretty much guess this saving up idea is fairly foreign. While the older generation would deem this practice smart and tag it “delayed gratification,” for our current and rising generations, it is deemed “personal torture” that simply takes too long. Life will pass up by while our friends are out their living it up. It totally goes against the grain of what our Western culture preaches – why wait when you have plastic purchasing power?

But here’s the truth. Discipline is good in the long run. The good thing about working that “no” muscle is that, as Dave Ramsey says in his Financial Peace University program (of which I am currently a student and an avid fan – go, Dave!), that means you get to flex your “yes” muscle.

And this time, you will feel absolutely fantastic about your “yes.” Since you are basking in your new ability to say yes and know you can handle it financially, that will put your friends at ease and allow for a more enjoyable time for everyone. Truly relaxing on your vacation is much more preferable to that uneasy feeling you get when you know that you have probably gone way over budget. As an added bonus, your smiles might actually be more genuine from your vacation pictures now that your alter ego, Mr. or Ms. Spend-a-Lot, is no longer in control.

Hang out with financially responsible friends.

If any of the aforementioned options fails, perhaps you need to be spending more time with people who are also seeking to journey down the road of financial stewardship like you. It does wonder for helping us overcome those tempting trips to the mall. Plus, the Bible says that bad company corrupts us, so don’t sabotage yourself if all your friends insist on maxing out their credit cards and expecting you will do the same. Ask the Lord to help you find people who are financially responsible and mature.

I know in my personal life, God has often provided just such a friend in the form of a roommate or two. Consistently, I have had several stellar examples of how to live and how to live well from those who had a better handle on their money than I did. I initially chafed in the beginning, since they seemed to want to “spoil my fun” by their questioning glances when I brought in one too many shopping bags from the mall or would tell me no to my requests for enjoying an evening out because they were saving money. I used to complain that these roommates just didn’t know how to enjoy themselves. But now, I see these ladies as a blessing from God.

No, I am not going to change my personality. I am still going to be my extroverted, fun-loving self with different needs than my quieter friends. But there is nothing wrong with some built-in accountability where you are living.

So there you have it – four ways to keep your sanity, keep your friends, and keep more dough in your wallet. And during these economically trying times, you are going to need all three!

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