I’ve been trying to pay down debt, and in doing so, have been attempting to change the way I hang out with friends. I’ve done picnics, free museum days, and walks in the park, but I’ll be honest: I really miss going out to dinner and concerts. I also notice that my friends no longer invite me when they are going to something that costs money, which makes me feel left out. I don’t want to lose my social life, but I do want to become more financially secure. Is there a middle ground?
— Want to Cheers
Dear Want to Cheers,
First off, I applaud you for taking steps towards paying off your debt. A more financially secure life is a step towards greater happiness. But it sounds like you feel guilty about your debt, and you’re “punishing” yourself through deprivation. That approach can backfire, making it even harder to stick to your savings goals.
Be picky about the outings you spend on
The good news is, you don’t have to give up dinners out and concerts completely! The key is figuring out your priorities and sticking to them. Research shows that experiences (rather than material things) contribute to your happiness, so adding a few concerts or dinners to your calendar may make you feel socially connected to your friends, in the cultural loop, and like you’re still living a rich, full life. Look at how much you were spending on dinners and concerts in the past, and figure out a way you can lower the total — without bringing it all the way down to zero. After all, dinners and concerts aren’t “bad,” and taking them completely out of your life sounds like it’s taking a big toll on your happiness. For example, you may find that a restaurant week promotion can fit in your budget, or you may decide to only buy concert tickets for the bands you absolutely love. That way, you can pay down debt and have a social life.
Get creative on sourcing “fun funds”
There may also be ways to pay down debt and pay for these experiences that don’t impact your wallet. For example, asking friends and family for restaurant or Ticketmaster gift cards at the holidays or for your birthday can be a good way to set aside a budget for these sorts of events without throwing your finances off-track. You may also want to set aside money each week in a guilt-free fund and give yourself the freedom to use for whatever you wish, including dinners or concerts.
Get really honest about what you want (and need)
Finally, it also sounds like you may have given some mixed messages to your friends. Would you rather still be invited out? If so, let them know! They may have kept you out of the loop because they don’t want you to feel bad by inviting you to something they think you can’t or won’t participate in. And yes, you may skip out on a few dinners or concerts — but let them know that you won’t say no to everything.
You might also try directing the group a bit. While you can’t control the way other people spend, you can control the invitations you share with others. If walks in the park or free days at the museum aren’t your thing, dig harder to find the free or cheap hang-outs that make you happy. Doing some research to find free concerts or the best cheap eats in your city. DIY-ing dinner at your place (with inexpensive ingredients) is another way you maintain a social life and still save money in the process.
Elizabeth Dunn, Ph.D. is a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of British Columbia who researches how time, money, and technology shape human happiness. She is also the scientific advisor for Happy Money, a financial company that combines psychology and money to help people live happier lives. Have a question for Liz? Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org and check back every Tuesday for her next column.