“One of my friends is turning 25 in December and has booked a very fancy venue for a birthday party costing each guest £70 ($83.26),” Serena* tells Mashable, adding that this cost is completely unaffordable for her.
“I messaged her privately and explained that I’m embarrassed to say in the group that I’m unable to attend as I cannot afford it, so she offered to cover my expenses to have me there. I simply could not allow her to do this again, I politely declined and told her I would see her another time.”
Serena’s honesty was met with a passive aggressive message from her friend, who got upset and told her she wanted to cancel the entire thing. “I saw the same group of friends recently for coffee, and listening to them talk about their lives made me feel completely alienated as I could not relate to a single thing because of my own financial struggles.”
Saying no to plans
26-year-old India Chambers, an assistant editor in book publishing agrees with Serena, that birthday celebrations can put our bank accounts under real pressure. “I’ve started saying no to going to the birthdays of people I’m not super close with,” she says.
India recently went to a dinner for a new friend’s birthday. She was down to her last £120 ($142.76) and it was the week before payday. “We all knew what we were going to pay as it was a set menu, but someone suggested that we all chip in to pay for the birthday girl’s portion.”
“I wanted to say no but I didn’t, which pushed me over what I budgeted for the meal.” India explains she’d normally be happy to pay, but being short for money that week means it wasn’t ideal. “I’m definitely being more selective with my friends and which work events I go to,” she adds. When we speak, India is working from home and tells me she has an author’s work event she has decided to miss out on to save money on travel. “I feel like it’s those little costs like transport and buying a snack on the journey that all add up,” she says.
India also tells me that her job often revolves around “wining and dining” authors and agents, to create connections and build relationships. It has raised important conversations at work about the need for a company card. “I can’t afford to use my personal card for work related costs anymore, because it takes too long to get those expenses back.”
She adds: “The cost of living crisis is changing the way we do things, and making people with privilege question the structures in place and how they affect employees on a budget.”
Prices are going up and wages are standing still, with food, rent, gas and electricity bills at a record high. 93 percent of adults in the UK say they saw an increase in their outgoings between August and September 2022, and it means young people are having to change the way they socialise. Businesses are charging more for their goods and services because of the higher costs they face, that includes spaces we would typically socialise in. Think: cinemas, restaurants, bars, hotels.
It’s understandable that we feel obligated to celebrate our friend’s birthdays, and the result is either attending and experiencing anxiety if you’ve spent money on the celebration that you’d put aside for something else, or guilt if you turn the invite down because you can’t afford it and feeling like you’re a bad friend.
The odd one out in a group of rich friends
A study by the Money and Pensions Service (MaPS) revealed that 55 percent of people don’t feel comfortable opening up when they have worries about their financial situation. Like Serena, who is reluctant to tell some of her friends about her money struggles. “I have a group of friends that have grown up wealthy and privileged,” she says. “I’ve always felt like the odd one out because that has never been the case for me with having to support my family.” Serena comes from a single parent background and is also the eldest child.
“Relationships are critical to good mental health and having financial differences in friendships can most definitely affect mental health and well-being,” Michael Throckmorton, a financial expert at Merchant Cash Advance which provides business loans that don’t need to be repaid within a fixed term or at a fixed rate explains.
“You might feel lonely or isolated, or like you can’t afford to do the things you want to do which can have a negative impact as it’ll result in missing out on social events or even losing friends,” he continues. “But it’s important to try and put this aside and be honest and upfront with your friends if you cannot afford to pay for the activity that they are interested in. A true friend will listen and find activities that you can both enjoy without breaking the bank, and will help you stop worrying about anything money related with friends.”
The high cost of living can also mean that we’re seeing our friends less frequently, leading to loneliness. Sure, you can socialise in a cost effective way, but seeing friends normally requires us to spend at least a “small amount” of money, and when people are living paycheque to paycheque, finding a “small amount” of money to spare (relative to you) can be really difficult. Plus, there are only so many free walks you can go on with friends before things start to get boring.
Owning your loneliness
The Campaign To End Loneliness reported that 45 percent of adults feel occasionally, sometimes or often lonely in England. That equates to twenty five million people.
Charlotte Fox Weber is a psychotherapist and author of What We Want, which explores the power of articulating our desires as a path toward greater mental health and self-actualization. She says that loneliness can be debilitating. “It’s within all of us, and is a deceptive state of mind. It has a way of being utterly convincing that this is how life will always feel,” she tells Mashable.
Fox Weber believes in owning our loneliness: “Saying ‘I’m lonely’ aloud is powerful. There are so many people in the world who do care and who will connect.” She suggests telling someone when you’re experiencing the feeling of loneliness. “Try to say it when it’s happening, to someone, and if not to another person, even to yourself. Being there for yourself and being compassionate internally does help. Fox Weber also suggests reading books, writing letters, journalling, and even texting to get your feelings out, as well as picking up the phone and connecting with someone.
Cole*, 28, doesn’t see his friends as often as he’d like. “I used to see my friends everyday [when the costs were more affordable], so that might be dinner or a night out. But now it’s a bit more like once a week.”
“I’ve always been selective with the people I spend time with. Now, I’m not going partying unless you’re my family or part of my core circle,” he adds.
He tells Mashable it’s something he has been open with his friends about. “If your bills double, you can’t ignore that. I definitely have had to say no to certain things.”
It’s only natural that we are changing the way we socialise as everything gets more expensive. To save money, India has found herself doing more home cooked dinners with friends and hasn’t booked any social events too far in advance, which allows her to be sure she’ll have the money to spend when the time comes around. “A friend suggested going to see a pantomime before Christmas and I thought, ‘that’s gonna be expensive.'”
“Whilst I want to do that, it’s not a priority. It’s more of a nice-to-have or nice-to-do.” Our social lives are being affected in a big way. But with the cost of living set to slow down in the second half of 2023, it might be helpful to know that there could soon be a light at the end of the tunnel.
*Some names have been changed at the request of sources.