Life Advice for Book Lovers: Dealing with Financial Anxiety in Friendships
Book Recommendations for the Troubled Soul
I’m having some inner conflict with a friend, over something I didn’t think much about when we first met in our early twenties, but is more pronounced in our mid-thirties: she has a lot of money, and I have very little of it. Sometimes I get frustrated because, try as she might, she seems completely oblivious to what it’s like to be a person with financial anxiety. This makes logical sense (she’s not a person with financial anxiety), but what does it mean for our friendship? Can we keep growing together when it feels like the circumstances of our lives are growing apart? I don’t expect answers, of course, but I’d love to spend time with some characters grappling with similar questions.
Broke as a Bennet
Dear Broke as a Bennet,
Thank you for your vulnerability and excellent question! First, I want to say that I really feel for you. (The memory of being 14 at Urban Outfitters and having to explain to my friend who had just spent $80 on denim shorts that my dad had been laid off, so no, I could not get anything—that definitely sits at the forefront of my brain! In case you couldn’t tell!) There is something about struggling in friendships that’s especially hard; I think it’s because we have fewer road maps for it. If you fight with a lover, you have your pick of sad movies and revenge songs to soothe you. You have a tiff with your BFF, and then what?
People are also funny about money. It’s a sticky subject to broach, I think because there is a morality attached to it that doesn’t belong there. If you don’t splurge on something, you’re “being good.” Or! Could it simply be that you don’t have the cash on hand?
It’s been my experience that, as a culture, we are very slowly starting to have this (long overdue) conversation. With the rise of Succession and White Lotus, with the popularity of Sally Rooney and her brand of Marxism, there has been a building of class consciousness. Of course, the issue here is that sometimes it’s super performative, right? If Rich = Bad, well, I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen people try to hide the fact of their wealth for moral/cultural capital. Knowing and uttering the phrase “late-stage capitalism” a few times a day does not a true ally make.
Your timing could not have been better, though, because I just finished reading a book that you’re going to like: Sarah Thankam Mathews’ All This Could Be Different. It opens with Sneha, a recent college grad who moves to Milwaukee for a corporate consulting gig. This job changes her life: she can now afford to treat her new friends to dinner; she can give money to her parents in India. But before long, the golden days of her youth and the freedom her income afforded slip through her fingers. Her paychecks haven’t been coming through. She might get evicted. Her savings are rapidly being depleted, in part because her struggling friends are also asking to borrow money, assuming that she’s still flush with cash. Our narrator finds that she doesn’t have the vocabulary to talk about this with anyone, not even those closest to her.
Sarah Thankam Mathews does an incredible job at capturing the internal avoidance and shame that blooms in the gap of debt. Her financial anxiety isn’t just sprinkled in; it feels deeply lived-in, woven into the fabric of her life. (At one point, she is doing the Savings Account Math, seeing how many fast food sandwiches she has left until her balance hits zero. It’s a panic I’ve seldom seen put into words.)
In a lot of ways, it asks the questions you’re asking: How can we unlearn that background and circumstance are not personal failings? How can we talk about them to the ones we care about? Is it possible to break free of the cage of capitalism? And how can we love each other well while we’re in it? I feel like my description of it makes it sound kind of depressing, but trust me: there is also a current of optimism shot through the heart of this book.
I’m hoping you can see yourself in these characters—not just in their moments of worry but also in their moments of triumph and genuine joy.