Black Couch: what to do when friendship and finances get messy

Dear Black Couch,

Money question here. I have a group of friends and we all buy things for each other (like spotting someone lunch or grabbing a tea for the other while in the GC).

I try not to keep score, because that would cheapen our friendships I think, but I am starting to notice some inequality with one friend. I have often spotted lunch, a drink or candy. I mean, probably to the amount of about $30. 

Yesterday, when she went to get drinks, she came up to me and asked for the money back. Part of me felt like I wanted to say “Seriously? I don’t owe anything” while the other part felt like a jerk for thinking it. I don’t make a big deal about buying stuff, and truth be known, I probably wouldn’t have noticed if the scales hadn’t gotten so off balance.

What do you do when you are starting to get irritated about money with a friend?

Signed,

The Price of Friendship?

Dear Price,

I’ve been there. I bet your friend isn’t purposefully picking your pocket. It is possible that she sees you “spot” lunch or a drink so much that she treats the situation as casually as you do.

Yesterday, specifically, could be the result of her own financial woes. Maybe she wanted to return the favor, but she just doesn’t have the money to do so.

In other words, what you see as “her turn to pay,” could very well come at a time when that just isn’t fiscally possible for her.

You can’t change the past, and you can’t ask for money back—not unless you two made an arrangement ahead of time that these instances were all loans and that balance will come due. Maybe she just thinks you are generous and able.

So if you can’t change the past, I say you focus on the future. If you are feeling a bit resentful, then stop with the lunch loaners. Say ahead of time that you need everyone’s cash upfront, or make it clear that each person takes care of his/her own check. You can be subtle about it and say “hey, I am running to ______, do you want anything?” And if she responds affirmatively, then say “ok! That will be about $__, and I am paying in cash.”

Just change the behavior. . . if you have somehow assumed the role of Lunch Provider, then change the game.

I know we are all supposed to be generous and kind when we can, and I try to—I really do. But if you are feeing a little bitter now, that will only grow and will eventually damage the friendship. Consider this small act an act of kindness—you are honoring your friendship by assuring you are both on equal footing.

I would offer a small, final, word of caution. If she is relying on others for food/drink often, be sure she isn’t in a situation where she isn’t eating because of money.

If that is the case, that she is broke and hungry perpetually, then you need to quietly see about resources to help her. No need to hurt her pride, but I bet your RD, dean of students, campus counselors or other people could offer a more substantive solution.screenshot-2016-09-15-22-03-58

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