Our resident agony aunt, Rhona McAuliffe, advises a reader who thinks she is being taken advantage of by a friend
I have an issue with a friend of mine that is making me feel like I’m not a very nice person. We’ve both been single for a long time and started pairing up to travel to friend’s weddings, sharing rooms, organising transport etc. Now, we plan an annual holiday and a couple of weekends away. She’s great company and we have a similar outlook. We’re both happy being single – most of the time – and are up for trying anything once. The one, massive drag between us is money: she doesn’t like spending it. So, the tightest person I know is also the person I spend a lot of intense time with and it’s doing my head in.
I’m naturally an open, generous person and often over-tip, over-gift and treat my friends when I can, even though I don’t earn very much. My friend recently got a new job and let slip that her salary is almost three times mine, which was a bit of a gut-punch but the wake-up I needed. For years I’ve tried to ignore it when she didn’t pay me back for things or let me carry costs like taxis, petrol on long journeys or the excess of the bill after she’s subtracted the cost of her meal. I always pay the tip/ VAT because she doesn’t believe in tipping and has stand-off arguments with waiters if service is included! I know this is sounding really petty now but it’s making me so angry and I’ve started making smart comments under my breath when she talks about money, I just can’t help myself. How can I tell her how I feel without damaging our relationship? Is there a way of making her pay up every time without completely changing my personality?
Aggressively Passive, Galway
The best thing your friend could have done is leaked her new mega salary. Finally you’ve been forced into action, exposed to the raw reality that money means business. Your friend has been quietly profiting at your expense, tossing each saved coin into her bulging treasure chest as you merrily supplement her lifestyle. Up until your bitter and muffled growls, she must’ve thought she’d won the friend lottery or at least scored a Sugar Mommy.
In my experience, chronically tight people seem to suffer from the delusion that no-one else has noticed their fiscal sorcery. The truth is, if we don’t have the guts to take them on face to face, chances are we’re all having a good bitch about it behind their back. No matter how ‘sound’ you are about money, if someone is consistently benefitting because you don’t want to make a scene, it’s going to chafe.
I find that the older I get, and the more financial responsibilities I have – mortgage, car, kids, health insurance etc – the more direct I am about money. That’s partly due to having a lower disposable income and partly because my chancer radar has been honed. Like you, I hovered in Mrs Doyle territory, too embarrassed to follow up a loan to a friend; brawling in cafés to cover lunch bills and grossly over-tipping waiters. When I first started seeing my husband and we’d go out for dinner with my parents, he’d have to engage in increasingly complex levels of subterfuge to try to pay the bill before my Dad would rugby tackle him to the floor and invariably win. So, money and how we treat it is often learned behaviour, much to the joy of my husband.
Depending on what financial personality quiz you do – the FT.com has a pretty good one here – there are roughly five spender categories that you might fall into, from The Ostrich, The Giver and The Hoarder to The Flasher and The Controller. The first thing you need to do is establish what kind of spender you are. You can loosely identify your habits via the various online surveys but if you really want to get into it, I’d recommend sitting down with a financial advisor and combing your bank statements together. Taking responsibility for your spending and setting yourself realistic monthly budgets will make addressing your friend’s spending, or lack thereof, a much easier task.
What your financial advisor won’t tell you is why you’re spending. If, as I suspect, you fall into The Giver box – spending generously on others and potentially leaving yourself short – this can be connected to low self-esteem or interpreted as a means of ‘buying’ likes. This isn’t entirely fair as you could just be a wholly decent and polite person, a veritable Mother T with no emotional hang-ups but it’s something worth exploring while you’re at it.
Your friend seems to slot into either The Hoarder or The Controller category. The Hoarder lives for tomorrow, saving up to 50% of what she earns today and resists spending wherever possible. She tends to be fixated on long-term financial security (maybe money was tight when she was growing up?) and is anxious about any spend, happy to offset costs where she can. The Controller is forensically in charge of her financial affairs, moving pots of money around to avail of the best interest rates and schemes, which extends to negotiating the most competitive utility deals and credit card rates etc. This rigid control is often seen as compensating for areas of her life that are out of her control or unpredictable and is commonly associated with high levels of anxiety.
I’m drawing on pop-psychology here and working off the bits of info you supplied but as a rule our attitudes to money reveal a lot about our personality. Understanding what motivates your friend and why she might be shafting you will hopefully ease your frustration and make bringing it up with her a little easier.
I would open by saying that you are starting a new financial regime. This could be in response to a meeting with a financial advisor or on the foot of a personal review. Say that you have noticed that you’re spending irresponsibly and that you’ve started keeping a log of your expenses. I don’t think there’s any need to dredge past incidents here, where you’ve carried the load. Apart from sounding like you haven’t thought about anything else since your Tarifa 2015 trip, there’s a high possibility that she will deny it anyway, leading to stage one of Friendship Dissolution.
The hard part comes when you have to take on each stingy episode as it happens. Rather than let your resentment seethe be prepared to call out inequalities. Spell out tipping etiquette wherever you might be and ask for her contribution. Take control of who owes what on each bill and table your half first. Establish a kitty when you go on holidays for taxis, tips and miscellaneous expenses so that you don’t have to bleed every cent out of her. If she continues to avoid paying her half, even after you’ve laid down your new rules, you’ll have to ask her straight out if she has a problem parting with her money. We all know she has a problem parting with her money but bluntly calling it might encourage her to open up and recognise her own behaviour. Then you can start making real headway.
She’ll thank you eventually. Even if she doesn’t actually thank you.