Not All Friends have to be Frugal Friends
I love to travel, and we recently returned from a week long vacation to Colorado. On the trip we caught up with friends, climbed a mountain, explored breweries, and spent lots of time sitting around a fire. We have many frugal friends, but the four we were traveling with would certainly not qualify.
One of my college roommates just accepted her first “real” job, after, you know, getting a PhD and then doing a post-doc. Thus, my two closest girlfriends decided that we better meet up since her vacation time will soon be very limited! We grabbed our significant others and all met in a relatively central location: Denver. Two couples had a cheap flight from Detroit and the other had a six hour drive. Here, I let my frugality lead, and I advocated for meeting in a city that we could get to for <$200 for round trip flights.
We focus on spending on our values, and time with friends definitely qualifies. We don’t justify travel to visit friends all the time though! We balance having a simpler life at home with occasional travel.
This trip definitely helped teach and reinforce a few keys for me to enjoy hanging with more spendy friends.
1. I will sometimes Feel Like an Outsider
Being frugal, and having specific savings goals (>70% of our income annually) towards FIRE means that we aren’t always the best at small talk (unless we are with fellow frugal friends). We also have worked to simplify our lives and eliminated spending time on cultural norms that other people enjoy. Resultingly, some of the conversations from this trip were quite alien to me.
- Sports! I used to be a huge college sports fan! I thought Mr. Kiwi was crazy when he didn’t know the rules of football (or basketball or every major sport). He, in turn, thought I was crazy devoting hours upon hours watching my favorite teams play. Slowly, his disinterest rubbed off on me, since he started suggesting we spend a Saturday in the fall picking apples or on a bike ride. Spending time together was much more connecting and fun than watching a game. Although we will still get together with friends to watch games or tailgate, but we both find ourselves just hanging out with the people chatting during the game. I’m amazing by the amount of extra free time I have, and it made cutting the cord easy!
- Cars! We are not interested in cars. (That dang Tesla is enthralling though.) Most engineers are interested in cars, and our friends were talking about their next vehicle upgrade options. One plans to go to Germany to get his next vehicle.
- Shopping! We used to just run to Target or the board game store to browse (Archipelago is our current favorite). But our spendy friends inevitably get on the topic of shopping, especially for clothes and fancy outdoorsy goods.
- And the vast array of other expensive ways to pass the time (concerts, kitchen gadgets, restaurants, gym memberships, etc.)
If you find that you constantly feel like an outsider it may be time to lose that friendship. But with your crew you should be able to enjoy hearing about their passions, and eventually the conversation will get back to a topic that you can more participate in. I do not judge others for how they spend their money (or at least I try not to), and I don’t hide my frugality so my friends are pretty sensitive to it. Plus, I learned a bunch about camping equipment and the Kohl’s clearance rack! (I try to find something interesting in everything…still looking for the interesting part about cars…)
2. They will Spend Money in Ways you wouldn’t. AKA: The Not so Frugal Rental Car!
Our friends picked out the rental car, and instead of just going with the compact economy car that we would have selected, they paid double and picked out a 2017 Subaru WRX sports car. This was not the most practical choice (we were foiled from one hike due to the low clearance, and it was a manual so only half of the group could drive it), but it made them happy.
There’s no point in stressing about other people’s choices. We don’t keep our frugality a secret, and we would have gladly paid half for that rental car, but our friends just asked us to chip in half the cost of a more typical rental car. We gladly gave them the lesser amount of cash, but added 15% to it, and paid for the gas. We try to not be cheap! (But sometimes we toe that line closely.) Since we can afford to give a little extra, we did, and our friends appreciated it.
Realizing that other people’s values are different from your own is key to maintaining not so frugal friendships.
Our friends also shelled out money to rent kayaks and paddle boards after a seven hour hike. We were both wiped out and decided to save a bit of cash, hung out in the shade, and got some time the two of us. Had that been the only activity for the day we definitely would have splurged, but after the hike it sounded less appealing. When traveling in groups we try to not guilt people into doing things that we want to do, and our friends we choose to travel with reciprocate the gesture. People do things individually
3. Show up Prepared with Frugal Ideas
I took the lead in food planning, which meant we went grocery shopping and cooked once we got out of the city. This was awesome and was so much cheaper than going out for every meal. Our friends loved it too, since I planned more indulgent meals than they typically would make. You can cook a restaurant quality meal for a fraction of the price.
- Fajitas with all the fixings
- Apple pork chops, broccoli, beans, and sweet potato fries
- Sandwiches and fruit for hiking
- Eggs with meat (for the non-veggies) and fruit
- Overnight oats with peaches
- Foil pockets filled with veggies for camping
- Banana boats in the fire!
Everyone also wanted to go on many free hikes and we spent a day in Rocky Mountain National Park (reasonable park entrance fee).
When we travel we try to blend in some frugality, but we don’t stress about every dollar spent like we do at home. Picking a couple of frugal or free activities helps to smooth the spending.
4. Don’t try to Keep Up with the Joneses’
When we went out to the bars everyone covered their own tab. We chose to drink a bit less than our friends most nights. We were at altitude so the beer was pretty effective! We tried what sounded tasty, but we didn’t want to get too drunk since, for us at least, that doesn’t make the night any more fun when we are with close friends.
We love going to breweries, so we visited many during the week. Our strategy is to each order a different beer and only get one round at each brewery. If there’s anything that looks extra good we’ll order that too, but for the most part we stuck to our strategy. We also picked up some local cans of beer to drink around the campfires, so grocery shopping for the win there too.
5. Balancing Friendships and Frugality
A key thing I’ve learned by having both frugal friends and spendy ones is understanding my values and the mission behind my frugality.
We save for FIRE so that we will someday reach financial independence, but there’s not point in becoming financially independent if we hide away all day and lose our close friends. One of our key plans in FIRE is to have more time to road trip to visit our spread out friends!
Sure, we turn down some trips, but when we don’t have plans and have the vacation time we love getting to visit with friends. Our last two trips were with my family and we were ready for a different type of trip. We had a lull in weddings this year (yay! only two) so we had more free weekends. Mr. Kiwi had never been to Colorado, so he got spend some time there, and we cruised through Longmont during the eclipse. (Sadly there were no celebrity sitings.)
We set the goal of spending less than $1,000 all inclusive for the week, and it looks like we met that goal. But during the trip I was not tracking our spending and did not stress about it. Instead, frugality is now in our blood, so we naturally spend a bit less than the rest without feeling like we were missing out.
The Benefits of Frugal Friends
It was great to spend a week with some of our closest college friends. There’s nothing like getting a group of engineers together. But it’s also great to be back home and near our frugal friends. Our friends that live nearby tend to spend less money (they also aren’t engineers and overall make less).
Our frugal friends help to balance us out, and encourage us to not feel like aliens! Since we are both engineers, frugality isn’t necessarily common amongst our coworkers or college friends. Now that we graduated undergrad seven and eight years ago, most of our friends have a decent amount of spending money and are no longer living as poor college students. Sometimes that means our frugal habits make us outliers. For our truly good friends they are happy to shift their habits a bit, and we shift ours, to make sure we keep the bond strong.