In March, I wrote a piece about the genuine and very troubling cost of living crisis that was and still is wreaking absolute havoc on our wallets, bank balances, credit and any semblance of savings we have attempted to accumulate. Simply put, the inflation price leaps in products and services far exceed our earnings, which means we live on the knife edge of whether our salaries will get us through the month. Every increase in petrol price, rent or the simple items in your grocery basket feels like a universal gut punch and middle finger for good measure. This brings me to my concern for today’s rambling: just how much financial wiggle room do we have for friends, family and significant others when every tap of our cards makes payday seem increasingly far away?
So, what exactly sparked this rabbit hole of unpleasantry in me? Recently, I’ve had to think A LOT about finances. Just the sheer expenses of everything ominously looming around the corner in my life has me in a vice grip of anxiety. I recently got engaged, which means my fiancée and I have started planning a wedding and hearing some stories about the budgets involved sent shivers down my spine. That being said, I’m getting to that point in my late twenties where one expects the proposals and engagements to roll in thick and fast. Soon, it’s bridal showers, bachelor/bachelorette parties and potential baby showers accompanied by a PDF of hand-selected gifts to take away the chance of us as friends wasting our money on something that simply isn’t going to be used. If we even have the means to satiate the selections of hand-woven, non-BPD, non-GMO, organic and vegan toys that my friend’s beautiful future babies will drool all over. These, however, are kind of excusable simply because, for the most part, they are one-and-done (albeit the divorce rate begs to throw hands with me on this). Then, there’s the final boss to the B’s of being BROKE, birthdays.
Tobias Barsnes, Courtesy of Unsplash
Tima Miroshnichenko, Courtesy of Pexels
I love my friends, family and loved ones. However, in September, between my friends and family, my fiancée and I have a whopping eleven birthdays to look forward to. No matter how you shake it up in terms of gifts, this is an expense we are bound to feel. This raises an interesting point, a point that is rather unromantic and unsexy. How much do our friendships and relationships cost us, and can we afford it? I honestly thought it was just a ‘me issue’, but having spoken to my partner, colleagues and acquaintances, it’s a topic that permeates their thoughts, but it almost has an air of taboo about it. One acquaintance mentioned, “it’s eight months into the year, and I’ve spent R17k on weddings, including gifts, travel, accommodation, outfits and more”.
In a 2018 News24 article, they quoted figures of around R138 494 for a 20-year friendship, but this was before COVID and before the tipping point where everything skyrocketed in price. The cost of living crisis is so rough that I wouldn’t be surprised if the figure were double, triple or even quadruple that. It doesn’t end in friendship, however. Anyone currently dating actively or even couples having regular date nights can attest that however lovely these experiences are, they simply don’t come cheap. Every brunch or lunch easily comes to R500, and dinners easily double that, all while the food quality at many restaurants is inconsistent at best, and the only saving grace is that I don’t have to do the dishes.
Dating is expensive. Australian singles collectively spend around “$43 billion per year on dating alone,” which is a number so big I had to honestly see what it even looks like in Rand and it seems fictitious until you realise that it’s figures posted by mega multinational finance and banking group ING. According to the New York Post, the average American spends around $121 000 (R2.3 million) looking for love in their lifetime, and here, the use of average is flattening the expenses severely – simply because it doesn’t account for overall expenditure.
How do we survive? How do we stop the financial bleeding, all while maintaining and building beautiful and lasting friendships? Well, the answer is actually more complex because, as is the case with every relationship, there are intricacies, complexities and expectations that are unique to every relationship. That previously mentioned News24 article attempts to offer some solutions, but they fail quite spectacularly in accepting and acknowledging the current situation and just interpersonal and personal relationships in general. They suggest, for example, pooling in money and hosting a braai rather than going out to eat. In a financial sense, yes, this makes sense. Still, it falls comically flat when you consider how hard it can often be to host a bunch of people in an apartment or get permission to even have a braai from authoritarian landlords and body corporates in the first place. It also doesn’t consider the sheer time investment hosting a large group of people tends to have.
Cottonbro Studio, Courtesy of Pexels
Between prepping your home and cleaning up the mountain of dishes, cans and bottles, just to have to clean your place all over again makes the restaurant’s more expensive but convenient option look all the more appealing. They also suggest DIYing some gifts rather than buying them, which also has a host of problems. First, one needs the actual skills to make whatever item, but more importantly, the time. People don’t often mention that one of the things the cost of living crisis has really stolen is our time. My partner is a crafter, and let me tell you, I don’t even know if it’s worth the late nights and the sheer amount of stress.
Is the solution then to just throw money at the problem for convenience? No, I don’t think it’s that either. At the end of the day, it’s not the money that is building the relationship. Money is merely a tool. Although relationships are an investment, I think marketing ploys have fooled us into thinking that we need to experience everything together to build connections. However, this is where I would like to challenge people only to experience what is worthwhile to them. This brings me to the actual solution to how to survive celebrating everyone. It’s all about communication. Most people think they are far better communicators than they actually are and in the fickle world of keeping up appearances, staying silent to protect your projected social status has become all the more common. We need to show that we are strong, that there is no sign of struggle in our lives and that we have it all figured out.
We really need to stop the cost signalling. There’s a lot of power in saying no or simply explaining to your friends and family the situation you find yourself in. If there’s judgement and disdain, that’s probably not people you want to surround yourself with anyway. In an article on Mashable, an anonymous contributor says, “One of my friends is turning 25 in December and has booked a very fancy venue for a birthday party costing each guest £70 (R1657,87). I messaged her privately and explained that I’m embarrassed to say in the group that I’m unable to attend as I cannot afford it, so she offered to cover my expenses to have me there. I simply could not allow her to do this again, so I politely declined and told her I would see her another time.” Unfortunately, this was met by a passive-aggressive response that wreaked of privilege, but I honestly think this is an absolutely perfectly acceptable solution.
Another acquaintance of mine shared her suggestion, “I have a big family and all of our siblings decided on an acceptable figure that we were willing to pool together, so that when each of our birthdays come around; we receive one really nice, useful and thoughtful gift. It has taken the stress off of every birthday and we each know that we can look forward to something that we actually want.” This can be applied to friendship circles too and helps democratise the way in which gifts are bought and shared, evening the playing field between people within a community that share differing financial vantage points.
It’s not about the money spent or money saved. The friends and relationships I’ve built and cultivated in the 27 years of my life are priceless. I’d do all the overpriced draughts, mediocre dinners, eye-watering expensive bagels and presents upon presents upon presents all over again, but don’t let anyone make you feel like less if, at this point in your life, you simply don’t have the means to be as altruistic in a financial capacity as you would like. Hopefully, the relationships that matter most to you also have the space for nuanced, brave conversations around finances.
Written by: Casey Delport
For more news, visit the Connect Everything Collective homepage www.ceconline.co.za