How to talk about money with your mates and not ruin the friendship

There's nothing wrong with earning the big bucks, is there?

After all, if you've made it to executive level, you've likely put in some huge hours and managed not only large teams of people, but eye-watering budgets too.

There's only one problem: while you may be on a well-deserved wicket, it can be awkward if you know your friends or family are earning significantly less, or perhaps even struggling financially.

So if you find yourself in this (admittedly enviable) situation, is it OK to be proud of your monetary success and the privileges that come with it – or should you zip your lip for fear of being viewed as a bragger?

More is less is...

Claudia Hammond, a British university lecturer in psychology and author of the book Mind Over Money, says it pays to remember that just because you make more than others, it doesn't necessarily mean you work harder.

"Different types of jobs pay hugely varying amounts nowadays and it's important to acknowledge that just because you earn more it doesn't mean that you are more successful or more deserving of that income," says Hammond.

"Acknowledge with a smile that you've been lucky to have the opportunities you've had, even if you do secretly think it was all down to your own hard work."

Money matters

If you think that your income isn't relevant to those around you, you may want to think again.

In the late 1990s, a well-known study asked about 250 Harvard staff and students whether they'd prefer to earn $50,000 a year if everyone else typically earned half that, or if they'd prefer to make $100,000 if most others made $200,000.


Perhaps surprisingly, about half the respondents preferred a world in which they earned only $50,000 – as long as their relative income was higher than others'.

If you are handsomely paid, Hammond warns that you should never imply that wealth is some kind of burden, or brag about the amount you make.

"At the same time don't try to pretend that money doesn't matter," she says. "If you're struggling financially then there's nothing more annoying than a rich friend pretending they don't really care."

Tight lipped

Tim, a management consultant who would prefer to remain anonymous, says he doesn't tend to discuss money with friends. Or if it does come up, it's in a more general sense.

"I don't feel guilty for earning good money, I've worked hard. But money does not define me or my mates," he says. "I'm quite happy to say I get paid well but I never discuss precise numbers."

Besides, he doesn't equate earning a lot of money with being successful: "I thought that when I started my working career, but I certainly don't now."

Cash in context

Psychologist Dr Jo Mitchell, co-founder of The Mind Room, believes it's OK to discuss money, depending on the context.

"If I'm talking about money to shame or belittle another person, or to build myself up and make myself look good, I think that can be really destructive, " she says.

"Whereas if you're talking about money as a tool for connecting people and for giving back to the world or talking about money in terms of the opportunities it creates, I think that's a really different discussion."

If you do have cash to splash, should you be shouting the drinks or paying for that expensive restaurant or golf game?

What goes around

Dr Mitchell suggests sharing the love if you can, at least occasionally.

"You can create opportunities, so you could say 'let's go away for the weekend, I've got the accommodation sorted' - so that part of the expenses are taken away.

"I think it's just about being respectful about the meaning of money for people, because sometimes a lack of money is very tied up in pride."

What about the often-awkward situation of a friend asking for a loan? Is it a recipe for disaster?

Tim says he'd be happy to loan money to a friend if he or she had forgotten to grab some cash, but for larger amounts he thinks twice.

"I once had a mate ask to borrow a few thousand dollars to help him buy a dog. I said no, and I told him it was because I said I did not want our friendship to be impacted if he did not pay me back."

Good credit

While it's important to have an awareness of how money, or the lack thereof, can affect all of our lives, Dr Mitchell says how much anyone earns is rarely a basis for friendship.

"Usually the reason why you're mates with anyone is not about how much money either of you have – there's something that you bond over," she says.

"So be aware of each other's perspectives but also focus on the things that actually connect you."

Have talks about money ever effected your friendships? Share your experience in the comments section below.