How to Handle and Maintain Expensive Friends While Sticking to a Budget

Sep 14, 2020 | Budgeting, How To Save Money

Most of us have experience with expensive friends. You know what we mean. They live a high-end lifestyle and may not be so aware of your frugal lifestyle. It’s TOUGH to find a balance between being friends and staying on track. We’re going to teach you how to set boundaries and stick to your budget without losing those precious friendships!

Friends laughing and shopping, illustrating how expensive friends can be, from Fun Cheap or Free

It’s time to get real and talk about a huge budget burden: expensive friends.

When you hear that term, what do you think about? How does it make you feel? You might think of pricey gifts, fancy dinner parties, shopping sprees, spa weekends, and other expensive adventures. You might also get a knot in your chest just thinking about the debt you’re racking up trying to maintain those relationships. Ouch! 

Yet, friends are SO important! You love them, they love you, and you don’t want to miss out. We can’t imagine our lives without our dearest friends, and finding a balance between sticking to a budget and spending time with friends is a battle we’ve fought for years. 

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Luckily, we’ve found a balance, and so can you! We’ll teach you how to set boundaries, budget appropriately for your time with them, and even recognize if your friendship is worth the cost.


Friends riding bikes with ice cream, from Fun Cheap or Free

The term “expensive friends” isn’t new, but if you’ve never heard it before, here are some character traits to help you identify the ones in your life: 

  • They always want to go out — to eat, to the movies, to go shopping, etc.
  • Usually, they opt for the most expensive option, like buying front row tickets, dinner before, ice cream afterward, and even a fancy hotel stay. 
  • They often want to split the check when going out or to take turns covering the bill — it takes a toll on your budget because they order more expensive items than you do! 
  • They like going shopping A LOT. 
  • They’re unaware that others might choose to live a more frugal lifestyle and expect those around them to give expensive gifts, dress in designer clothing, and participate in pricey activities. 
  • They never keep receipts, look at a budget, or price match when shopping. 
  • They feel the need to do one better than those around them — this is sometimes affectionately referred to as “keeping up with the Joneses.” 

If you have expensive friends, you can probably add a few items to this list! And if you’re hanging out with them regularly, they might expect you to do the same! 

These people in your life are likely the best of friends who you love to be with! But if you continue to spend time with them without boundaries, they’ll slowly but surely send you to the poor house!


Pride is probably the biggest reason why it’s so hard to set boundaries with these friends. It’s frankly embarrassing to admit that you can’t afford the same lifestyle. There’s also FOMO (fear of missing out), big time! …and you have a credit card, so you might think, “Why not just use it?” 

It’s the fastest way to land yourself thousands of dollars in credit card debt, that’s why. 

You have to learn to set boundaries with these friends. But you’re probably wondering exactly HOW to set boundaries with friends. Here are some ideas: 

  • Be Upfront – Remember that these are your friends! They love you and don’t want to see you going into debt. Just be frank with them and say, “Look, guys, I want to do these things with you, but I’m not made of money. Can we do a few more affordable activities?” You might be surprised how supportive and willing to compromise they are! 
  • Suggest Alternate Activities – Thanks to your frugal lifestyle, you know better than anyone how much fun you can have with little money. When your friends ask you to join them for mani/pedis, suggest a spa night at your house instead. You could also suggest potluck dinners, birthday brunches, game nights, and other less extravagant ideas to keep the fun going without the expense. 
  • Know When to Say No – This is perhaps the most important part of maintaining good friendships. You can avoid so much stress, hurt pride, and financial pain simply by saying no to things you honestly can’t afford.

Your friends are your closest allies, so being honest with them about your budgeting will accomplish two things: it'll help you keep more of your money, and — better yet — you might even be the reason your friends start to budget! Minimally, you can enjoy new activities together that don't cost a fortune.


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Friends having coffee together in a coffee house, from Fun Cheap or Free

Does setting boundaries with your expensive friends mean you can’t ever do things with them? Of course not! Thank goodness we have budgets. If you can stick to your budget, you’ll not only maintain your social life but also have way more fun knowing you’re not bound for debtor’s prison! (Figuratively speaking, of course.) 

Here are some of our favorite budgeting tips that still leave room for plenty of fun: 

  • Use the 70% Rule to Stick to a Budget – Remember the 70% rule? You can spend your money on whatever you want as long as you set aside the other 30% for donations, tithes, savings, debt, etc. If you know you’re going to go out with your friends, just make it fit within the 70% category. 
  • Keep a Budgeting Envelope on Hand – We love using a budgeting envelope! It’s so easy to carry with you everywhere, and it’s seriously the simplest budgeting system ever! Just keep cash in your envelope that’s specifically for events with your friends. Use it how you wish; just keep track of each expense. When it’s gone, it’s gone.   
  • Have a Separate Bank Account for Fun – It can really pay to keep separate bank accounts for your expenses. One might be a “fun money” account. You can pull from your 70% to build up a stipend for bigger purchases or trips with friends. 
  • Use the Three Month Rule – Being frugal doesn’t mean never going on trips or going shopping. It just means that you plan and save for any big purchase. Rather than jumping on a chance to take a cruise to the Mexican Riviera or do a shopping spree with your girlfriends, give yourself three months to plan and save for it. That way, you get to participate without going overboard, and it’s so much more rewarding to have worked for it! 
  • Do a Spending Freeze and Invite Your Friends – It’s amazing how much you can save when you don’t spend money for a whole week. So amazing, in fact, that your friends might want to join in and see the value in watching what they spend!

Pro Tip: Be the first to recommend activities! Offer to host something inexpensive like a cookout or a game night. Most of the time, it works!


Two friends laughing together and hugging, from Fun Cheap or Free

Okay, let’s get real for a second. If spending time with your high-end friends (or family!) is stressing you out to no end, it might be time to evaluate whether or not they’re truly your friends. We hate to say it, but not all friendships are meant to be, and some relationships are just plain toxic. *Enter Britney Spears*

That doesn’t mean you should cut expensive friends out of your life just because of their spending habits… That would be ridiculous! But there are be a few triggers that might indicate your “friend” isn’t exactly the supportive companion you may have thought. Here are a few indicators that your expensive friends might be the wrong fit for you: 

  • They Don't Have Your Best Interests at Heart – Whether it’s your house, your car, your purse, your haircut, or even your taste in food, someone who belittles you because of your things or lifestyle doesn’t have your best interest in mind. It's okay if you have different styles and tastes, but they should never make you feel like your things aren't enough!
  • They Have Zero Respect for Your Boundaries and Budget – If you’ve set boundaries from the beginning, friends should be willing to respect that. Not only that, but they should be cheering you on to reach your financial goals and dreams!
  • You’ve Built up a Ton of Debt – A true friend would never want you to buy things you can’t afford just to spend time with them! Now, this also falls a little on your shoulders as well. They may have no clue that you're in debt because you've never told them no to doing or buying things. However, it's when they do know, but still don't care, that you need to reevaluate your friendship!
  • Friends Start Asking YOU for Money – You might be surprised to learn that many people who live wealthy lifestyles aren’t wealthy at all! They live on credit cards, but that has to end eventually. They might start asking you to cover the check without reciprocating, or they may even ask for a loan. It’s a slippery slope, and an intervention might be in order. 

Phew! That’s some heavy stuff, but it’s important to consider. Just remember, it's a two-way street! Sometimes your friends and family literally have no idea what's going on in your life because we tend to keep our finances to ourselves. While that's super important, you also have to give your friends a chance to get on the same page. You never know, they may be trying to tighten up their budget as well!

We’ve given you some of our best tools, and now it’s up to you to apply them to your lifestyle. Sticking to a budget while maintaining amazing friendships is no easy road, but it’s totally worth it! Remember, live like no one will for the next few years, so you can live like no one can for the rest of your life! 

Two women holding shopping bags, from Fun Cheap or Free

Need some ideas for sticking with your budget while connecting with friends? Check out some of these amazing ideas: 

Now, go live your best life!


  1. Anne Lawver

    Love this! I love paries and gift giving, but hate feeling over-burdened financially, time-wise or etiquette-wise! (Lots of wise there). As a natural born frugalista, may I offer a few other ideas:

    1. If kids are of an age to be invited to birthday paries, snag gifts while on clearance. When my daughter was in kindergarden, she was invited to 16 birthday parties! I snagged stuffed bears at a post-Christmas 90% off sale, made a simple dress for each and this was her “standardized gift” for the year. Rumor was it a couple of invites were due to word of the bears leaking out.

    2. Likewise, snag post holiday goodies for gift giving. I try to keep on hand scented candles, fancy chocolates and handmade things that can be gifted. You can grab a basket and create a gorgeous spa basket super cheap. Thrift shop or yard sale fancy dishes can be gifted with chocolates, baked goods or similar treats.

    3. When dining out with a group I ALWAYS ask server for a separate check. Do it quietly, but with serious intent. Started this after going out with a group to a restaurant well above pur budget. We figured out quickly that our host was not treating us to the meal (as we first thought) and asked for a separate check. My husband and I had soup, while others ordered appetizers and $35 entrees. When bill came, the ‘host’ passed the hat for everyone to pitch in. Thankfully, we had asked for a separate check.

    4. For babies, handmade can rule the day. My new “go to” is picking up deeply discounted board books at TJ Maxx or similar. I pair the book with a coordinating blankie made from my fabric stash. Other ideas are to stock up on basic baby goods from clearance racks. Or disposable diapers when you have a killer coupon. One popular guest always wraps up a coupon for a homemade meal or two. She delivers meal with disposable dishes at the Mom’s convenience.

    5. With group gifts, be sure you know how mich each person is expected to contribute. Decades ago, one group gift asked for $50 from each participant, way above my gidting budget for an acquiantance.

    6. Before agreeing to be in a wedding, clarify what expenses will be involved. It can be done tactfully. Seriously, if the bride knows you well enough to invite you to be in the wedding party, they should not you are frugalicious.

    7. I shop and prep for holiday gift giving all year. At the January super clearance sales, I try to nab pretty ornaments, they make perfect neighbor and teacher gifts. I try for the 80-90% off sale, making each gift $2 or less. Or I plan ahead and start making gifts.

    8. Do plan ahead. Remember things like end of year teacher gifts, coach gifts, etc. Again, be clear about cost before signing on for a group gift. PS Teachers generally like homemade bread, jam, notecards and similar.

    9. The thought really should count. My husband once took our grandkids to a thrift shop to buy gifts for my surprise birthday party. Their little minds worked super hard to pick “perfect” gifts, which were each treasured. And the thought my husband put into it was the best!

    And I will stop writing now!

  2. Laura

    The one that ALWAYS gets me is the dang wedding gifts!

    I always want to get people items that are on their registry, but with our budget, I feel like it’s a “Oh, happy wedding! Have fun with that spatula and oven mitt…” 😉

    For our wedding, some of the cutesty/creative gifts people got us were really appreciated, like a game-night bucket stocked with fun board games. But handmade, crocheted items? Not so much (not that anyone would ever “accuse” me of crocheting them ANYTHING. Lol.)

    Would love to hear more on this from you, Jordan. XO

  3. Carol Paxman

    Gotta love those friends! Everyone means well but you do have to draw the line somewhere. I try to make handmade gifts whenever possible, even if it’s just a coupon for a coffee chat just the two of us!


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