The Friendship Budget

Life as a parent is full of changes. I talk about poop a lot now. I consider the opportunity to go to bed at 10 p.m. a true luxury. I’m a constant watchman for BPA, soy additives, and any other number of carcinogens, in anything and everything. But one of the biggest ways my life has changed is in the realm of my friendships.  

I have always been a very social person. I make friends easily and love being out and about. I’m one of those people that have a thousand friends but a close circle of 10-20 and an inner circle of three -five. My tribe, as it were, used to be quite large. 

As I get older, the tribe has winnowed a bit. I still love seeing people that I met from all walks of life but the amount of free time that I have has shrunk significantly, so I’ve had to start to budget my friendships a little better. 

Yes, budget. It sounds so cold when used in the context of a relationship, but the idea is very much the same. I have 24 hours in each day. I have to work, albeit from home. I have to (want to) spend time with my daughter. I need to (want to) spend time reconnecting with my husband. So where do the time for all the lazy brunches, chance meetings that turn into fun nights out, and raucous happy hours come in? The short answer is, it doesn’t. At least not frequently.  

As the last of my group of friends to have a child, I’ve seen it happen before, so I know what to expect. My goal in being a mother is to show my daughter what a good friend looks like as well as a good human being so I’ve had to focus in on the few people that I know I don’t want to live without. And the others are bonuses if we happen to cross paths. 

In the terms of a budget, my core group of friends are my rent and utilities. They must be paid without fail each month. For me, that’s a core group of two other couples that we trade monthly dinners at each others’ houses. We used to see each other much more frequently but since we all have kids and schedules and crazy lives, we made a commitment to once a month to gather, break bread, and catch up on each other’s lives. The kids play, we drink wine, and we all feel richer for having spent the time together than when we came. 

My other anchors are a group of women that I used to work with. We all have even crazier schedules: one is a nurse, two work in the service industry, one is a mom of three, one is in school. Our in-person meetings are less frequent but we keep up via a group message that’s ongoing. While I would love to have more face time with those ladies, it’s good knowing that pretty much any time of the day or night, someone is there if you need advice, to vent, or just to share something funny. 

Moving out from the essentials, there are my grocery friends. Some weeks, I buy a lot. Some weeks, I buy a little. These people are dear to me but our contact isn’t as steady or frequent. I’m OK with that. They are OK with that. No one feels slighted and when we do connect, it’s good. 

Then there are the splurge friends. These are the new shoes, new handbag, massage friends. Once again, there’s no resentment in our infrequent contact but our lives simply don’t intermesh often and that’s OK. When I do see them, it’s a gift and one that I hang onto until next time. 

We live in a culture of easily obtained information with social media so we often feel like we are up to date on our friends’ lives despite having no real contact with them. My budget means that I have to spend the effort to text, message or–gasp–even call those people that I’ve put on my ledger. And making plans with my inner circle, even if it means scheduling a month out, is the best way that I can invest in my long-term mental health. 

Do I miss those carefree days of insta-friendships and spontaneous all day outings? Sure. But it helps to know that the people that I’m investing in are also investing in me. I like to call it compound interest–friendship style. 

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