Rebecca Cohen – @rebeccaocohen

Remember those college days when a free slice of pizza would bring everyone you knew to literally ANY campus meet-and-greet? Remember when sweet luxury meant escaping your parents’ house to sit in Starbucks with a friend for three hours?

Well, those days are long gone. The free pizza crew has evolved into varied levels of professional adults and pizza has been fast replaced with suggestions for dinner at the latest $3-sign spot in Midtown East or $18 drinks at that place in Tribeca (a little steep, but it’s [insert friend name here]’s birthday!)

And here you are, doing your very best at work, slowly getting your life together and furnishing your apartment as things go on sale at T.J. Maxx, and that group text makes your heart sink a little. You are The Poor Friend.

There are phases in coming to this realization.

CaptureIn Phase One, you go to all the birthday dinners, join friends for drinks each weekend and buy the “cheap” $65 concert ticket. But when credit card bill time rolls around, you have a panic attack.

This leads to Phase Two – the complaining period, also know as when the Poor Friend joins an online wine club with four friends, then vents about how expensive toilet paper is.

Phase Three: The Poor Friend gives up and stays home spending NO MONEY for a while, watching Netflix and eating pasta alone feeling bad while everyone else is out living their “Sex and the City” lives.

It’s easy to feel undervalued as The Poor Friend, like you don’t measure up. But slowly building a career, saving for a rainy day, wearing the same sweaters four winters in a row and paying back student loans does not imply inadequacy. It  means you are a scrappy, smart, creative woman on the road to conquering the world in your own unique style.

Instead of bemoaning your account balance or never seeing anyone but your roommate and Netflix account, try to make plans more budget-friendly.

Friends worth holding onto merit countering an expensive invitation with “I’m in the mood for Chinese. Wanna come over and watch ‘Gilmore Girls’ and we’ll order in?” They’ll understand – and if they don’t, they might not be worthwhile friends anymore.

Branching out and expanding your friend network can also help. Still in school? Ask the girl you chat with every Wednesday before class to grab a beer afterward. Do some Facebook research and find a few old friends worth reconnecting with, or join a volunteer group to find other people passionate about the things that you are.

Everyone’s priorities are different. As hard as it can be, be happy for your peers who can buy the things they want. Find your own priorities, and make that budget work. Unsubscribe from those tempting weekly 40 percent off LOFT emails, order shampoo from Walmart, seize the eating-in opportunity to cook healthier. Do whatever it takes to turn that heart-sinking feeling when someone your age mentions a “cheap” weekend in the Bahamas into the joy of doing things your way.