The Friendship Tax

Be intentional about who you keep close to you.

Robert M. Vunabandi
4 min readApr 1, 2023

Imagine you live in a Country where there is a friendship tax: you pay $2 for the first friend you have, and for every friend after that you have to pay 1.6 times the previous friends’ tax:

  • Your 1st friend will costs you $2/year
  • Your 2nd friend will costs you $3.2/year
  • Your 3rd friend will cost you $5.12/year
  • Your 10th friend will cost you $14.90/year, which is still manageable
  • However, your 20th friend will cost a whooping $15,111.57/year!
  • And if you had 20 friends in total, you will be paying a total of $40,294.19/year in total for the Friendship tax (summing up everything).

That’s quite a lot of money just to maintain 20 friends. Make that 30, and you would be paying ~$4.43M/year—something that the overwhelming majority of people cannot afford—which leaves friendships for the rich.

At this point, just like me, you’re probably thinking, “what a stupid country to live in!” In fact I initially started out asking this question to some of my friends in a joking way (I tend to ask crazy questions like that here and there), but then I thought about it some more and realized that this whole stupid country/friendship tax isn’t that crazy after all: the frienship tax already exists!

Photo by Danie Franco on Unsplash

We Are All Already Paying the Friendship Tax

Though this doesn’t officially exist in any country or rule of law, if you really think about it, the time, attention, energy, mental space, and sometimes even money you spend on the friends you have is a form of a friendship tax. On top of that, the way I have set it up such that it’s exponential (i.e., each new friend costs you more than the previous one) is indeed how it is in real life.

Your Time is Limited

No matter who you are, you have 24 hours a day. And I know you’ve heard this before. There’s only so much you can do in a day, and therefore, there’s only so much you can do with any particular friend. In order to properly maintain a friendship, you need to “water” that relationship. To water it, it demands that your time, and each additional friend taxes away more time that could be put into something else.

Your Attention is Limited

On top of that, the friendships you have demand your attention. You need to spend a little bit of time to focus on each of your friends. That is, if you want to be a good friend.

Your Energy is Limited

When you spend your time and attention on something, it drains your energy. When that is drained, there’s only so much left that you can devote to doing other things. Even if you are super extroverted and love spending all of your time with people, you cannot accomplish anything anything in your own life if you don’t put that energy towards other things like your career or at least some sort of job to pay the bills.

Your Mental Space is Limited

Quoting Wikipedia, your short term memory can only hold about 7 things plus or minus 2. So, all the friends you have and are thinking of are taking up your mental space. That real estate—that mental space, unfortunately, is not free. Obviously, the Wikipedia article is talking about 7 things at a particular time, so at other times you can hold other friends in your head. Still, there’s only so many people that you can hold in your head altogether for an extended period of time.

Your Money is Limited

Not that it is required, having friends lead to you spending money either on them, because of them, or with them. It could be through gifts, or it could be through activities you do with your friends. These friends are also costing you money in terms of opportunity cost: what you can do with that time, attention, energy, and mental space that you’ve spent on a particular friend you can do with other things that could make you earn money.

Should You Now Stop Having Friends Altogether?

Obviously not. The point of this article is not to encourage people to not have friends. Friends (and other relationships) are one of the things that make life truly worth living.

Instead, the point is to give you a different perspective into your friendships. Have you ever done something, perhaps repeatedly, for someone else that you didn’t want to do but told yourself that it was worth it for the friendship? Have you ever associated yourself with people that don’t help you become a better person? Have you ever stuck with people whose goals and values are directly opposite of yours? Have you ever stuck to people that literally drag you down and make your life worse?

Imagine that you had to pay a tax for being friends with all of those people that aren’t helping you, and imagine that for each one of those that you added, you had to pay even more taxes. How many of those people would you cut? How many friends that you have are worth paying a price for? You should think about that because you’re already paying the price in the form of your time, attention, energy, and mental space. You just don’t see it because these things are not tangible.



Robert M. Vunabandi

Learning through life experiences and books, I share my ever-evolving understanding of the world and the niche-sphere of life that I live in.