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Friends and Money

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I have a sweet friend whom I’ve know for a long time.  We have very similar backgrounds.  We both came from low income families.  We both hoped to break the mold and move up from the economic classes we grew up in.

I went to school and became the only one of my siblings to get a college degree.  I took on a ton of debt for my degree and a lot of other stupid things.  She went $200K in debt to get a doctorate.  The great part is, she actually graduated and she’s using her degree.  She makes good money and I’m super happy for her.

I thought things were good.  She drives a luxury car and lives in a beautiful new house.  She did exactly what she set out to do.  Sure, I don’t live in luxury but I did exactly what I hoped.  I graduated from low income to middle income.  I’d like to have lovely things but I like the balance I’ve created more than I want those things.

We had a girl’s night and sat on the couch picking out what to watch on TV when a political ad popped up.  She said, “I sure hope whoever wins the election clears my student loans.  I’m so tired of paying them.”  We graduated nearly 20 years ago and I assumed she paid them off.  “Those still hanging around your neck?” I asked.  “They grow every year.  We put those last on our list of bills and they just keep adding up” she said.

She’s a dear friend, a very close friend so naturally we had a two-hour heart to heart about her spending habits.  At the end, she cried, decided to sell her home and her car, and she’ll be debt free by the end of the year.

If you believe that’s what happened, I’ve got oceanfront property in Arizona to sell you.

Instead, I said, “Oh.  I’m sorry about that” and we moved on to find a show.  Money is such a tough topic with friends.  It sounds easy, just tell people what worked for us but I know she’d feel shamed if I told her, “If you’d sell that $70K depreciating asset parked in my driveway, you’d move the needle pretty quick.”  It’s a difficult conversation, even among close friends.  Here’s the deal, it’s a conversation I know I need to have.  She’s headed for a huge financial mess.  I take that back, she’s already IN a huge financial mess.  When I mentioned the student loan to my husband, he responded “I know.  Her husband is always stressed about money.  How did you not know this?!?”

Have you ever had difficult conversations about money with friends?  Would you have that conversation?  Any advice?


8 Comments

  • Reply Lisa |

    “ I told her, “If you’d sell that $70K depreciating asset parked in my driveway, you’d move the needle pretty quick”

    That would sound judgmental and like you are attacking her. Instead share some ways you cut back to pay off debt. You could mention buying a cheaper car as an example.

  • Reply jj |

    Folks driving fancy cars, living in big houses but having huge sums of debt like student loans and not seeing the correlation, makes me sad. Why not just buy a good used sedan/suv??? I know of a friend and her fiancee who pay almost $4,000 a MONTH in rent, and the leases on their cars. They are bleeding that money away, all because they felt they needed the newest cars – they have one kid, and literally 0 commute this year due to the pandemic. Sigh!

  • Reply Emily N. |

    It does feel frustrating when people broadcast their poor financial choices and then complain about not having enough money.

  • Reply Walnut |

    I overshare on personal finance with friends all the time. We spin up payoff challenges, discuss big goals, and all sorts of things. I talk about my own finances and people seem to open up knowing that I’m a safe space to bounce ideas off of. I am also 100% confidential, so they know their story won’t be spread to others.

    If I were you, start dropping some pf commentary into your conversations and she might open up a bit more for discussion.

  • Reply Angie |

    Well I wouldn’t have said what you wrote exactly. But I definitely sprinkle my financial wisdom around others. I personally think money topics need to be less taboo and talked about more no matter how uncomfortable. One of the primary reasons people get into financial trouble is because no one talks about it. So debt, fancy cars, big houses, it’s all normalized. You see your peers and coworkers with something or some lifestyle, and you figure you’re in the same job or stage of life. Surely, you must be able to afford it too. This continues, along with lifestyle inflation, and the new “normal” is keeping up with the Jones’. It’s a very easy trap to fall into especially directly out of college. I expect this is what your friend is dealing with. She may have subconsciously tried to match her peers materialistically, without taking into account the fact that some of them reached her level with parental assistance and no student loans. And another section of her peers, are up to their eyeballs in debt like herself.

    I probably wouldn’t have responded directly about the student loans at that exact moment. As advice can come off rude when not asked for. But I’d definitely be sprinkling in some money talk in conversations to slowly sway their mind in a more realistic direction. “I can’t believe how freeing it is to have an older car. I love that I can ding it and not worry about it. As a bonus, not having a car payment helped us get ahead or let us apply that money to Suzy’s afterschool care instead. ” Or something. Basically, hit upon your own AHA moments.

  • Reply Jen |

    “If you’d sell that $70K depreciating asset parked in my driveway, you’d move the needle pretty quick.”

    I agree that she would feel shamed, because it really does come across as judgemental. The fact that this is really the first time you’re learning even a little about her financial situation tells me that she’s not really ready to have that kind of conversation. If and when that conversation happens, you have to be very careful to leave all hints of judgement at the door.

    One way to nudge the door may be to find a a common area of interest, and talk about an aspect of that. Kids, a shared hobby, something you both have/do that costs money. Don’t jump to “sell these major assets”, but instead talk about smaller things you’ve done to make something fit into your budget (or how having a budget makes you better able to understand what you can afford vs. can’t). If she’s receptive to these types of conversation, keep having them until she brings up something larger or asks you a question. If she’s not receptive, leave it.

  • Reply Drmaddog |

    It helps if you frame it in the context of ‘we used to have so much trouble/debt/worry about money. We did XYZ and it helped us so much. If you ever want to hear what we have done and things we find helpful, I’d be happy to share.’

    Even as a liberal, though, I am not in favor blanket. student loan forgiveness. Low, sub 2% rates and bankruptable private loans, absolutely. It should be illegal to have loans that allow for a payment that is ldo low that the balance increases. If that is the only way someone can ‘afford’ the loan (on paper anyway), that loan should not be made.

    Unfortunately, your friend admits this debt has not been a priority for her and so she still owe it all, plus interest. She hurts herself by hoping someone else will make it disappear.

So, what do you think ?