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Can relationships cross socio-economic levels?

Can relationships work across socio-economic levels? A reader sent me a direct message the other day on Instagram asking if I would do a post about this.

Three glass jars filled with coins.

I think this reader was not wondering something like, “Hey, will it work for me to be friends with someone who has less money than I do?” Rather, I think she was struggling more with the difficulties presented by being friends with someone with much more money than she does.

Also, I don’t think she was asking about romantic relationships; she’s referencing friend and family relationships. And I gather that she was having a bit of trouble not feeling less-than or resentful about the disparity between her and her wealthier relations.

My experiential credentials

I don’t tend to mix with people who have personal yachts or anything, but I do definitely have family members who have more money than I do.

And in the leaner years of my early adulthood, almost everyone I knew had more money than I did!

(When you have four kids and are living on around $35K a year, that tends to be the case. Ahem.)

So, I have a little bit of experience with this.

The level of disparity matters

I would say that I struggled with this inequality way more during the super-lean years. We were not far above the poverty level, and at that point, finances cause a lot of stress. You have to agonize over nearly every tiny purchase, and a lot of things and experiences are out of reach.

Every time you turn around, there’s another thing you can’t afford, and it’s not yacht-level stuff!

I can remember being around a group of moms who were talking about their plans to buy more produce, eat more nuts and go organic, and how it’s really not all that much more money, and I remember thinking that such a plan was out of reach for me.

I couldn’t even afford regular nuts, other than peanuts!

This type of thing is exhausting after a while, and this exhaustion can easily turn into sadness when you look around and see other people who have even a little bit more financial cushion.

At $35K a year, $50K sounds like positive bliss!

Black and white photo of Kristen and preschool Lisey in a swimming pool.

Smack-dab in the middle of the Very Lean Years era

Now, even on my own, I have more financial wiggle room than I did back then, and finances are not causing me a terrible amount of stress. I’ve got what I need.

So, when I look at someone who has more money than I do, I really am not bothered. 

And I gotta say, I am very, very happy to be able to buy lots of produce. And nuts other than peanuts. 😉

(This reminds me of the way that money DOES increase happiness quotients when it gets a person out of poverty. But beyond that, more money doesn’t correlate strongly with more happiness.)

The attitudes of the richer people matter

When I think about people like my brother, or my aunt and uncle that I visited this summer in Wisconsin, I am reminded that attitudes are what really matter.

cabin at sunset.

These family members have waterfront homes, boats, jet-skis, paddleboards, and such, but they are so kind and generous; they share what they have.

log cabin in Wisconsin.

My aunt and uncle host various family members all summer long at their cabin in Wisconsin, feeding them, taking them out on the boat, and sharing all their water toys.

Kristen knee-boarding.

My brother routinely shares his boat and jet skis with family and friends.

My parents have spent decades sharing their pool with family, friends, and neighbors.

Kids in a swimming pool.

I always get the sense that they all think of their possessions as things to share and enjoy with others, not as things to flaunt.

So. I think when people with money also have a generous and kind attitude, it’s very easy to be around them, even when you have less money.


On a less-positive note, I’ve written before about an experience I had at a baby shower when I was 23.

Kristen holding baby Lisey.

Lisey and me around the time of this story. Quality brought to you by a disposable camera!

You can read about it here, but basically, I was Poor Mom, and this lady that we’ll call Wealthy Mom related to me in a way that made me feel super out of place.

I don’t think the disparity in our incomes was the problem, though; it was definitely an attitude issue.

The attitude of the less-rich person matters

It’s a little paradoxical, but sometimes those of us who are less wealthy can develop an attitude that looks down on people with more money, as though everyone with more money has screwed-up values and is overworked and unhappy.

Sometimes we say things like, “Well, they may have more money, but at least my family is happier.”

Or, “They may have a big house, but our family values what’s important.”

Or, “Yeah, they have a lot of stuff, but it was given to them. I’m only impressed with people who work hard for their success.”

It is true that some people with money do work too much and do place too much value on material things, and I’m sure some of them are unhappy as well. Some people definitely had their wealth handed to them.

But blanket statements aren’t helpful (they’re not true all of the time, for every person), and besides, making yourself feel better about your situation by criticizing someone else? That might give you a short boost, but I really don’t think it’s a sustainable path to peace and contentment.

Your contentment level matters

If you bring discontentment, envy, or a feeling of less-than into a situation or relationship, you are probably going to struggle if there’s economic disparity in a relationship. But if you bring an attitude of contentment, you’ll probably feel peaceful about someone else’s riches.

I currently have enough money to meet my needs. I do not stress about being able to pay my rent each month, I have enough in savings to cover unexpected expenses, and I’m going to be able to pay for my schooling.

But it would certainly be possible for me to frame that another way, a way that would make me feel less-than.

  • I’m currently renting instead of owning.
  • My car is over 10 years old, and it’s a minivan (which is arguably not the sexiest vehicle ever.)
  • Most of my house is furnished with free hand-me-down furniture.
  • My health insurance situation is going to become more challenging in 2023.
  • My financial future is rather up in the air; I’m in mid-life, and the financial plan I had is going to be dismantled. No matter how the dust settles, this change is not going to be a financial upgrade.

If I focused on those aspects of my life, I might feel a little resentful around other people who have more than I do. But honestly, I feel pretty content with my situation. I have what I need, plus a little more.

view from a dock

the view from my brother’s deck

If someone else has more than me, that’s ok. I am at peace with what I have, and no one else’s financial situation needs to have an effect on my own contentment.


In summary: I think relationships between people of different income levels can work, but a lot depends on:

  • the level of disparity
  • the attitudes of both parties

Alrighty. I’m 1200 words into this, and that’s probably enough of my perspective. I’d love to hear yours!

What’s been your experience with relationships that cross socio-economic levels?

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Sunday 16th of October 2022

When we moved to our new home two years ago, we had no idea most of our new neighbors were ExxonMobil employees. While the cost of living has increasingly put the pinch on us, the neighbors seem to be rolling in dough. New pools, expensive cars, remodeling, trips - you name it. I am not envious but resentful that the high fuel prices are apparently making them rich. My family does all our yard work, home maintenance, cleaning etc. One neighbor snottily asked why we were doing our own yard work as though it were embarrassing to have to live next door to such people and BTW my yard looks the best in the neighborhood. Nannies for moms that don't work, house cleaners, mobile car washers, dog groomers, and so on gets tiresome to watch. I just can't relate and will never be friends who are into excess consumerism.


Saturday 8th of October 2022

The attitude of the better-off person matters: First of all let me preface this by saying that all education should absolutely be free and student debt should be forgiven, regardless of the insensitive attitudes of some people. That being said, in my early 20's I chose to opt out of student debt by not pursuing higher education and was doing better financially than most of my peers when they were just graduating, not finding jobs in their field right away. I'm a young millennial so we already had plenty of warning this was going to happen. Except it didn't, that phase of not finding good paying jobs in your field lasted only a few years but by the time we're nearing our 30's everyone who did go to school is now making 60-70K and I'm stuck in the same (21K) income bracket. Still with less debt but also with no cushion. I don't care that these 70K people want debt forgiveness (they should have it) or that they complain they were tricked into something they didn't fully understand at 18 (18 isn't old enough to make most life decisions) but complaining that the claim college would save you from poverty was farce wasn't. It did. It may be more than you can afford to pay off but you make minimum payments and live a much better life than those of us without education and now have forgiveness options but there isn't really any hope for our situation to get better, if you go around with the attitude that student debt is the worst financial hardship of our generation you're tone deaf.

The attitude of the less well off person matters: I feel like doesn't need as much explanation but is's really never okay to ask your friends for money. Family (close family) sure, in emergencies, friends, I mean if you decline invitations for lack of money and the /then/ offer to pay for you that's on them but having been on both sides of the friends asking for money for bills scenario.....I would rather be the one with my bank account going negative than the one feeling like my friendship is exploited and be treated like a resource. It ruins the friendship and friendships are still more important than money no matter how poor you are. Companionship is a base-level need equally with food and shelter, humans evolved to be social creatures, and yes I have been homeless and food insecure, the worst part, by far, was loneliness and social rejection. It was chronic with no relief, (yet soup kitchens are still a thing) there are ways to get donated food but companionship was what we really needed. It's one of the few essential needs that money can't get you, despite the


Saturday 8th of October 2022

For me, this is a triple sided question.

First, how do I feel about my finances, second, how do I feel about people with more money than us, and 3rd, how do I relate to the people who have more money than us.

I have to preface this by saying that we are financially comfortable because we are frugal and have no debts ( I can buy all kinds of nuts but I won't buy a fancy car) , and that I am not someone who tends to suffer from envy. I am pretty content with my choices and my life in general and I don't tend to envy others. I always say : ''Don't compare your inside (feelings) to other's outside (wealth, appearances, etc) because you don't know how they FEEL''.

So... I feel pretty confident in my frugalness, and I'm proud of where we are in life (hubby and I) in regards to finances and our decision to prioritize paying debts over buying stuff. So, for me, not being rich is not a problem. We are comfortable, because we think frugally.

Second, if someone has more money than me, good for them. Are they happier? Maybe, maybe not. Do they spend less time with their kids? Perhaps, who knows. I don't care, actually, that someone else has more or less money than me, because I don't know all the circumstances and I am not aware of how they really deeply feel about their life and their financial state. I also always keep in mind that making a better salary does not mean having more money (debts). And that having all the bling (big house, fancy car, etc) does not mean being financially secure (again, hello debts!).

Third, I have no problem saying NO to people demands if they don't fit my budget, and I don't feel less than by doing so. I have friends who make double our salary and sometimes propose to join in for fancy vacations or actitivies and I say : ''Thanks but this is not a priority for us right now'' and move on. Those same friends then come over for game nights and all is good! I do not associate with snob people. Having more money does not equater being an ass***. Side line, those friends make more money but have debts. We make less but have zero debts. Not juging them : we just have different priorities. For years they suggested we send the kids to a summer camp with their kids and we kept saying no. Then we paid the house and car in full and last summer we choose to send to kids to summer camp (2000$). It was not under pressure, it was a choice we made in regards to our priorities.

If friends make me feel like ''less than'' about having less money, they are not worth it. If ''I'' feel less than about making less money, this is a different issue.


Thursday 6th of October 2022

Kristen have you looked at Medi-share for your health insurance? My husband’s friend from high school has become very wealthy… like 75 million to 100 million net worth. My husband would like to vacation with them but we can’t afford their level of vacation and they wouldn’t want to go on ours. So wealth does sometimes put a distance on closeness when you can’t afford similar things or experiences. They live 2000 miles away but we enjoy catching up when they come home to visit. But their normal everyday is much different from ours and sometimes that just makes things weird.

Bella Lewin

Thursday 6th of October 2022

Things I have notice, having money is more clear in the United States. In other part of the world it would be more the education level. The lawyer with 8 figures can be great friend with the master in philosophy that’s now teaching high school. The guy that make millions in plumbing is still out of those circles. Then the heritage/ generational wealth, you get it to pass on, it’s not your to spend , at least not morally. You have to offer back what you got. The disparity in income can make you blind to certain things. A friend once gave me a ride, about 100 KM, and asked for gas money. I had never considered that gasoline could be a cost in someone life, stupid of me. And when the struggle is very deep , it’s hard to stay friend, the lack of knowledge, the not really knowing or being told. We have a friend that became homeless after a psychose, he lived with us for over 5 years. I do have friends with private jets and that the only thing I sometimes envy, not having to deal with airports.

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