One night, Sarah, a veterinarian in her thirties, was having dinner with Laura, a close friend since high school.
Laura had struggled with overspending for as long as her friend could remember. In fact, Sarah once had to give her a last-minute loan to help out with a down payment on an apartment. But now, freshly married with a new massive mortgage, Laura was landing in trouble again.
As her friend rattled off her list of home renovations and electronics she’d impulse-bought—like a new, bigger flat-screen TV—Sarah began to get the sinking feeling that Laura’s mounting credit card debt would soon catch up to her, and she knew from previous talks that she wasn’t saving for retirement. Not a penny.
“If I’m not going to say it, no one will,” she thought. The two were that close.
And, as it became clearer and clearer that Laura might once again be digging herself into a hole she couldn’t get out of, Sarah couldn’t bite her tongue any longer. Finally, she said: “Is saving for retirement on your radar anywhere?”
While your conversation might go a bit differently, not knowing what to say when it comes to friends and their finances is fairly common. The subjects we tend to skirt with acquaintances—religion, politics, sex—are often free rein in close friendships. Yet discussing money can sometimes be a whole different ball game.
If someone we care about is sinking into credit card debt, or making poor financial plans for the future, we may be tempted to step in. But is money a subject we should simply leave alone?
“It’s tricky to know when and how to intervene,” says Dr. Irene Levine, a professor of psychiatry at New York University and author of “Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup With Your Best Friend.” “But when a close friend is undermining her own success with a pattern of poor financial decisions, you would want to let the person know,” says Levine. “This is no different than helping a friend face a problem with drugs or alcohol.”
We spoke to money and etiquette experts to find out how to balance that fine line between offering support—and wrecking a long-time friendship.