Not Going Broke Over Spring Break

March 4, 2024

Dear Conflict Coach—

I have a great group of friends. We all met at GW last semester and we hang out all the time. I feel really comfortable around them and they’ve been a great support for my first semester here.

I’ve always noticed that they spent more money than I do, but mostly it didn’t affect our friendship. Sometimes they wanted to go out for expensive dinners, and I suggested somewhere good and less expensive. While I think of my family and my financial situation as comfortable, being at GW is a big deal financially and I don’t have lots of my own spending money.

My friends are all planning a big spring break trip and there is no way I can afford to go. It’s not even a question. They’ve assumed I’m going and are planning that way. No one has asked me for money yet, but I know they will. I can’t pay and I don’t want to tell them that. While I’ll miss them, it’s really fine with me if they go without me, but I think they will feel badly doing that. How can I keep up my good friendships and my good finances?


Not Going Broke Over Spring Break

Dear Not Going Broke—

First, I’m so glad that you’ve found a wonderful and supportive group of friends. Also, I’m sorry that you are having to wrestle with differences in finances and how to discuss them. The good news is that good friends can and do manage such differences.

Since you are confident that you are not going, I’m not going to write about whether or not you should go. I want to respect your decision not to go and to prioritize your financial stability. I think that’s a mature and positive decision.

I also don’t think there’s much to debate about when to tell your friends you’re not going. While it seems unfortunate that they assumed you were going, it sounds like they did it from an intention of kindness to include the whole group. Since they’ve assumed you’re going and since they seem to be making plans that include you going, it’s important for you to tell them as soon as possible that you’re not going. That minimizes the financial and logistical impact to those planning.

The real debate is what will you tell them about why you’re not going. As with all personal decisions, I think this is entirely up to you. I advise against saying things that are untrue, because they’re likely to complicate matters later. That said, I think you could choose what reasons to share—and you might have any number of reasons for not going. Maybe you’re not that excited about the destination. Maybe you want to be prepared for a big test that comes right after break. Maybe you want to be in D.C. for spring and the cherry blossoms. Maybe you want to go home or your family expects you to go home. Maybe you have to work. All of those are possibly true reasons for you to not go on this trip. While I do not think you should lie, I think it’s appropriate to be thoughtful about what personal information you share with whom—and I think those who care about you should respect your privacy.

Having said that you have no obligation to share the financial reason you won’t go (which might be the truest), I also know that, especially among close friends, that level of authenticity can be really meaningful and important. Telling your friends this will help them be considerate and inclusive of you—and is a good reminder to be thoughtful about how our collective decisions might impact friend group members who aren’t comfortable sharing details.

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