Etiquette: Money Matters

Amanda Harper


Q: One of my friends is perpetually “broke,” but never turns down plans to hang out... leaving the rest of us with the bill. What can I do?

Let me guess: they “forgot” their wallet? They’re “totally shocked” that their credit card was declined? They’ll “get the next one,” if you’ll just cover them this time? (Yet they mysteriously post photos of vacations on Facebook, like, every week...)

There are some people who, for whatever reason, never have the cash to support the lifestyle they’re trying to lead. They never pay you back and yet they never seem to stop having fun.

First, try altering your plans with this person. Instead of going out to dinner, drinks, concerts or shows, why not do free (or low-cost) activities? Go on a hike, browse public art, have a picnic or play board games at your house.

But if you feel like you’re perpetually footing the bill to have fun with this person – especially if it’s often their idea – maybe it’s time to try a little honesty.
Let them know that you’ve noticed that you have paid for the last several outings. Explain that you don’t need reasons why, just you want to know what’s up and how you can make hanging out with them work for both of you. Prepare for them to go on the defense – these folks are often very aware of their bum ways, and are actually deeply ashamed. Just approach them with a lot of love and empathy; your friendship may be something you can save (pardon the pun).


Q: When should we talk about splitting the tab at a restaurant?

This is what the group text was made for, my friend. When you all finally decide on a spot for dinner or drinks, drop your proposed method of splitting the bill in the chat. Don’t make it a question. Instead, lead off with something like, “If it’s cool with everyone. we’ll...”

That way, everyone has the opportunity to voice any objections – before the server is standing by your table, waiting for a card.

What’s the best way? If you’re doing separate checks, tell your server when you’re all ordering. If not and you’re in a hurry, servers generally recommend putting the bill on one person’s card and having everyone Venmo their portion later on.


Q: I have a friend who brags about money. Ew.

These are often deeply insecure people who have no idea that they’re not actually impressing anyone. If you’re tired of nodding along, try one of these tactics:

Change the subject. Treat their brags as an overshare. Nod, then start talking about anything else.

Talk to them. Take them aside and let them know that sometimes, it feels like they’re focusing a lot on material wealth. Say that you’re happy for them, but that you’d really rather hear about how they are doing, emotionally and spiritually.

Compliment them more often. Let them know the parts of their personality and life that you truly do admire – and that it’s not their money, vacations or possessions.


Q: How do I get my partner to open up about our finances?

We each bring lots of hang-ups and assumptions about money to our romantic relationships. No one is completely right about how these things should be handled.

This is a common issue that brings couples to marriage counselors. Don’t panic; these are professionals who understand all the emotional baggage that we bring to this issue.

If that’s not on the table, an open, honest talk about your concerns is absolutely reasonable. Explain what you want to know and why.

If your partner flat-out refuses to talk about money, or minimizes your concerns, please take that as a big ol’ red flag. 


Q: Should I lend my friend money?

Oh, the age-old question. You’d think by now that we’d have come up with a simple answer to this one. But it’s always going to be a sticky situation. The prevailing wisdom seems to be this: never lend any money you’d be uncomfortable with never seeing again. Period.

But saying no to a friend – especially a friend in need – can feel heartrending. You want to help this person who you (presumably) love and trust.

First, get realistic about who your friend is. If you’re honest with yourself about their track record with money, it may not be hard to see how they got themselves into this pickle – and why they’re not likely to pay you back.

Second, get concrete details about what they intend to do with the money. If their plan sounds like a money pit, strongly reconsider lending them money – or perhaps consider talking your friend out of this stupid idea.

Perhaps most importantly, take a look at your own finances. Can you really afford to potentially lose this money? Even if your friend makes good on their word, you’ll likely be without that cash for a while. Can you swing that? If you have any hesitation, then don’t lend it.

So let’s say you decide to go forward with the loan. Get the details of the exchange in writing, including the plan for repayment. Both of you should sign it, ideally in front of a witness. If your friend tries to wiggle out of paying you back, you could potentially have some legal recourse.

One piece of advice? Do not lend a friend your credit. Never co-sign a loan and don’t let them use your credit card to make a purchase. That could haunt you for years. •

A Question of Etiquette is a modern look at age-old advice.