Overall, make sure the chat focuses on what could be possible. If a friend mentions she’s having budgeting trouble, offer a larger, positive goal instead of chiding her about mistakes. For example, you might say, “Let’s figure out a budget that works so you can save up for that trip to Italy you always wanted to take.”
4. Recommend an Expert
Letting an expert get down to the nitty-gritty can be a good way to keep the situation neutral. Say: “I just met with John Smith at ABC Company who did an amazing job helping me plan for retirement. If you ever need someone to help, I could pass along his number.” Or, if a certain book inspired you, order it and have it mailed to a friend.
Martin wound up recommending a financial advisor to her frequent-borrower friend, who was then able to set up a budget that didn’t rely on plying family members for cash.
In the case of her old friend the over-spender, Sarah chose to subtly email her a story she’d seen about saving for retirement. “It was more constructive because it was an article, like ‘Hey, check this out!’” she says, and let a third party handle the touchy specifics. Laura appreciated the gentle wake-up call, and later upped the contribution amount to her 401(k).
5. Offer Help, Without Offering Cash
If a friend is seriously struggling, you might feel compelled to pitch in financially, assume control of the situation—or both. But is it a good idea?
Jeffrey, 25, a financial analyst, knew his roommate was falling into deep credit card debt, and chose to get involved. He paid off his friend’s balance to give him a fresh start, brought out scissors to cut up his cards and created a spreadsheet of his payments for him. But, lo and behold, a few days later, shiny new cards began arriving at the apartment. Within a year, the balance was back up to where it first was. And the friendship was strained.
“I’m the type of person who needs to intervene,” he says in his defense. Yet most experts say that digging into your own savings to lend a hand can often do more harm than good.
“Most money problems don’t come from lack of money, but from the inability to handle money and make wise money choices,” says Constance Hoffman, an etiquette coach and founder of Social & Business Graces. “Until the issues are addressed, no amount of money will help.”
Instead, support—and delicate advice-giving—can be more helpful in solving the deeper issue. “You never know how someone is going to react when it comes to talking about money,” says Solomon. But if you can make finances a low-key topic, an ‘intervention’ doesn’t have to be an intimidating lecture. If approached correctly, it might even strengthen a friendship.