Life

Why Your Rich Friends Should Admit Their Financial Privilege

It helps everyone else feel way less self-conscious about their perceived financial "shortfalls".
September 15, 2021, 8:00am
A person counts up wads of £20 notes
Photo: Russell Boyce

When I was 17, my friends and I all started driving lessons. We discussed insurance premiums, potential first cars and preferred car accessories (leopard print seat covers or fluffy dice?). It’s hard to forget this particular point in my life because of the sheer thrill of being behind the wheel. It’s also the first time I caught a mate lying about his financial privilege

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One of my pals brushed off the expense of purchasing a car – something I still struggle with at 24 – telling me he had savings from his part-time job. But he worked ten hours a week at Card Factory, and his car was a new third generation Mini Hatch. The maths didn’t add up. 

I later learned the car had been given to him by his rich grandma. If he’d said this, I wouldn’t have judged him. So why did he lie about earning the money? 

“Financial privilege” is a term that’s been around for years but has gained a new lease of life on the internet, with singer-songwriter Jensen McRae tweeting about it and one recent TikTok video on the issue gaining over 115,000 views. 

In the same way that white privilege advantages people based on their skin colour, financial privilege benefits those with money, insulating them from the harsher realities of life – worrying about rent, for instance, or paying for a new car. It can be accrued by anyone from any social class, whether the money has been gifted or earned, although those from the middle or upper classes are more likely to have inherited the cash. 

Some believe that acknowledging your financial privilege, especially amongst friends, is simply good practice. Financial Diet founder Chelsea Fagan writes: “If you are in a position of financial privilege, be generous with it. Pick up the check sometimes, don't count every dollar, offer to host, make things comfortable & accessible to those around you who might be in a tougher spot.” 

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Likewise, We Need to Talk About Money author Otegha Uwagba tweets that “no-one *owes* anyone else financial transparency (unless you're a politician or something) but I see it as a social contract thing. One way of helping others who don't have as much privilege as you do, is being honest about how much of it you have”. 

As with any kind of privilege, it can be difficult to realise how much you actually wield. A lot of well-off people are so busy spending their money that they don’t think too deeply about other people’s situations. And if that money has genuinely been earned, it’s hard for them to observe the factors that might have helped them along. 

People without financial privilege, however, are all too aware of it. Izzy Thompson, 25, from Aberystwyth, Wales, has a lot to say about the importance of friends disclosing their financial privilege. “It’s not about jealousy,” says Izzy, an HR assistant from a working-class family. “Well, there might be a bit of jealousy involved. But I’m mostly annoyed by friends who lie about where their money comes from.” 

She especially believes that people receiving money from their parents to cover basic expenses like rent and bills shouldn’t lie about working for it. “It just makes everyone who’s struggling to make ends meet feel like shit,” she says.  

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James Andrews, the senior personal finance editor at money.co.uk, agrees that honesty is always the best policy. “It’s also about comfort levels,” he explains. “Social pressure to spend can force people into positions that they don’t like, whether that’s splitting a bill equally rather than paying for your own orders, or feeling like a burden if other people are always paying for you.” 

“It might be something you think you can ride out, but unless you confront it, there’s the possibility it will fester – leaving one person always feeling they’re not good enough or another resentful they’re always paying more than their share.”

Twenty-two-year-old student Maya Vaughan says she’s had relationships become “irreparably affected” by people’s lack of willingness to be upfront. “I have a few friends who come from financially privileged background. Their parents, for example, send them money every week or paid their rent at uni.” 

She says that the lack of communication around this has caused tension in her friendship group. “Simply put, they have money and I do not. They don't struggle and I do. They have privileges I will never have. Without being able to talk about it and meet each other at a place of understanding, it causes inevitable difficulties.”

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Emilie Bellet, author of You’re Not Broke, You’re Pre-Rich and host of the Vestpod podcast, says that asking friends how they earn their money – and those friends being honest in response – is the way around this. In July, she posted on Instagram calling on people to get behind the idea, no matter how “uncomfortable, counter-intuitive and even controversial” it seems. 

Over email, Bellot explains: “Discussing financial privilege is important, because knowing that a friend has had external support – from their parents or a spouse, for example – helps us feel less self-conscious about our perceived financial ‘shortfalls’.”

How friends react to this questioning depends on their character, and how they’re being asked. “It’s possible pointing out privilege could be seen as an attack on them and their efforts, rather than a simple statement of fact, making them defensive,” Andrews says. “Or, they’ll become rather bashful or want to help by explaining – which is probably a good sign about their character.”

Bellet also notes that talking to people about their wealth can be a learning opportunity. “I would suggest we stop comparing our financial wins and losses altogether and instead, focus on ways that we can elevate each other: Have frank money conversations, exchange budgeting tips and investing experiences, and discuss pointers for salary negotiations.” 

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But honesty goes both ways in any relationship, and anyone who’s ever been skint knows how difficult it is to speak to their more well-off mates about a lack of cash. “Me and my friend used to be skint together, but now she’s got a big job and makes so much money,” says sales assistant Lauren Jordan, 26. 

“We have a little rule where if we go out somewhere in her price point but it’s outside of mine, she says she’s ‘loaning’ me the money – but never actually chases it up. Even though we’ve both agreed to this, it weirdly saves me a bit of dignity.” 

The friend also shared job application and salary negotiation tips with Lauren and even bought her supplies to help start her social media management side-hustle. She also make an effort to do more activities in Lauren’s price point, since it is – of course – easier for her to spend less money than it is for Lauren to spend more. 

As Andrews points out, some people who appear minted may simply be putting on a show. Those who seem to have a lot of money might be funding their lifestyle through debt, and may even be quietly desperate for someone to talk to them about money. 

Thirty-two-year-old Katy Jones, a gallery assistant from London, says her rich friends were actually relieved when she brought up money. “I was really surprised to find out that some of my more financially privileged friends were struggling too. Different challenges to my own, but challenges all the same. I think money is this thing all of us want to talk about.” 

It’s normal to want to withhold information if you feel embarrassed or worried about judgement – nobody wants to talk about how their dad still pays for their rent. But all friendships are basically ongoing processes of learning about your mate until you know, quite frankly, way too much: their dream jobs, how strong they like a cup of tea, the weirdest places they’ve had sex in. Why not throw money in there too? In the long run, your relationship might end up the better for it.

@bethmayashley