My College:
Dear Adina

My Student's Friends Have More Cash

Adina Glickman


Dear Adina,

My youngest has made many amazing friends at his college, and an issue is that many of these kids have a lot more disposable money than my son. My son DoorDashes to earn extra money, but he sometimes has a hard time keeping up (financially) with the group that wants to always go out to eat and drink. He has (successfully) suggested they make some meals at home (most live off campus with kitchens). Is there anything else he can do?


Dear Parent,

Yes, there’s one thing your son can do if he hasn’t already. He can begin talking with his friends about their assumption that everyone has plenty of money.

Wake up, friends of your son! Your privilege glasses are filtering out the reality that not everyone has access to endless spending money. Don’t assume your friends have all of the assets and privileges you have. In fact, don’t assume he’s cisgender, hetero, happy all the time, and acing all of his classes. We are a diverse world.

Part of being privileged is getting to live life as if privilege isn’t a thing. Those who live in privilege assume that whatever is “regular” for them is just the way things are for everyone. They have the privilege of inherited wealth (or at least financial stability), and can walk through life carrying Skittles without fear of death, or work for Harvey Weinstein without fear of being raped. Don’t get me started.

To be fair, your son’s friends may be woke but just not doing the math about his suggestions for home-cooked meals. If budgeting has never been part of their lives, and cooking has never been associated with a way of saving money, they might just not be making the connection between “let’s make pasta at home” and “I don’t have $20 to spend on pasta at a restaurant.”

Most of us want to look like we’re getting along just fine — financially and otherwise — but how we choose to appear isn’t always what’s actually going on behind the scenes. It’s possible that one or more of those friends is scraping by and can’t afford the drinks and the meals out, but is loath to admit it for fear of being marginalized.

Your son might be able to suss that out by noticing if others are hesitating when plans are being made, or if he knows others also have jobs. Or if there are other telltale signs of the less-affluent like falling-apart shoes, inexpensive (or non-existent) electronics, hanging onto loose change and actually using it to pay for stuff, clothes that don’t match the weather (as in no money for a warm coat), etc. Going to one person at a time and rallying some support might be more fruitful than confronting the group as a whole.

If your son’s friends are trustworthy and compassionate, it’s possible that telling them his situation will make the difference for your son and they will be more supportive of what he needs. If they’re not, your son might begin rethinking what he likes about them. It’s a fantastic feeling to fit in and be part of a group, especially at college, even if that group doesn’t entirely embrace all of who we are. It’s pretty common to feel compelled to trade full authenticity for fitting in. So many people find themselves hiding parts of who they really are so that they can enjoy all of the benefits of being part of a friend group.

Socioeconomic status is one of those things that is always in the awareness of those who have less, and because it is not as visible as a wheelchair or skin color, remains hidden unless one chooses to out themselves. So it will take bravery and a rock-solid sense of self for your son to bring up the issue.

At the very least, he should be rock-solid in the knowledge that he has nothing to apologize for when he says no to an expensive invitation. He can simply say, “I’d love to join you, but I’m saving my money for books.”

Yours,

Adina Signature

Have a question? Ask Adina

Adina Glickman is the founder of Affinity Coaching, which offers academic, life and career coaching to young adults. She is the former director of learning strategies at Stanford University and is the co-founder and director of the Academic Resilience Consortium, an association of faculty, staff and students dedicated to understanding and promoting student resilience. Learn more at adinaglickman.com.

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