Being asked to pitch in for food or gifts can be stressful, especially if a chronic illness restricts the hours you can work. These tips can help.
“Let’s each chip in 10 bucks and that should cover the bill,” my friend said after an impromptu dinner to celebrate the end of the school year. She was collecting money to cover the $200 bill that we had racked up at a restaurant.
Our professor had invited our class to have a drink on her and ended up paying for everything, including appetizers and entrees that a few classmates had ordered. It struck me that I was now being asked to reimburse our professor for twice the cost of my drink and pay for food I didn’t order.
This wasn’t an isolated incident. In grad school, within a few hours of meeting a new friend, I remember being asked to go in on a bottle of wine for their engagement or a baby shower gift. My initial reaction was, “remind me who you are again?”
It felt like saying “no” was just not an option.
Beyond celebratory drinks, some of our professors would host weekly potlucks, asking us to bring in food for our classmates to enjoy. Hauling cheese and fruit platters to class and making pasta salads wasn’t part of my food budget.
At the time, I was earning an hourly wage as a research assistant, which meant not getting paid for any hours I had missed. Most of my classmates, by contrast, were older and more established in their careers.
It might sound petty. But when your chronic illness restricts the number of hours you can work, being asked to chip in regularly for food and gifts can be stressful.
Talking with friends about money is never easy, but here are some tips that can make it less awkward.
The pressure to land the “perfect summer gig” started in high school. Whether it was raking in tips at a restaurant or getting that coveted employee discount at your favorite clothing store, summer felt less like a break and more of a time to ramp up your earnings.
This mindset changed in 2010 when I began having severe migraine episodes.
I was in grad school and needed to take a few months off from work. Thankfully, I was able to take on summer work to make up for the lost time and money. I wore sunglasses indoors and printed out assigned readings, which helped to reduce screen time and ease my migraine symptoms, but keeping up was still a challenge.
Now that my work is year-round, trying to maximize my productivity during the summer isn’t sustainable. When I am pulled into the “summer job mindset,” I try to remember that it’s common to have different peaks and valleys of productivity.
Having a regular salary certainly helps, but I also have to remind myself that I have different financial goals from my friends.
Few people land a well-paying job on their first try, and sometimes, it takes several job changes to get to a salary that you feel comfortable with. It can help to acknowledge your life stage and its impact on your work. No two people are on the exact same timeline or journey, and that is OK.
I’ve started having conversations with friends about what they value. I often hear them focus on having a flexible work schedule or making a meaningful contribution to others. These are values that I share, even if I feel like I am at a different stage in my life.
Conversations like these have helped expand my perspective on what it means to work while living with migraine. Having stability and flexibility is important when you can’t be assured of your health.
Socializing doesn’t have to involve spending money. Instead of shopping or going out for drinks, you can suggest activities that don’t cost anything like going for a walk, doing a clothing swap, baking treats, or hosting a movie marathon.
For instance, I might decide to skip certain outings for more affordable ones. Another strategy is setting clear expectations for what to do when the bill comes. It can be helpful to be upfront at the beginning of the meal about what you’re comfortable spending.
Unless you lay it on the table and disclose what each of you earn, you can’t predict your friends’ salaries just because they work at a particular company or hold a certain title. A friend might be earning more than you but could also be paying off a large amount of student debt.
At a previous job, I found out that my starting salary was higher than what my friend had been offered for a similar role. She had more work experience, but our boss felt that my qualifications were more relevant to the work we were doing.
My friend felt resentful but, after talking through it, we both used it as an opportunity to advocate for ourselves and ask for more.
Another aspect of money that can become ingrained in childhood is the idea of saving up for a big purchase.
As an adult, especially when big-ticket items like a car or house are far from reach, that same practice can mean saving up for “small” purchases like a latte or “medium” luxuries like new clothes. These luxuries, large and small, can be about treating yourself, wanting to keep up with your friends, or both.
To normalize saving, I chat with friends about job precarity and fears of not having a stable income. With some friends, I share concerns about not being able to work because of migraine, anxiety issues, and the lingering effects of the COVID-19 virus.
This kind of open communication can help your friends understand why you’re saving instead of spending.
It’s easy to make assumptions about how much money your friends are earning and spending each month. What can help curb jealousy and resentment is recognizing where you are versus where you hope to be financially.
You might not be able to work as much as your friends. You might not have landed your dream job. Or you might be starting over in a new career.
With respect to work and money, focus on setting intentions rather than goals. Intentions are more about your feelings, whereas goals might be connected to specific achievements or milestones.
One intention I have is to spend money on friends because I want to and not because I feel pressured to. Another is that I want some aspect of my work to be meaningful, even if it doesn’t add to my earnings.
Fact checked on September 28, 2022
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