When I was a kid, my dad used to always give me the same piece of advice: you need to get your priorities straight. He usually said that if I chose to watch TV instead of doing homework or play basketball when I had a paper due.
When I grew up, I realized what he meant. When you have multiple competing desires, the only way to figure out what’s right for you is to prioritize.
As a recent college grad, I decided my main priority was to pay off my student loans as quickly as possible. I wanted to be debt free within three years, even though I was only making $30,000 a year. To do that, I had to cut out most of my discretionary spending. Unfortunately, that included going out and eating at restaurants.
Some of my friends understood what I was doing, but I also got shade from others. One time my boss, upset that I said no to another lunch invitation, asked, “Don’t you ever have fun?”
Managing your financial priorities is a personal decision, and one that only you can make. Read below to find out how to do it while making your loved ones understand.
Come Up with an Alternative
A frugal friend of mine told me she was sick of her girlfriends constantly inviting her to brunch on the weekends, which typically cost between $10-$15 every time. She didn’t want to spend the money, but hated rejecting her friends.
She came up with a compromise: potluck brunch at her house. She made a simple veggie frittata and asked people to bring over a side, like bacon, fruit or biscuits. One of her pals later thanked her for the idea, saying she’d been spending too much money on restaurants lately.
When I was paying off my student loans and living on a lean budget, I invited friends to watch Netflix with me. We’d spend a good hour catching up on our day and then watch “Sherlock” or “Game of Thrones.” It was free, fun and just as entertaining as sitting in a bar for a couple hours.
If you’re the frugal one in your friend group, it’s up to you to offer alternatives. Look for free or cheap events nearby. Be the one to send out invites for potlucks, BYOB parties, or game nights.
Even if you think your friends will never choose a homemade dinner over a night out, you should still ask.
You should also go along with their ideas when you can. If possible, set room in your budget for lunch or dinner out with them a couple times a month. Compromise is a two-way street and you can’t ask for something you’re not willing to give.
Honest, open communication is the first place to start when reconciling your priorities with your loved ones’. You don’t have to explain in a 500-word email exactly why you’re skipping out on a bachelorette party or Thanksgiving, but a sentence or two can help.
No matter what your financial priority is, whether it’s saving for a new house, paying off debt or retiring at 45, be honest when explaining why you don’t want to do something.
Don’t say, “I can’t afford it” if you earn as much or more than your friends. They’ll see through that lie and will press you for another reason. Instead, tell them specifically why you’re not going on a group trip or why you don’t want to splurge on a nice dinner. When I was paying off my student loans, all of my friends knew why I didn’t go out to the bars very often. I don’t know if they understood or agreed with my reasoning, but at least they knew.
When you do give a reason for not participating, be prepared for backlash. Some people won’t understand why you’re skipping their wedding and might resent you for it if they find out it’s because you’re saving 40% of your income. Others might feel like you’re picking money over relationships. If possible, always explain your reasoning and help the person understand.
Don’t Force Others to Make a Budget
I have a hard time not shouting from the rooftop about my debt repayment strategy. I want to tell my friends about how they could just cut back on spending too. But being financially responsible is like being a vegan around meat eaters. Sure, you might think you’re being helpful when telling your friend to order a salad instead of a burger, but they won’t appreciate it.
This isn’t to say you shouldn’t tell people about your strategy, just don’t try to force your friends to get on your level.
Here’s an example. I have a friend who always carries a credit card balance. It’s not because of a medical bill or an emergency expense, she just likes to shop and enjoy herself. When we’re together, I’m always tempted to give her a lecture on how much she pays in credit card interest every month.
But I don’t. She knows that she has a credit card balance. She’s probably even aware of how much she pays in interest.
Let the people in your life make their own choices. Just like you’d want them to respect your financial decision, you have to respect theirs, even if you disagree with it.
Disclaimer: This blog post provides personal finance educational information, and it is not intended to provide legal, financial, or tax advice.