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Downsizing your friends
Recession calls for a tightened budget, and friends are expensive

When I was a teenager, my mom threw me out of the house. Maybe 20 times. I would ride my bike to my grandma's house and my grandma would put her arm around me and say, "Relationships are dynamic." At the time, I could comprehend this advice only in the context of the most popular boy dumping the most popular girl so I could have my chance. But now that I have half my grandmother's years and a mother who I get along with, I understand the concept of ever-changing relationships.

Here's another thing that's true about relationships: Money affects them all. Sometimes it's obvious and sometimes it's insidious, but money's always there beside the kiss-kiss-hello. For example, you can bet that if I couldn't afford to live in my own house, my mom and I would still be screaming at each other.

For the unemployed, getting through this recession will require a new, tightened budget. And since money is involved in all relationships, budgets impact all relationships. But don't worry, relationships are dynamic, and they were bound to change anyway, so a recession reassessment just speeds things along.

Friends are expensive. Most friends do meals. And meals cost money. You could invite a friend to go running with you, but sooner or later you'll want to talk face to face. You could invite a friend to watch TV at your house, but that'd better be a pretty good friend or else it'll look like you 're making a pass. So before you budget for friends, any friend who you were thinking of dumping, now is the time.

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Once you've dumped the obvious, other friends will fall in gray areas. These friends must be reprioritized. Whereas interesting and fun used to be at the top, economical and supportive are what you need during your days of unemployment. Here are some examples:

The friend who was a rung on the ladder. This is the person who makes a lot more money than you but has taken an interest in you -- an interest, which you fantasize, will facilitate some large, very important existence for you and your family down the line. The great thing about this person is he treats you like an equal. This is a great thing until there's a recession. Then it's just a bill for a $90 bottle of wine split in two. The only way to justify adding a line in your budget for a $200 dinner is if you'll get a job from it.

The friend who was your poor friend. Now you are your poor friend. So you cannot pay for that friend any more. You have to break it to him early. Don't wait until you've been unemployed three months. The talk is inevitable. Besides, if he's a good friend, you can watch TV at your house. If he's not a good friend, thank goodness you're finding out early before you spend your precious severance pay on him.

Kindred spirits
The friend who complained about her low-paying job. This is what my friend, Beth, said every day of the Internet boom: "You make so much money! What a rip-off! Why did I go to school for so many years to become a psychologist? I'm in an economic ghetto." I bought Beth a new wardrobe when I sold my stock from my first company. Beth wore the pink sweater I bought her when she paid for dinner last week. She said, "I feel so lucky. I have tenure. I'll never be fired." She annoys me that she can buy a new car in a recession. But she moves to the top of my friend list, because she knows what it's like to want more money. She understands my desire for stability, even if she can 't imagine getting it without getting a graduate degree.

The friend who loves to shop. She's gone. Done. She is poison during unemployment. Don't fall for her bargain hunting, either. You know you should not be buying anything. Anything you wore last year is fine for this year. After all, you are not Linda Evangelista trying to revive a dying fashion career. Remember, one step into the store and you will get that manic, comfort, things-are-my-friends feeling that won't end until you have too many bags to carry. What? You say you don't get that crazy, consumer high when you walk into Barneys? Then why go shopping in the first place?

The friend who never wants to go out. A keeper. This is the friend who will hang out with you while you job hunt. This is the friend who will be so happy on your sofa that she won't mind you whining about how you shouldn't have been the person who got laid off. People like this have a lot of food in their fridge. Eat it. It's free. And this person will think of that as a small price to not have to get up off the sofa to see you.

Kindly kin
The friend who is a family member. Family members know that relationships are dynamic. They understand that when you have a lot of money you can do a lot of fun things that are more fun without family. And when you have no money, family dinners are better than noodle Raman for one.

You need to save money, but you can't be a hermit. After all, if you don't talk to anyone all day, when you get to the job interview you will be too chatty -- like a crazy person just let out of confinement. The trick during unemployment is to keep your friends costs to a minimum, but dish out enough cash to ensure that you still have them. And remember that you always need a few, because like my mom and my grandma, if one tosses you out, you need one to take you in.

Penelope Trunk is the pen name of a former dot-com executive who has been through an IPO, merger and bankruptcy. She also writes fiction under the name Adrienne Eisen.

-- Posted: Jan. 21, 2002

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