We all have that friend who starts every conversation with “I’m thinking of buying [insert whatever $120 pajamas she’s into this week]”, only to bring up later that she barely has enough money in her bank account to afford groceries. Maybe she’s from a different background than you and never had to save money growing up, or maybe she’s unconcerned with budgeting because “we’re so young!”
This attitude towards money can be, at minimum, irksome, and more often, troubling and frustrating. Bad money decisions don’t just hurt the person making them; they strain friendships, cause distrust, and make others feel responsible for monitoring a friend’s decisions. It’s a brutal cycle that from the outside doesn’t make a ton of sense, especially for those of us who have never had the luxury of re-outfitting our wardrobes every season or buying a new phone as soon as the new model comes out.
But what, if anything, do you do? There’s a balance between wanting to help out and improve your friend’s situation, and not wanting to feel like you’ll jeopardize your friendship or, honestly, be the parent that you shouldn’t have to be. The next time she sends you photos of her $35 cocktails, here are five positive, no-nonsense ways to deal with your friend’s bad money habits.
1. DO show pride
Talk about your financial successes with your friend. Come from a positive place, and show that saving money is exciting and accessible. Lots of people don’t save money or exercise financial restraint because they think that it’s too difficult or that they can’t live without the extra cash. Show the joy of reaching a savings goal, how much closer you are to paying off your student loans, or how delightful it is to have that pair of investment boots from two years ago that you’re still getting use from. (“I won’t have to buy another pair for years!”)
By celebrating your own financial successes with your friend, you show that finance is an area of life that can be improved and doesn’t need to (and can’t!) be pushed under the rug. Meeting those budget goals is so much more satisfying than buying a new winter coat just because “I’m tired of the one I got last year.” Added bonus? By showing pride in your achievements, you get to be the friend that others think of as mature and responsible, not as someone always on the brink of needing bailing out by her parents.
2. DON’T offer unsolicited advice
As much as seeing her buy an entire new wardrobe of bikinis on credit makes you cringe, don’t be your friend’s parent. Judging and criticizing financial choices will only lead to a strained relationship. Telling her off for going into debt for clothes or partying will only make her defensive and less likely to listen to what you want her to hear.
If your friend does ask for your opinion about if she should get something, that’s your moment! (“That dress looks good, but isn’t it a lot like one you already have?”)
3. DO set by example
Bring up how you walked or took public transportation instead of an Uber to meet up. When you’re shopping together, mention that you’re not really in the market for anything because you have enough pairs of shorts from earlier this year. Say no to the post-workout smoothie by mentioning how you don’t have any more wiggle room on your credit card and you don’t want to hold a balance. Show your friend how conscious you are of these decisions, and how easy it is to make them.
I notice this most by talking about contributions to a 401k. I’m shocked at how few women in their 20s I know who consistently contribute to retirement, even though it’s one of the easiest and most effective financial decisions one can make. By bringing up that you recently changed your contribution to auto-pay, or you can’t believe how much interest you’ve collected already, you can be the change that helps your friend go from no contribution to even just 1% or 2%. It’s small, but it’s a start!
4. DON’T lend your friend money
If you do, consider it a gift, because there’s no way to know if you’ll ever get it back.
5. DO come from a place of love
Your friend’s habits bother you because you care about her and her financial future. Acting enlightened or patronizing doesn’t help anyone in this situation, least of all your friend who will just shut down and feel judged. Make sure you always make your friend feel loved and supported no matter what she chooses to do, because ultimately, it’s not your job to educate her.
In almost all scenarios, people have to hit rock bottom before they realize their mistakes. Be supportive through it all, so that you’re the one she goes to for financial advice when she’s ready.
What’s been your experience dealing with bad money habits of friends or loved ones? Let us know in the comments!
Emily is a Brooklyn-based writer and artist who recently quit her big-money job in pursuit of being a happier person. She writes about personal finance, travel, feminism, and dogs. Instagram: @emily_e_garrison, Twitter: @emilyegarris.
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