Recently, an old friend invited me on a luxury spa weekend to mark her birthday. But I had to turn her down.
She has a brilliant career, no children, a rich boyfriend and enjoys the best life has to offer. I have four children, work part-time (so I earn less) and my husband’s business has been hit by the recession.
I simply can’t keep up with her in the financial stakes and it’s destroying our once strong friendship.
But it’s not just me. Other people I know tell me they are experiencing the friendship wealth gap. Nearly always, the richer friend tires of the poorer one’s inability to keep up with their lifestyle and drops them.
'I didn’t realise what a big part my salary played in my friendships until I lost it,’ says Gaby Seymour, 45. ‘It hurt when friends stopped calling me.’
In 2010, she was made redundant from her £100,000-a-year job in the City as a business manager. After a year of searching in vain for a job, she has set up a consultancy firm, but has yet to draw a salary.
'My City friends dropped away pretty fast after I lost my job,’ says Gaby, who lives in London with her husband James and son Will, six. ‘One friend did invite us out to a restaurant, but as I was struggling to pay the mortgage that was out of the question. After I turned him down a few times, he stopped asking.
'The most humiliating experience was being forced to sell my five-bedroom house to a colleague. I’d run out of money and had to downsize to a three-bedroom semi. I felt so mortified I couldn’t look her in the eye during the viewings.’
Gaby is far from alone in losing friends when she lost her job.
'It’s difficult to maintain friendships with people who have radically different finances,’ says Dr Rick Norris, a psychologist and author of Think Yourself Happy. ‘When people have a big win on the Lottery, they find it hard to retain old friendships because their wealth means they suddenly have far more choices in life.'
At least I can take comfort that in these straitened times I am not alone.
Sara Lang, 56, from Soham, Cambridgeshire, has also found that her friendships have crumbled since splitting from her partner of 12 years.
'We had never married, so I ended up with almost nothing when we split up,’ she says. She has worked as an executive PA, but is currently unemployed and living on Jobseeker’s Allowance.
'I’m broke. In fact, I am thousands of pounds in debt, while my friends are so well off they have paid off their mortgages,’ she says. ‘They are sick of me being penniless. I am an embarrassment to them. I have lost touch with some friends who were worried my bad luck would rub off on them.
'I can’t afford the petrol to visit friends in other parts of the country, and I can’t make any new friends because I don’t have the money to go out I can’t afford to go on a dating website to meet someone, so most nights I just stay in and stare at the four walls.
'One friend still asks me round without expecting invitations in return. She pretends she has a new recipe to try out on me to make me feel better. I try to contribute by doing the washing up or helping with the gardening, but I always feel as if I am the poor relation and it’s horrible.
'I’d like to invite people back to my house for a meal, but food is expensive. It’s embarrassing that my house is shabby and I have cheap toiletries in my bathroom.’
Christine Halliwell, 50, from Folkestone, Kent, shares Sara’s predicament.
'Next weekend, all my friends are going to London to see a show,’ she says. ‘The tickets cost £85, not to mention the train fares and a meal out. I simply can’t afford to go.
'I always tell them I’m too busy because I don’t want them to feel sorry