smart spending

How to stay friends when salaries differ

Rich friend, poor friend?
Rich friend, poor friend? © wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock.com

Back in college we were all on the same page: poor students pooling cash to buy pizza and beer. Sure, our families may have come from different income brackets, but the more fortunate would often spread their wealth because it was always more fun if everyone was drinking, right?

But in adulthood, that income gap puts a strain on relationships. That one episode of "Friends" says it all: Rachel, a waitress; Phoebe, a masseuse; and Joey, an actor, complain because they can't keep up with their more wealthy friends (Ross, Chandler and Monica) who give pricey gifts and prefer eating out at pricey restaurants.

This wealth divide can push friends apart. Over time, "You tend to hang out with people who make roughly the same amount of money that you do," which makes it hard for some friendships to survive, says Ryan Howell, associate professor of psychology at San Francisco State University and co-founder of Beyond the Purchase, which studies the psychological link between money and happiness.

But just because you can't afford to join your best friend at her favorite Michelin-starred restaurant doesn't mean your friendship is dead. There are ways to navigate this tricky territory of staying true to your financial values while staying true to your friends.

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