- For Love & Money is a biweekly column from Insider answering your relationship and money questions.
- This week, a wealthy reader asks what to do when friends make comments about their money problems.
- Our columnist says to be firm with your boundaries, but also try a little empathy.
- Got a question for our columnist? Write to For Love & Money using this Google form.
Dear For Love & Money,
I am wealthy and my friends are all always hinting about money problems. When I travel, I don’t tell them, but if they know they resent it.
It is difficult to deal with people who have no budget or plan for their money. I inherited money and invested it. I also worked and invested. Why can’t they do the same?
I am not a bank. I donate to nonprofits for worthy causes. I am generous. But dealing with friends is difficult. And loaning money is losing the friendship. I don’t know what to do, please tell me ways to say NO.
The Friend With Money
Dear Friend With Money,
First off I want to thank you for writing in. Knowing the general response to your predicament is likely to be a collective groan — but choosing to share your experience anyway — was a brave thing to do.
I spent a lot of time thinking about your letter before sitting down to respond. Maybe because it feels like a matter of taking sides and I’ve been on both.
I’ve been the poor friend passively trying to redirect my friend groups’ vacation plans to a local winery when everyone else was getting excited about Cancun, and I’ve been the friend with money pretending not to notice a pal’s insinuation that because I make more money than they do I should pick up the tab. To clarify, both situations were awkward and unpleasant.
When I was the poor friend, I couldn’t sleep at night because I didn’t know how to tell my richer friends that I couldn’t afford our annual girls’ trip without feeling embarrassed and ashamed. As the friend with money, I couldn’t sleep at night because I was worried my boundaries would end friendships I didn’t want to lose.
Holding your boundaries is important
And that’s where I want to start — you made a few assumptions worth interrogating that I plan to tackle later, but ultimately, this situation comes down to your boundaries. You don’t think it is a good idea to give or loan your friends cash. Therefore, you shouldn’t. Your friends need to respect that boundary even if it doesn’t seem logical or compassionate to them, and true friends will have this respect.
But holding any line can be tough even when you know it’s the smart thing to do. For example, you can know that loaning your friend money is a great way to lose that friend, but when they make an emotional appeal, staying true to that principle by looking them dead in the eye and saying “no” can be difficult. But there is value in sticking to your principles and holding your boundaries even if it means losing friends. A boundary is a commitment you’ve made to yourself, which means by breaking that commitment you’re betraying yourself, and in turn, breaking your self-trust.
So, there you have it: my permission to ignore your friends’ hints that you need to financially contribute to their lives.
Try a little empathy
That said, let’s talk about that word “hinting.” A hint is, by definition, an indirect suggestion. Since you used this word to describe the way your friends ask you for money, I wonder if you’re interpreting something your friends have said as a request they’ve never actually made. I would encourage you to ask yourself if your interpretation of their motives could be wrong.
I also notice you wrote, “When I travel I don’t tell them, but if they know they resent it.” I find myself wondering what that resentment looks like. Are they making angry accusations that you ought to have brought them along for the ride? Or, is it good-natured ribbing with a side of passive aggression? Or maybe it’s more straightforward than that and they simply respond to the news of your travels with a grumbled “must be nice”?
If the first scenario is true, to be perfectly frank, your friends aren’t worth keeping. But if one of the latter two options more closely resemble your situation, I think you should try a little empathy.
No one likes snide digs and bitter asides, but your perspective on your friends’ financial straits tells me that you’re harboring a lot of resentment of your own. You were literally born into money and since then it sounds like you’ve made several smart financial moves that have increased your wealth. You should never feel like you have to apologize for either of those things, but that doesn’t mean you get to judge your friends for not achieving your level of financial success either.
Instead of asking, “Why can’t they do the same thing I did?” try asking yourself, “How would it feel if I had financial struggles to the point of not being able to afford a vacation and then I saw photos of my rich friend jet-setting across the globe?” If you’re honest, the answer is probably something along the lines of a curled lip and an envious “must be nice.”
These people are your friends. You care about them deeply to the point of stressing about how the wrong move might cost you the relationship. So, if they need to roll their eyes after you mention your vacation to Maui and they want to mutter something about how long it’s been since they saw the ocean, try letting it go. You have money, they don’t. If you want to keep the friendship the answer isn’t to tiptoe around this fact but to instead accept it as the reality that it is.
You asked me for ways to say “no,” but ultimately, “no” is a complete sentence you only have to use if your friend actually asks you for something. If they don’t, it’s not on you to assess their situation and feel guilty for not fixing it. Their life is their own, your life is your own, and your friendship isn’t a transaction, it’s a connection.
Rooting for all of you,
For Love & Money