Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Here's a New One: Inter-Salary Etiquette and Lunch

My friend A is a first-year analyst at one of the big financial firms here in New York. I haven't seen him in a long time, both for some social reasons and because, you know, first-year analyst. He sent me an email the other day proposing that we get some lunch, given that we both work in Midtown. I agreed that we should get some lunch. Here's the problem: where will we get the lunch? I can't imagine that A, who makes three or four times what I do, is undertaking any frugal food initiatives in his (sparse) spare time. My guess would be that he would be inclined to go out for lunch. I'm not at all concerned about telling him I'd rather meet somewhere outside where we can just sit down and have a chat and eat whatever we please (i.e., I'll be able to bring my lunch), and I'm not concerned about him sussing out my salary, but I am concerned that any mention of my reasons would sound like hinting around that he should buy me lunch, which I absolutely do not think he should.

It's different to say to a friend who makes just about what I do, "Dude, let's brown-bag it and meet in the park; I can't afford to buy lunch today" than it is to say the same thing to a friend who makes far, far more. I don't want to induce any kind of guilt, and I really don't want to seem moochy.

This is a new one for me, because most of my friends do make pretty much what I do--or at least they have budget restrictions. That might be the problem here--assuming that because he makes (what is by my standards) a ton of money, he doesn't have budget restrictions or financial goals. Then again, I don't want to insult him by assuming he does. I don't really know what to do. I guess I'll just continue to do what I've done, which is avoid all mention of my reasons but make the suggestion anyway.

They always say that money can come between friends, but I guess this is the first time I've really encountered this kind of awkward situation about money with a friend. I hope it's not an omen of things to come.

14 comments:

Strange Bird said...

Maybe you can tell him you've been challenging yourself to bring your lunch everyday (no need to say why) and so you'd like to meet somewhere where you can bring your lunch so as not to break your streak. Then it comes across as quirky and not presumptuous. :)

mOOm said...

Or suggest somewhere to eat out which is cheap - falafel, pizza etc. Anyway maybe he is paying high rent and paying off student loans or whatever with his high salary and doesn't have a lot to spare anyway.

3 Things About Money said...

What strange bird said....seem quirky. I think even people who make 5 times what you do get a challenge. One tactic I have is to throw down a challenge: "Sure, can you find me a hole-in-the -wall that won't cost us more than 5 bucks..." All of my friends now think I am a foodie nutjob who likes to discover new places (well I do, actually) and they ferret out great Mexican places for us in East Boston when I am down there. Another tactic I have used is to say "Oh, I'll bring the picnic" cause even cooking for two and eating outside is cheaper than a resturant.

Lindsay said...

I have this problem sometimes too. My cousin is dating a lawyer, and on a recent weekend away I asked her if it was ok if we didn't eat in the $35 a plate restaurant in a hotel. We ended up going to Bubba Gumps, and he ended up paying (my fiance and I obviously make far less money) despite our arguing, but we weren't fishing for a free meal by any means. They justified it as an "engagement gift," but it is hard. In your twenties there are so many people that have different situations that money can bring up a few issues like that. But its all good, I bet your friend would be fine eating somewhere. I'm sure that post college life can't be that easy for him.

hazygrey said...

I would think that all you need to say is that you prefer to brown bag it, and unless he's totally dense, he should get it. If he's only a first year analyst, it's not that he's been making tons of money for so long he's forgotten / unaware of other people with lower salaries. Plus I didn't think analysts made all that much in salary anyway, don't most of their income come from bonuses?

SF Money Musings said...

I've encountered a similar problem when I meet with a real estate friend for lunch who makes 3X what I do or more.

He suggested French pheasant food once while trying to decide on a place to eat. Instead I pitched the local taqueria and ordered a vegetarian taco - cost me less than $5.

I usually order less food or the bare minimum and eat it real slow. When I'm back at the office I'll eat half of my brown bag lunch to keep from starving.

gildedbutterfly said...

With the weather we've been having lately, why don't you just say, "It's so nice outside--why don't we meet in the park for lunch?" That way you can bring your food, he can buy or bring his food, and everything's good. :)

Anonymous said...

It's just lunch! Don't stress out! Just say "Dude, let's brown-bag it and meet in the park," and leave off the part about not being able to afford buying lunch (because he might take that as a hint that he should pay, depending on his level of obsessession with class or worry about your finances). You could also say, "I know a great place - XYZ" and then drop the name of a spot with cheap prices and local character. But really, don't assume that money will come into play. Chances are, he just wants to catch up.

GoldnSilver said...

Agree with Anonymous, don't over think it. It's just lunch.

k said...

I agree that this is nothing to stress about. I've been on both sides of the equation--the broke student with friends who have actual paychecks (and thus by definition have more income than I did) and now, with much higher income than pretty much all of my non-work friends. I sometimes felt awkward as a broke student suggesting we eat at the cheap place, but now that I'm on the other side, I realize that was silly. If I'm with a friend who is in a lower-paying line of work, I try to let them suggest the place so I know it's something they are comfortable with. Or, if I think they wouldn't mind, offer to take them out--my friends were generous enough to treat me when they knew I didn't have anything to spare, and I feel like it's my turn now that I'm able.

Wendy said...

from the other perspective, i make significantly more than most of my friends do, and i've never thought them bringing lunch was weird. i'll often meet up with friends in the area and when i get there they go "let's pick up whatever you want, i brought mine" and we go sit outside. no biggie.

PiggyBank Raider said...

I, too, have been on both sides of the fence. I think a simple "I'll bring my own lunch" or "Let's go for pizza" is the easiest and best way to handle it. There's no need for explanation.

Of course, just because your friend makes $$ doesn't mean he wants to spend it on an expensive lunch. Plenty of high-earners are frugal, too. ;)

With my circle of friends, we try to be conscious of each other's financial situations. But we're close enough that we can just say, "I'll pick up the tab this time, and you pick it up another time." And if it's inequitable--for example, one person repays for a meal by hosting a barbeque at home--no one really cares.

MissGoldBug said...

I think your best bet is a combo of I'm on a streak/its a beautiful day in the park plan.

Oddly enough, out of my friends, I easily make the most income-wise, but I am always the one asking if we can drink at home or grill out at home... just to save some cash.

I bet your friend won't even notice when you bring your lunch or eat in the park!

Best of Luck,

MGB

mapgirl said...

So what ended up happening? Was it a big deal or not? (I suspect not.) :-)