Lee Suckling: Let's not be funny about money

12 comments
If you're the higher-earner and intent on ordering Moet (why shouldn't you?) be sensitive about your friends' financial situations.
Photo / 123RF
If you're the higher-earner and intent on ordering Moet (why shouldn't you?) be sensitive about your friends' financial situations. Photo / 123RF

People are funny about money.

How many times have you come to the end of a restaurant meal with friends, and had absolutely no idea what it's all about to cost you? Will you split the bill evenly, or, to the dismay of the maître d', awkwardly itemise what you had?

Money creates unease between friends - both for those who can afford the 300gm steak, and those who don't like paying for others' dining extravagance. Kiwi humility includes an awkwardness talking about money with friends. Fair enough, as too often it's to blame for passive aggressive barbs or outright arguments.

How to talk about salaries

Only your boss and your spouse should know your exact salary. Anyone else and the conversation is going to be fraught with tension; likely leading to feelings of superiority and inferiority. Talking about how much you earn can be appropriate, however, in one of two situations.

If a friend works in the same industry as you (but for another employer) and one of you is thinking about moving companies, it's okay to discuss earnings for the purpose of pay parity, especially for the negotiation stage of interviewing.

Additionally, if you're celebrating a new job, you could probably get away with slipping your new salary range (ball-park) in when telling friends about your new perks. This is also the only situation when it's permissible to ask a friend about their pay, but you must do so in an encouraging and non-invasive way: "You got the job? That's great! Is it a big salary jump from where you are now?"

Never casually throw your number into conversation. Saying, "I wouldn't normally spend that much on shoes, but I made $150K last year, I deserve it," makes you an irritating upstart. Expect rolled eyes if you do this by accident.

How to turn down offers


Everybody has things they can't afford. If you have flush friends that vacation frequently, there's a high likelihood they've said, "We must do a party weekend in Melbourne next month". A lovely thought until they start to get serious. "How are you for the weekend of the 11th? Let's book Premium Economy; it's only $400 more. I know a hotel that'll pick us up from the airport in a Bentley!"

Turning your friend down could offend them, and imply you don't want to spend that kind of time together. It's okay to say, "I can't afford it right now." Your response needs a little more weight if your real reason is, "I'll never have enough dough for one of your holidays". You'll run into similar conundrums when invited to cocktail bars, glamping, and other luxuries that friends consider necessities.

To turn down these offers, open the conversation on a positive. Tell your friend how much fun you had on your last Waiheke tour, Shore trip to the Department Store, or free Silo Cinema excursion. Briefly give your financial explanation (but don't cry poor), and offer an alternative, cheaper option with your rebuff. This combination eases the rejection into something optimistic.

Likewise, if you're the one being turned down, respect friends' reasons equally. "We can't, we've got a mortgage" is just as valid as "I'd love to, but I'm already going to Europe at Christmas and need to save for that."

How to pay at restaurants


Nobody likes the guy who pulls out his iPhone calculator and says things like, "Janice had three pork buns while we only had one each, so that's $6 extra for her".

Diplomacy pays when splitting the bill. If you all consumed (roughly) the same amount of food and drink, divide it evenly. Being pedantic isn't attractive: the social cost of appearing cheap will hurt you more than an extra fiver.

Alcohol can make things difficult: particularly if you're only having a glass of red while everyone else downs island-themed cocktails like it's 1983. If you're concerned, arrive at the restaurant early and set up your own tab before sitting down. You'll enjoy the night without worrying about others' drinking habits.

When the group is only three or four, an individual tab is naff. If you're the higher-earner and intent on ordering Moet (why shouldn't you?) be sensitive about your friends' financial situations. Get to the cashier first, and pay for the whole bottle.

How to accept generosity


Things can go the complete opposite direction. There are uber-generous friends who move to take care of the entire bill - whether at a bar, for concert tickets, at the cinema, or even out shopping for clothes.

Don't fight them. Top earners usually value friends over money, and simply want everyone to have a good time. But feelings of indebtedness are inevitable, especially if you can't repay in kind with an equal $300 night out.

In this case, reciprocate according to your circumstances. Treating someone to a $30 food truck dinner is generous, if that's all you can afford. Nobody's keeping score. Remember, your friends want your company, not frivolity.

- www.nzherald.co.nz

Have your say

We aim to have healthy debate. But we won't publish comments that abuse others. View commenting guidelines.

1200 characters left

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf03 at 25 Oct 2014 23:32:23 Processing Time: 432ms