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How to stay friends when salaries differ

Remember that your income isn't your identity
Remember that your income isn't your identity © Pressmaster/

Society may suggest otherwise, but in truth, your income isn't your identity.

But severing that connection is hard. "Especially in America, money is very much a real symbol of hierarchy and status," says Howell. Our culture often associates money with morality, which is why people tend to pass judgment on those who make less, says Howell.

"If you're a person who made a lot of money and your friend didn't, it puts implicit pressure on a cultural norm that somehow you're better or they're worse; you worked harder or they were lazier; you made good decisions, they made bad ones."

The key to maintaining friendships across the income divide? Banish these judgments. Dissociate your income from your identity.

If you're the friend with the lower income, "Resist feeling less-than because you earn less," says Gurney.

Most likely, if your wealthier friend truly cares about you, they're not thinking about your income. Teri Stern, 49, of Durham, N.C., is financially secure, but many of her friends are teachers on tight budgets.

While the wealth gap is there, it's not something that affects the way she sees her friends. "It's not about the money," she says. "It's about who you are as a person. I don't assume that the person with the bigger house is somehow superior."

This is the right attitude, says Gurney, who advises wealthier friends to "keep money out of the personal dynamics as much as possible."


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