We couldn’t help but feel a twinge of both pity and schadenfreude when we found out that Britney Spears was a source of inspiration for Gwyneth Paltrow’s self-destructive, alcoholic character in Country Strong. You know how some people just bring you down? Certain friends may be physically or emotionally toxic a la Britney, and, alas, some can be financially toxic.
Do You Have A Money-Toxic Friend?
Money-toxic friends tend to put you in situations that encourage you to overspend or strip you of control over your money. This can include ordering lots of expensive drinks on a communal tab, suggesting pricey group activities that leave you feeling peer pressured, or even giving you a present that’s uncomfortably costly—making you feel obligated to reciprocate with something equally expensive.
At some point, everyone encounters a sticky money situation. Say that an old college roommate asks you to be in her wedding party—and then proceeds to choose really expensive bridesmaid dresses. Or, your coworker asks you to contribute to her charity for underprivileged kids in Uganda, but you simply don’t have the cash. Don’t blame them for not thinking of you first and foremost; just accept that, no matter who you are, awkward money moments are bound to happen.
When push comes to shove, you have two real options:
1. Strategize Your Way Out.
If this isn’t a close relationship or this person isn’t a big repeat offender, it’s okay to skirt confrontation by planning your move in advance. If your roommates order the most expensive cable package even though you hardly watch TV, state your idea of a fair contribution now, rather than at the end of the month. If your friends tend to order lots of expensive cocktails—and you only plan to have one beer—plan ahead by requesting a separate check when you sit down. (If anyone asks, you can always say that you might leave early and don’t want to stick them with the bill.) Similarly, if you don’t want to be a bridesmaid because you can’t afford the $600 dress your friend chose, give her early notice. Show her you care in a different way, like arriving early to help her set up the flower arrangements.
2. Talk Out The Toxins.
Whether they’re friends, sisters, a significant other, or even your mom, know that the toxic money people in your life probably aren’t doing it on purpose. No matter the reasons for watching your wallet, be direct and don’t make up fake excuses. Say that you’d love to get together, but that you’re trying to watch your budget in the new year. Replace your “no” with a suggestion for what you can do. For example, suggest wandering around a free museum or art gallery rather than spending the day shopping. If you’re saying no to something bigger or more important, like our bridesmaid example, be sensitive to your friend’s feelings by emphasizing that your decision isn’t about her or her choice of dress (or restaurant or charity or whatever). Blame outside factors. Blame the need to save for grad school. Blame the fact that you don’t yet have an emergency fund. Make the refusal about you, not her.
Don’t Be That Money-Toxic Friend.
As a rule of thumb, never plan any group outing that requires spending more than $20 per person unless you know in advance that all invitees can afford it. Be open and sensitive, even if you normally wouldn’t think that it’d be a big deal to, say, pay $15 for a cab ride to get you home faster than the subway. We know that it can be frustrating to be on this side of the equation: Your out-of-town friend doesn’t want to spend a lot of money, but you don’t really feel like cooking for her or spending yet another night watching Hulu. Don’t take the burden on yourself. Ask your friend to help you brainstorm for more creative solutions. You understand her financial limitations, so she should also accept responsibility for helping to find something fun to do instead.
Oh, and if you’re planning a wedding, please do us all a favor and keep the bridesmaid dresses under $200.