What It’s Like To Be the Broke Friend

What It’s Like To Be the Broke Friend

Last weekend, a friend texted me and asked if I wanted to go out for drinks. It was a Saturday night and I was tucked in bed re-watching Season 5 of “Scandal” on Netflix because I had nothing better to do. Given the week I’d had, I definitely could’ve used a drink or three that night, but I politely declined the invite and explained to her that I didn’t have any extra money in my budget for margaritas with friends at the time. She texted back, “Ok.”

The week before that, another friend messaged me on Snapchat, asking if I had any plans for New Years Eve. I messaged her back and told her that I didn’t have anything planned at the time, but that I probably wouldn’t be doing anything because I was currently in between jobs. My friend let me know that she was planning a NYE party and that she wanted me there. She was sure to iterate that the party was free so money couldn’t be my excuse for not showing up. I told her that I’d try to make it and asked that she let me know all the details once they were finalized.

“MY POINT IS TO ILLUSTRATE JUST HOW LOW AND FUCKED-UP IT FEELS TO BE THE BROKE FRIEND IN THE BUNCH.”

Then, back in October, a college friend and I met up at Panera for a catch-up session. Our meet-up was long overdue given that we hadn’t seen each other in person in a couple of years since we’d finished graduate school. After agreeing on the day and time, we had to figure out where we would meet at. This is when I had to admit to her that I couldn’t afford to go anywhere too pricey, so it would have to be a cheaper spot like Panera or Potbelly (yes, I’m aware that both of these places could be considered expensive). Thankfully, my friend was more than willing to meet and eat at Panera, so everything worked out.

While there are a dozen other examples I could give about times when I had to disclose my financial woes to friends in an effort to explain why I had to pass on an invite to dinner, fun birthday celebrations, or out-of-town vacations, those are the most recent examples that I care to share.

My point in sharing these instances are to illustrate just how low and fucked-up it feels to be the broke friend in the bunch. Being the friend who always has an excuse as to why she can’t go to that concert, or afford to go to drinks for so-and-so’s birthday, or attend next summer’s girls trip to Jamaica because her money is funny. Being the friend who has to cancel a dinner date at the last minute because her paycheck was short because her boss had to unexpectedly cut her hours at the job that she hates but that she can’t quit because she needs the money to keep her head above water. Being the friend who can never afford to buy birthday gifts for friends or pay friends back after they’ve loaned her money or treated her to lunch.

Existing in this space of constant financial insecurity and experiencing the shame attached to this struggle is uncomfortable and maddening all at once. At times, it’s forced me to question why I went to college for six years to earn two degrees that have yet to guarantee me a salaried position in my field or even a stable job with basic benefits. Then, when I think about the relatives and friends I know who have way less education than I do, who are in salaried positions where they’re able to save money, shop, and still afford to live comfortably, I worry that I made the wrong decision to pursue college.

“STARTING FROM THE BOTTOM MEANS THAT I HAVE TO ACCEPT THAT IT’S GOING TO TAKE ME WAY LONGER THAN IT TOOK THOSE OF FORMER GENERATIONS TO SETTLE INTO A CAREER…”

In fact, there are days when I have fleeting thoughts about what my life would be if I’d ditched my college scholarships and offers, stayed home, and kept working odd jobs in the customer service industry. At the very least, I wouldn’t have to worry about swimming in student loan debt and have more of a valid reason for my financial struggle, right?

Deep down, I know that going to college was the right decision and the best thing for me in the long-term. My degrees are mine; I earned them and no one can take them from me or invalidate them. Sure, my college education and experience has yet to land me a good-paying, 9-5 job in my field with the 401k plan and health benefits as the American Dream promises us. And no, I’m not in a place where I can pay all my bills, shop ’til I drop, go out every week with my girls, and still have enough money to throw towards my savings account.

But quite frankly, as someone from a working-class family who is a first-generation college graduate, I know that I’m starting from the very bottom. When I walked across the stage for my Master’s degree in 2014, there wasn’t anything back at home waiting on me. There was no trust fund, no car, no amazing job prospects. None of that. It was just my childhood bedroom that my mom was gracious enough to allow me to return to until I found a job and landed on my feet. (FYI: I’m still living at home with my mom because the cost of living in Chicago is too damn high.)

“…I KNOW I’M MAKING THE RIGHT MOVES TO BE IN A BETTER, MORE FINANCIALLY SECURE PLACE IN THE FUTURE.”

This is real fucking life, though. Starting from the very bottom means that I have to accept that it’s going to take me way longer than it took those of former generations to settle into a career, to pay off my student loans, to build wealth and capital, and to buy property. While these things are not impossible, they’re much harder to do for someone like me who comes from an immediate family that doesn’t own any property, never graduated from college, didn’t built solid careers in any particular field, and didn’t have access to jobs that allowed them to save a whole lot of money for their offspring.

I doubt I’ll ever get to a place where I don’t feel some sense of shame or guilt about my financial situation, especially when I have to tell a friend that I have to miss out on drinks and appetizers because I just cannot afford to spend money on fun, frivolous shit right now. But, at least I know that I’m making the right moves to be in a better, more financially secure place in the near future. And really, that’s all that I can do.

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16 Comments

  1. Raven
    Sunday, December 4, 2016 / 5:26 pm

    Drea! This is the well-written truth! I find myself having the same thoughts about college. Like what if I had followed my first mind sophomore year by dropping out and taking some time off? But like you, I see the benefits of following through. I chop it up to being a part of the experience. I’m learning to enjoy the financial-strained ride lol.

    • Tuesday, December 27, 2016 / 9:45 pm

      LOL at “financial-strained ride.” That’s a hilarious, albeit very true way, of describing our current situation. I get your point, though. There are hella benefits to living at home and not having to deal with the stresses of sky-high rent in Chicago, annoying or shady ass roommates, and all the other problems that come when you’re living any place other than home. And you’re absolutely right: this is simply part of the millennial experience; I know I’m not alone in feeling this way. As always, thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts!

  2. Sunday, December 4, 2016 / 5:36 pm

    Oh Drea Drea Drea…girl you just may be my long lost soul sister. Financial woes, financial schmoes. Talk about how a post can resonate with someone…

    I remember you leaving a comment on one of my posts recently in response to my oh so cleverly vague association to a decision I was battling with. And BOOM! You comment the EXACT thing I was contemplating…quitting my job. And that is EXACTLY what I did. (i def jumped off a cliff) Yes, we have degrees (you 2, me 1) and no, no one can invalidate them but I sometimes wonder…is mine really valid?! There is always a what if I didn’t go to college question floating above our heads. But know this, NOTHING is a coincidence. Never feel bad for saying no and remember that you have a talent. Find what that is and do it damn well. You WILL be compensated.

    I feel a chat brewing boo! Loved this post, lady. Thank you for your transparency.

    • Tuesday, December 27, 2016 / 10:01 pm

      Uuuuuughhhh! That’s the thing: we’ve been sold this dream and told these lies about how college is going to prepare us for success in the “real world,” and then we witness people without degrees in the “real world” doing big things. It’s like… but how??!? I feel you, though. Getting through college and graduating was no coincidence and this will eventually pay off someday. It’s all about staying low, building, grinding, and putting in the work and the patience. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts, Camille! Oh, and you know I’m gonna always keep it 100! 😉

  3. Sunday, December 4, 2016 / 8:29 pm

    Drea….my same thoughts, you just put them in black & white. I have been there done that and still there from time-to-time when it comes to my finances. I don’t have a degee, but I have college course credits. I often battle with myself if I want to go back and complete, but will it be worth it? But am I’m sure getting a degee will guarantee more $$ or just more debt, but I earned it, right? Things will work out for the best for you and I know it may seem you’re at the bottom, but baby your come up will be LIT. I will be here for it and cheering you on. This was a great well written post. One of the reasons I really dig you is that you are so transparent.

    • Tuesday, December 27, 2016 / 9:54 pm

      Lord Jesus, I pray that my come-up will be LIT! After all this struggle and darkness and sadness, it better be! Thank you so much for your encouraging words, Bobbie. Seriously, it means so much to me that you’ve been supporting my writing for all this time. I hope to remain as transparent and real as possible because I know that we’re missing that from blogging.

      Now as for your college situation…I say go for it and finish it! Sure, more debt is never something you want to have, but consider it as a form of “good” debt because you’re investing in yourself and your future. High school diplomas/GEDS and in most cases, Bachelor degrees are the bare minimum for jobs nowadays. If you want to better position yourself for the future of the workforce, I say get that degree and some certificates on the side if you can. Once I get my finances together, I want to go for a few certifications in different fields. I want to make myself as marketable as possible so that no opportunities can pass me by.

  4. Monday, December 5, 2016 / 11:12 pm

    I just happened to come by your blog link on twitter and After reading this post I’m glad I did. This was so real and I completely understand where you’re coming from with this one! But don’t worry girl, you will rise above your situation and your come up will be glorious! Thank you for your honesty and I look forward to more!

    • Tuesday, December 27, 2016 / 9:34 pm

      Yay for Twitter bringing us together! The come-up/glow-up will be so real just as soon as my money gets right; I have to believe that. And yes, please check back for more or follow the blog on Bloglovin so you can be alerted when I drop new content. Thanks so much for reading and commenting, Symone!

  5. Tuesday, December 6, 2016 / 3:16 pm

    Hey Drea,

    Great post. I’m finally working regularly again so I’m not too far removed from financial struggles. I used to be ashamed of being broke but fuck that! It’s not like you’re a shiftless, able-bodied person who isn’t actively working towards something better. Now, that is cause for embarrassment.

    Whenever I started to feel that way I asked myself why I was really ashamed. What did not having money say about me? I discovered that what I thought it said about me and what was actually true were two totally different things. Nowadays I will tell my friends/family iaintgotnomoneyicantgo all in one breath and I’m totally fine with it. If I have friends who don’t have $, we can hit up the free museums, hang out at their place, whatever.

    Anyway, you already know I think you’re super talented, hard-working and intelligent so your broke days are definitely temporary😊

    • Tuesday, December 27, 2016 / 11:03 pm

      Hey Kenya! Thanks for reading and sharing your perspective on this and saying such nice things about me! 🙂 You’re right – I have been working towards bigger and better things for myself. I guess I haven’t been looking at it in that way, so I often feel stuck in the same spot, even though I am making moves. The source of my shame is from a place that feels as if I’m *always* the one who’s missing out on experiences because of my financial circumstance. When I look around social media and in real life and nearly everyone in my circle except me seems to be taking vacations, going to the mall whenever they want, getting manis and pedis, I just feel like those things are luxuries I rarely, if ever, get to experience, even though I feel like I’m working my ass off. Some days I feel like, “Damn, when will it be my turn?” You know? I certainly have girlfriends who’ll offer to pay or to do free activities. But I usually decline because in my head, I see it as them trying to cater to my financial situation and that’s not something I want my friends to have to do. I don’t know, I don’t know… I have to take it one day at a time.

  6. Kia
    Saturday, December 10, 2016 / 2:28 am

    I know exactly how you feel. It does suck, but I am hopeful that things will get better. You’ll get where you need to be eventually. This is all temporary like a previous commenter said.

    • Tuesday, December 27, 2016 / 9:31 pm

      Thank you for the encouragement, Kia. 🙂

  7. Wednesday, December 14, 2016 / 7:00 pm

    I read an interesting perspective today that said when will people learn that there is no middle class but just a bunch of people drowning in debt to prove they aren’t poor. I commend you for being conscious of your financial situation and not trying to “fake it til you make it” and stunt with friends going to things you can’t afford. Some of those very people might be working poor and doing things they cant really afford either. I don’t have any “rich” friends most of the people I know with jobs still have very tight budgets and making it to the next paycheck as well. My Husband’s family is well off so he has no idea what money problems are…but for me I grew up with a single working class Mom and I’ve had to earn every single thing I’ve ever owned or acquired in life. Honestly, sometimes I wonder as well what path my life would have been if I had ditched college and became a novelist (my ultimate dream). *sighs* I think we all have regrets, we all have money issues, and we are all trying to make it. Maybe you should apply for jobs in the South you can live for cheap here girl and we have all the good food!

    • Tuesday, December 27, 2016 / 10:26 pm

      Your upbringing is similar to mine. My mom was a single parent, worked full time, and raised four children by herself. I was working and contributing financially to our household before I was 16 years old, and it hasn’t stopped since. And I’ve actually contemplated relocating to the south several times, specifically to Texas or Georgia. Every time I give it some thought, I hesitate to act on the move because of money. I’d want to have thousands of dollars saved, a decent job lined up, and a place to live before trekking down south. And girl, I’ve heard far too many sweet stories about the cost of living down south and all the good eating! With the exception of the humidity, I know I’d love living in the south. I want to relocate by the time I’m 30.

      P.S. As much as you read, I know you’d make a great novelist. You should write a short story just to see where it leads and what you can do. You could publish it as an e-book and it could be a hit on Amazon or something. Just sayin’… 😉

  8. Thursday, December 22, 2016 / 3:18 pm

    Drea… girl, I feel you, like for real. The part of this post that sticks out the most is being a first-generation college graduate coming back home to live then working jobs not in your career field. It’s that awkward moment when you question if the degree was really worth it. Like you, I know that college was in the cards for me and worth it. One day we’ll look back at our small beginnings and smile at how far we’ve come. Your writing is A1.

    Jas | http://www.jasminediane.com

    • Tuesday, December 27, 2016 / 9:39 pm

      I swear to you, Jas, I don’t think my writing here fully captured all of the different emotions I feel being right back where I started before I left for college (at home with my mom and siblings in the same ol’ hood). I feel stuck sometimes, as if there has been no upward movement for me. But then, I have to snap out of it and check myself because I know that I’ve made moves, accomplished stuff, and that I actually am on the up and up. It’s just a slower climb to the top (wherever the “top” may be). Like you said, small beginnings. I have to keep that in mind. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts with me.

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