Navigating certain social situations feels awkward when money is involved. Take, for example, an occasion when everyone suggests you split the bill after you’ve ordered only a plate of chips and juice; or when you tell everyone in the WhatsApp group that you can’t afford that trip to Mpumalanga. It’s uncomfortable, to say the least.

You don’t want to be that friend who’s always making money excuses, but at the same time, you don’t have to succumb to the pressure to keep up with friends who earn more than you.  

Just be honest

You may not want to tell friends how much you earn, and neither do you want to begrudge their career success. Hannah Maundrell, the editor of money.co.uk, says it’s important to be honest. “It can be really tricky if your friends or family earn more than you. Ultimately, honesty is the best policy to avoid putting yourself in any awkward situations. If you can’t afford to take part in expensive activities you’ve been invited to, talk to them about your situation, otherwise they’ll never know.” 

Financial planner Sonia du Plessis agrees and says there’s nothing wrong with being open. “Tell them that you’re looking at your budget and will be cutting down on your entertainment expenses, until you’re back at that stage where you can afford to splurge more. Your friends should respect where you are in terms of your life stage and that we’re not all in the same careers.”  

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Don't overextend yourself

Borrowing money is all well and good now, but what about later? You could end up in debt, which may make you feel resentful towards your mates, says Maundrell. “If your friends or family offer to lend you money so you can join them, think about whether you can really afford it. If you can treat their generous offer like a loan, then agree to a strict deadline for the money to be paid back, write it out on paper and offer to pay interest if you can afford to.” 

Psychotherapist Glyn Morris gives an example of how he helps his clients work out what it is about their earnings that bothers them. “Let’s say you earn R14 000 per month and your friend earns R20 000, ask yourself: ‘What meaning do I attach to that?’ What makes things worse is the meaning you think the other person is going to attach to it.

This has a huge impact on self- esteem, adds Morris. “If your self-esteem is rocky, then you’re much more prone to depression, anxiety and stress.

“We disqualify the other areas where we may be doing well – our intellect, our wisdom, our generosity. That builds into worse thoughts, where we magnify the achievements of others while minimising our own. When we’re making these thinking errors, we’re just fuelling the emotions that don’t serve us very well.”  

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Set a budget 

Maundrell says there’s no easy way to manage your finances; it takes discipline. “Cover your essential items first, and allow yourself funds for entertainment. If possible, transfer this amount into a separate account and be disciplined enough not to use other funds. If it’s too hard to maintain this level of discipline, find a financial advisor to help you.”

Be grateful. We’ve all been jealous of someone else’s incredible life, but it won’t get you anywhere, says Maundrell. “Communication is key, as is being happy with what you have. You probably have more than you’ll ever need to feel content, and true friends will love you regardless of cash flow.”

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