Getting ahead financially is hard work. It’s even more difficult when you’re bound by the unwritten rule to “lift while you climb.” Whether you’re the first among your friends to move out of the old neighborhood or earn a high income, the expectation to “spread the love” is the same. But the line between supporting friends and enabling one-way relationships can be blurry, particularly if money is involved.
When an unfair financial burden is consistently placed on one person in a friendship, it can lead to some awkward moments and make the friend covering the cost feel taken advantage of. If you’ve ever been stuck holding a bill after a birthday dinner, felt the pressure to upgrade a travel experience for a group, or had a personal loan to a friend not be paid back because “you got it” then you know exactly what I’m talking about.
How a $250 “loan” ate way at a friendship
In one case, I had a friend who needed $250 to pay an unexpected bill, and agreed to pay me back in a few weeks. Since I was on relatively solid financial ground with a steady job, an emergency fund, and no debt, I was more than happy to swing by the ATM with him to make this problem disappear. But after a few weeks, it was clear he re-classified the loan as a gift.
To make matters worse, we continued to see one another on a regular basis, and he never thought to mention repaying me or to provide an explanation for why he wouldn’t be able to. It didn’t help that he was a flashy guy and always had a story to tell about his wild nights at clubs. While I could’ve expressed my disappointment to him, I decided to let it slide, telling myself that our friendship was worth more than $250. But while I was able to avoid the confrontation, as time passed, I couldn’t help but to feel duped. Naturally, our friendship faded and he became someone I would only hang out with in a group, but no longer part of my trusted circle.
Don’t let guilt rule your money choices
The range of these experiences vary widely from the heavy-handed friend who consistently over pours out of a shared bottle or the couch-surfing friend who consistently breaks apartment leases. As the friend that’s “doing well” if you’re not careful, the guilt of your success can cause an unhealthy sense of responsibility to clean up messes others have made. If left unchecked, this imbalance can lead to exhaustion, resentment and unnecessary stress.
That’s why it’s important to acknowledge three things when standing at the intersection of money and friendship. First, knowing that personal loans to people may never be paid back. If you can’t accept losing that money entirely, then you’re really not in a position to give. Second, casual handshake agreements and high expectations don’t mix. There’s a big difference between “I got you” and “I expect to be paid back in cash before the first of the month when my mortgage is due.” Using clear language instead of verbal shorthand sets a more serious tone and increases the likelihood of payback.
Lastly, be mindful of friends who feel entitled to your money. Behaviors like breaking promises, excessive mooching, and disregard of the damage caused by their negligence are all signs of deeper issues that are likely impacting more than just their bank account. The true value of a friendship can’t be quantified in dollars. But if you find yourself constantly spending more than your fair share to cover the cost of a friendship, it may be time to re-evaluate just how much that friendship means to you.
There is nothing wrong with showing the crew love, so long as it’s done in a way that doesn’t neglect your own needs. Besides, an integral part of a friendship is acknowledging and respecting boundaries. If you and a friend can’t come to an agreement on that fundamental principle, then maybe you two weren’t meant to be.
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This article originally appeared on VICE US.