Talking About Being Cash Poor

Logan: This has been a week of not spending for me, because I already spent all my money and we don’t get paid for … some days. And this is fine. This is how it works, for me, for now. I spend my money and do what I want and then I have some days before payday where I eat rice and tortillas and stay home and it’s good. Rejuvenating. The only tricky part for me is, when friends ask to hang out, I never know quite what to say: “I wish I could but I have literally zero dollars?” Does that make it sound like I’m asking for them to cover me? I don’t want it to sound like that.

Mike: I think rather than say, “Hey, I can’t go out to dinner or to the bar because I have no money,” you can say, “I’m low on funds at the moment until I get paid next week, how about we [insert whatever fun activity that doesn’t require money] instead?” Money is required to do things that require money, but it’s not required to just hang out with your friends. One of my friends just returned from a trip, and we haven’t seen each other in about a month, so if I don’t get snowed in this weekend, I’m planning on heading over to her apartment to catch up. “Just bring yourself!” she said. “I have wine!” I also think it helps to have friends who are just as happy to stay in and have a glass of wine and catch up on old episodes of Nashville, or Downton or Top Chef. I do have friends who are more than happy to go out and spend to have a good time, as well. It’s a balance, right? Some weeks you go out, some weeks you don’t.

Logan: I think there’s a difference between saying, I’m saving for this thing, and saying, my bank account has only enough money for my bills in it, that is it. Is it smart or good to be that vulnerable—to admit, I spent all my money, I’m low on funds—or if it’s something to be kept “hidden.” I mean, everyone knows everything about me because I tell everyone everything about me. I’ve just been thinking lately about other ways to live life. Like maybe, not tell everyone everything. And why one might do that. It seems novel, to me. Keeping a secret. Saving face.

Mike: I think it really depends on what kind of relationship you have with your friends. You and I have the sort of relationship where we’re completely candid about everything. You know all about my money and I know all about yours, and it’s all very good and fine. When we do go out, and you offer to pay for a drink or something I say, “Nope, I will pay for myself!” Because I know that’s not something you should be doing. And that’s completely fine and normal and nobody feels bad about anything. I also have friends where they don’t know all of my business and I don’t know theirs and it’s a completely different relationship. So maybe the difference here is that I only tell close friends everything, and you are just completely open to everyone about everything? And yes, I think having a lot of these matters posted on a website makes it a little more difficult to keep secrets—they just have to read our site!

Logan: Ha yes. I guess I’m thinking back to the Before Times (when I was using lines of credit), I used to get annoyed with people who were like, “Oh I can’t, I don’t have the money.” Because to me that just felt like an excuse. Haven’t you heard of Visa? Yuk, yuk, yuk. But then also it gave me an opportunity to be say, “Oh that’s all? I will pay!” Because I had heard of Visa.

Last night a friend bought me wine and pizza, but that didn’t feel bad because we sort of take turns having no money. Plus also I hate it when I offer to pay for you and you say no!

Mike: I’m trying to recall times when friends have said they couldn’t do something because they couldn’t or didn’t want to spend money, and what my reaction was. You know, it’s never been a big deal. My reaction has been, “Oh, okay, next time!” And we do have next time. And that is fine. I look forward to those next times! And I think it’s never been issue because when friends have said they didn’t have the money to do something, they always had a very reasonable qualifier for it. “We can’t go to dinner this time, because we’re saving money for our trip to Egypt.” Or because they’re putting money in a wedding fund, or whatever else. I think it’s important to recognize that there will be next times, and those times will be just as fun. And Logan, you know completely good and well why I turn down your offers to pay.

Logan: Ha, well, yes. This all basically comes back to self-loathing, I’m sure. Because you know, why am I out of money this week? Is it because of some actually really good reason? No. It’s because I had a bad couple of weeks and took myself out to too many dinners, oops. And then took a car home from a party, oops. And then went to the bar, oops. So I feel like, yeah, this is punishment in a way, not being able to hang out with friends, but also … it just seems weird to me not to tell people why. I don’t want to come off like I’m saying woe is me because I’m not. I mean, I am, but not in “pity me” way. I know I did this too myself. In other news, I no longer have a journal and am just using this website for that, apparently.

Mike: I do think “I can’t go out to dinner tonight because I spent all of my money and am waiting for my next paycheck” is a good reason to say you can’t do something. And let’s be honest here, the jig is up. I’m sure your friends know what the deal is. A number of faceless strangers reading our conversation right now know what the deal is. Not being able to go out to dinner because you spent it all shouldn’t feel like a punishment. You can’t punish yourself for not being able to go out to dinner because … you already went out to dinner! That’s where that money went. We can’t always go out to dinner (unless you are like Yaffa and work two side jobs to have the funds to do so). This is the truth of the matter. The reason I can go out to dinner with friends tomorrow is because this is a monthly thing we do with each other. We’re not going out to dinner every week, so we have the funds to have one nice one a month. You could say I punished myself by not going out to dinner last weekend so I could go out to dinner this weekend, but I don’t see it that way. So I think it’s about perspectives here.

Logan: Well thank god this has all just been hypothetical. I mean, I am out of money, that’s not hypothetical. But worrying about what to tell people when they ask me to do things I can’t afford to do? Have you looked out the window?! It’s a blizzard! No one is going anywhere tonight. Maybe it will last all weekend.

Mike: Forced austerity is sometimes the best austerity.


25 Comments / Post A Comment

In grad school it was really super common for people to bow out of things due to lack of money. It never seemed weird. If you don’t want to tell everyone everything, you don’t have to go into detail about how you have zero dollars until your next paycheck, just say something like “no, I think I’ll pass, I’m trying not to spend money this weekend.” For all they know it IS because you are saving for a thing.

sockhopbop (#764)

@MilesofMountains Grad school is also the best for shared broke socializing! Since nobody ever had any money there was just a lot of hiking and make-your-own-tacos and drinking Charles Shaw while watching teen soaps. Movies only at the discount theater. Good times.

I too am pumped for forced austerity weekend of blizzards, because this week I bought a plane ticket to San Fran for my birthday weekend ($320 cross-country!) and a bridesmaid dress ($170 + $20 shipping). So many dollars, flying by.

LDW@twitter (#1,216)

@MilesofMountains Yes! One of the wonderful things about grad school is that we were all getting paid the same amount at the same time and there would be that week before the next paycheck where people just weren’t really going out and everyone understood why.

Logan: don’t beat yourself up. This is basically what happens even when people are being responsible. “Some days” before you get paid the money dries up and you’re white-knuckling it until the next pay day.

I want to passive-aggressively post this on facebook (but I won’t, because that’s passive aggressive and that’s shitty), because I have a couple-friend who just never understood that my boyfriend and I had a budget, and once that budget was spent, that was it until payday. We couldn’t go out to dinner with them at the drop of a hat, because we hadn’t budgeted for it, and they then judged us for going out other times/buying things instead of going out with them. When really, if they had asked us even 5 days in advance instead of that night, we could have budgeted for and gone out with them instead of doing whatever else we ended up spending money on.

We occasionally invite them out to someplace in our budget/on our own timeline, but it’s so stressful trying to see them and have them respect our budget that it’s just not worth it.

sunflowernut (#1,638)

@polka dots vs stripes I mean, after a certain point those people aren’t even friends. If they just make you feel bad all the time, they aren’t acting like friends, at least.

@sunflowernut Yeah they have moved “far” (about 90 minutes-two hours away) and we have no plans to ever see them again.

EvanDeSimone (#2,101)

When I run into this problem I find that my biggest worry is that people will become too sensitive to the issue. For instance if I say “Sorry I can’t go out tonight, i don’t have the cash” I don’t want people to assume that they should never ask me to do things becaue I am always poor and it will be uncomfortable for me. Usually if I can’t afford to do something it’s not a permanent condition and I don’t want to miss out on future outings.

@EvanDeSimone yes yes yes yes yes yes

@EvanDeSimone I used to worry about that, too! My budget gives me 1 dinner/drinks night out each paycheck, so I always suggest another time, like “Yes! I definitely want to do dinner, but I’m a little low on cash until next week – are you free after Friday?” Sometimes I don’t even say I can’t do it because I’m low on cash, just that I’m not available, but I could do X day or X day! That way I don’t always feel like I’m the one who’s bowing out due to low funds, but I can also still see my friends.

jfruh (#161)

You can’t punish yourself for not being able to go out to dinner because … you already went out to dinner!

This is probably a great way of thinking about it? You only have so many dinners out (this is true of almost everybody, the number of people in America who could literally afford to eat out for every meal is quite small) and you happened to eat them all in a row, that’s all. Don’t think “austerity,” think “I’m spacing out my dinners.”

Sallymander (#3,159)

“You could say I punished myself by not going out to dinner last weekend so I could go out to dinner this weekend, but I don’t see it that way.”

Good one, Mike! It’s easy to see something as punishment when its occurrence happens to be a negative following a positive, but of course that’s not the case and money is just money; it doesn’t judge but it does only go so far, unfortunately…

I generally just make a dorky joke out of it – “I’m suffering from temporary liquidity issues” or “We’re implementing some austerity measures this week.”

@spectacularisms “temporary liquidity issues” <3 <3

@spectacularisms I often talk about my household being on an austerity plan, and could we reschedule to next week when our funds are replenished?

dudeascending (#1,921)

I have zero shame for telling friends that I have no money to spend. Weirdly enough, while I’m not embarrassed, the ones who I assume make a lot more than I do (lawyers, engineers, etc.) get really embarrassed and/or apologetic. Higher-earning friends, it’s all good. You earned your big dollas; spend them how you want!

tuntastic (#2,769)

Faceless strangers! Hurtful.

Mike Dang (#2)

Oh you know I adore each and everyone on here.

selenana (#673)

@tuntastic @Mike Dang Says the person with no face on their avatar!

tuntastic (#2,769)

@selenana I don’t know how :( :( :(

selenana (#673)

@tuntastic If you’re logged in, you should see a “settings” link under the comment box. Click it and it will lead to your profile and you can upload a pic/avatar there! :)

Slutface (#53)

I suffer from this too. When I’m home alone eating rice cakes with peanut butter, I remind myself that it’s just this one weekend and I’ll have money to go out again soon. There are lots of nights out waiting for me when I can afford them.

221b (#2,933)

This article is perfectly timed for me – after putting a chunk of money in savings (and then budgeting badly with the remainder), I’m down to nearly no money, and have spent… £2 in the last week. It’s been challenging and horrible and also weirdly fun, in a self-denying kind of way. Historically, I am appalling with money, so I’m trying to learn new habits (bring a packed lunch to work, have drinks at home instead of out, etc.)

The hardest part has been acknowledging that I can’t go along to all my friends’ meetups and try to do them cheaply – I have to actively turn them down. I live in London, and my friends are scattered all over the city, so we all have to travel to meet up. This means we have fallen into the habit of meeting up for dinner on a weekly (or more, oh god, so untenable) basis, just because, well, when else will we eat?! After a couple of attempts – either not eating (so terrible), or ordering the cheapest thing on the menu (depressing, not actually that cheap) – I’ve realised that trying to make it work on a shoestring is waaay more stressful than politely saying, “sorry guys, maybe next time?”

The dumb thing is, none of us can really afford the lifestyle we’ve become used to – and I think if ALL OF US practised doing things on the cheap, we’d all be a lot happier/more relaxed about money. Instead, we have developed a complex system of borrowing/lending/sharing/panicking. I used to tease my boyfriend for being a penny-pincher – nope, actually, he’s just super-good with money. Sooo much humble pie to eat.

Megano! (#124)

I avoid this issue by having friends who have about the same amount of money as I do.

smack (#307)

If I’m broke or whatever, I don’t mention “oh I have no money” since it DOES come off as either “cover me” or martyrish/judgey so I just say “oh sorry, we’ve got plans. Maybe next week?”

I’m not sure why disclosing your financial state is necessary.

I always feel guilty about saying no, because the truth is, if it’s something I REALLY want to do, I’ll find the cash (because, duh, I’ve heard of Visa!), but I will say no on account of low funds when it’s a person or activity I’m not interested in. But then I think that the friends I say no to will see my check in at X Fancy Restaurant on Facebook and think “Well, she must just not like me!” and then they’ll stop inviting me out. Hmmm… I guess that’s not so bad.
Moral of the story: People I don’t like with shitty plans – stop asking me to hang out, I’m poor.

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