Two women smile and laugh while sitting in a cafe

The friendship wealth gap

The do’s and don’ts of navigating mixed-income relationships

Money plays a part in all relationships, and friendships are no exception. In its simplest form, it’s that awkward moment at brunch when the waiter asks if you want separate checks. It can also appear in some major ways, like when you hear a good friend is planning a blowout destination wedding in Aruba.

The bottom line is that while you share some great memories with your friends, you probably don’t share identical financial situations.

Here are some do’s and don’ts for dealing with mixed-income friendships.

Do ask your friends for input. Even if you’re the resident events coordinator for your group, consider surveying everyone or asking them to pitch ideas for get-togethers. It will be more inclusive for everyone to suggest activities that align with their budget.

Don’t make assumptions. There are perceptions about certain job roles and industries – or maybe you’ve even checked Glassdoor to see how much your friends are raking in. But you can’t assume anyone’s budget and financial situation. Some might still be paying off student loans, caretaking for children or an elderly family member, or be relied upon as the primary breadwinner in their household.

Do give your friends time. When you’re planning something that may cost a pretty penny, give plenty of notice that you’d like your friends to join you. A longer lead time means they have the chance to save up for that fancy birthday dinner or night at the theater if they want to join you. Last-minute plans might not be possible if they’re working on a tight budget.

Don’t hold it over their head if they take a pass. Understand that not only do your friends’ finances differ, but so do their priorities. Even if you’ve given plenty of notice, a girls’ trip to Vegas might not be as important as taking her kids to Disney World this summer. While you might be well-positioned to do both, you shouldn’t assume that your friend is.

Do offer to pay if it’s in your budget. It’s nice to treat a friend who doesn’t have as much discretionary income. That might not mean you’ll cover the cost of their flight across the country, but consider offering to buy cocktails one night while you’re away or covering the cost of a rental car in your destination city. After all, having their company might be worth it to you – and that’s OK! It’s OK, too, if they politely decline.

Don’t be afraid to have an honest conversation. The dialogue may not include swapping exact salary figures (though that is becoming increasingly common among women in an effort to close the wealth gap), but it’s OK to talk about money with your close friends. If you can openly tell each other that something isn’t in the budget or you have other priorities that take precedence, there will be a mutual respect and understanding.

If we make money less of a taboo topic with friends, we might not only learn a thing or two by swapping stories, but we’ll all feel more comfortable making memories that fit squarely in our budgets.

Next steps

When making plans with friends, consider:

  • Sourcing ideas from everyone in the group to ensure it fits within your friends’ budgets
  • Giving plenty of heads up if there’s a big-ticket event you’d like your crew to take part in
  • Having an open dialogue about finances to build mutual respect and understanding