Can friendship survive the wealth divide?

Can friendship survive the wealth divide How for richer or poorer doesn't count when it comes to your friends

No money, no friends When strapped for cash it can be hard to keep up with friends who earn more (posed by model)

No money, no friends When strapped for cash it can be hard to keep up with friends who earn more (posed by model)

Recently, an old friend invited me on a luxury spa weekend to mark her birthday. But I had to turn her down.

She has a brilliant career, no children, a rich boyfriend and enjoys the best life has to offer. I have four children, work part-time (so I earn less) and my husband’s business has been hit by the recession.

I simply can’t keep up with her in the financial stakes and it’s destroying our once strong friendship.

But it’s not just me. Other people I
know tell me they are experiencing the friendship wealth gap. Nearly
always, the richer friend tires of the poorer one’s inability to keep up
with their lifestyle and drops them.

didn’t realise what a big part my salary played in my friendships until
I lost it,’ says Gaby Seymour, 45. ‘It hurt when friends stopped
calling me.’

2010, she was made redundant from her 100,000-a-year job in the City as
a business manager. After a year of searching in vain for a job, she
has set up a consultancy firm, but has yet to draw a salary.

City friends dropped away pretty fast after I lost my job,’ says Gaby,
who lives in London with her husband James and son Will, six.
‘One friend did invite us out to a restaurant, but as I was struggling
to pay the mortgage that was out of the question. After I turned him
down a few times, he stopped asking.

‘The most humiliating experience was being forced to sell my five-bedroom house to a colleague. I’d run out of money and had to downsize to a three-bedroom semi. I felt so mortified I couldn’t look her in the eye during the viewings.’

Gaby is far from alone in losing friends when she lost her job.

‘It’s difficult to maintain
friendships with people who have radically different finances,’ says Dr
Rick Norris, a psychologist and author of Think Yourself Happy. ‘When
people have a big win on the Lottery, they find it hard to retain old
friendships because their wealth means they suddenly have far more
choices in life.'

At least I can take comfort that in these straitened times I am not alone.

Lang, 56, from Soham, Cambridgeshire, has also found that her
friendships have crumbled since splitting from her partner of 12 years.

‘We had never married, so I ended up with almost nothing when we split up,’ she says. She has worked as an executive PA, but is currently unemployed and living on Jobseeker’s Allowance.

According to psychologist Dr Rick Norris, when people have a big win on the Lottery, they find it hard to retain old friendships

According to psychologist Dr Rick Norris, when people have a big win on the Lottery, they find it hard to retain old friendships

‘I’m broke. In fact, I am thousands of pounds in debt, while my friends are so well off they have paid off their mortgages,’ she says. ‘They are sick of me being penniless. I am an embarrassment to them. I have lost touch with some friends who were worried my bad luck would rub off on them.

‘I can’t afford the petrol to visit friends in other parts of the country, and I can’t make any new friends because I don’t have the money to go out I can’t afford to go on a dating website to meet someone, so most nights I just stay in and stare at the four walls.

‘One friend still asks me round without expecting invitations in return. She pretends she has a new recipe to try out on me to make me feel better. I try to contribute by doing the washing up or helping with the gardening, but I always feel as if I am the poor relation and it’s horrible.

‘I’d like to invite people back to my house for a meal, but food is expensive. It’s embarrassing that my house is shabby and I have cheap toiletries in my bathroom.’

Christine Halliwell, 50, from Folkestone, Kent, shares Sara’s predicament.
‘Next weekend, all my friends are going to London to see a show,’ she says. ‘The tickets cost 85, not to mention the train fares and a meal out. I simply can’t afford to go.

‘I always tell them I’m too busy because I don’t want them to feel sorry for me or, even worse, offer to pay for me. What hurts the most is that I used to be able to keep up with them and now I feel so humiliated.

‘When I was married, I had a
comfortable lifestyle. I didn’t work and split my time between a
four-bedroom house in Kent and a villa in Dubai where my husband was
working. When we divorced, I was much worse off. When my best friend
celebrated her silver wedding she hired a house in Norfolk. Everyone was
meant to chip in towards the cost and the weekend would have cost 350.

‘I just couldn’t
afford it, so I told her I couldn’t go because I was working that
weekend. I know I hurt her, but I was too embarrassed to tell her the
real reason. It’s so awful being broke.'

47,000 is the annual income you need to be happy, according to a
study at Princeton University

'It’s not just the poorer friend who can find it hard to cope. Sally Kent, 35, from London, is a private tutor, married to Adam, a lawyer.

‘We earn good money and enjoy our lifestyle,’ she says. ‘The problem is that not all of my friends have done so well — they simply don’t earn as much as we do.

One is a struggling artist and it makes me feel guilty when we invite her out because I know she can’t afford it. I have offered to pay for her, but she always turns me down and I don’t want to offend her.

‘I know I don’t socialise with her as much as I used to, but the difference in our incomes has become awkward. I do feel bad that I don’t see her as much, but I don’t know how to include her without patronising her, so I have ended up avoiding her.’

So does a fall in income have to spell the end of a friendship Not necessarily, according to Dr Norris.

‘In Britain, we don’t like to mention money,’ he says. ‘We are uneasy about discussing it with friends and our pride will mean we make excuses not to join in rather than admit we can’t afford to. But you can preserve your friendship, no matter how different your incomes. If you are the more affluent friend, be considerate of your less well-off friend’s feelings.

‘No one likes to be treated like a charity case, so even if you pay for dinner, let your friend contribute by buying the coffees or dessert.

‘If you have less money, rather than turning down invitations from wealthier friends, suggest doing cheaper things, such as going for a walk or visiting a museum rather than going out for dinner. Remember that your friendship is worth more than your pride.’

So perhaps it is time to call my rich friend and suggest a girl’s night in as a belated birthday celebration.