Readers Spill: True Stories About Friendship and Money

Libby Kane
Posted

Have you ever borrowed money from a friend?

How about lent money? Covered the missing $10 in a restaurant check because you couldn’t stand to talk about it anymore?

Friends and money are both big parts of our lives, so overlap is almost inevitable. That overlap, though, can be fraught.

As it turns out, 20% of people recently surveyed by CouponCabin.com have had “friend break-ups” over money issues, and 31% claim they spend more on friends than vice versa. (Perhaps we shouldn’t have been so surprised, after reading this story about the money mistake that ended a friendship.)

We wondered: What are the different shapes that money issues with friends can take?

So we asked four LearnVesters to tell us their stories of friendship and money gone wrong. To avoid even more awkward friend moments, we’ve changed all of their names. Now we hope you’ll share your own.

Sophie: On Being the ‘Poor’ Friend

In my family, it was understood that once I graduated and moved to New York City for my first full-time job, I would be financially independent. I was excited, my parents were expectant and my college friends who moved to the city with me were surprised.

That’s because they were still getting money from their parents and using that cushion for nights out at clubs with $20 covers and $16 cocktails. Meanwhile, my paycheck barely paid my rent and my bills. “Seriously,” I’d say to them, “I only have $30 to spend this week. Let’s cook and eat at my place.”

But somehow, for my friends, my penchant for “Two-Buck Chuck”—discount grocery store wine decidedly in my budget—wasn’t appealing when weighed against dinners at trendy restaurants. So I found myself turning down invitations. From their perspective, I wasn’t putting much effort into the friendship. From mine, they were valuing their need to go out over spending time with me. It definitely sparked some fights, but it wasn’t so much the money as the fact that we couldn’t understand each other’s perspectives.

Eventually, these friends became varying degrees of financially independent, and now that they have to support themselves, they’re a lot more receptive to Two-Buck Chuck. But although we’re still friends, I feel like their lack of understanding taught me how central money is to relationships. Now, I try to be as sympathetic as possible when they tell me they can’t afford to go out. I might even find the role reversal satisfying … if I weren’t still on such a tight budget myself!

Michaela: On Buying a Friendship

I met Brandi my first year of college, when she lived right down the hall. She was smart, fun … and came from a less fortunate family. Although she was on scholarships, she always held jobs. I, on the other hand, was lucky that my parents could to pay for my education, and provide me with ample spending money. Despite our differences, we became fast friends.

Since she never had the cash to go off campus, I fell into the habit of paying her way at movies, dinners and anything else. She was conflicted about accepting, but I put it this way: The pleasure of her company was worth it to me. We soon fell into a routine of me treating her to outings, but at some point, the balance shifted from me offering to treat … to her assuming I would pay.

Brandi would call me up and say “Let’s go out, you can pay!” and I disliked it. I felt like I was being taken advantage of. She never tried to repay me in ways she could afford, like making me tea or bringing over chocolates, not even gestures that don’t depend on money. I’m sure she figured an extra $20 here and there didn’t mean much to me, but it did add up. Eventually I avoided hanging out with her, or came up with the cheapest possible way for us to hang out, like chilling in our rooms. I realized I should have been figuring out affordable ways for us to connect all along, instead of setting up the dynamic of my treating.

But then she went home over the summer and had trouble finding work. She called me and said she was living off mac and cheese and was hungry, and that she couldn’t afford a plane ticket back to school. Could I lend her $400? So I did. I felt honored that she trusted me enough to ask, and honestly, liked that I could put a price on what a good friend I was.

She paid back my loan the minute she had the money–it was a large enough sum that she and I both took it seriously. Now, we live in different cities and aren’t as close as we once were. If she needed another loan, I would do it in a second, but I’m glad we’re no longer in a position where I feel like I’m footing the bill for our friendship.

Phoebe: On Freeloading Friends

After moving to New York City two weeks before my childhood best friend, Sarah, I found an apartment and told her that she could stay with me for a couple weeks while she looked for a place of her own. She moved in when I did, and was with me on my first night in the new apartment, both of us on an air mattress.

Another roommate, Tina, bought a couch for our living room, which Sarah slept on while apartment-hunting for the next month. Sarah bought our first trash can and some roach baits (this was my first NYC apartment, after all) but I couldn’t help feeling she was neither a roommate nor a house guest. She wasn’t cooking dinner once in a while to show her thanks, or outright thanking the three of us profusely. But, a month in, she also wasn’t paying any rent—and didn’t offer to. Meanwhile, each roommate was paying $900 a month.

Then the couch broke–it was $300 from a dodgy neighborhood place with no warranty–and Tina blamed Sarah because she’d been sleeping on it. Between Sarah not offering to replace the couch or pay rent, Tina’s patience ran out. My roommates staged an intervention for me, saying they felt taken advantage of, and asked me to demand rent from Sarah in the hopes it’d incite her to leave. So I asked Sarah to chip in $15 for each additional day she stayed.

She found an apartment and moved out less than a week after I asked for money. Was this just coincidence, or was she only using us for free housing?

I wish the story ended there, but it took Sarah about three months before she finally gave us the $75 from that last week and returned the keys, and she avoided my calls for months (out of anger and shame, I later learned). We eventually made up, but our friendship has never been the same. For me, this incident wasn’t really about money. It was about feeling used … and being caught between my two best friends.

Victoria: On Being the Money-Toxic Friend

I am a money-toxic friend to one of my BFFs, and I feel terribly guilty about it. The worst part is that even though I know I play this role, I sometimes can’t stop myself from doing money-toxic things to him.

I make more money than this person, whom I’ll call B. B is not destitute at all. He has a nice apartment, travels a lot and is fairly relaxed about small amounts of money. He never hesitates to spot me a tenner for a cab or to tip generously at restaurants. But I also know he’s not saving as much as I am for retirement or emergencies.

Although we seem to spend similarly, I may have more spending money, too. B was stunned one time when I, on a whim, spent $100 on some jewelry. And sometimes, I suggest we go out to restaurants that set us back $50-$100. It’s a lot of money for me, too, but I can make it work. I think those meals put B over, and so he’ll sometimes say he doesn’t want to go to such an expensive restaurant.

I’ve been trying to stop putting him in these situations, partially because I also don’t want to spend tons of money on dinner, and partially because I don’t like being the money-toxic friend. And lastly, because I care about B and his financial health more than I do about fancy restaurants.

Can you relate? We’d love to hear how money has impacted your friendships.

  • http://twitter.com/krnstudio Karen Kelly

    Sure can relate. I’m on the “giving side” and have “loaned/given” to various people for years. I appreciate those who treat me with dignity and respect and “pay their own way”. When I’ve been on the “receiving side” it’s usually a gift – not money. I truly believe, “What goes ’round, comes ’round!”

  • Michelle

     I had the same experience as Michaela. It made me so upset when this friend began to “expect” for me to pay for her everywhere. She may have learned her lesson, but I don’t consider us friends anymore. She wants to make things better, but I am just afraid she wants to continue using me.

  • KeelyAnn

    It’s frustrating at times, but I typically stand on the lower end of the financial spectrum. If a friend is desperate I will arrange my life to cover them, but most of my friends make far more than me, or have parents that cover their way. When it comes to going out they oftentimes pay my way if they can convince me to accept their outting invitation. It’s difficult though because even though we don’t keep a record due to our friendships, I can’t help but constantly try to pay them back. I focus on giving of my time and skills to ‘pay them back’ by making dinner, or giving back massages (I’m not certified, but pretty skilled), or I will change my work schedules to run errands on my end of town for them. Even though my friends never ask for me to pay them back I find myself constantly attempting to return the favor with my ‘love language’ of acts of service (5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman). It’s not always the healthiest of friendships, but it seems to be the stage in my life right now as I trudge through my college days.

    • Thirdof3atUMD

      i hope you aren’t just “trudging” through your college days! I hope you are enjoying them! 

      • KeelyAnn

        Oh yes, I love school and am an extreme supporter of further education. The trudge is strictly in relation to the financial status of ‘making it through’ as I earn my degrees. I pay for all of my education myself. So far, no debt! Smiling.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dianedarcyschmidt Diane Darcy-Schmidt

    I am married & my husband and I do pretty well, actually, really well.  I have a friend that is just horrible with money. She spends on frivolous things, like getting her nails done, and getting a dog, but can’t make her rent or car payment.  Last year, we went to visit her down in NC.  I pulled her credit reports, and showed her how to do that yearly at no cost. We set up a budget, I bought her 2 books on budgeting (Ramit Sethi’s “I Will Teach You to be Rich” and Suze Orman’s “Young Broke & Fabulous”) and tell her to read, she’ll learn a lot that she didn’t already know.  We set up payment plans for creditors that were banging down her door for medical bills, vet bills, credit cards, etc.  When I left her I felt that she was on the right path – I told her to call me whenever she had questions, no matter how silly they were, that I would help however I could.

    She complained in the process of all of this, that we make so much more than her (about 5 times as much) so it was easier.  I pointed out that I had nearly that much more in obligations as well with student loans, cars and a house.  I also pointed out that despite making 5 times as much, I don’t get my nails done, I clip coupons and I use things until they break and can no longer be repaired. I suggested her getting a second job somewhere to work one or two nights a week and a Saturday or Sunday (she’s a teacher).  I also suggested her giving her dog up for adoption because she could not afford the bills & food that came along with having the dog.

    About 2 months later, her posts on Facebook indicated she wasn’t doing so hot financially, and I put a call out to her – what was going on. Her car had been repossessed and now she had even more bills to get it back and make forward payments to get back on track.  When I asked how this happened if she was following the budget we set up, she said, well I took a trip to Charleston. I about blew a gasket, trying to explain that she had to get out of the mindset of spending because you feel like you deserve it, and spend because you’ve budgeted for it – you did nothing to earn that trip.  She asked me for $600 to get the car back, and make the forward payment.  I declined saying that I didn’t think that it would help her in the long run because she didn’t have her priorities right and that we’d be in the same position a few months in the future if she didn’t make drastic charges.

    We’ve basically stopped talking because of all of this, and she has since had the car repossessed again and been evicted from her apartment.  She is now living with her ex-stepmother, who was kind enough to take her in while she tried, yet again, to get on her feet.

    • Thirdof3atUMD

      looking up the book – thanks! 

    • Corrinastone

       Thank you for the book information.  I will look for it at the library or paperbackswap.com !

  • Rob Drury

    It’s always my policy to NEVER lend money to family or friends.  If there’s a need, I weigh the importance of that need and my ability to meet it, and if I’m able, I GIVE them the money.  If they pay me back, that’s great; If not, it’s not worth destroying a relationship with someone important to me.

    • sigmatheta

       I have the same policy.  I never lend money unless I’m fine with never seeing it again.  I think of it as a gift.  If I can’t afford to lose it, I don’t give it.  And I don’t try to control or check up on what the recipient does with it, either.  If I learn that they’ve misused it, I just take that into account for the future and they may or may not get anymore – but I still get to have a good relationship with people who, whatever their flaws, are important to me.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/EZ2NIOBUA2WBL4E43DBGIXEPFY Hannah Rose

      Good for you! I also have a friend who was taught to never loan money; just give it as a gift, whether or not it returns to her. I agree that money issues should not be more important than people! 

      • Rob Drury

        This issue really hit home with me about 20 years ago when my brother-in-law asked to borrow $500.  No problem; I wrote the check and didn’t think a thing about it.  If I never saw a penny of it, I wouldn’t even have remembered, but every time I saw him for several years, he’d bring it up and promise he’d pay me back soon.  Eventually, it really got under my skin.

    • Lucy P.

       I feel the same way. I’ll lend money to my sisters because they’ve helped me out when I needed it and I’ve always paid them back. But for friends, I’d rather not endanger our friendship over money issues.

  • 90 degrees

    Me and my sister have been living on our own for a little under a year now. When we moved out of our parents, we incidentally moved closer to one of my sister’s friends (let’s call her Kirsti). When Kirsti came home on the weekends from college, she’d often drop by for a drink because her parents were fanatics who wouldn’t let her drink at home. We weren’t having raves or drinking bottles of tequila–it was just wine and the occasional 6-pack of beer. This was right about the time that I was learning how to appreciate wine and we were still in the $6-$8/bottle phase. It was no big deal to share a bottle, or even two, with Kirsti because it was so cheap. However, Kirsti rarely if ever chipped in for drinks, somehow magically showing up the day after we’d bought it and stuck it in the fridge to chill. “Heey! Let’s have a drink. Do you need wine? Oh, you got some yesterday? Perfect!” seemed to be her line. We didn’t bother her much about it because it was cheap wine and she was still the classic “broke college student.”

    Since then, I’ve lost my full time job and am working about three different part-time gigs to pays the bills. And… we’ve moved waaaay past the $6/bottle phase. We’re somewhere in the $15-$20/bottle phase and we certainly don’t drink through three bottles of wine in a single evening anymore. Kirsti has graduated, she has a steady job, and she still wants to drink a bottle of our wine in the evening with us several times a week. Additionally, she just blew over a thousand dollars on handbags. She bought me a nice little clutch for my birthday but she has yet to buy a bottle of wine when she comes over to get away from her parents and have a drink. 
    Both me and my sister feel like she’s turned into a freeloader and we don’t know how to nicely tell her that if she’s going to come over to have a drink, she needs to chip in and bring a bottle or some other form of contribution. We’ve tried suggesting it jokingly and she always promises to bring some over “at a mystery future date.” It’s gotten to the point where I make sure to remind my sister when Kirsti’s coming over that we can’t open a bottle of wine. I don’t want to lose a friend, but she really hasn’t taken the hint.

    • Knowurself

      I think you need to call Kristi on the way over to your house and say “hey could you pick up the wine”  I mean really …. She knows what she is doing….

    • ranavain

      You could start a formal-ish wine club! Email her (and maybe 2 or 3 other friends, if you wish), and say something like “We love expanding our wine repetiore, but it’s too expensive to try it all! Lets form a group to meet once a week, and we can alternate who brings the wine!” Something like that, so you’re clear that the problem is price, but that you’d love to continue drinking it with her. 

      You could also just start hiding the wine. :)

    • Midlifemax

      Have you ever considered that she, and you, drink excessively?

  • http://Www.Plantingourpennies.Com/ Mrs PoP

    I am much more likely to insist on separate checks with friends than the hubby. I think there’s some male gene that makes them pick up the check more often. Recently the hubs told me he went out fora beer with a friend of ours who is retired (he retired in his 40s). But some of his investments went sideways instead of up for a while so he’s working part time now. The hubs felt bad about the fact that he’s back working and paid for dinner and beers for both of them! I couldn’t believe it – we’re not anywhere close to retirement and have we much smaller net worth, but the hubs felt bad so coughed up $50.
    http://Www.Plantingourpennies.Com

  • http://www.amateurvagrant.com/ Rae

    I just started taking my budget seriously this spring, and then this summer I’ve had one guest after another, both friends and family. I tried warning people in advance that we weren’t going out to eat these days, but then my brother was offended that we wanted to eat rice and beans (and chorizo!) instead of something nicer. Not to mention the happy hours and the little day trips we had to go on to “entertain” our visitors…all the little things we don’t do when left to our own devices. At this point, my boyfriend and I have agreed that we aren’t hosting anyone else for a couple of months. I hate that it’s come to this point, but we’re on a tight budget right now and even being explicit with guests (who I was otherwise very happy to see) got me nowhere and I ended up using my credit card a lot to accommodate them. 

    • Debfree

      i hear you.  i’ve dealt with all 4 situations above, but at the end of the day, even with explicit explanations – i am paying back my student loans, so i can’t afford to do x, y, AND z.  but some friends will suggest the most expensive places possible for a dinner out.  no one wants to come over and eat dinner that i cook for them (which honestly puts me out only and they eat for free!), and then the freeloaders who expect free things as if it’s their birth right…  i stopped having house guests.  i turn down so many invitations to eat/drink out.  i realize it is making me grow apart from several friends, but so many i know can’t even afford their lifestyle.  i was in credit card debt twice before and i realized a large part of it was so that i could hangout with certain friends who were wringing me dry.  and maybe they aren’t really worth the friendship anymore.  i would say i’m still acquaintances with all of them, but it’s kind of sad that all these people i thought were good, close friends sort of faded away when i stopped spending so much when i was with them or paying for them.

    • Debfree

      i hear you.  i’ve dealt with all 4 situations above, but at the end of the day, even with explicit explanations – i am paying back my student loans, so i can’t afford to do x, y, AND z.  but some friends will suggest the most expensive places possible for a dinner out.  no one wants to come over and eat dinner that i cook for them (which honestly puts me out only and they eat for free!), and then the freeloaders who expect free things as if it’s their birth right…  i stopped having house guests.  i turn down so many invitations to eat/drink out.  i realize it is making me grow apart from several friends, but so many i know can’t even afford their lifestyle.  i was in credit card debt twice before and i realized a large part of it was so that i could hangout with certain friends who were wringing me dry.  and maybe they aren’t really worth the friendship anymore.  i would say i’m still acquaintances with all of them, but it’s kind of sad that all these people i thought were good, close friends sort of faded away when i stopped spending so much when i was with them or paying for them.

    • LeAnne

      Don’t worry about it!  You’ve done what you could.  Although, I’m a little surprised that so many people are staying at your house and not offering to take you out to dinner!  If someone was putting me up for free (rather than having me stay at a hotel), I would definitely offer to treat them to dinner!

    • Joannie

      Congrats on taking your budget so seriously!  My husband  & I live in a touristy New England beach town & `company’ invites itself, esp. in these summer/fall months.  Because we are only a few happy years away from retirement, and I have happily paid off all credit card debt-our mortgage paid off when I was in my late 30s- and now am debt-free, I have stopped guests from staying.  It was always going out to drink and eat-very expensive.  I would tell your guests that you love them very much, but please stay at an Inn or Hotel-you value your privacy now.  Believe me, no one cares about your finances more, except you!  Take care of yourself and good luck!  There is nothing like being debt-free, except the blessiness of good health-good luck!

  • Paradoxied

     I used to be the friend who treated my best friend whenever we went out, mainly because I wanted someone to go out with, and I told myself it was worth it for the sake of her company.  Problem is, she never paid me back or offered to treat me (since she was poor, which was fine with me), but I kept finding out that she was buying birthday gifts and Christmas gifts for all her friends (except me).  She was also my “sister” due to her mom kicking her out of the house and my family taking her in, and her Christmas gifts to us consisted not of anything thoughtful but obviously items she had purchased for herself and didn’t want anymore.  I lent her my futon which I paid for with the agreement that she would either pay me for it or return the futon to me.  She never did either and the perfectly good mattress got thrown out when she moved out of her college apartment.   Later, I found out that while my parents were paying for her college education, her financial aid had refunded her $5,000 and she was using it to spend on frivolous things over the summer, rather than paying it back to my parents, since that money belonged to them. That was the last straw and I ended our friendship that year.

  • Bvlibrarian

    I’ve been seeing a man for about eight years.  Recently, he has had some financial setbacks.  I would like to go out to eat/movie a couple of times a month but this isn’t happening lately.  I do my part by cooking a nice meal and renting a movie on Sunday nights with him.  When I want to go out – I find a girlfriend to go with me.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/EZ2NIOBUA2WBL4E43DBGIXEPFY Hannah Rose

    It’s sad to me that money can play such a negative role in relationships, though it often does. I had a boyfriend who was relieved to have me move out, because I was not working a full-time job (I did find part-time work here and there) and carrying my share of the load. So even though I was sharing the cooking, doing most of the house cleaning and laundry, and helping out with his 6 yr. old son whenever the kid visited, J. did not appreciate any of that enough to count it as my contribution.

    More recently, I had arranged with a friend to have Christmas eve together, at the home where I was house-sitting. M. and I were each to chip in an agreed-upon amount for the ingredients, all of which I was cooking/preparing. I had said to her early  on that I might invite a couple of other friends to join us, only they did not respond until the day before. When I told M. that 2 friends were joining us, she was furious, and said, “why should I pay for your friends to eat?” I assured her that they would chip in money and/or food–which they did–but that was not good enough for M. She cancelled our dinner date, and we ended the 5-year friendship over that. OUCH!

  • http://twitter.com/Lbeemoneytree Lauren Bee

    I think everyone has had a money situation with a friend and even though friends can recover the dynamic is never really the same, unfortunately. Money makes things weird and it shouldn’t! http://www.lbeeandthemoneytree.com

  • Kellyc

    We “loaned” money to friends when they decided they had enough of CA.after 20+ years.  The plan was to help them get situated and they would pay as they could.

    $700 and almost a year later, the friendship has gone from having fun times at each others houses to them not answering any messages and making excuses every time we talk.  

    The lying and constant excuses are killing the friendship making us skeptical of every conversation we have. 

  • Nothingbut Rainydays

    I had a friendship with a couple who were (and probably still are) always broke. Being constantly one step ahead of having my own lights turned off, it frosted me to watch “D” throw a pot of spagetti down the sink just because hubby refuses to eat leftovers.

    D and hubby were always broke.  Both spent money as soon as it was in their hot little fists on “toys” and outings, etc.  One Fri D called to borrow $300 “just til Mon” because she was positive the bank made a mistake in her checking. Despite being skeptical, because we were friends I took a cash advance against my credit card and forked over the money. Monday came and oh dear; the bank was right and son of gun, she didn’t have the money to pay me back!

    A few months later, I fell for the same line knowing full well D had never balanced a check book in her entire life, nor could she.  Still, she was my best friend, so my credit card took another $300 hit.

    Some months later, D and hubby decided to move to Montana where things were “cheaper”.  A couple of months later, I got a letter… they were out of money and needed food for the kids and laundry soap, etc… could I “send” her some money?  Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice… well, there WERE kids involved.  This time I spent a good $100 on food, TP, soap, etc. and UPS’d it to her knowing the money wouldn’t be squandered.  I never heard from her again, not even a thank you. 

    I figure this was a $700 plus lesson well learned.

    • ranavain

      Wow, you are a truly great friend! It’s too bad D and hubby never appreciated that (appreciate = paying you back and thanking you, at the least!)

  • Kmullinax86

    Last December I moved in with my boyfriend and his roommate. I also had a friend from college move in with us because she was going through some financial difficulties.I told her exactly how much rent would be plus her share of the utilities and she agreed. I had no issues letting her live with us because I knew her to be a responsible person who carried her own weight. My boyfriend, understanding her situation and believing my evaluation of her, told her that if she had a month where she couldn’t make all of her rent, to just give him what she could. Well, eight months later I learned that she had been paying only most of her rent every month, and she never paid utilities. In addition, she was hardly there, but when she was she’d have one or two guys with her and she’d buy alcohol for them and use our resources to make them dinner, then they’d eat, drink and go pass out. She also left her mess (clothes, dirty dishes, books and papers, etc) all over the place and never cleaned up after herself or her guests. Recently we all moved out of our old house and she parted ways with the rest of us. Guess what? She packed up her items and moved out, leaving us to clean up her garbage and clean her old room. 
    Thankfully it’s just my boyfriend, me, and our two other roomies now . We all get along well and all work to carry our own weight. 

  • kal98

    what’s even worse is freeloading brothers and sisters who you sacrifice and help and then one day when you need help they always say, I just can’t, but daddy just gave the first born son a car or house or free trip or a whirlpool bathtub! this really hurts families are suppose to stick together but that is just bs. I met great families and wonder why why could I not have been in this family they are so kind, normal and sharing! lol!