Dec 04

My Real Housewives of NJ Best Friend

When I was a kid it was pretty easy to stick to a budget. I grew up with really frugal parents and I lived in the middle of nowhere (literally), so there weren’t really many places to spend my money. Each year I spent a couple hundred dollars (from my summer job) on back to school clothes and saved $500 or so for gas (back in the day I could fill up my tank for $10, man those were the days!). The rest of my summer paychecks were saved for college.

My first semester of college I was like a deer in headlights. All the sudden there were a ton of new and exciting things to spend my money on. I discovered new foods (sushi and buffalo wings-I told you I was sheltered!), new stores and a whole new set of brands and designers that I never even knew existed.

A few weeks into the school year I met a girl I’ll call, “Sarah”. Sarah and I were both political science majors and we had a few classes together. We were definitely an odd pair, since I was from a small fishing village in Maine and Sarah grew up in one of the most affluent suburbs in New Jersey (think Real Housewives of New Jersey!). Sarah’s parent’s mansion home was just like the houses you see on the Bravo TV series. Her only “connection” to Maine, apart from me? A summer “cottage” next to the Bush’s summer compound (President Bush). For her 18th birthday Sarah’s parents bought her a brand new volkswagen passat. You get the idea…

For Christmas I bought Sarah a sweater from the GAP. Sarah bought me a Tiffany bracelet! At the time I sort of knew what Tiffany & Co. was, but had no idea how much a bracelet like that cost until my roommate told me.  Sarah talked constantly about her name brands and “taught” me everything she knew about designers and expensive beauty products. Soon thereafter I got bit by the “bug” and bought myself a Chanel broach, a pair of Gucci sunglasses and few designer dresses. The only difference between her and me? She could afford that stuff (well her parents could) and I couldn’t.

The irony? While I was feeling kind of insecure that I didn’t come for a super rich family, Sarah was struggling with her own insecurities. She had plenty of friends at home, but they were all from similar socio-economic backgrounds and she didn’t really know how to make “normal” (not wealthy) friends at college. Instead of asking peers out for drinks, or inviting them to a party, she bought them gifts. When I finally told her that I wasn’t comfortable with all the gifts I thought our conversation could turn into a heart-to-heart. I imagined that she share her insecurities and I’d share mine. I’d like to say that happened, we had a bonding moment and we’re still best friends today. But it didn’t and we’re not.

I think we both realized that we didn’t really have enough in common to sustain a quality friendship. She didn’t really understand my background and I couldn’t relate to hers. We didn’t really have much in common and when I stopped buying expensive stuff we didn’t have that much to talk about. At the end of freshman year Sarah asked me to be her roommate the following school year. I said, “no” and we drifted apart over the summer.

Do you have friends from different socioeconomic backgrounds? Have you been the “rich” or “poor” friend? What made the friendship work, or not?


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  1. Alicia @ Financial Diffraction

    I had a friend like that – she came from a very affluent middle eastern family. Burberry, Armani everything. And that was the point in time when I couldn’t fathom buying things from Banana Republic, let alone designer stuff. After awhile (a couple years) we stopped hanging out as often because she wanted to spend like crazy (her parents money) but I wasn’t yet in my crazy spending ways (this was me, pre-debt).

    I think if you have those differences out in the open, it can generally work. That being said, so many people (myself included) are closet about being broke, because of embarrassment, etc, that it isn’t out in the open.

    My fiance grew up in a very different situation than I did, and so he and his friends are more on the “poor” side of things. It took awhile to really mesh the differences in ideals and just overall viewpoints, but it works now.

    1. KK

      I agree with you about keeping things in the open. If both parties and just talk about how they feel about gifts, money, spending etc. then you don’t have any awkward moments when you’re splitting a check or going shopping together. It’s definitely not easy to talk about money, especially with friends who have a lot more than you.

  2. Budget and the Beach

    I would feel the same way you did about receiving the gifts, Maybe that’s how she showed her love to friends but it’s an odd way. I have had the same situation happen to me before too, especially as I really buckled down with my finances over the last couple of years. Certain friends drifted away, which makes me sad, but I have to focus on the ones who didn’t.

    1. KK

      It was totally odd and uncomfortable for me. Thankfully these days a lot of my friends are also in the social services field, so they aren’t big spenders (because we don’t make enough money to be ;-))

  3. E.M.

    I really haven’t had many friends that are super wealthy. I always felt inferior when I was around people like that. It’s silly, but like you said, I felt that there wasn’t much in common. In college I tried pledging a sorority, and all the girls lived in fancy houses with fancy cars financed by their parents. I never felt like I fit in. High school was a similar story where many “popular” kids were from well-off families and all of us “average” kids were from the middle class and didn’t care much about designer brands. It’s difficult to sustain a relationship when there’s such a gap.

    1. KK

      “Sarah” was probably my first really wealthy friend, so it was a whole new experience for me. I’d imagine certain sororities and social groups just attract a certain “type” of person, whether that’s based on socio-economics, religion, rationality etc. I know I’d feel really uncomfortable if I was trying to be a part of a group and everyone had significantly more money than me.

  4. Stu @ Poor student

    Wow must be nice to be Sarah! Wish I could gift my friends things that are as expensive as that.

    I have some friends from all different walks of life.

    1. KK

      I think in some regards it was probably pretty awesome, but I also think she had her fair share of problems in other areas. I guess everyone has their struggles in one way or another.

  5. anna

    My best friend in high school and I were like that (I was the poor one and she lived in beautiful gated community). We got along great until college and afterward, but I think it was because of distance/going our separate ways with college friends. I agree that having rich friends can hurt your pocketbook – I for sure bought name brands just to keep up, and squandered away any after-school job earnings instead of saving. That’s too bad that you and Sarah didn’t remain friends, though I agree that buying gifts isn’t really a solid/deep level of friendship. It’s unfortunate that the heart to heart didn’t lead to something more meaningful, it sounded like she was in denial (or just unawareness) with her insecurities?

    1. KK

      It’s funny you mention gated communities because I didn’t even know they existed until I left Maine (I suppose Maine probably has them now too, but nobody even has a fence (unless they have farm animals) in my hometown. It was hard for me to “lose” Sarah as a friend because a part of me felt we both had a lot to learn from each other, but it is what it is. I’ve had my chance to have a bunch of friends from all sorts of economic backgrounds (“rich” and “poor”) since then.

  6. Daniel

    I’ve been on both sides of this, though I don’t really tell people how much I’m making (it’s probably more than they think). I don’t like spending unnecessarily, but the richer friends are very down to earth for the most part and frugal in their own way (spend a ton of money on clothes but look for deals on vacations). The ones who don’t make as much we get along with great because we have that same mentality and we completely empathize with them. We go through the same decisions, the difference is that we can probably say yes to a few more of them.

    1. KK

      It’s interesting that you say that. I think for me some of my friends think the bf and I make a ton of money and some probably think we don’t make much. It’s all about their perspective, what they have and how they know us. My friends from home think we make a lot of money, my friends here in NYC probably don’t think I make much because they all know I work in social services (and they do to!) ;-).

  7. Micro

    I never wound up running into really affluent people in college. I knew there were a lot of wealthy kids that went to college in Madison but they were sheltered from the rest of us “peons”. All the people that I lived with were other individuals from various parts of WI who came from similar backgrounds as mine. We did enjoy trying to dumpster dive near their dorms at the end of the year though. You could always find some great things that they just didn’t want to fly back home with.

    1. KK

      I’d say most of my college friends (aside from Sarah) generally came from backgrounds similar to mine. I guess I could identify with them (and they kept me from going broke spending money on stuff I couldn’t afford, which was nice). I did my fair share of reselling stuff I found on the street when all the upperclassman and foreign students left. It was pretty fun to make money selling stuff I got for free.

  8. Liz

    I believe I made a lot more than many of my girlfriends. However you would think they make more when you see how much they go shopping and whatnot. I’ve just been saving and paying off debt.

    1. KK

      I think that’s a great point. You might think that your friends make more money than you because they’re free spenders (or spending money they don’t have and going into debt). Sarah’s parents were supporting her so she didn’t have to worry about debt or overspending.

      Sometimes I actually like playing the “broke” card because my friends know better than to chose an overpriced restaurant. Keep saving and paying down that debt, you’ll be glad you did.

  9. Laurie @thefrugalfarmer

    I had a friend like this years ago too. She would talk incessantly about how easy it was to “just drop a grand before you even realize it” on clothes and stuff, and we were struggling to make ends meet so I could be home with the kids. I think it bugged her that we weren’t in the same “class” as them, and it bugged me that she didn’t have a clue that not everyone had it so easy, and eventually our friendship ended too. Sad but true, you know?

    1. KK

      Lol, yeah I “drop a grand” all the time don’t you? 😉 Some people just don’t “get it”. It’s fine if you have a grand to drop like that, and I’m happy you’re doing well, but have a little respect for your friends’ financial situations. Unless she was completely oblivious, she must have known you guys were living a very different lifestyle, ugg.

  10. Mackenzie

    I had a friend like that, post-college. She always wanted to go out; drinking, eating, shopping, you name it. I couldn’t keep up, nor did I want to. When I couldn’t afford to shop anymore, the friendship dissipated. Sad, but true.

    1. KK

      I guess friendships can work it both parties put in the effort, but it’s not easy or comfortable to talk about money with friends.

  11. Allison

    Wow. I feel like we have all had friends like that at some point. I think it can work, and be uncomfortable if you both let it. But hopefully honesty and understanding will win out!

    1. KK

      Very true. If both friends are invested in the relationship and want to make the friendship work, I definitely think it can work just fine. Now that I’m a little older and wiser I think I would have handled the “sarah” situation a little differently, but live and learn.

  12. Michelle

    I have some very wealthy friends but a lot of them are VERY humble about it and are respectful of my spending eccentricities. They love it!

  13. Emily @ evolvingPF

    I guess I’ve been in environments where it’s difficult to tell what socioeconomic class people are in (or maybe I’m ignorant – I don’t know the brands you mentioned). People dress very casually in lab! I view everyone around me as fairly homogeneous in socioeconomic class (maybe a good assumption as we’re all doing PhDs?) or maybe I just don’t want to see the differences. In any case, I’ve never seen myself as either the poor friend or the rich friend.

  14. Lacey

    My impression of “Sarah” is that she is “new money” or Nouveau riche. Nouveau riche tend to be flashy and brag about how much money they have or possessions. They are sometimes looked down upon by “old money” meaning generational wealth, think Rockefeller, Du Pont, etc. New money tend to spend, spend, spend, while old money has had wealth for generations and do not need to impress other with it.

    With that being said. I’d question if “Sarah” is truly wealthy. There are plenty of people out there, making a decent income and spending it all away. Just because she can rack up credit debt with expensive gifts doesn’t mean she’s actually rich, she could just be in debt. Like the 25 year old with a $50,000 BMW but can’t afford gas type of rich. Or the 50 year old couple who took out a 2nd mortgage to finance their daughters lavish wedding.

    In my experience, you can’t judge a persons wealth with how they shop.

  15. Charles@gettingarichlife

    I grew up poor but my friends grew u in middle class. I never really felt the difference growing up, which allowed me to get along with people of different economic background. Some of my closest friends are the ones I grew up with.

  16. DC @ Young Adult Money

    A Tiffany bracelet?!? wth? That’s incredible. But yes, I have been in these situations and unfortunately I think people tend to have more friends who are relatively close to their socio-economic status. It can be hard to maintain a friendship with someone who can’t relate to you lifestyle-wise, though I think it’s also valuable if you can make those friendships work.

  17. Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life

    I’ve seen people who have trouble relating to folks with different socioeconomic backgrounds. It’s just an entirely separate frame of mind. I grew up in a very wealthy town but with none of the fancy stuff- car, electronics, etc. I feel like I got a good balance.

  18. Rebecca @ Stapler Confessions

    I grew up in an affluent town, with diverse economic backgrounds, and associated a lot with people of much higher and lower means than my family. The key to it for me was that I met them through the soccer team, so we did have a way to related to each other that had nothing to do with what brands we bought or what we were wearing (we all had standard issue uniforms!).

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