How to keep the peace when you earn different salaries

Since the day we are born, everyone is always talking about how money and happiness fit together.

Unfortunately, when one person becomes wealthier than their close friends, it can cause conflict.

So if you were to suddenly win the lottery tomorrow, how should you keep the peace and maintain your friendships? And if your friend is the lottery winner, will you still be close?

How does money cause conflict?

We’ve all heard stories of wealthy individuals having relationship breakdowns due to their account balance.

Superiority complex

It doesn’t happen to everyone, but there are those who gain an air of superiority through wealth, and put their opulent lifestyle down to superior abilities. This could also have the opposite effect, where the less-wealthy person views his or her now-wealthy friend in a different light, based solely on numbers and dollar signs.


Another area in which a wealth gap can cause conflict between people is the many preconceptions surrounding different levels of income. Wealthy people are all self-important, selfish, snobbish people who care for nothing other than money, right? But poor people are all criminals or connected to crime, or if not then simply untidy, unclean and unintelligent, right? Of course not, but stereotypes still remain.

Money strategies and expectations

A third way that money can or could cause conflict between friends is different approaches to the great ‘saving versus spending’ debate. Some believe in spending liberally, while others prefer to save, invest and watch it grow.

On a daily basis, these different strategies lead to disputes about splitting restaurant bills, going to expensive and exclusive versus cheap and cheerful venues or events, or using credit cards to accrue rewards (like Velocity Points) – or opting for a low rate or no annual fee credit card.

Even small disagreements such as these could spark an argument.

How can you stop money causing conflict?

When you are wealthy: Treat people with respect

“A wise person should have money in their head, but not in their heart.” – Jonathan Swift, 17th-18th Century.

Some people start to lose perspective on ‘class’ when they suddenly rise up in status. The friendly janitor who you would have once been able to relate to or hold a conversation with may become a nuisance, or simply a small fry in big pond.

This is the type of mindset you can’t fall into if you want to keep your same friend. Remember, no matter what financial situation someone is in, we are all just people.

You also should keep in mind that other people may feel envious of your situation. It’s not your fault if someone feels a certain way, but you could try to minimise it. Analyse how you act now compared to the way you used to – do you flaunt your wealth? This might help hide your success from potentially green eyes.

When you are wealthy or your friend is: Set expectations and communicate

“Much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid.” – Fyodor Dostoyevsky, 19th Century.

Communication is going to be one of the key ways for both you and your friend to remain as such. A situation that many run into when a friend earns wealth for the first time is one that can cause both embarrassment and hard feelings – entirely by accident.

Picture this: You sit down in a restaurant with your friend and enjoy a meal together. Your wealthy friend knows you struggle with finances, and so offers to pay the entire bill. What does it matter? They are rich.

Alternatively, if you are the wealthy person, you might be trying to do a nice thing by taking your friend to a restaurant they can’t afford, but offering to pay for them. What does it matter? You’re rich.

However, a simple act like this can actually be embarrassing for some people. Not being able to pay their own way can deflate their ego. Either mindset can cause offense, embarrassment or both, especially if it is reoccurring.

So a simple way to avoid this is to have an honest conversation with each other, where you set expectations for this changed relationship. Who will pay what? Where do boundaries lie? Where will you spend time with each other? It has to be where you can both afford, but where you both like to be. These simple ground rules could stave off a number of hard feelings, potentially saving your friendship.

When your friend is wealthy: Be honest about yourself

“I’d like to live as a poor man with lots of money.” Pablo Picasso, 19th-20th Century

Many wealthier individuals lose their friends because they keep trying to do activities above the budget of the other. This in turn causes financial difficulty to the less wealthy of the two.

“It’s difficult to maintain friendships with people who have radically different finances,” psychologist Dr Rick Norris told the Daily Mail. “When people have a big win on the lottery, they find it hard to retain old friendships because their wealth means they suddenly have far more choices in life.”

According to a Wall Street Journal article, one person found that honesty led to better understanding between two friends of varying wealth. By addressing the ‘wealth gap’ head on, they were able to come to an unspoken agreement as to what types of activities they can do, and whether or not the wealthy friend can pay without causing embarrassment to the other. Again: communication is key.

When you are wealthy: Remember who helped you

“The glow of one warm thought is to me worth more than money.” Thomas Jefferson, 18th-19th Century

Another way to respect the people around you is to actively remember who helped you achieve your goals.

This brings back our friendly janitor example from before. When you were in school, did this man help mentor you in a way you continue to use? All sorts of people can have a lasting impact on your life, and it pays to acknowledge this assistance. Money isn’t going to buy anyone’s friendship, but a genuine thank you phone call or letter could go a long way to showing people you are the exact same friend they once had, and are unchanged.

So whether you’re budgeting to pay off your credit card bill or you’ve just bought tickets to the Maldives for the second time this year, we’re all still people. If you love your friends and would like to maintain a relationship, money will not enter the equation – just so long as you remember who you are.

How do you remain friends with those with a higher or lower income than yourself?