This Is What It Is Like To Be The Poor Friend In Your Social Circle

by Sarah Cottrell
g-stockstudio / iStock

“…so anyway, we’re all going to meet downtown for brunch at 11 on Sunday and then hit the shops for some retail therapy. You in?”

This is how so many conversations start with my friends. They hire sitters, clear their schedules, and plan to play hard and spend hard. My friends are not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, but they can afford to splurge at a good shoe sale, and they are no strangers to buying all the shiny new things at home parties where MLM ladies sell their wares to the neighborhood moms.

I, on the other hand, must decline these kind invitations. Not because I don’t want to go, I’d love to, but I cannot participate because I’m perpetually broke.

“Oh, wow, that sounds divine, but I have to help my son build a cardboard contraption for his science fair,” I say, lying through my teeth in order to save face.

The truth is, I can’t go because I just paid the phone and electric bill, and I have just enough money left over for gas and groceries for the week. And while my friends wouldn’t judge me if I told them the truth about my financial situation, it would get awkward if my canned response to nearly all invitations that require me to part with my nonexistent disposable income was always, “Sorry, can’t. I’m broke.”

Money is one of those oddly uncomfortable subjects that make people want to die rather than fess up that they have too much, or not enough, of it. When I was a child, my mother always said that there are three subjects that should always be off limits: money, religion, and politics. If you start talking about any one of those subjects, then you’ll easily offend at least one person within earshot.

I could never bring myself to stay quiet on politics, especially in our current political climate, but I’ve always stuck to my mom’s advice when it came to personal finances. However, in the spirit of trying to live a more mindful life that is inclusive and bent toward true equality, it means opening up about the hard truths we live every day.

So in the name of progress and opening up, I’m going to talk about what it is like to be the broke friend because I know I’m not alone here, and I know there are plenty of moms like me trying to skate around these issues while they regretfully decline invitations to fly the coop for the evening.

Being the broke friend means not being able to travel. I see my online friends booking flights and hotels and SQUEEE!!!-ing over being able to see each other in the summertime, and a part of my heart breaks that I simply cannot afford to join them.

Being the broke friend means skipping those manicures and brunch dates, being “busy” on girls’ night out, and not being able to hit happy hour after work once in a while. I have too many bills to pay. If I have to choose between feeding my kids and freshly polished nails, the choice is clear.

Bring broke means explaining to my kids that we can’t go to places like Disney, even though their friends can and they don’t quite grasp why that is. It means being constantly aware of having to talk up “staycations” that are cheap or free, like camping in the backyard, which we do religiously each summer.

Bring broke means not experiencing the national mom pastime of shopping at Target on weekends or snagging Starbucks for a caffeine fix to get me through the day. I do not know the joy of meaning to only buy toiletries but walking out with $247 worth of cool shit for my house. Same goes for “drunk and Prime” — I did that exactly once during Christmas and had to rush to cancel the shipments the next day, lest I overdraw the bank account trying to spoil my kids for the holiday.

Bring broke means always thinking about money in a way that is perfunctory and efficient and stressful AF. I read unit prices and make weekly budgets. I look for deals, cut coupons, and am constantly wondering what I can cut from our shopping lists to save money. I have to stick to my meal plan, or we will not have enough to get us through.

Being broke means being a whiz in the kitchen. I can buy a whole chicken and roast it for night one, pull the extra meat off for sandwiches for night two, and then turn the bones into stock for soup for night three. I’m resourceful.

Being broke means appreciating what I have and being thankful that our immediate needs are met, but occasionally wishing for the chance to just blow some goddamn money on something foolish like brunch with my best friends.

Life is hard. Parenting is hard. But when you’re broke, the lack of money can feel like it amplifies all of life’s typical struggles. But for now, this is my truth: I’m broke, I’m not a bad friend or a bad person, I’m just a struggling mom looking to take care of my family first, even if that means telling a white lie when I decline your thoughtful invitations.