In San Diego, when I was practicing at Kaiser Permanente, most of my friends were doctors, lawyers, or other high-earning individuals. I learned a lot from these individuals and many are still great friends. But I also set my social thermostat rather high – my wallet had a lot to live up to.
Now, in Portland, I’m mostly surrounded by non-medical friends. Baristas, a convenience store clerk, bartenders, students, and a couple of retirees. The few physicians and lawyers and PA I socialize with aren’t big spenders.
Medical professionals are competitive individuals, wanting to be best at everything; ultra ambitious, argumentative, and opinionated. This isn’t ill judgement, just average personalities of these professionals, whom I’ve come across.
It’s a lot to live up to. At best, I don’t have much in common. At worst, there is judgement. You don’t have a car? You haven’t tried that new, fancy restaurant? Why don’t you want to come out to dinner with us and try $100 sushi?
Socializing with the elite
Socializing with wealthy friends often means a slightly fancier restaurant, a fancier bar, and a place that’s a little further away.
I could do that or I can meet my barista friends after work for a drink at the neighborhood bar – during happy hour. Oh, and they know the bartender there so our first round is free.
I can go watch a basketball game or a sold-out show at the amphitheater or watch my student buddy and his band perform at a hole-in-the-wall bar.
I can double date with a friend and get 5-course sushi & sake or get road beers and hang out by the waterfront.
Fancy living is delightful when you do it on occasion. When it’s a routine part of your lifestyle, it no longer is all that exciting. For a while I was going to every single Cirque du Soleil show, 2-3 per year. By the 3rd year it stopped being something special – it’s been 5 years since my last Cirque show.
I buy more shit when I’m around higher income individuals. I spend more on clothes, more on gadgets, and more on sporting equipment. Maybe it’s my weak self-control, maybe it’s peer pressure, maybe it’s Maybelline.
I was bouldering at the gym a few months ago with a couple of barista friends and we were lamenting over holes in our bouldering shoes. The next time I saw him, he taped the tip of his shoe and said that he gets a few extra miles until the next resole.
The day before I was climbing with an MD friend whom I was crying to about the same hole – he just gets a new shoe when he gets a hole.
My studio condo is tiny by most standards – 350 sqft.
The bathroom sink, the kitchen sink, and the shower are all cast iron and old. The surface rust and a few failed reglazing attempts have left them looking like I use them as a toilet.
A lawyer buddy walked in and said “Wow, time for a renovation!”
My non-elite friends walked in and said “Holy shit, your place is so nice!”
I side with the lawyer buddy because I was raised that way. I’m competitive. I want the nicer bathroom and kitchen because that’s how my mind works. But I can’t resolve whether I’d be doing it for myself or my elite cohort.
The Social Thermostat
It seems that most would spend up to their income capacity. So maybe these non-elite friends would eventually up their spending game once they come into more wealth, but for now my budget is enjoying this new social thermostat.
I don’t live on a lot of money these days. My basic lifestyle costs are low. I’m comfortable setting my social thermostat lower and it has been more enjoyable. I feel less pressure and still feel challenged by these friends in all the right ways.
Is it a loss to not socialize with wealthier professionals? I don’t think I have to give up my professional friends. But I may not have them in my regular social circle. I can grab coffee or wine with them on occasion but probably won’t meet them for dinner.
In some cities it’s easier finding these social frugalites. Portland, very easy. San diego – shit, even the baristas had a penchant for fine wine.
I don’t think our social spending stops at the restaurant and the bar. As I mentioned already, it’s also the kind of clothes you buy in order to fit in. The car you drive and the events you got to.
It’s also the hobbies you choose, the vacations you pick, and the schools you enroll your kids in.
It’s the renovations you’ll make to your home or the neighborhood you’ll move into. My lawyer friends just bought a home together for nearly $600k which will need some renovations over the next few years.
My other buddy just signed up for a second gym because they have an indoor pool. He also bought 2 new stand up paddles and upgraded his snowboarding equipment for him and his wife and kids for the snow season.
Meanwhile, I’m considering if taping the hole in my climbing shoe much longer is viable. Maybe it’s time for a resole. I certainly wouldn’t buy a new pair – I’d be embarrassed before these friends sporting a new pair.
Splitting the difference
As I’m writing this post I wonder if others face similar issues as me or if I’m the only person. But should you have a desire for a more affordable social life while keeping your social elites, strategize by splitting the difference.
When it comes to going out to drinks, taking day trips, a night out on the town, stick with the cheaper social friends. They are comfortable living like students.
But when you’re craving that fancy dinner and wine, call up the fancy pants. There is definitely a benefit to socializing with those who share your profession, if for nothing else but to improve your skills.