“Hey, wanna meet for boba?” “I vote mini-golfing!” “What time is the movie showing?” “Down to go for a food run?” “Meet me downtown.”
These are just a few of the many messages I have received from friends over the past two months. When I am planning to hang out with a friend, it is very rare that we do not choose to go out to eat, shop or do some sort of spending-based recreational activity. And on the off chance the conversation does not start with “Let’s get lunch,” we spend a scary amount of time scrambling to think of other options, stumped as to what else we might do together. If we’re not going out and buying food or purchasing tickets for some “exciting” event, we can’t hang out, right? I mean, what else would we do?
Over the summer, we ride roller coasters at Great America or drive to San Francisco for a day at the beach or the Ferry Building, taking full advantage of our drivers licenses. On the weekend, we go out to eat dinner downtown, then head to the movies afterward. Some weekdays even include “study sessions” at Philz or Coho, where $4 coffee is the norm. And although I personally am not a fan of bowling, for many students it is a staple pastime, along with other game-like activities such as mini golf, ice skating and laser tag. Call me thrifty, but I think my concern is valid: why is it normal for a teenager to feel comfortable spending so much money on a regular basis?
I often feel pressured by the stigma that we must spend money in order to have fun.
However, I am also part of the problem — while I think it is better to find alternative, low-cost hangout ideas, I rarely find myself actually following through with those ideals. Some part of me is always conscious of how much my organic salad costs or whether I should spend that day or save up for another. At least in Palo Alto, I often feel pressured by the stigma that we must spend money in order to have fun, and consequently, activities that do not cost a dime are not valued nearly as much.
This mindset is not only concerning, but also highly toxic to the social scene presented in high school. When social life centers around spending, we pose the threat of segregating by socioeconomic status. On a campus already divided into social cliques, this could separate students on an even deeper level — one which involves personal finances.
Junior Malia Chun agrees that friend groups can be affected by the cost of hangouts.
“I think it’s definitely hard for some people to be part of a friend group without feeling the need to spend money,” she says.
As a student at Paly and someone who makes her own money for personal spending, Chun says she buys things nearly every day, and notes that this amount increases tremendously during the summer or other breaks — prime time for hanging out with friends.
“I don’t like to spend money since I save for myself, so I won’t if I’m alone,” Chun says. “But if I’m with my friends, it’s more likely that I will.”
Like Chun, I recognize that cost-friendly activities are not only money savers, but they are also good for our well-being. Free hangouts allow for increased inclusivity and, as a result, a wider range of friends are able to participate. And while splurging every so often can be fun and rewarding, I am working on trying out cheaper options like picnicking in the park during warm weather seasons, spending the night in with Netflix pajama parties when it is raining or doing my studying at the library instead of in coffee shops.
Take a chance on one of these options and your wallet will thank you. While activities that have a price may seem more enjoyable, what is most important are the friends you make and the joy you feel when spending time with them.