The Surprising Costs of Making Friends as an Adult

Casey Hynes — Up Close & Personal Finance

When you move to a new city, there are plenty of obvious costs: rent, utilities, furniture, maybe a few house plants to liven the place up. But what you don’t always consider is the cost of making new friends.

I recently moved with my fiancé to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, a city we’d never visited, but are quickly coming to love. The charming front porches and slower pace of life combined with the artsy feel of the area make it feel cozy and exciting all at once. I think we’re going to like living here, but it doesn’t really feel like home, yet. In my mind, a place only really becomes home once you’ve made some friends and feel that you’re a part of the community. Trouble is, while I’ve moved plenty in my life, I’m finding that making friends in my 30s is harder than it was in my early 20s. This time, I’m going out of my way—and spending far more than I would in the past—to join in and meet people.

When you’re younger, the opportunities to bond with your peers abound. Joining a sports team, performing in your high school theater group, or joining a volunteer mission abroad may have felt forced on us in our younger years, but gave us the chance to build our social skills—and our social circles. In college, if you lived in a dorm, you know the singular camaraderie that comes of living in close quarters with your classmates. Unique, lifelong bonds are forged in hallways that smell perpetually like Ramen noodles, hair dryers, and cheap, stale beer as you learn to navigate academia and life away from home.

But, as The Guardian wrote, “[Shared experiences] are often in abundance in our earlier years, but once those easy opportunities are gone, you can forget that the initial basis for a friendship is to have a similar passion or interest.”

There are some experiences in adulthood that organically nurture new bonds. Working in an office can help bring new people into your orbit, though it’s no guarantee of lifelong bosom friendships. Parenthood, with its playdates and school field trips, can also give you a chance to bond with other parents. For me, as freelance writer working from home, my go-to method for forming new bonds after college was travel.

I found that meeting new people was easier when living abroad than in U.S. cities, perhaps in part because I felt less self-conscious about showing up to events alone. No one knew me, so I wasn’t worried about being awkward or seeming out of place. If an attempt to socialize went awry, I could retreat to my apartment knowing I’d probably never see those people again. The stakes were low, and that made it easier to take chances and be more outgoing than I am stateside.

However, now that I’m back in the U.S. and we’re ready to build our home in this new town, meeting people feels more daunting and the stakes seem higher. I want people to like me here because I want to be part of this community long-term, and I end up being more in my head than I’d like.

Growing up, I was always shy, and I still tend toward introversion. But as I got older, I pushed myself to be more assertive, and even though I usually need a self-pep talk before I enter any new situation, I can seem downright extroverted as an adult. But it is taking me longer to “get out there,” so to speak, than I anticipated.

It’s also why it’s costing me more money. Initially, I thought I’d just join a few meet-up groups and show up to some low-cost events. I quickly realized, though, that structure provides a balm for my social nerves. Arriving at a freewheeling event where other people already knew each other and I could end up awkwardly standing alone all night was anxiety-provoking.

That’s why I’ve gravitated more toward membership-based organizations that include mentorship opportunities and new member orientations that will make it easier to break the ice when chatting with potential new friends. Trouble is, joining an organization is costlier than attending a free networking event, especially considering most member-based organizations require an upfront investment without a guarantee that I’ll get the level of social connection I’m seeking. For example, the initial dues for one local club I was interested in were more than $200. I decided the risk was worth it because it seems like an organization through which I can not only connect with other women my age but also learn more about the city and get involved as a volunteer.

There are organizations that cost less—like writer’s groups which often come with much lower dues—and mixing in some more affordable options can ease the burden. But I’d like to join several groups, at least for the first year I’m here, to test the waters. With memberships ranging from $50 to $200 a pop, I could spend $250 to $1,000 just to try out a handful of groups.

The other tricky thing about being the new person in town is you feel like you need to be out and about, spending money to socialize. Since I’m not in college anymore, I don’t feel totally comfortable inviting potential friends over for some Ramen noodles, cheap beer, and mutual smartphone staring on my extra-long twin bed. Instead, I’ll be making an effort to invite new friends out for coffee or for a long lunch, maybe a day of shopping. It’ll probably be awhile before I feel comfortable inviting brand-new friends over for a night on my porch with a cheap box of wine. I’d rather ease new people into my introversion and budgeting tactics.

Feeling the pressure to go out every weekend can be a bit exhausting mentally, especially for an introvert, but it can also be expensive. Even the $20 that the average American spends on lunch out every week can add up to $80 a month, or $1,120 a year. Making friends does not come cheap when your mom isn’t driving you to soccer anymore.

Soon, I’d like to become comfortable enough in my new city to just show up somewhere and trust that I’ll connect with someone fun, even if only for a few hours—and not rely on memberships alone. But at the moment, I’m still adjusting to Winston-Salem, and I still feel a little like an outsider when I go to street fairs and other events. I haven’t found a new sidekick to go to the farmers market and random festivals and girls’ day outings with me. I haven’t yet found my crew, and that’s a little daunting. So, for now, I’m willing to pay for an easier entry into the city’s social scene.