Detroit Regional Chamber > Media Coverage > Want to Make a New Friend? How Much Money Have You Got?

Want to Make a New Friend? How Much Money Have You Got?

May 22, 2024

Photo credit: The Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal
May 17, 2024
Katherine Hamilton

Annabelle Havill spends at least $500 a month maintaining the three close friendships she made since moving to a new town two years ago with her husband and two children. That covers parties, book clubs and casual wine nights, averaging about $170 a friend.

Fortunately, they reciprocate. “It’s a lot more expensive to have friends than it is to not have friends,” said Havill, who is 42 years old and lives in Fauquier County, Va.

Making and keeping friends takes more money and effort than it used to. People spending less time at offices, schools and free community groups are now spending money to make friends. Rising prices at restaurants and bars mean that catching up over drinks or dinner can add up fast.

Americans today have fewer close connections than decades ago, a phenomenon compounded by the social isolation of the pandemic. Paying for art classes and gym memberships to meet people can be an expensive proposition. It takes around 200 hours to form a close friendship, according to research by Jeffrey Hall, a University of Kansas professor of communication studies.

And the price tag keeps rising: The cost of club memberships, lesson fees, event tickets, and food and alcohol outside the home rose almost 11% over the past two years, compared with 7.5% growth in prices of all goods and services, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

Paying to hang out

Jenny Orletski-Dehne, 33, has lived in the Detroit area for most of her life. As an adult, she made many of her friends through fitness classes and professional networking events. She spends around $200 a month on gym memberships that have sparked around 15 friendships, she calculates.

“I paid money for the community I found,” said Orletski-Dehne, who manages the business organization Let’s Detroit. “I’ve made lifelong friends that way, but it’s an expensive hobby.”

Roughly a third of gym members say they joined to meet new people, a survey by Statista found in 2021. And it isn’t just gyms. More than half of Americans say they have at least one friend with whom they participate in activities or hobbies, according to a survey by the American Enterprise Institute.

Making friendships in everyday settings—such as work and school—is more difficult when people are still spending lots of time at home.

“There is just an overall downward trend for people socializing in public spaces,” said Dan Cox, director of AEI’s Survey Center on American Life. “People [are] piecing together various ways to connect and socialize to feel that sense of belonging through commercial spaces.”

More spending, low returns

Orletski-Dehne also sought friends at professional networking events. Since the pandemic, she has noticed attendees are often more interested in growing their social circles than job hunting. But she has made only a couple of friends through the events, which cost up to $25, she said.

Paying for one-off events might not be the most effective way to build an intimate friendship, according to Hall, who says people have a higher chance of expanding their social circles in the places where they spend the most time.

Neighborhoods used to provide a local social network, but people aren’t as close with those who live closest to them. About 41% of Americans said they socialized with neighbors at least once a month in 2022, according to the General Social Survey—down from 61% in 1974.

Doug Copeland, 59, moved to an apartment in Kansas City, Mo., in January 2020 and described his relationship with his fellow tenants as cordial. When he was younger, he made friends by attending ballroom dancing classes with people who lived in his apartment building.

“Half your life is trying to get away from home and the second half of your life is trying to find home and your people again,” Copeland said.

Copeland has been spending about $500 a month on glass-blowing lessons, golf, tennis and YMCA lessons. He is still hoping a friendship will click.

For Havill, the $100 to $200 she was spending each month on pickleball paddles, crafting materials and cookie-baking or pottery-making gatherings didn’t pay off. The three friendships she formed were struck up while walking her dog and watching her children in her neighborhood.

Friends at a discount

Marley Aikhionbare, 22, and Rowan Lester, 20, are on a mission to create an affordable place to meet friends.

Seventeen percent of hybrid workers say they have a best friend at work, according to a 2022 Gallup poll of 4,000 workers. College students are lonelier and more isolated than their predecessors, a legacy of the Covid-era restrictions on campus life.

After dropping out of college, Aikhionbare, who uses they as a pronoun, felt isolated from people their own age who were in school. It wasn’t much better for Lester, who is graduating this spring from the University of California, Santa Cruz.

“I feel like we’re still very insular and we’ve been trained to be that way for the last couple years,” Lester said.

The duo’s goal: to remove both the awkwardness and expense of building a social life. In February, they hosted an event based on the idea of “third places,” a concept that refers to a space outside the home and workplace where people build community. Tickets to the event were $10, but a second event planned for the end of May will be free.

“What it takes to create a truly functional third space is having that statement saying this is specifically for socialization,” said Aikhionbare. “We need to kind of be told we have permission.”