Dear Prudence

Help! My Friend Has a Lot of Money. She Won’t Stop Bragging About How She Spends It.

In We’re Prudence, Prudence asks readers for their thoughts on a question that has her stumped. The answer is available only for Slate Plus members.

Woman smiling with shopping bags and showing off her credit card.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Sushiman/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Every Thursday on Twitter @jdesmondharris, Dear Prudence asks readers for their thoughts on a question that has her stumped. She’ll post her final thoughts on the matter on Fridays. Here’s this week’s dilemma and answer:

Dear Prudence,

I’m in my mid-thirties (female) and have a large group of friends from a mutual hobby. “Sarah” (a few years my junior) joined us about a year and a half ago and is a well-established member of the group now. I like her and appreciate having another smart, successful, and confident woman in the mix, but have closer friends.

Lately, I have been struggling with Sarah’s attitude toward spending and love of luxury items. Sarah is an engineer and makes a lot of money, which is great! She was also married for a time to a very, very wealthy man. Sarah enjoys spending money on designer clothes and expensive jewelry, which is her business of course, but I find myself rolling my eyes when she speaks about her purchases. She went on a trip to NYC recently and spent a lot of money on designer shoes and a new necklace from a famous high-end jeweler. While she has not talked ad nauseum about the purchases by any means, she’s brought them up a handful of times, and points out the designer of her shoes when she wears them and is complimented on them and mentions how much she enjoyed going to the store and being surrounded by beautiful things. I have heard three times now the story about how when she went into the jeweler’s, she was told by the salesperson, after affirming that it was her first time buying from them, how much she would love the necklace she bought, only to retort that they had misunderstood; she’d been gifted many of their pieces, this was only her first time buying for herself.

This is her money, but I am a teacher who grew up in severe poverty and just has a different attitude toward spending. I don’t want those things, frankly, and struggle not to find such excessive spending frivolous and tasteless with everything going on in the world. While Sarah definitely has enough money to buy expensive things and still donate to people in war-torn countries—and may well have for all I know—to flaunt such spending right now seems off. Sometimes when she mentions her big shopping vacation, I find myself thinking about how many classroom supplies these things would buy, or about my students who, like me at that age, might not have enough food at home. I am especially put off by the story that is intended to inform the listener about how many pieces of very expensive jewelry Sarah owns. The anecdote probably would have settled better if I had heard it once, but it doesn’t improve with retelling. It all just seems so very superficial, and I enjoy parts of her personality much better and I wish I could focus more on them, and might be able to if she just wore her shoes without mentioning who made them.

What can I do here? I don’t want to be snarky or mean, but I really hate all the shopping talk and find myself starting to wish Sarah wasn’t at so many group functions.

— Holly Go-Anywhere Else

Dear Holly Go-Anywhere Else,

This is tricky because Sarah isn’t actually your friend, she’s just a person who’s around. So some of the advice I received when I asked Slate readers for help (“Just stop being friends with her!”) wouldn’t be easy to implement. I’m sure you aren’t willing to give up your hobby and the hangouts that are associated with it to avoid this shoes- and jewelry-obsessed woman.

So what do you do?

A few people suggested that introspection could help you figure out where your annoyance with Sarah’s comments is coming from—and possibly eliminate it.

Holly needs to look within… — @BrookeOnAir

Someone get Holly a mirror — @PatrickClaybon

The writer sounds like they are letting their insecurities and personal feelings get in the way of their relationship with Sarah and it isn’t about Sarah, necessarily. My advice is to unpack that and come to a place where the Sarah’s of the world won’t bother them so much — @Black_Ted_Mosby

It’s always a good idea to start by looking within. But that’s easier said than done. And to be fair, you have already examined the source of your attitude about money and it makes some sense—it’s connected not only to your childhood but also to the kids you care about today, and the needs you know they have. Your feelings about Sarah are admittedly a little bit in the “not your business to worry about” category, and they could possibly involve a bit of insecurity on your part. But I think they are ultimately rooted in your life experience and your compassion and are probably a pretty permanent feature of who you are. So I’m not going to push you to change them.

A couple of people made what I thought was a generous and hopeful suggestion: Get to know Sarah better to see if you can reveal the layers of her personality that exist under her familiar talking points.

Sounds like they don’t know each other that well (met through a hobby, not close friends)? Maybe Sarah talks about superficial things bc they’re more surface-level friends. LW could try to get to know her and see if more is there. — @kourtbitterly

I’d try to ask her about other things going on in her life besides her shopping – hopefully it’s not the only thing she does, and gives you a chance to figure if the only thing you have in common is this hobby group — @MalindaFrevert

It’s worth a shot!

And if that doesn’t work, remember: It’s OK not to like her. It really is.

it will probably be easier to be around her if you admit you don’t like her all that much. stop fighting to convince yourself you think she’s smart and confident and successful and you actually really like her personality except for this one thing. you don’t like her! it’s okay — @cryingbaseball

You don’t have to torture yourself over your feelings. Being at peace with your opinion and thinking “Here she goes again, being materialistic. I can’t stand her” might feel better than repeatedly justifying the way you feel to yourself and trying to make yourself care about her better qualities.

Beyond that, I can’t help but share the responses that suggested you boldly attempt to channel her apparent wealth to your students:

I am an a-hole so I’m sure this response is not what one would want from Prudence, but…the next time she mentioned her shoe brand or shopping spree I would say “let me know when you decide to ball out at Target & I will send you my classroom wish list”…all while smiling — @Blkhealedwhole

Set up a Donors Choose and send her the link, maybe she will give a big donation. Otherwise, get over it, just walk away when she starts in on a story you’ve already heard. You can’t police people’s conversations. — @NYCJessa

But probably the most practical advice is that you simply check out when she starts up with the reports on her luxury purposes. Walk away, look at your phone, or change the subject, depending on what feels appropriate in the social situation you two are in.

“I think the choice is to tell her frenemy to read the room, which likely isn’t going to go anywhere, or to choose whether or not you really want to be in that room and create some boundaries about how you can/want to be in that room on the occasions you do.” — @flotisserie 

Sure, Sarah sounds boring and a tad insufferable, but she’s not being rude or bigoted. This isn’t a Sarah problem, it’s LW’s problem. She can always gently insert, “Oh, I think you told us that one” or “I just remembered this thing you were mentioning about [hobby]” to redirect. — @moh_in_law

The normal reaction to conversations you dislike is to look at your phone — @JakeHutch28

Sorry! You can’t kick her out of the group and you’re not close enough to her to say something privately. All you can do is change the subject or otherwise be a lackluster audience. If other people are listening raptly, this is a perfect moment to get up and freshen your drink. — @Rose_Szabo_

This woman pretty clearly isn’t going to be your best friend, but that doesn’t mean you have to let her ruin your night either.

Classic Prudie

I make a good living and spend pretty frugally. I bought two homes by the time I was 30 (I rent one out) and drive the same car I had in college. I’ve been very lucky—and I haven’t dated since I was 19. I work like a dog. There are trade-offs. Four years ago, my stepfather had a heart attack while my stepsister was engaged. I paid for half of her wedding and her honeymoon (around $10,000). It was a gift, and I didn’t want my parents stressing out over anything more than my stepfather getting better. I am also close to my stepsister.

My half-brother is much younger than me and getting married to a girl he knew from high school. I don’t know either of them well. At a welcome brunch, his fiancée wanted to know how much I was going to give them for the wedding.