Friends and FI
Everyone striving for the goal of financial independence will eventually run into the question of how to approach this subject with friends.
It’s unavoidable, because of a few basic truths.
- You probably don’t want to go on super expensive outings with them anymore — at least not all that frequently.
- You will lose interest in 90% of conversations about “stuff,” while simultaneously developing a passion for personal finance.
- You will instinctively want to convert any and all friends to your new lifestyle.
Let’s examine various options for how you might deal with some of these newfound feelings, shall we?
Friends are Different
First off, be aware that your approach to the whole FIRE topic with your friends will probably not be the same as the one you use for your family or co-workers. I believe that a great deal of additional caution must be exercised when considering either of those two groups. For example, family you’re stuck with for life, for better or worse, and revealing details about your finances could have negative consequences that are tough to shake. And as for co-workers, well — things are even simpler. You probably shouldn’t share a thing, unless you have a particularly compelling reason.
But back to friends. They’re a different category because we choose to hang around them. They’re the only group of individuals in our lives that we have some control over, right? So it stands to reason that we’d want to make sure our relationships with them are worthwhile. Complete honesty typically plays a large part in what makes these connections so special.
After all, what’s the point of being friends with someone if you can’t share the details of stuff that you’re into? So what if that stuff happens to be the fact that you’ve decided to save tons of money so you can stop working before most people think it’s possible to stop?
So go ahead and do it. Tell your buddies your deepest, darkest dreams of leaving the bonds of traditional employment via saving and investing. It’s an important enough piece of your life that you ought to share it.
Still, there are still a few reasons to be cautious, even with friends, but we’ll get into that toward the end of the post.
So you’ve got some friends. You typically go out to restaurants or bars when you get together and blow money while you catch up. There’s no shame there — you’ve been programmed to know that there’s no other acceptable way to spend time with one another, and hey, you’ve gotta eat anyway, right?
But there’s a problem. You want to enable a high rate of saving, and one of the best areas of spending to target in order to achieve this goal are so-called entertainment expenses. High priced social gatherings are going to be near the top of your list when eliminating unnecessary waste.
What’s an aspiring FIRE-ist to do? Luckily, the solution is pretty easy. You’re going to have to tell people that you don’t want spending money to be a required part of the package when it comes to your friendship.
That isn’t to say you should never go out again. You’re making lifestyle changes so you can become financially independent, not a hermit. Even so, you’ll want to limit these events to special occasions, as well as being more conscious of how much you’re spending when you do go out.
Think of it like easing into an exercise program. You don’t go from couch potato to workout warrior overnight, and neither should you expect to instantly stop going out. Instead, consider making incremental changes, see how the new lifestyle feels, and then continue on the path toward bringing your social expenses down until it starts to hurt.
If it hurts too much, back off. It means you’ve found the point at which you’re uncomfortable. Striving for financial independence shouldn’t feel like deprivation. The sweet spot is going to be different for everyone here.
Also, suggest alternatives. See if they’re okay with having dinner at someone’s house and try your hand at cooking for each other. Chat a while, watch a movie, queue up youtube playlists, whatever floats your boat. You can also do something on the weekend instead of a work night. Try for something outdoors. Go for a long hike, a bike-ride, or <insert_other_activity_here>. If your iPhone loving friends give you a hard time about your requests to mix it up, get snarky and challenge them to Think Different. Your choice of material goods isn’t the only way to express creativity.
Flip things around, too — ask them what they’d like to do other than the usual. Frame the conversation in terms of doing something new and exciting. Isn’t it boring to always do the same thing every time we get together? What other things might you want to do other than order organic materials to consume while we discuss the flavor?
If your friends literally don’t want to do anything else but grab a bite or go party, maybe they’re not really all that into you anyways.
Got FI on the Mind
After a while, most people on this path find that they lose interest in a fair amount of conversational topics that used to provide fine entertainment — like talking about products A and B and should I take that expensive vacation to Las Vegas and what do you think about me getting a 4,000 sq. foot home?
That’s completely normal. It’s a consequence of developing your financial-vision superpower, and as a result you’re going to begin to see many of these conversations for what they are: discussions about stuff collection, status, and culture.
Some of these topics may still hold interest for you. Maybe you’ve always been into gadgets and your friend just got the newest phone, or there’s some new bicycling gear on the market. But others will make your eyes glaze over. Your friend may tell you about a new set of knives that she got because they’re guaranteed to never get dull. Or maybe someone just signed up for monthly coffee delivery service and they’re super excited about getting a different outstanding blend every time.
After telling these stories, your friends will be expecting you to either a) share some of your own recent purchasing decisions or b) at least tell them how awesome you think their lives are now that they’ve bought items A, B, and C.
You’re going to have to sort of feel your way through these types of situations to figure out how you can participate in them without dying of boredom, offending your friends by your clear lack of interest as signaled by eye-rolling and snorting, or getting judgy/preachy on them and telling them exactly how you really feel about that brand-new Benz they bought with financing.
I wish I had some great advice here, but I don’t — your own actions need to be something that works for you. Personally, I usually play along and say things like: That sounds great, I’m glad you’re excited about that <thing you said.> Then I’ll try to turn the conversation away from material stuff and onto other areas that we both have in common and like to talk about — politics, sports, music, exercise, family drama — whatever the case may be.
The only exception that I make here nowadays is if a friend is considering buying something that is clearly outside of their means to afford, e.g. they’re about to take on consumer debt. In these cases, I try to stop the train wreck from happening, but on the everyday minor stuff, I just don’t sweat it. I think of this restraint as part of respecting my friends.
The flip side of listening to your friends yammer on about stuff you no longer care all that much about is that you will want to talk about your journey, too. One day it’ll be a challenge you set for yourself: No eating out for a month. The next it’ll be how you can hit the goal-post two years earlier than you originally thought — nine years instead of eleven! — if you can only cut yearly expenses by certain amount. Awesome.
And it doesn’t just stop there. Oh no — you’ll likely want to get your friends on-board this crazy train of saving and investing, because, hey, why wouldn’t they want to be on it anyway? You’re just doing what’s best for them. So you might make comments about how they really shouldn’t be commuting to work 45 miles each way in an SUV because it costs too much, or 1K/mo in grocery expenses is absolutely absurd even for a couple with a kid, or it’s not actually any harder or time consuming to make meals at home than it is to go out to a restaurant to eat. If you get really saucy, you might even start talking about how they should max out their retirement accounts and open Roth IRAs and use their HELOC exclusively as their emergency fund.
Thing is, unless you’re very, very lucky, most of your friends will not want to talk about this for very long. They might even get offended — most people don’t like to be told what to do with their money. If you’re going off on a financial rant or tangent, try to recognize signs of unease and/or boredom in your companion, and change the subject quickly if things are headed south. Talking about finances feels like work for most people, even though it’s probably a source of fun and pleasure for you personally. Do you want to work during your leisure time?
Personally, I generally only talk about FIRE with my friends when they bring the subject up. At this point in my life, they all know the basics, and they have varying attitudes which range from pretty positive to Oh My God Why Are You Talking About This Fucking Thing Again And Please Stop Immediately.
And I can totally relate, because my Uncle Larry recently discovered <Non Mainstream Political Party> and when I see him it’s always like:
HEY! <LAF!> YOU COME OVER TO MY WAY OF THINKING YET? IT’S THE ONLY ONE THAT MAKES TOTAL SENSE NOWADAYS! WHADDAYA WAITING FOR?
Oh, I dunno, Larry, hell to freeze over, maybe?
Anyways, point is, I get it. Some things come down to personality preferences, and there will be no changing them. So have a heart and keep things brief, unless your crew is reciprocating the FI love.
It Isn’t Working Out
It happens to everybody. At some point you’ll look around to discover that people you used to enjoy and care about are no longer doing it for you. Maybe it’s your old drinking/karaoke friends, or your buddy Lane who always wants to go to the mall and buy video games at Gamestop before going to a fancy-pants restaurant and eventually ending up at an expensive club and embarrassing himself. (Of course he does. His name is Lane, for fuck’s sake.)
Thing is, striving for financial independence usually isn’t really about being rich. At its core, the quest to ditch your job has a lot more to do with an increasing awareness that your time on this planet is finite, and you don’t want to spend the vast majority of it in an office working or otherwise frittering your time away engaging in activities that don’t make you happy.
In other words, you’re beginning to plan your future out more carefully because you want to get more out of your life. Being efficient with your earnings is a means to hit these broader goals — to have the time, money and freedom, to, say, stay at home and raise your children, or slow-travel for two years in Mexico, bike across America, walk the Appalachian trail while you’re still young enough to do it without a cane. Shifting your life and finances around to enable these goals is forward-looking and a sign of maturity.
And it may just be that your friends have not hit the same stage of development as you. Sure, it’s possible they’ll still get there, but it’s also possible that they won’t. If your goals in life have changed to the point that hanging around an old friend is just no longer satisfying, then chances are good that it’s no longer doing it for him or her either.
In these rare cases, I feel it’s honestly OK to ditch. Friendship is more than just mindless loyalty — it’s about shared interests, commiseration, and maybe even having fun. Friends can move in and out of the fabric of your life, so as you develop and change as a person, it makes sense that your set might need to be occasionally updated for compatibility.
Note that this really has nothing to do with FI. People change friends for all kinds of reasons, most of which bear no relation to money.
You don’t keep wearing clothes that don’t fit, do you?
Of course not. You get others that do.
There are a few additional considerations before you go and divulge your new path to folks.
- Legal and safety issues should be examined before revealing any information about your own net worth. It’s one thing to tell people that you’re planning on being relatively rich someday, and quite another to broadcast that your household’s net worth is now <some amount>. Some disreputable people might go after you because they know you have deep pockets. I personally do not recommend ever telling people what you are worth. It’s considered crass in U.S. culture anyway.
- Instead, keep your conversations generic. Stick to strategy and not the hairy details of dollars.
- Related to the above: I would exercise extreme caution telling any of my neighbors — even if I already consider them my friends. For the record, I haven’t found a single reason to reveal anything FI related to these folks. It’s harder to swap out neighbors than friends if the relationship dynamic changes for the worse because of the obvious: You live next to them. Neighbors can do wacky things like slip on your sidewalk and sue you because they know you’re good for damages. There’s real risk here.
- Most of this article has been written from the perspective of telling old friends about your new path. If you’ve just met someone new and are considering adding them to your circle, I’d like to suggest not telling them about the whole FI thing until further down the road. Once you’ve known them for a while, you’ll be better able to determine whether you sufficiently trust them to discuss your longer term goals.
Bottom line: Use common sense. Don’t treat everyone in your life equally when it comes to sharing these details about yourself.
Stories from Old Man LAF’s Past
I’ll share a couple of quick stories on this subject.
I lost a few <air quote> friends </air quote> a long time ago. In my early twenties I moved to San Francisco to find work, and eventually I found myself hanging out with a bunch of people at restaurants and bars — mostly bars, I’m afraid — that I called my own. Every night out cost a minimum of twenty five bucks, and we’d go out two or three times a week.
In my mid-twenties I wised up and realized I didn’t want to throw my life away working and drinking with idiots, so I stopped. One of these people was completely OK with the new path and we started having dinner at his place as a substitute. As a result, our friendship actually improved and we eventually branched off to do other, healthier activities.
Everyone else was discarded. Once I explained what I was doing (cutting back on expenses that don’t provide return on investment so I can achieve other goals), they told me I was being — and this is their politically incorrect word, not mine, so forgive me — retarded. I’d hardly consider the departure of these folks from my life to be a loss, given the superficiality of the relationships.
Over the years, I’ve retained two core groups of friends from both high school and college. Everyone in these circles is aware of what I’ve been up to, and they respond with varying degrees of interest. A couple don’t give a crap at all and would prefer I didn’t talk about it. A few others are mildly interested and occasionally bring the subject up, at which point I’ll provide updates and we’ll get into things for a little bit. One guy in particular knows everything, including my NW — it’s accurate to say that he finds the topic exciting and we talk about things without restraint.
When I get together with these folks, I completely focus on the things that we mutually enjoy, instead of money. The spendiest of these friends is also one of my best — we play guitar together and go to jazz clubs, local concerts, that sort of thing. He very unapologetically doesn’t give two turds about FIRE, but it doesn’t matter in the slightest when it comes to how we get along. I just flip that particular switch to the off position when we get together.
It helps to remember that the FI part of you is sort of like a personality trait. It shouldn’t be the only thing that defines you. You’re a complete person with a lot of other interests and things going on — focus on the other bits of yourself when you’re sharing an evening with others.
I’d like to add that a few of these people have slowly started to adopt some frugal habits into their lives. It’s taken some time, but they’ve been able to witness the drastic changes in my own life over the years, and they’ve come around on certain aspects.
Now, my own group looks more like this:
What challenges have you had with your own friends and social groups? Have you felt it necessary to find new people that share your goals, or are you figuring out how to integrate the FIRE lifestyle into the relationships you already have?