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Real Friends Don’t Charge Friends For Everything


During a night out in San Francisco at a trendy bar, my friend called out to me: “Hey, Savanna! What do you want??” She sat at the bar top and beckoned me to come forward. I was only a few people behind her, in line, so I interpreted her question to mean “Don’t worry, it’s on me this time.”

Little did I know that, come 8am the next day, my phone would glare with the notification “Cindy* has charged you $16.55 for (insert colorful drink name), plus tip.” I felt shocked. My friend never once suggested that I would have to pay her back for what I thought was a gesture of kindness and generosity. It’s partially my fault for assuming that she was covering the cost to be nice, but I could have spared myself the disappointment, confusion, and higher cost (by deciding my own tip, etc.) by waiting five more minutes to buy my own drink.

The application my friend used to charge me (Venmo) is one of several third-party payment apps (like PayPal) that’s become a near-essential for many Millenials. It is brilliantly convenient; it gives us a way to hold our friends financially accountable for nearly all situations. At last, we no longer have to worry about carrying cash everywhere. We’re spared the trouble of having to walk into a bank to pay someone, thanks to third-party, virtual payment apps.

What’s most interesting, however, is that virtual payment apps also allow you to track who owes you money with virtual receipts, rather than the old-fashioned, word-of-mouth “I owe you.” (No more sending a “B*tch Better Have My Money” GIF to get your friend to pay up). It’s a great tool, when it’s used wisely. Some people, however, are guilty of abusing the control that virtual payment apps allow over personal finance within our friendships.

Prior to all of us owning these apps, there was an unspoken agreement amongst my friends (and other friend groups I knew) that we would pay for each other’s rounds and eventually come out even. Before virtual payment apps became popular and widespread, I knew that if I bought my friend’s drink one night, it was because I wanted to do it: Not for convenience. Only for kindness. And I always knew the favor would be returned. This was especially the case when it came to trivial purchases, like fast food or movie tickets. If I really wanted to see my friends, I never had a problem with spending a little bit extra to make sure we could have a good time.

Those moments of kindness that I mentioned above are especially important in times of financial insecurity. There have been times when I was too broke to go out, but my friends insisted upon it, and frequently fronted the cost of our escapades. It meant the world to me. And when it came time for me to take care of them, I delivered. These acts of reciprocal financial generosity — spaced out over longer time periods — are the little things that build trust in friendships and relationships. Of course, it’s important for us to be prudent when it comes to loaning money to others. (When it comes to large purchases or loans, I would hope people are smart enough to have a physically written contract or lease.) Most people I know are still taking paper checks for repayment of large amounts, but they rely on virtual payment apps for literally every other kind of payment: toilet paper runs, work lunches, concert tickets.

Virtual payment apps, while incredibly convenient, are encouraging people to be skeptical of others’ trustworthiness. I now feel immense pressure to pay back my friend immediately. I worry: “What will she think of me if I don’t respond? What happens if you don’t respond to her pay request within the week?” The friendly, unspoken agreement that we “have each other’s backs” has been traded in for an unspoken time limit on when we have to pay each other back. I suspect that, sometime soon, they’ll add the option to charge your friends interest! In effect, virtual payment apps have won a victory for financial security at the expense of our trust in others.

I get it. We’re all out here struggling, and we can’t afford to cover more than our individual, discretionary budgets. My issue isn’t with people feeling that they are entitled to the money that friends legitimately owe them. Rather, I have a problem with the extent to which some people are using a cold, clinical, impersonal app to deal with personal exchanges of money. Whenever I get a notification, It feels like my bank is sending me a reminder to pay off my credit card balance — it doesn’t feel like it’s coming from a friend at all. There’s a huge difference between someone saying “Hey, I got us Beyoncé tickets, please pay me back as soon as you can” and reading a notification on your screen that says: “Robert* is requesting $3.87 on July 14th, 2016 for (insert coffee emoji).” The formality makes acts of financial sharing and generosity feel about as genuine as a Facebook relationship status: is it even real if it’s not on some form of social media?

Allowing a financial cushion (for acts of generosity) is just as important as setting as strict budget. You’re NOT going to go broke if you decide to buy brunch for your friend one time. In fact, generosity should be one of the things you expect both ways in a friendship. If you have that one friend who’s always short on cash (and may be guilty of mooching off of you), then yes, you should probably address that dynamic and stand up for yourself. But please, have some dignity: talk to them directly about it. Suggest splitting the bill, next time you’re both out together. Don’t act like a spend-it-up, shots-on-me baller in public, when really you’re a Scrooge behind closed doors.

I truly feel that those of us who use Venmo excessively are the kind of people that still whip out their calculator to leave a 15% tip — down to the exact cent — for waiters in restaurants. (20% is the standard for good service, in case you didn’t know.) I can respect someone who knows how to mange their money well, but not someone who pretends — in the name of “managing personal finances” — that they can’t afford to tell someone to “keep the change.”

The bottom line is this: if you can’t afford to cover the cost of coffee for you and your friend, then don’t offer to pay. Plain and simple. Don’t be the friend that reaches for the bill with full confidence and then sends an impersonal charge notification three hours later, without any warning or prior discussion that you’re  expecting to be paid back. Times are tough on all of our wallets. But if you really want me to send $2.10 from my bank account to have it sit in limbo for 48 hours, then I’m sorry: You are a stingy asshole. And I will tell you that directly, not through my iPhone.

* The editors have changed these names to “Cindy’ and “Robert” for anonymity. 

Savanna is a freelance writer in Northern California whose hobbies include all things theater and dog-related. She hopes for a world where avocados will be included in the price of her entrée and a 12-step program is widely available to people who obsessively collect air miles.

Image via Unsplash

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  • Maya

    it seems like it might help to have clearer communication with your friends. when i’m at a crowded bar and get the bartender’s attention, i’ll always ask the friends behind me what they want (and pay upfront) because it’s a timesaver, not because i intend to get their drinks.

    It’s one thing if your friends explicitly say something is on them and charge you later, but this seems more like a case of you assuming they’re covering you and then getting a little offended when you see that charge the next day. and honestly, this is why i love venmo- because in the days of people “assuming” their drinks etc were covered, i lost a lot more money paying for my friends and then feeling awkward about asking for it back. when i want to treat, i make that clear- when i don’t, i venmo, and it all works out.

    Unless your friend explicitly says “let me get this,” they probably don’t intend to cover your coffee or cocktail (and i agree if they say that and still charge you, that’s not cool). but in the example you pointed out i think it’s as much a sign of good friendship to ask how much you owe- if at that point, they wave you off, you’re good, but assuming someone is treating you without at least offering to pay is, IMO a little rude as well.

    • Andrea Sease

      then why didnt she ask her friend for the money or the card at that moment. if you wave me ahead and ask my drink,and pay with your card, that means you are buying my drink.

      it sounds like you are part of the problem the author mentions. if you feel strange asking for money, venmo is not your solution. the true solution is to stop paying for things, or grow a pair.

      • Maya

        Because when someone is a few feet behind me in the middle of a crowd, it’s not the most convenient to be like HEY YOUR DRINK IS $15 CAN YOU THROW ME YOUR CARD? COULD YOU PASS TWENTY BUCKS OVER?? and then navigate the logistics of paying with two cards when there’s a ten-dollar minimum and now everyone behind you in line is pissed. It’s basic courtesy at a bar to get in and out as fast as possible when people are waiting.

        Look, ultimately it’s the system you’ve got with your friends, as you mention. in my friends’ case, we’re all 20somethings on budgets, so while we do treat each other at times, it’s also good etiquette to at least offer to pay your share right away. And Venmo helps keep us square when we’re not treating each other. If your friends are all cool with letting things balance out in the larger scheme of things, that’s great too. But there’s nothing that ruins friendships faster than misaligned financial expectations. This seems more like a case of miscommunication than a friend nefariously Venmo-ing her way into Scroogedom. But to each, their own.

        • Andrea Sease

          so basic courtesy to the bar, but not to your friends? sometimes friendship isnt about what’s convient.

          if you cant take the time to ask for money to someones face, then you are probably not very mature. and the better way is to stop paying, rather than becoming a creditor.

          • Maya

            live and let live! i think “maturity” is treating your friends with respect, and to me, that means offering to pay my share no matter what. i still have friends, we treat each other frequently, and we’ve never had disagreements or issues with money precisely because we’re upfront when something is a treat and don’t mind getting venmo-ed the rest of the time. so i’m happy with that :)everyy friend group is different and it seems like you’ve got a system that works for you. my only point is is that if the financial dynamics of your friend group re bothering you, you should speak up– but venmo and charging each other has been a way for myfriends to feel res and be fair with each

    • I agree. Any time someone else is paying on my behalf, I ask how much I owe, and it’s all out there in the open. If it was a treat, the person says it is. If it’s not, you pay or Venmo the amount. Problem solved.

  • I really agree with all of this. I use Venmo occasionally, but only when it’s been agreed upon that I’ll pay upfront and friends will pay me back, for example putting an entire meal on my card and then they Venmo me their share. It’s just another example of how we keep getting more and more impersonal as a society. People now send breakup texts to avoid the confrontation, it’s heartless. Money conversations between friends can be difficult to have, but so much awkwardness can be avoided by simply asking if they want to split the bill, or not expecting anything in return if you decide to cover their portion. Friends shouldn’t be about “keeping score” it should be mutually beneficial, where both people are lifting the other up and showing generosity.

  • Andrea Sease

    i have the opposite problem. i will cover things and then wake up to money being sent. this seems to me a reflection of whom you keep in your circle, also it seems an extension of the ‘Ghosting’ trend. these ‘friends’ can ask for money easily with out guilt. and i bet they still get the high or ‘buying something for you’. i do hope you said something to her face

  • Tara

    Venmo is honestly the greatest invention and I won’t hear a word against it. How many times in college did we go out to a big group dinner that left us all scrambling at the end, writing out our credit card numbers on the backs of checks with carefully-divided amounts on them? Was that just me? Because that was like EVERY WEEK. Or how about when you wanted to see a show with your friend and you had to coordinate when you’d be on the theater website buying the tickets so you could make sure to get the seats next to each other? Now I just buy both of them and Venmo charge my friend for half. I’m not sure why it’s bad that this is “impersonal.” Everyone gets their money back this way. Why is a “bitch better have my money” gif better than a coffee emoji Venmo charge? It’s the same damn thing.

    In the situation the author presents at the beginning of the article, I would absolutely have interpreted that as a Venmo-appropriate situation. In fact, it seems to me like the drink-buyer thought Savanna would buy her a drink in return later in the night and it never happened, thus the charge the next morning.

    • disqus_XIxHJslPUz

      I’d assume that as well – that if I buy the drink, you’ll get me one later tonight. Not tomorrow because you never know when that might be.
      If I don’t get another drink later, i’ll just think the other person is rude. Nobody uses Venmo in Europe but it would be a practical way. I mean, yes, friendships work by being generous and trusting, but I have a few friends who would let me buy all their drinks and always be too busy to meet again and make up for it if I didn’t say upfront that we should share the bill…

  • jdub

    This all just seems like a big communication error. My friends and I have experienced both situations: you get both of our drinks, pay for them, and I’ll get you back when we get another round. If we don’t, I’ll get you next time we go out. Or you grab the drinks, I’ll ask how much and give you the cash I have. OR offer to pay for that one and you can either say “yeah awesome thanks!” or “don’t worry about it, I got this one!” In any one of these situations, definitely talk to each other without assuming you’re covered or not.

  • grover

    My biggest pet peeve is when someone gets a new job and we all have to go out and celebrate and then at the end of the night, other friends suggest we cover the celebrant. Um, she’s about to be earning DOUBLE what I make? Why should I have to pay for her??
    There are definitely different layers to this, but at one time 4 people in my circle left their jobs or moved to new cities, or got promotions and every single time, I ended up helping to cover their meals when we went out to ‘celebrate’. One even made an event when she (voluntarily) left her job (so we all got together to commiserate), then when she was leaving the city (so we got together again) and then when she came back because her little jaunt didn’t work out (you guessed it, we covered again), and finally she just got a new job (you know how this story ends).
    It just gets a little annoying when I think about the fact that when I have big things happen, I quietly let people know and never suggest that people go out to celebrate me. Tacky af. Yet, I love my friends so… -_-

    • Because it’s not about how much money someone is making, it’s about celebrating their achievements. So what she is earning double what you do? You think she should pay for all of you guys now that she earns more money? That’s a terribly childish attitude to have and doesn’t take into account any of her expenses.

      • grover

        I think she should pay her share, the same way everyone else pays theirs. If you read my comment carefully, you’d see that my point is I don’t want to go out to celebrate or commiserate with someone four times and have to cover them every single time. Read carefully before jumping to conclusions.

        • I think you should re-read your own comment because I don’t think you shared your opinion in quite the way you intended to.

          • grover

            Find someone else to bother, please. Goodbye.

    • Charlene

      “It just gets a little annoying when I think about the fact that when I have big things happen, I quietly let people know and never suggest that people go out to celebrate me.”

      That was your decision to make. Meanwhile, your friends decided to celebrate their accomplishments. If you decide to join them, that’s your tacit approval, especially now that you know that you’re going to be paying for your meal and chipping in for your friend’s. I don’t see money to be the main issue here, it’s you deciding to approach your milestones a certain way and thinking that your friends should do that as well.

  • If I offer to pay for someone’s drink then I’m doing something nice and don’t expect to be paid back in either money or a drink. Most of the time friends will buy me a drink on the next round or the next time we hang out but the way I see it is, I decided to buy them a drink and I don’t expect anything in return – it’s just a nice thing to do occasionally, which is why I don’t do it all the time. If a friend pays for my drink, I always make sure to buy them one on the next round or the next time we hang out. I don’t use Venmo and I would never “invoice” a friend for a drink.

    Communication seems to be lacking here and it’s pretty easy to straighten out. Pay your friend and in future remember that just because your friend offers to pay in the moment doesn’t mean she doesn’t want the money back.

  • LynnP2

    I found this article incredible whiny. Why should this person assume their friend is going to pay for their drink unless the friend explicitly says, “This round’s on me,” or “I’ve got it,” or “Let me buy you a drink.” Rather than waiting for a Venmo request, they should reach out and ask how much they owe, OR pay for the next round.

    Also, why are they complaining about how they could have saved $$ on the tip and then beraring people for being bad tippers a few paragraphs later??

  • Alyssa Stafford

    Yes! I would add that this new Venmo culture also hurts relationships because we become worse communicators. If I pay for an Uber, and I want my friend to get the next one, I just ask, “hey, can you order the Uber back for us?” If we can remove the passive (and at times passive aggressive) practice of requesting paybacks via Venmo, we can communicate better, build stronger relationships, and even remove some of the stigma surrounding talking about money.

    • Andrea Sease

      OMG yes!

      i think some people are viewing it as being about the money or venmo itself

      the problem was the manner in which the friend asked to be paid back.

      Venmo is a tool for sending money, which is great. but it should not be used as a means of communicating that you believe someone owes you money.

      • Alyssa Stafford

        I’m with you. And this is just one piece of the whole social media and mass communication evolution. I love how many new and innovative tools we have at our disposal, but it’s true that new media can be a detractor. Let’s not forget that these tools are not a replacement for one-on-one, personal communication.

  • Charlene

    I’ve never heard of Venmo prior to this article. To be honest it may have saved me some heartache when it comes to money issues in the family. It’s really tricky to talk about money with family, especially because I find that there’s a lot of assumptions, styles, and other things left unsaid.

  • Carrie

    I often don’t have much money & my “friends” who make a lot more than I do refuse to go to lunch when I don’t have money.