When Friends Want Validation of Their Spending Choices

It’s well known where I work and in my circle of acquaintances that I am, shall we say, financially conservative. I don’t blow money for fun and everyone knows that about me. So it never ceases to amaze me the number of people who still ask me out to pricey restaurants for lunch, or to go shopping with them at the designer stores after work, or to go to the movies every weekend, or out to nightclubs. I used to think it was because they genuinely wanted my company, and maybe they do. But lately I’ve come to the conclusion that what they may really want is my validation of their spending choices.

I tend to be the only non-spender in a very spendy group of people. (Where I live it’s very difficult, even in a recession, to find frugal people.) It means that I say “no” a lot. The trouble is, most of my spendier acquaintances are not financially healthy. The few times I’ve gone out with them, it’s like going out with multiple personalities. On the one hand, they are spending for all they’re worth at the restaurants and the malls and having a great time of it. But all the while they’re spending, they’re complaining and whining about how little they have and how much debt and financial trouble they have. I don’t get that sort of life and refuse to participate in the whine fest, so I rarely go with them.

I have noticed that, on the rare occasions when I do go, these people are very dedicated to getting me to spend along with them. “Come on,” they say, “Just buy this.” Or, “You can afford it. Treat yourself.” No amount of polite refusal on my part will get them to give up. I used to wonder why they were so dedicated to getting me to spend frivolously. Why couldn’t they just mind their own business and spend their money, leaving me in peace?

Then one day I had an epiphany. By not spending and by exercising restraint, I was shining a big glaring light on what they knew was wrong with their habits. I was exercising the restraint they knew they should be using. I was acting in the manner that they knew would end their financial troubles, yet for whatever reason they were unable or unwilling to do so. So rather than have me stand out as an example of responsibility, they wanted (maybe even needed) me to fall with them. My ability to refuse to spend merely made them feel even worse.

But it still mystified me why they would keep asking me along. If I made them feel badly, why would they want me along? Surely they could better spend themselves into oblivion if their personal Jimminy Cricket weren’t chirping along on their shoulders about responsibility. Then I got it. If they could get me to go along and they could convince me to spend, it would serve as validation of their choices. They could say, “Ah ha. As long as she’s spending with us, it’s okay. She’s the model of financial success so if she spends, too, then we’re doing the right thing. They needed me to go and they needed me to spend to serve as validation of their lifestyle.

I could say they wanted to sabotage my financial efforts because they wanted to feel better about themselves, but it wasn’t sabotage they were after. They could care less whether or not I am financially successful. If I were a financial mess, I would be just like them and could complain along with them. But they didn’t need me to fail, they needed me to be exactly who I am but with a spendy side. In that way, they could point to me as a success who is doing the same things they are.

Obviously, this isn’t going to work. For one thing, I’m never going to be a spendy person. It’s just not in my makeup. And, for another, unless you have great wads of cash lying around, it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to be both spendy and financially successful. Sure, I could buy one or two things to get them off my back and make them happy, but that would be sending the wrong message (and wasting money I don’t want to waste). They could point to me and say I’m spending, but so what? I can spend because I have the money. They don’t. My spending and making them feel better about their choices is an empty validation that proves nothing.

If you want better spending habits, you have to exercise personal discipline. You can’t use others to validate your choices. You can’t force another person to conform to your habits and then think that you are a success because they are “on your side” now. The only way to be successful is to work hard, spend wisely and save a lot. That’s it. Even if a financially successful person spends wildly in your presence, you can’t use them as validation of your poor choices. If they are truly financially successful, they have money to spend. If you are in financial trouble, you don’t have money to spend. Period.

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12 Responses to When Friends Want Validation of Their Spending Choices

  1. whitestripe says:

    i get that too with a friend, but she asks me along because she genuinely does want my company – we have discussed it numerous times. maybe these people do want your company too.

  2. ThiNg says:

    You might be missing a big reason, they get to live vicariously through your purchases. When I have the shopping bug, and don’t want to spend, I’ll go shopping with friends and help them spend their money. I get the fun of shopping, and haggling, but no guilt afterwards.

    It’s possible that you broke friends want you to spend so that they can get the same feeling?

  3. Carol says:

    I think that misery loves company! They’re trying to bring you down to their level, because they can’t seem to make the responsible choices to bring themselves up to your level. When I shop with people who like to spend, I will pick up things and then put them back before we pay/leave. They’ll ask why, and I’ll say “oh, I wasn’t in love with it after all” and that always seems to be enough. I enjoy the shopping, not the purchasing.

  4. typome says:

    I think you may be over-thinking this one a bit. Maybe they’re inviting you to fancy restaurants and shopping trips because that’s all they know about, and not because they need you to validate their spending. What do you expect them to invite you to– to shop at garage sales? It just isn’t their thing, so of course they’ll only do activities they’re familiar with.

  5. Henry says:

    Great pop-psychology insights. It bugs me no end when richer friends invite me to a place that is enormously expensive. It almost seems like they’re not friends at all – as if they don’t get my financial situation or, worse, are being faintly sadistic. But it happens a fair amount.

  6. Candice says:

    With all the knowlege you have about financial stability and how well you are doing, it would be good to pass that knowlege along to your acquaintances. Maybe it will help them just as sites like this are helping many people who use to be just like your acquaintances.

  7. Michael Harr says:

    I wonder if you could take this policy of non-involvement in a different direction. What if instead of declining invitation that you set the agenda for the group by selecting the after work locale or the restaurants to dine at? You could give them a good sampling of being frugal by changing their paradigm ever so slightly. I know many people that will go to the trendy restaurant or nightclub and pay full price. However, a meal that is as good or better can be had at 60% less using restaurant.com or getting some drinks after work can be had at some places with $1 drafts/$1.25 longnecks/$1.50 well drinks instead of the $3 draft/$3.50 longnecks/$5 well drinks. Perhaps you could use your influence to show them ways to enjoy the lifestyle (that they’re not likely to give up anytime soon…at least until their credit cards stop working) they want, but at a significantly reduced cost. In my experience, spendies don’t really alter their lifestyle until life smacks them in the face, but some subtle changes can bring them closer to a sustainable lifestyle.

    Great topic.

  8. Bill McCollam says:

    Oh just like bring the teetotaller to the bar or the priest to the massage parlour… it’s more fun when you can get others to succumb.

  9. Diane says:

    Whatever their reasons, you’re doing the right thing to stick to your principles.

    It’s tough to work with people who have different values, but it seems you could find some friends with interests similar to yours by trying different groups or activities.

    I’d have a tough time if all my friends wanted to do was spend money. My closer friends are similar to me in terms of spending/saving, but I do have to deal with groups at my son’s school & his soccer team that are more wealthy and free spending.

    The other choice would be to invite them to do something cheaper… maybe some would enjoy it!

  10. eh438 says:

    With respect, you say “no” to yourself to unnecessary spending. Why not just give yourself permission to say the same “no” — with a polite “but thank you for thinking of me” tacked on? No need to overthink or re-explain anything. Over and over, they’re behaving in a courteous way (even if they don’t truly mean it — that’s a part of what good manners are). Surely it isn’t difficult for you to respond in kind. Thank you for permitting me to add my one cent. (I save the other.)

  11. manojar says:

    What you said is 100% true – in my case, it was my cousin and his brother-in-law who were prodding me to spend, and i held close.. I stopped talking financial matter or going shopping with them, except under the condition “that that person, their their money” :-)

  12. Rachel says:

    I totally agree with what you’re saying and have seen it in my own life with my own friends. I think you’re dead on about the validation thing. Maybe not with everyone but I know a few people in my life who DO that for sure.

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