How do I keep everyone from realizing I'm completely broke?
December 18, 2012 6:36 PM   Subscribe

How do I decline invitations to go out to dinner, bars, dates, etc. without letting on that I'm completely broke?

This is the first time in my life that I've been this poor, and I don't know how to deal with it. After paying all my bills and paying down old credit debt, I have literally nothing extra each month. I don't want my friends to think that I'm being antisocial, but I also don't want them to know that I'm broke- besides just not wanting that information out there, I'd be embarrassed by any offers to pay my way or spot me or anything like that.

Kind of a side/followup question that I realize is kind of unusual: Are there any resources (books, advice, etc.) for people who come from very privileged backgrounds who after a rough few years now find themselves living just north of poverty?

I'm a 29 year old male, living alone and working two jobs already.
posted by tumbleweedjack to Human Relations (34 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Return all declined invitations with an invitation of your own to another, free activity. This will make it clear that you are still interested in being friends with them. You can also let the friends you feel close enough to know the real reason you are turning down invites - true friends will understand.
posted by fermezporte at 6:42 PM on December 18, 2012 [44 favorites]

"I'd love to, but I can't."

"Sorry, I'm busy."

"That does sound good, but I have other plans."

"Geez, I'd love to, but I got this work thing."
posted by Etrigan at 6:43 PM on December 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

You still can do some of these things, just limit what you spend. If it's a bunch of friends meeting for apps and drinks, eat first, and just order a soda. For dates, get more creative -- go on a picnic or hike for a date, instead of meeting girls at bars.
posted by DoubleLune at 6:43 PM on December 18, 2012

You have a great excuse with the New Year around the corner--just say you're making a resolution to drink less or eat out less, but hey, wanna go to that free movie at the university film society? Etc.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 6:44 PM on December 18, 2012 [5 favorites]

I used to handle this by having people over to my place instead.

'hey, dpx, want to meet for dinner on friday?"

"thanks - I was planning on taking it easy - would you like to come over? I'll cook something, you bring beer?"

"sounds great!"

Then I'd make spaghetti or a quiche or something reasonably cheap. Or I'd invite a bunch of other people and have them all bring something. Or I'd suggest something else that was free - "hey, i can't meet for dinner, but how about a run saturday at the park?"

Agree that you should probably let a couple close friends know - they can help you deflect stuff and help people be sensitive to expensive suggestions (which they should be for all people, not just you; there's probably others who don't want to spend a ton!)
posted by dpx.mfx at 6:44 PM on December 18, 2012 [18 favorites]

On the resolution front, you could also be sort of truthful and say something like, "I'm trying to spend less money on frivolous stuff in 2013 - do you want to go hiking/hang out at my house/go to the free museum/etc. instead?"
posted by something something at 6:48 PM on December 18, 2012 [12 favorites]

i think it is possible to mention that you're trying to watch what you spend on drinking/eating out without letting on that you're totally broke. among my group it is totally fine to turn down an invitation with an explanation that you're trying to eat more dinners at home, that you have to watch your spending for the next little while, that you realized how much you were spending on drinking and want to cut back, etc and no one launches a big investigation into your finances; instead they say, "oh, ok. are you coming over to watch downton abbey on sunday?"

this approach doesn't require that you reveal just how hard-up you are, it usually doesn't prompt people to make offers to pay your way, and at the same time, it addresses your concern about not coming across as anti-social.
posted by iahtl at 6:49 PM on December 18, 2012 [16 favorites]

If it's a bunch of friends meeting for apps and drinks, eat first, and just order a soda.

Just make sure your friends aren't going to divvy everything up at the end of the night first!

What about having people to your place? If you let on to one or two people that you're trying to buckle down with cash, will they help get people to your place for potluck/pot-booze movie nights, if that is an option with your living situation? You are still social, and it can be cheap. Theme parties (I recall a mention of a grilled cheese party) and other get togethers can be cheap, if you have people helping with the food/booze spread.
posted by kellyblah at 6:55 PM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

You can say that you're watching your pennies or that you're being frugal these days. This doesn't imply that you're desperately broke, just that you are making a decision about how you spend your money. I have done this at times and so have my friends.

When I hear "Oh, I can't go to the play, that's out of my budget right now. How about we got to this free book signing instead?" I don't assume they are totally broke. I assume they know their financial needs and are being smart about it.

If you phrase it as with "Ooooh, I can't afford that." Then yeah, people are more likely feel that you are asking them to spot you.
posted by bunderful at 6:59 PM on December 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

"I'm trying to watch what I spend right now" is something lots of people say even when they aren't broke. Or misers. How are people going to know that you aren't saving for an extravagant round-the-world cruise?
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:59 PM on December 18, 2012 [5 favorites]

Unless your friends are secretly huge jerks, I'm sure they'd be happy to see you at a parallel, less expensive option. I like something something's "frivolous" phrasing, and dpx.mfx's ideas, and I don't think they would reflect poorly on you at all. This is obviously slightly easier to wrangle if you live in a place where you can have people over, like to cook, and/or live in a place with cheap and free options. It's true that January can be a good time for this; many people I know take it easier in January as a way of decompressing from holiday parties and family trips, and I wouldn't think twice if someone said they just needed a couple of weeks off from the social circuit.
posted by jetlagaddict at 6:59 PM on December 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

What about just telling people that you are budgeting strictly for the next few months to meet some financial goals? All kinds of people do this all the time. One guy I know who is a multi-millionaire and makes multiple six figures per year won't do anything for full price, for this reason, although his financial goals might be somewhat different to yours or mine. Another guy I know, also a mutimillionaire who sold a startup in his mid-20's, is even more extreme. He used pretty much all his money to buy this huge rural compound, and he bikes everywhere he goes around town, looking homeless. I actually do think that he doesn't have a lot of spending money because it all went into that property he bought, but that's what he wanted to do with his money. There's no shame in budgeting and using your money for certain things and not others. If anyone offers to spot you, you can just say no thanks, it's not a big deal.
posted by cairdeas at 7:01 PM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I like what everyone has suggested. You could simply say that you've already blown your going-out budget for the [month/week/etc]. They don't have to know that it's $0!
posted by ftm at 7:01 PM on December 18, 2012 [4 favorites]

Yeah, in my social circle, it is totally accepted when people say, "I'm trying not to eat out so much/I'm trying to save money right now/I put myself on a budget and I can't." ESPECIALLY at the beginning of a new year. I do think that you need to offer an alternative, though. If you keep saying, "I can't, sorry," people will think you are phasing them out as a friend. So suggest, as others have said, a hike/museum trip, whatever.

In my experience, even people who are rolling in it like to save money. I am saving for a house right now, and the VAST majority of times when I get invited to go out and my response is, "I'd love to see you! I'm trying to save money right now, so do you mind if we [go to the museum/go to that awesome but cheap-ass taco truck/go on a hike/stay in and drink beer and watch movies]," my friend's response is, "oh, god, YES. I am also trying to save money." I mean, look at it this way: your friends don't know you are broke, so you may very well not know that some of your friends are similarly feeling the pinch.

If, however, you are rolling with a truly wealthy crowd, you might need to start cultivating your frugalness as a bit of an eccentricity. Which can totally be done.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 7:13 PM on December 18, 2012 [4 favorites]

Remember, there is a distinct possibility that there are others within your group of friends who are also near, or broke.

Social pressures force many to stay quiet, but are relieved when they find others who free them from "keeping appearances." Let this give you courage to speak up.
posted by Kruger5 at 7:15 PM on December 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

This issue exactly is addressed in Suze Orman's book called Young Fabulous and Broke. I can look it up for you later, as I have a copy at home.
posted by coolsara at 7:17 PM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is there any reason you don't want to directly tell people that you'd prefer free/cheap activities or explain that you're tight for money? These days, it seems like lots of people are understanding of this given the shitty economy and job losses and etc. It's perfectly fine to say "I really want to hang out with you, but money is tight-- can we get together for a home cooked meal instead? I'll make my famous baked mac and cheese!"
posted by joan_holloway at 7:18 PM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I used to have this problem. I don't now, not because I am not broke, but because not I just say I don't have the money. It's a lot less stressful than making up excuses that are not true.
posted by wandering_not_lost at 7:26 PM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nthing to let them know you're declining because you want to curb your spending. It doesn't have to be "I'm broke" it can be something like "I'm being frugal so I can pay down my credit card debt."

I bet some of the people inviting you to go out are doing so themselves on a credit card they're not paying off every month. Sometimes when I tell people I need to be frugal, they respond with something like "Oh yeah, I shouldn't be spending so much either" or I find out that they put non-essential things that everyone expects them to be able to afford on a credit card to save face. If they're not asses and (especially) if you can suggest other free things to do, they shouldn't give you trouble or think less of you for being honest, and they might even appreciate the candor and opportunity to save money themselves.
posted by needs more cowbell at 7:35 PM on December 18, 2012

Lots of good suggestions here, especially the ones involving (1) having people round yours, or deflecting to other free/cheap options, and (2) saying your budget won't allow it without saying you're flat broke. I think these are better than a vague "other plans" or "busy" (especially if they somehow discover that you were home all night) since those are fairly standard "polite" ways for turning down things you truly don't want to do.

I'd personally also be wary of something something's use of "frivolous", which might be taken as a judgement on the worth of their chosen activities. "Oh, tumbleweedjack is just too important for us -- we thought it was worthwhile to get together and catch up as friends, but to him it's just frivolity". Sounds a bit paranoid, but I've seen unpleasant misunderstandings along those lines.
posted by pont at 7:40 PM on December 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

No one'll blink if you say you want to cut back on spending, and since it's a new year, you can say it's a new year's resolution. People understand. One broke friend started doing byob houseparties on Friday night, and people would drop in. The wine shop around the corner had some terrific wines under $12 and it was fun to sample them. Some weeks it was 10 people, others it was just the two of us. It ended up being a lot more fun than going out and dropping a ton of money on a weekend.
posted by mochapickle at 7:42 PM on December 18, 2012

In the past I've used the phrase, said lightly, "It's not in the budget!" I don't believe you have to hide this from your friends, but it's your business so it's up to you.

If it makes you feel any better, you are at an age where many people really start to focus on getting their financial house in order, so you are definitely not alone. People -- unless they are true jerks -- will not look down on you for choosing to spend your money in a more prudent way for yourself.
posted by stowaway at 7:58 PM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've got some friends, a married couple, who are eeking by on their meagre income and 3 kids, and doing a fine job at it, and they're part of my regular Saturday lunch gang. When they're broke and can't afford to spare a lunch out, they say so. I've also heard "not in the budget" and "saving money" and "paying down debt" and "unexpected expense." Everybody understands debt, and most people (and all friends) understand that your finances are your business, and sometimes you have to address them.

My broke friends do have a good location, decent-sized house, and a mess of boardgames, so they have become the de facto party venue for our circle, and indeed, the parties are mainly BYO* for the guests-- we bring food, supplemental booze, all the beer. I bake, or when I'm lazy, I make a KFC run. I've got disposable income and an apartment unfit for human habitation, so it's a fair trade.
posted by Sunburnt at 8:37 PM on December 18, 2012

"I'm not in a good position to go out right now, why don't you just come over?"

Worked pretty well today...
posted by oceanjesse at 8:51 PM on December 18, 2012

The best process I've heard for handling this gracefully is to say, I'll meet you for a bit, but I don't want to have a big night. I'm saving for xxx, where xxx = house, holiday, world travel, engagement ring, etc.

There's a lot of social stigma around the honest truth of financial situations. Most people treat it like a communicable disease. In reality, it's probably like alcohol or other indulgences. Most people don't like to be confronted with the truth of how they spend their resources.

"I'm broke" is a bit of a dramatic statement that says, "I don't have any money." Most people are afraid of going broke (even the very wealthy), so they run away from that.

If you say something aspirational – I'm saving for a house or I'm saving for grad school, people will respect you. You have a vision and a mission. The result is the same – you don't spend money – it's the packaging and marketing that are different.

And it doesn't have to be a lie. Choose something you would like to save for, and start 'saving' for that.
posted by nickrussell at 9:19 PM on December 18, 2012

If they're your friends, just tell them you're having financial difficulties and you can't spare the cash right now. I'm pretty broke and most of my friends have more money, if not a great deal more. It doesn't do any good to pretend you just don't want to go. Suggesting alternatives is good but at some point you have to be honest. These are your friends, right? Mine have never minded frankness.

I also grew up in a privileged background. I remind myself that though I'm poor, it's the price of being an independent adult. I take some strength from that, though I understand it can come off as "bootstraps hur character-building hur." It is nothing to be ashamed about, and a friend will not fault you for not being on Mommy's and Daddy's credit card.
posted by Anonymous at 1:48 AM on December 19, 2012

If you are working two jobs then you probably don't have much free time anyway. Tell friends that you are working heavily to catch up on bills and to save up for x.
posted by JJ86 at 3:33 AM on December 19, 2012

I'm taking a break from X right now (eg clubbing), but hey, I've got some time Saturday, do you want to do something completely different & XX (eg tour free museum exhibit/go to the park/whatever) then?

By inviting them to somewhere yourself, it doesn't seem like you're avoiding anyone.
posted by Ys at 5:31 AM on December 19, 2012

I'm from a similar background. Just say it. And look into chapter 7 bankruptcy.
posted by the young rope-rider at 5:55 AM on December 19, 2012

Oh dude, I totally feel you. I'm there myself. I think that being straight up honest with your friends is the best route to take.

Invite everyone over to your house for a pot-luck. Then make a short speach:

"Friends, you know I love you, and I love socializing with you. Lately I find myself dealing with a financial set-back. While I'm working like crazy, I'm living on the smallest budget you can imagine, so I have no extra dough for nights out any more. I appreciate that you continue to invite me out, but right now it's just not financially feasible for me. In fact, the only time you'll catch me in a restaurant these days is if I'm working there. You guys are great and I propose that we have a rotating night together. We can do a pot luck and alternate hosting."

I'm willing to guess that most of your friends are as broke as you are, they just aren't mature enough to NOT spend money they don't have on entertainment.

Either way, it's out there. I'm sure your friends aren't judging you, except to say, "tumbleweedjack sure is disciplined. I wish I had the strength to do what he's doing."
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:03 AM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I had very little money and was embarrassed about it, I would meet my friends at the bar or restaurant and have a seltzer or club soda (they don't charge you for that in many places) or water and excuse myself with, "I'm sorry I have to run, I had a family function/work function/work that I have to get to. I didn't want to miss hanging out with you all, but I must go!"
posted by Yellow at 8:12 AM on December 19, 2012

Telling people you're trying to reduce your spending or save up for something is good; another alternate is to suggest going to a museum or the zoo or something else free or cheap instead.

Since you're working two jobs, that can also make a great excuse: it's probably really hard for other people to keep track of your schedule, so you can always tell them 'oh sorry, I'd love to but I have to work then'.
posted by easily confused at 10:07 AM on December 19, 2012

I agree with everyone else. Unless your friends are snobs of monumental proportions, they will understand and possibly even be actively supportive.
posted by Jess the Mess at 10:51 AM on December 19, 2012

This somewhat relevant article showed up in my feed today and immediately reminded me of your predicament. In a nutshell: friends will understand, and making excuses is actually socially more dangerous.
posted by jackbishop at 5:28 AM on December 20, 2012

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