Advice: What are Friends For?

Hara Estroff Marano gives advice on dealing with money-management differences between friends.

By Hara Estroff Marano, published on February 5, 2005 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

About 10 years ago my longtime best friend made a terrible decision to quit a really good job in the hopes of finding a higher-paying one. She's still searching, but now she has a son with a deadbeat dad. A while back I offered to help pay to fix her leaky roof, but I no longer have the surplus cash and she still owes me $500 she promised to pay back two years ago. I'm a single mother of two averse to credit-card debt. She sees nothing wrong with maxing out a credit card and then making minimum payments for the rest of her life. I suggested a way to approach the leaky roof without either of us getting into debt. Now she's furious at me, thinks I'm backing out of my original promise and yells at me for not performing errands whenever she calls, although I babysit for her free when I can. I'm beginning to think she's not such a great friend. Or is it me? -Anonymous

Nothing spoils relationships faster than money differences. People come into adulthood with varying beliefs about how to get it, keep it and spend it, and think their way is the only right way. That's definitely poisoning the atmosphere on both sides. If you think that owing you money should encourage your friend to treat you with respect or to at least make the same decisions you would, guess again. That's not the way people's minds work, especially when they're under stress. It just makes you, the lender, a target of ill will. Even if you say nothing, every time your friend calls or sees you is an unpleasant reminder of her many ill-advised decisions, her disadvantaged position, your superior money-management skills and perhaps your better luck.

Only you can decide whether your friend has any redeeming qualities. Is she a good listener? Does she lend (nonfinancial) support when you need it? Do you still have good times together? Is there too much history together to just toss it all away? If so, then you could make an effort to salvage the relationship. First you can tell her that her response to your help pains you, that know tings are hard for her, but that you're struggling for a way to maintain the friendship. You can tell her that money issues are now getting in the way. Then you can suggest she learn good ways to handle some of her related problems by taking a course in debt-management skills. Wherever adult education is offered, she's likely to find such a class.

That's a reasonable approach, provided you don't rub her nose in her deficiencies. If she refuses, then you might want to tell her that you'll miss her friendship but it's best to suspend contact until the differences between you two are no longer sufficient to distort loving attitudes.