Can you talk to your friends about debt?
Can you talk to your friends about your debt? Can you talk to your friends about their debt?
I've never really had friends who liked to talk about money. That's what boyfriends are for. And I never want to pry into the finances of people who I care about, especially when it's very clear that my input is not welcome.
But a few weeks ago, a friend who is deeply, deeply in debt decided that she would offer me some money tips. I'm talking about a friend who doesn't have money to repair her car if it breaks down. This friend suggested that I was making a mistake by waiting to have children. My protests about the need to be financially secure (nevermind having a suitable partner) before reproducing fell on deaf ears - her financial advice was to get everything you want when you are young and pay for the consequences later. I longed to rip open her credit card statements and beat her about the head with them, but alas, didn't think that would go over well. I let the subject drop, afraid that she would think I was being judgmental, and frankly, really sick of the whole topic.
I was wondering if other people had similar issues - talking about money is really considered crass here in the United States, so we often don't talk about money on a personal level (unless we're bloggers, I guess - gluttons for public punishment). But among the people that we are closest to, we might remain incredibly ignorant about their financial situation. I don't know, for instance, if my shopaholic friend is deeply in credit card debt or simply paid so well that she can buy whatever she wants.
When I lived abroad, I noticed less reluctance to discuss things like salary and housing costs. It's ironic, if you think about it, that the country most associated with being obsessed with money is the country with the fewest friendly discussions about it.
Now, I normally loathe Salon.com's advice columnist, Cary Tennis. I find him self-absorbed, rambling, and free of any ability to dispense actual "advice". However, today's column struck a chord with me. In it, the frustrated half of a nearly-30 couple expresses the desire to counsel or intervene in the fiscally irresponsible behavior observed in another couple that they are friendly with.
For once, Tennis doesn't discuss his past debt or irresponsible spending or whatever it is that he's eating at the moment, but rather delves right into the problem. His advice? Speak to the younger copuple, but do it separately so they don't feel ambushed.
A range of readers' letters poured in, and advice ranged from "Friend never discuss money" to "Show them by EXAMPLE, dummy".
I particularly liked the letter from reader Aparecida:
"No one responds positively to the Concerned Look and the Carefully Measured Tone. It's just annoying - especially if the well-meaning friend is right.
"Instead, make a point of getting together with your friends in situations that don't demand conspicuous consumption or the use of expensive toys. Suggest doing things that you genuinely enjoy, such as free concerts or day hikes. Don't get ridiculous and do things you wouldn't normally do. ("Say, let's all go to the diner and order cups of hot water. Then we can add catsup and make tomato soup!") But you might find that it's natural to say something like, "Oh, we started doing these Sunday picnics when we were paying down our credit card debt and swore off restaurants. Now we just enjoy it." If your friends are that young, they may be looking around for models of what a happy life together looks like - especially if they picked up bad money habits from their own parents."
What do you guys think? Have you ever had to stage a fiscal intervention to prevent a friend or family member from financial ruin? Would you recommend that anyone else do the same?