Dear Tiff: How can I better manage financial differences between friends?
I'm a 31-year-old single woman living in a house share and my friends have bought property and I feel like I'm in an alternate universe
I am a 31-year-old single woman, working in the creative industries and I earn an average salary. I live in a house share. I have a group of friends who I meet up with every couple of months, and they have all recently bought property with their partners. The issue is that the last few times we've met up, this has completely dominated the conversation, and they now see it as normal to be able to buy a place in London in your late twenties, whereas I feel like I'm living in an alternate universe.
I can't contribute at all to these conversations, and just have to sit there in silence. I understand that they are excited and it's a big milestone, but there have been some snobbish comments as well, such as 'imagine still renting at this age' or 'living in a house share' at XYZ age, which have made me feel incredibly uncomfortable and awkward. I know it's probably unintentional, but I feel as if I'm being judged, or seen as inferior, because I don't have a mortgage.
I have tried to brush it off, but it has happened now on more than one occasion, and I'm re-considering whether or not I should still hang out with them. The thing is, I actually like where I live at the moment, and feel very lucky - the rent is reasonable, the house is in good condition and I have good relationships with my housemates (who are also all in their thirties) and my landlady.
But I'm still a long way off being able to afford a property. I just don't know how to manage this new group dynamic which has emerged and it's making me upset and feel quite isolated. It seems like too awkward of a topic to bring up.
Am I being too sensitive? Do you have any advice on how I can tackle this?
Mopey and mortgage-less
Dear Mopey and mortgage-less,
Your friends are rude. However, can’t we all be a bit rude and thoughtless at times? I say stupid shit ALL THE TIME. Heck, my friends say stupid shit all the time. The older we get, the more our lives diverge and the more we say stupid shit. I could fill a book with the stupid things my friends have said since we’ve turned thirty. Sometimes I can brush it off and sometimes it makes me pink with rage. It’s part of the flaws of being a human to be dumb sometimes, so I let it go. And perhaps it’s better that your friends are thoughtless in front of you, than if they started a WhatsApp group called ‘the zone 4 home-owners’ and left you out for real.
You asked if you were being too sensitive. I don’t believe in the concept of ‘too sensitive’ - that’s language that shames your feelings and your feelings are VALID. My dear friend Anna Codrea-Rado taught me that when someone says something that hits a nerve, they’re pushing buttons ‘that have already been installed.’ Oooo what a game changer! Now, when someone says something that pushes a button, I approach it with curiosity - what about that pissed me off so much? This line of enquiry can get INTERESTING.
I could fill a book with the stupid things my friends have said since we’ve turned thirty.
So, let’s explore why your friends’ comments may have stirred a negative reaction in you. It’s not your fault. We live in a society where home ownership is considered to be one of the biggest markers of success and, like, the most important thing ever. It’s also a sure-fire, short-cut way for comparison. We don’t know how good someone’s relationship is, how good their partner is in bed or how much they really enjoy that mortgage-friendly job, but what we can easily see is how nice someone’s house is.
Society, particularly English society, tells us that we must buy a home. It’s a cultural obsession in this country that borders on insanity. Someone once told me it’s the only shared value we have as a nation and I’m inclined to agree. The property market is nuts and the economy relies on it and referring to people’s homes as ‘property ladders’ makes my skin curl off its bones. It’s so ingrained in us that home ownership is essential for a worthy life, that despite enjoying the rest of your life and being happy in yourself, you may feel like a failure because you’ve not achieved this social construct of a ‘milestone’.
I sense some shame that you’re a long way off affording property. Well, I’m also a long way off, too! But we’re not failures, we just made different life choices and were born into different circumstances - the bank of mum and dad supports almost half of first-time buyers and unfortunately for my mortgage broker, I was born with a low tolerance for work I don’t enjoy. And for some unknown reason we live in a world where you get paid way more to play with spreadsheets than words. Your friends also have partners to split the cost of everything with, which makes their financial lives easier. Single people, on average, are paying £7,564.50 a year more than their coupled-up counterparts on basic household outgoings. It’s annoying, but it’s also just circumstance. So spend some time with your pre-installed buttons without judgment and soon you’ll reach acceptance and realise you don’t want those peoples’ lives anyway.
Then my advice is to bitch about it. Your housemates could be a great audience for this. They’ll say; ‘gosh, how tone deaf and silly those people are to say that’ and you’ll quickly replace your feelings of shame with the realisation that these are just people who have happened to have a different life and happened to have said stupid shit and that’s that. Bitching will be a beautiful release and will bring you some validation from your own tribe.
You may feel like a failure because you’ve not achieved this social construct of a ‘milestone’.
Speaking of validation. I’m suspicious that your friends need to do this. Why do they feel the urge to sit in a group and validate their choices and say they ‘can’t imagine still renting’ when LOL they were doing that merely months ago. I guess a mortgage is big and scary and a huge financial constraint. Perhaps they’ve made big sacrifices on their property ladder (sorry, I mean home) and they feel weird about it but dare not say because society says that because they have that mortgage they are winning at life.
Maybe their job (and even their partner) are a drag to live with day after day and they have to tell themselves THAT’S OK BECAUSE RENTING IS SO AWFUL. I CAN STICK THIS HELL OUT. I mean, maybe they’re happy and fine. But whatever, none of their need to validate in this ‘group think’ scenario means you’re a failure.
Then educate yourself. This step is important, don’t miss it out and make it an ongoing part of your life. I am in no position to give you financial advice and legal disclaimers blah di blah. But, start educating yourself on finances because there’s so much out there that our culture presumes is right as part of society’s ‘success blueprint’ which is actually wrong. Have you read Affluenza? Read Affluenza. It will open your eyes about mortgages, finances, capitalism, consumption and everything, really. Seek out different stories and perspectives beyond the blueprint. I recently listened to this Lewis Howes podcast that has interviews with entrepreneurs talking about money management. Here’s a good one: The biggest lies you’ve been told about money and debt building wealth. Spoiler alert - we need to unlearn about what we believe to be true when it comes to money. The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America's Wealthy is another one. Follow The iPaper’s housing correspondent, Vicky Spratt, who only yesterday wrote that the housing market is no longer a safe bet. Because the thing is, it doesn’t always make financial sense to buy a property. Home ownership is also a bit of a fallacy. A mortgage is renting off the bank (feel free to point this out to your mates) and the whole financial system is a house of cards. We’re all victims of it, including your friends, who may have stretched themselves too thin, tightened their finances, moved somewhere they may not want to be and all for the English religion of home ownership.
But, start educating yourself on finances because there’s so much out there that our culture presumes is right as part of society’s ‘success blueprint’ which is actually wrong.
More importantly for your educational journey, gain some financial knowledge and confidence. If you feel on top of your finances and in control of them, no matter how average your salary, you will feel a lot better about being in a different financial position to those around you. Home ownership may be a goal for you one day, and to have some clarity around what that could look like for you, no matter how far away it may be, will make you feel less inferior and judged.
Unfortunately, the cultural obsession with home ownership means that no one gives a shit about improving rental laws. Because when you have a good renting situation: a great landlord, affordable rent and none of the hassle and responsibility of boilers breaking etc., renting can actually be great. It has a lot of potential, we just need better laws for it. Anyway, let’s get back to your friends.
Should you ditch them? If you feel shitty everytime you meet with them, then yes. But I’d give them a couple more chances. Are they still talking about property when you next meet? That seems boring to me and perhaps they should get jobs advising the Tory party on housing policy if they like talking about it so much. What about the rest of the chat? Does it stay at surface level? Do they show an interest in your life? Put them on probation and start taking notes after you see them. If a pattern of shitty emerges then stop hanging out with them. You can still maintain friendships with individuals with the group.
In the meantime, I ask why you have to sit there in silence? What is this politeness? Your friends are being RUDE. You can also bring it up in a non-intense way. You can just be like - ‘hey, I rent and like it for these reasons.’ Good friendships have open and honest conversations like this. I discuss with my friends our different lives and perspectives all the time. I openly say ‘I wouldn’t want XYZ that happens in your life, but I see the trade off’. Whether it’s kids, a stable salary, whatever it is, it can actually be an expansive discussion to analyse the varied lives we all lead. Like, not in a mean way, but I say ‘I can’t imagine being with the same partner that you met in your early twenties’ and a friend may say ‘omg I can’t imagine going on Tinder’ and I’ll be like ‘babe, everyone uses Hinge now.’ And so on.
So don’t be silenced when people say stupid shit. Defend yourself, woman! You got it good. Say how fun your housemates are and how much you enjoy the freedom of not having to worry about boilers and bathroom mould. What a joy to not worry about this boring shit. You are flourishing. You have affordable rent, you actually like your housemates and you have a creative job.
Belly laugh with your housemates, cook nourishing food and stick two fingers up to that narrative that a good life includes handcuffing yourself to the banks through a mortgage. Continue to live your best life full of community, friendship, love and creativity. I’m so proud of you. You’re ALIVE and your heart is full and who can judge you for that?