Money Lessons I Learned from Friends: Phoebe Buffay

Money Lessons I Learned from Friends: Phoebe Buffay

Well, Gang, we’ve come to the end. The last Friend. The Friend who just...lifts right out!

Rachel tells Phoebe she lifts right out

If you missed my first three Friends posts, here’s the intro again to get you up to speed: I was thinking about my previous post about Minimalism in which I mention “everyone should have a Monica Closet,” and I thought about all the other things Friends characters taught me about money. As it happens, the Friends dealt with money in their lives and with each other quite often! And not always very well…

I’m splitting this into a series of posts, one for each Friend, and then I’ll compile them all at the end. Rachel was up first, then Ross, Joey, Monica, Chandler and finally, Phoebe.

I can only say “last but not least” because Phoebe only irritates me slightly less than Ross does, and her storylines are much less funny to me than Ross’s. I also don’t think she experiences very much personal development over the series, but correct me in the comments if you think I’m wrong!

Phoebe Buffay

Phoebe really is the odd duck in the group. It’s like she dropped out of someone’s mental image of a stereotypical, leftover hippie from the Woodstock era and the rest of the group is a bunch of overgrown frat stars living The Life in NYC. She’s also weird as hell and has many absurd, closely held beliefs (which I am ALL FOR. You believe what you want to believe, and I’ll support your right to do so!).

She lived on the streets, doesn’t really have a family for the first part of the show except for her evil twin Ursula, which frankly feels like a lazy name choice in light of The Little Mermaid, and eventually finds her brother living on Long Island. She ends serving as a surrogate for her brother and sister-in-law (her 18-year-old brother’s former Home Ec teacher. Ew.).

She writes really bad songs and sings them really badly. Which sometimes is funny and sometimes is cringey.

The rest of the gang either knows each other from high school or college or is Joey, who just...fits. But Phoebe is one of the crew for whatever reason, and so we just go with it, because I mean what else are viewers supposed to do?

It’s not that I hate Phoebe. Really, she has some great moments. But she can also be mean, selfish, obtuse, and a whole host of other things underlying her caring top layer.

Phoebe certainly has a few moments that can teach us about finance, and that’s what we’re here to discuss, amirite?? So, without further ado:

Stand up to your spendy friends if you can’t afford all the activities they plan.

This episode was SO real. Having friends who make different amounts of money than you, or who are in * completely different * income bands than you can be difficult. Chelsea Fagan of The Financial Diet has covered this brilliantly.

The Friends are roughly divided into the three financially successful (Ross the Paleontologist, Chandler the...Transpondster, and Monica the Head Chef) and the three less financially successful (Joey the Usually-Out-of-Work-Actor, Rachel-the-Waitress, and Phoebe-the-Freelance-Massage Therapist), at least until Rachel climbs the corporate ladder.

This becomes an issue in one episode in which the gang was going to celebrate Monica’s promotion around the same time as Ross’s birthday, and the Have-Nots end up in some awkward financial situations because the Haves always suggest going “somewhere nice” and splitting the bill evenly and ordering expensive Hootie & the Blowfish tickets.

Finally, when splitting the meal would have been patently outrageous, the Phoebe leads the Have-Nots in confronting the Haves and the Haves agree to be better at planning things that their lower-paid friends can afford.

Instead, the Haves pay for all 6 of their Hootie tickets, which actually insults the Have-Nots even more, and the Haves decide to go to the concert anyway. This causes a lot of tension in the gang, which they eventually resolve, because the Haves value begin together more than doing cooler stuff than their friends can afford.

Phoebe’s insistence on addressing the issue was the right move.

If you’ve never experienced economic diversity in your friendships, that would probably be normal, but you should definitely expand your circle to learn about other walks of life, especially if you’re in a higher income bracket. I know I learned a LOT in law school about how differently a middle class upbringing affects your outlook on life as compared to an upper class upbringing (I came from the former).

It’s subtle, but real. And it’s really real when your friends whose parents paid for law school (all of whom I love and do not begrudge! They got after it in school) wanted to go out for $50-100 dinners every weekend without a single thought, and you’re sitting there calculating the number of weekends left until your next student loan disbursement against the multiplier of the cheapest meal and drinks on the menu.

Now I’m on the other side of the equation to some degree. I have a high income (mid-$100s), thought I only make half as much as many of my friends from law school, and a lot more debt. But I also have friends who are teachers and actors and writers and even accountants who make much less than I do. My regular social circle skews 6-figure income, but it’s not exclusive and that’s not the norm. It’s an interesting place to be.

So if you’re a person who makes less (or more) than some of your friends, how can you handle the situation?

  1. Address it like Phoebe did, especially if you’re on the lower-income side and your friends are not being considerate of that

  2. If you do have a higher income or know someone is watching their finances, be mindful of that when you plan events they’ll attend

  3. Decline an invitation if it’s more expensive or suggest a less expensive alternative (like wine night in instead of wine night out!)

  4. Accept gifts from your friends if they, like the Haves of the Friends gang, want to take you to something at their expense that you wouldn’t normally attend (as long as you know they won’t hold it over your head)

  5. Find more like-minded friends (Mr. Jamie Griffin talks about this!) if these friends continuously disregard your financial situation [https://mrjamiegriffin.com/2018/10/15/change-your-life/]

Most importantly, remember that, in the wise words of Maren Morris:

The background’s only a secondary fixture /

Where we went for dinner? Shoot, I don’t remember /

But we had a good time /

Together

Time with friends is wayyy more important than the setting around you when you see your friends! If that isn’t the case, get some new friends cuz yours suck.

Hustle, baby

Phoebe lived a HARD life. Like…she had an outrageously exaggerated bad childhood (on the average; I’m sure it’s happened to a few people). Her mom killed herself when she was in middle school, she was homeless after that, and there are so many stories related to her time in The Streets she could have starred in Step Up 2.

In par because of her difficult upbringing, Phoebe learned to hustle. When she loses one job, she immediately jumps into another money-making scheme. She gets fired for inappropriate behavior as a massage therapist a few times (contributing to why Phoebe annoys me), but she sets up shop for herself when her license isn’t suspended.

She briefly runs a catering company with Monica (an honorable mention Money Lesson I Learned from Phoebe: going into business with friends can be difficult), she refuses to accept nonpayment from clients, and she tries to make money from former side hustles, like her music.

Being able to support yourself in a pinch or if a big, involuntary job change happens can be the difference between bankruptcy and prosperity. Being willing to demand the pay you’re owed or command the fee you deserve is the difference between a business succeeding or flailing, if not failing. It’s one of Phoebe’s great qualities.

I’ve learned to hustle over the years, and once you learn how to do it, it’s addicting! When I was semi-employed, I babysat for a wealthy family to keep my cash flow positive. I was prepared to apply for retail jobs (it was near the holiday season) to make ends meet if necessary. I demand fair treatment on prices and always ask for refunds or compensation if something goes disastrously wrong [American Airlines]. I aggressively credit card hack and save thousands each year on travel.

Phoebe is also unafraid to fail. She starts businesses that go nowhere and then moves on to other things without breaking much of a sweat. I have not mastered the art of being unphased by failure, but I’m working on it, because that’s one of the surest ways to success in life.

Phoebe’s a hustler, baby, and don’t you forget it. Being scrappy is an incredibly valuable trait to have, especially when you aren’t fully financially independent. Embrace it if you do have it and cultivate if if you don’t.

Money isn’t everything. Doing what aligns with your values/gifts and what makes sense for your life and your family is way more important.

Phoebe is excellent at sticking to her own story. She didn’t choose her career based on what would make the most money, she chose something she was good at, cared about doing, and would benefit people. She was a massage therapist for most of the show.

This totally aligns with Phoebe’s hippie/New Agey values, and while she didn’t make as much money as some of the other friends (she even turned down that big Wall Street job, remember? LOL), she was satisfied with what she was doing with her life and it didn’t clash with things she cared about. Unlike the time she wore the fur coat.

 I’ve been reading up and for your information, minks aren’t very nice!

I’ve been reading up and for your information, minks aren’t very nice!

There are a lot of things to consider about how you make your living, and if you only do it for the money, you’ll be absolutely miserable.

I’ll tell you a story. A close family friend is in a very difficult professional program (law, medicine, pharmacy, etc.), which I will decline to name specifically for purposes of their anonymity. This career path will likely be lucrative, but this person’s family is suffering greatly from their time in school. Their spouse is not supportive even though they discussed several times before my friend decided to enter the program and their spouse agreed to support them through the program.

The situation is a lot more complicated than that, but suffice it to say my friend was on the right track by considering how the career choice would affect their family: their spouse, children, happiness, etc. Sure, they are going to be making a ton of money, which I think appealed to their spouse, but at what cost? Their marriage?

Choosing something you know you can tolerate (even if you don’t love it) and insisting your sources of income don’t misalign with your values, even if it doesn’t pay as much as another job, is one of the best ways to eliminate a potentially devastating stressor from your life.

Trust me. I took a job in BigLaw (huge law firm requiring big hours and paying big money, for those who aren’t in the legal world) and it made me absolutely miserable. It may have been the particulars of the job, but I know that I can never jump back to BigLaw thoughtlessly, no matter how appealing that $300k paycheck may be. Some things just aren’t worth your sanity.

Phoebe I would but I don't want to

And that, my friends, concludes Money Lessons I Learned from Friends. What lessons did you learn from Phoebe? Do you agree with me that she’s only slightly less annoying than Ross? :D Share in the comments!