Are you in the habit of meeting your friends for cocktails that lead into a big night out? Going only on fancy dates (is it really a date if you don’t spend big?), or buying expensive gifts for birthdays, weddings, Christmas, Valentine’s day, and the array of other celebrations held throughout the year?

Are you doing these things because you believe they truly add value to the relationship, or to conform to societal expectations or the need to spend money to show people you love them?

Relationships are an important part of life and strong healthy relationships have a very positive effect on mental health and your overall happiness level, however if it causes you financial stress, or other issues to build and maintain these relationships, then the positive impact may be outweighed. Read on to find out how to have a more balanced relationship without breaking your budget.

Speak Up

If you find yourself not able to keep up with all the social events happening around you either because of your own goals or values, don’t just go along with the crowd in an attempt to fit in with fear that if you don’t you’ll be left behind. These people are an important part of your life, and if they truly value the relationship they would want to know when it isn’t working for all parties.

You won’t be the only one

They say that you are the average of the people you spend the most time with. Perhaps eating out has just become a regular habit and nobody has stopped to consider the impact on finances or health or reassess where everyone is at. If it is true and you really are the average of those around you, chances are others may be in the same situation or have been before and are relieved that you have mentioned it. Amongst our group of friends we have a range of people at different life stages, so at any point in time various people will be saving for something; house renovations, a holiday, paying off debt, or are working on other life goals such as slow living or health and fitness.

Set shared goals

When first starting out in a romantic/life partnership you might be too shy to mention that you can’t afford to pay for 5 star venues all the time, especially if that was how the relationship started. It is important to be honest and to discuss these things before they become an issue and you need to take out a loan to pay for your next outing (extreme example I know!) especially if the relationship has long term potential. Once you have been together for a while, or in the case of long term friendships it should be easier to discuss shared goals and working towards them together.

As a couple you may talk about what your ideal future would look like and how you might get there. You might decide to go on a holiday, save for a house deposit, or focus on reaching financial independence. Once these goals are established it becomes much easier to compare and consider each option as an alternative ‘would we rather go out to dinner tonight, or can we cook at home and still enjoy the same amount of quality time together while putting the $60 we would have spent towards, or towards our shared goal’.

With long term friendship groups, or wider family, there will usually be some room for flexibility, and these relationships naturally ebb and flow accordingly. We have a good mix of events throughout the year and a strong enough relationship that it isn’t required to attend every on in order to be invited to the next. We are all supportive of each other’s goals and aren’t afraid to offer alternatives or suggestions to meet our needs.

Balanced Alternatives

Expensive dinner out becomes a Pot Luck

This is one of my favourite, and with our group of friends we put a fun twist on it with a $5 budget per person. We have done this a few times now and everyone loves it. It forces some to be creative and think outside the box on how they can participate, especially for those who don’t regularly meal plan or think much about the cost of food.

Fast Food Fridays turn into a walk around the park

This was one example where a group of my work colleagues got into the habit of frequenting KFC on a far too regular basis. It really was an unhealthy habit that we had formed that needed to be broken. I can’t remember now who spoke up first (further proof that you won’t be an outcast if you say something), but we all agreed it was a much healthier alternative to have team meetings or informal discussions while walking around the park next to our office building than heading for a fry up each week.

Checking out the hot new bar opening becomes cocktails at home

There is something naturally bonding about getting creative and trying new things together. You’ll enjoy the nice drink that someone else made for you at a bar, but you won’t stop talking about that time John made the worst cocktail you have ever tasted – and did I mention is was glowing green! These memories will create stronger and longer lasting bonds and don’t need to be a costly exercise.

Agree on a gift giving price cap

Or be brave and agree to no presents at all! Mr. Balance and I were lucky enough to spend two weeks recently exploring and enjoying New Zealand and both his birthday and Valentine’s Day fell during that time. We could have added hundreds of extra dollars to our budget in order to include birthday gifts and the obligatory roses, chocolates, teddy bears (not the mention the cost of increasing our baggage limit to bring said gifts home), but instead we had previously agreed not to buy gifts for birthday’s and other holidays and to simply celebrate with acknowledgement and cheer, no extra ‘stuff’ needed.

Some people worry about it taking away the magic of gift giving, however we have found after doing it for a few years that everyone is much less stressed about how much the holidays are going to cost and can be more prepared, after all it is supposed to be about getting together and enjoying each other’s company. If like me you really do enjoy giving, you may choose to offer your time to help out with cooking a dish (or cookies, that’s my go to offering) or volunteering to clean up after a dinner party someone else has thrown. That way you get the warm fuzzies without the price tag.

Take matters into your own hands

I have so many other examples and ideas about how I spend quality time building and maintaining the important relationships in my life, meaning this post could almost go on forever, but I think you get the idea.

There are absolutely some times when things will cost money – nothing in life is free, however if you feel things are getting into a habit that you would rather not partake in, why not organise one of the balanced alternatives above. If you make the effort to put the word out there, people will appreciate that and won’t even notice that you are organising fun times on a budget. The aim here is to build lasting memories, not a mountain of debt.

What is your best go to option for building friendship, comradery at work, or showing your loved ones you care without compromising on your values and goals?