Should you talk about money with people who have different financial priorities?

Guest post by Anonymous
By: Chi KingCC BY 2.0
I have a friend who often makes remarks about having no money. “We can’t afford to buy fruits and vegetables.” “I hope you’re not getting sick, because we can’t afford a visit to the doctor.” “We can’t make it to your place for game night because we can’t afford the gas.” It’s true that they don’t have much, raising a family of three on just a teacher’s salary.

But it seems (to me) like the money they do have is spent frivolously or unnecessarily. A fancy tea set still in a box in a cabinet, collector sets of books buried in the back of a closet, custom cosplay boots, computer gadgets, additional toys for the kiddo, more video games, and a double boiler (though I’ve never seen them cook anything more complicated than rice).

None of these things are in themselves bad, and I don’t have a problem with people indulging when they have the disposable income. I’ve justified it to myself by saying that we all have different values, and they probably wouldn’t approve of some ways that I spend my own money.

But I’m getting more and more uncomfortable…

Commenting about being poor followed by showing a link to a costume jacket that he hopes to purchase frustrates me. Should I speak up and say something, or just chalk it up to different priorities? -Anonymous

Comments on Should you talk about money with people who have different financial priorities?

  1. If you speak up approach it from a “You’re always worried about money, do you guys have a budget or need help setting up a budget?” not from a “Of course you’re broke, you buy crap!” way.

    We’re in the “we’re broke” phase, but in reality we aren’t broke (though husbeast just got laid off so talk to me in a few weeks when his severance is gone and unemployment kicks in). We’ve made the choice to throw as much of our income at our debt as we can while still affording some quality of life choices. For us, spending time with our friends and cooking big meals to feed everyone is our ‘luxury’ item of choice; experiences rather than things.

    Good luck speaking with your friend. But do be prepared for them to get all huffy and offended at your (possibly perceieved as) criticism of them. Money can make people do crazy things.

    • Exactly my thoughts. “We can’t afford to buy fruits and vegetables” isn’t an invitation for advice about financial matters, and unsolicited financial advice never goes over well.

    • Yeah. Unless their different financial priorities endanger their child (i.e. not taking him/her to the doctor when necessary, because they can’t afford it), it’s probably best to keep your mouth shut.

      • If it does come down to needing to do something like take their child to the doctor they WILL do it. But after they comment to me (and others) about how they can’t afford it. But, needing the doctor themselves? Nope. Won’t go, saying they can’t afford it.

        • But that is THEIR choice and their business. if it makes you uncomfortable then try and avoid conversations about money. If they say they cant do something with you because they are short on funds just say ok and leave them with their choice – you dont need to get frustrated about their lives, it is clearly something that works for them or else they would change their priorities.

          • Oh yes, I agree completely! I just wanted to allay any concerns that there could be child abuse going on.

            My concern is more about the frequent complaints, laments, and even requests for money when I disagree with how the money appears to be being spent. Part of me wants to say, “Well, if you didn’t spend money on X you’d have money for Y,” but there’s no way to do that without being judgemental about their choice to prioritize X over Y when I prioritize Y over X.

            Money is such a sensitive subject because it’s so wrapped up with things like values. Hard to talk about — or ignore talking about — when someone keeps bringing it up. 🙂

          • I think once they ask you for money for something, you have every right to discuss their finances.

            Wait until the next time they ask for money. Insist to them that in order to receive the money from you, they must be willing to sit down with you and set up a budget*, as well as sign a loan agreement that’s notarized and everything. Some stipulations are totally allowed in legal loan documents, and I think something about going through the house to find what extra belongings they aren’t using that they can sell is a perfectly legitimate one. Being careful to keep your words and tone concerned and caring rather than critical should help you in communicating that you Just Want To Help In Any Way You Can.

            *When you set up the budget, be sure to include some spending money. On the one hand, it seems like enabling frivolous spending. On the other hand, long-term budgets with no discretionary spending money are simply not sustainable for most people and CERTAINLY not cold turkey; the money will get spent frivolously either way, so you might as well ensure it doesn’t come out of the car insurance fund in the process. When I set up my budget, I set it with a spending budget that was 70% of what I had been spending already. Enough to feel a hefty tightening of the belt, but not so tight that I had to make DRASTIC lifestyle changes all at once. Over time, I incrementally reduced my spending budget considerably.

    • It sounds like your friend may have a problem with money management, BUT it is not your place to try to teach them how to do it unless they ask for your help.

      Not giving unwanted advice to people you care about who seem like they are making mistakes is REALLY HARD (I know I’m not very good at it:p), but trying to help people who don’t want your help usually just makes them angry and you. And you angry with them.

  2. It would get on my nerves, too. But honestly, there is very little chance that you can comment on it even in the most helpful way without it turning into a big argument or at least hurt feelings. They’re grown folks. They will need to learn the hard way about prioritizing money correctly. There is nothing you can say to them that will do anything but make you sound like a bad friend, even though you mean well.

    It is also possible that their crying of Poor Mouth is bullshit, that they do it either because they want others to feel sorry for them, or because it validates them somehow. I personally feel like, if you can afford video games, you can afford healthy food and medical care for your children, but my priorities about money are not everyone else’s.

    • It’s not always an attention grab. I often use the phrase “I can’t afford that right now” or “I’m so broke right now” because I’m trying to convince myself NOT to spend money. Those words confused my husband, and he just asked me if I was really broke, or if it was something else. And I answered him honestly, that I’m just trying really hard to save, to pay off some debt, to change my spending habits – all of which means NOT buying extra things. But his question was a good opener…

      I agree with those above who said your best bet is to stay out of it – but – if you can’t a question is a good way to start…

      • I deal with the convincing myself/avoiding the “I can’t…” by saying instead “there’s a moratorium on…” whatever it is – eating out, shopping, etc. It’s not that I can’t afford something, or that I want you to feel bad for me, or that I won’t eventually return to doing it – it’s that I choose not to spend money on that right now because it conflicts with some other goal I have. People respond generally more positively to this than those in our group of friends who often seem hypocritical about being “broke”.

        • That is fantastic! It’s showing that you are in control and making your own financial decisions to reach your goals.

          If friends try to push the issue, remind them of your goals!

          The way you phrase it is helpful to yourself AND your friends. I’m so doing this in the future!

      • This!

        I was in a similar situation as the friend in question. I would comment on how I couldn’t afford to socialise while enjoying my new purchase or expensive food choice. In reality I simply hadn’t a grip on my income (my hours of work fluctuated) and where I was spending money and was aware of debt. Now I actually have a smaller income but control of my incomings and outgoings. One of my friends commented that it was great my new job paid more because I was able to afford meeting for coffee, when really it is just that I have control of my finances now.

      • I agree that sometimes when you are trying to save money, alerting the people around you to your attempts can be helpful. Ya know, if your friends know that you are trying to money diet they are less inclined to ask you to go somewhere expensive, or do an expensive activity.

    • Yeah, and honestly I’ll admit myself to sometimes saying I “can’t afford” to do something if it’s something that I don’t want to do and don’t want to argue about. If I just say I don’t want to go to the stupid concert that my friends are excited about and that I don’t care about (or the fancy restaurant that I think sounds over hyped) then I’ll have to put up with them trying to convince me/guilt me into going. If I say I can’t afford it, that usually stops the conversation. And really, I “can’t” afford to spend money on things that I’m not interested in, because I’m saving money for things I am interested in.

  3. Frustrating as it is, there’s no way to talk about it without lots of embarrassment and/or hurt feelings.

  4. I guess so long as they aren’t asking to borrow money from you or expecting you to pay their way then you might be best not discussing money with them unless they ask for your help/advice.

    You could try a few suggestions in everyday conversation not pinpointing their flaws.
    E.g. Did you see this meal planning pin I pinned on Pinterest this week, it’s saved me loads of money on food shopping

    • Yeah, that would be the only way you could do this. Maybe gather some information, and the next time friend mentions money, you can say things like, “Oh! You know, I was just reading about this financial planner/Pinterest/article that was talking about *subject*. I think I’m going to look into it.” And you leave it at that.

    • “so long as they aren’t asking to borrow money from you”

      Unfortunately, this is the concern. A few of us loaned them money in the past to help cover a specific, one-time expense (and they did pay us back) but now there’s requests for we-can’t-make-ends-meet donations. I suggested talking with a financial counselor to help evaluate how to manage current finances as well as plan for emergency expenses, and they said they did. (Yet they still asked for money, which confuses me…)

      At this point, I’ve pretty much decided to (a) ignore all complaints and change the subject in case it’s attention-seeking and (b) not loan or donate any more money but if it comes up point again to counseling.

      • Personally, I would probably find it very difficult to hang out with these people. I would see each “we can’t afford that” as a request for funding. Not to mention that, unless you live an hour away, we can’t afford gas sounds like a pretty poor excuse to skip an inexpensive outing.

      • In general terms, I would once (and only once) mention how budgeting has helped you, a tool you use or something like that and offer to show them at some point if they are interested. Only once. I admit that my dude and I are still getting budgeting under control (he’s a student with a flexible income/expenses, not the easiest to budget for). I had a friend at one point offer to any of us but, to be honest, I did not want her to see the financial situation I was in or my choices of priorities. I worried about being judged.

        That said, obviously your friends are not as concerned about that as they are asking for money. Honestly, when they next ask for money I would probably just decline. I have a feeling that these are people who are not ready to get control of their finances in a way that makes sense to you. Changing other people is pretty much impossible unless they are wanting to change so offers of help or stipulations on a loan, while they sound like a great way to help your friends, may just result in resentment. Especially if they do not follow through on loan stipulations. What would you do then?

        I think you’re probably making the best choice, to avoid the conversation and not loan or give money to them.

      • See, if they’re trying to borrow money or hit you up for “donations”, that’s a whole other ballgame. Obviously, if they’re the kinds of people who waste money on stupid stuff while going without food, etc, don’t give them money. If they’re trying to hit you up, I’m guessing that a lot of their complaining about lack of funds is trying to get pity. And that’s not cool. Honestly, personally, these people would have to have some otherwise absolutely stellar friend qualities for me to continue hanging out with them. So yeah, if they’re asking you for money, maybe it’s OK to call them out on their bad money management skills. Just be ready for them to react badly and be sure you can live without the friendship if it comes to that.

      • I have this exact problem with a family member of mine too 🙁 It’s hard because I love this person and don’t want to see them suffer, but I also want them to learn and be independant. While I’ve started to limit my $$ support to this person, other family members are offering more and more.

        • Honestly, I feel like the best financial help you can provide is to pay for a fincancial advisor/planner. Try to get your other family members on board too, so that they’re all willing to pay the cost of a financial planner but not just give them money. That way, hopefully they can start learning how to keep the money they do get, and use it wisely. And, honestly, a family member might go with them to the financial advisor, and that way the family can still provide money to them, but only as the financial advisor advises!

          • Also, you don’t even need to pay for a financial planner, no-profit agencies certified by the NFCC (National Foundation for Credit Counseling) offer free budgetary counseling, often over the phone, as well as classes and workshop on things like money management, debt, etc. Also, sometimes institutions you/they might be a part of such as credit unions offer referrals to such services, also free. I used to work as a housing counselor (counseling people who were behind on their mortgages) at one of these non-profits. They do great work.

  5. Well there could be two things at work here:

    #1 They’re not really “poor” or “broke” but like to say they are. I say I’m broke often, but that’s because I don’t make the amount of money I wish to be making (realistically). However, that being said I can afford to buy luxury items when I save and put aside the money for it…but I can still afford to pay my mortgage, bills, credit card, etc.

    It could be that your friends just like whine about never having “enough” money. We all wish we could be kabillionaires, but we’re not.

    #2 The other thing is, they could actually be on the poor side due to contributing factors of spending on luxury items (video games, cosplay outfits) and not life necessities (healthy food, medical care, bills) because they’re priorities are messed up. They might see buying video games, fancy cookware and toys for their kid as a means of showing society, “LOOK! We can afford these things to be apart of middle-class society! WE’RE NORMAL!” A status symbol thing.

    All I can say is, depending on your relationship with your friends…you may or may not be able to say something to them. If you guys are very close (like…family-close), and talk about personal subjects without fear of judgement freely…then you can probably say something along the lines of, “Hey I’m worried about you guys. You keep mentioning your money situation and [life necessity] you can’t afford. Are you doing okay?” And then go from there about setting up a budget, seeing a financial planner, etc.

    If you’re not, then you can’t say anything (no matter how nicely worded or well-intentioned) without making them angry and possibly damaging your friendship. All I can say I would do in that situation is ignore them. Every time they bring it up just go, “Uh huh” and then change the subject. If they press on about it often, maybe immediately after they say something, pipe in, “Are you guys doing okay? You talk about this a lot.” And go from there.

    But be prepared they could get offended no matter what your relationship is with them.

    • This is good advice. We have close family friends that seem to climb out of debt only to climb back in time after time. We all found it very frustrating to hear them talk about their debt in one breath and the next would be about a trip they were taking or a new gadget that they bought.
      After a while when ever they brought up being in debt around my Mom, she would not ask questions of them but instead would talk about how my Mom and Dad manage their money and what works for them. It took a long time but it seems as though some of that information finally sunk in. Save for the things that you want. You don’t need everything as soon as you see it, etc.
      Our friends are still not great with their money but they don’t seem to sink themselves as deeply in debt as they did before over frivolous items.

  6. I agree with all of the “Nope, don’t do it” comments. Not your business, not your problem. It’s admirable you want to help, but that’s not the kind of thing you can help with without some serious blow up.

    Keep all of those conversations in mind though if they ask to borrow money or want to do anything with you that involves fronting money. Don’t agree to go into business with them. Don’t rent them your house (or anything else.) Don’t even buy tickets for something as a group that they can pay you for later. People like this get mad if you insist on them holding up their end of a money bargain. If they owe you money and won’t pay and you insist, they’ll take it as a personal insult against their honor that you don’t believe they’ll pay you back “someday.”

    • As my hubby said to me when I was complaining about a new friend of ours not paying for pizza twice in a row – “If you lend someone twenty bucks and never see them again, it’s the best twenty bucks you ever spent.”

      People may not want or mean to be leeches, but if they are then you have to protect yourself – would you give alcohol to a drunk because they said it was for cooking? No bloody way. No lending, and if they ask why say you’re not in a position to do so. Even if its $5.

      Also general advice which has already come up in this thread a few times – if you ever decide to lend cash to friends or family, get a contract. Money makes assholes of us all – better to be “that guy” up front and have a leg to stand on when pay day comes (and possibly goes…) than lose a friend over non-payment. Best advice is still don’t do it – you can give money to friends but lending it is much trickier and potentially devastating.

      • I personally go by the opposite philosophy of, “If you lend money to a friend, decide first which you would rather keep.”

        If I lend money to a good friend, I mentally count that money as “lost” the moment I give it to them. If I get it back, so much the better, and if I don’t, I don’t mind overmuch since I’ve already written it off. If I can’t lose the money, I won’t lend it out.

        (Incidentally, this is why I don’t lend out money very much. For my friends in need, I prefer taking them out to dinner, buying them a few things at the grocery store when we’re out shopping together, etc.)

  7. That strikes me as tricky and for a lot of reasons. In the U.S. I rarely encounter anyone willing to talk about finances, good situations or bad. If it’s the same for you then that’s probably going to make any discussions harder.

    Taking a jump here: Frivolous things being bought are probably a comfort or a means of stress relief. For some people it’s easier to see the value in instant gratification then saving the money to address something like health. I’ve been there and known others to do it as well. Add the fact that eating well, seeing doctors, and developing hobbies outside of the home can easily snowball into a chain of financial commitments. Commitments which might be dangerous to break (health issues, ongoing repairs) or painful to let go once started. So it’s easier to complain and never chance them.

    I personally always liked it when people began to suggest “money-lite” activities. Skyping D&D games instead of long drives. Potlucks instead of eating out. Thrift store shopping and bargain hunting. No one approached me about my complaining, yet they understood the stress and anxiety I had. Eventually the complaints didn’t happen as often.

    My own habits changed because I was tired of not having money. So no advice on how it would feel to be given advice. However, I’ve noticed a lot of my friends and family love to hear about the “crazy” things I do to save (no heat! no AC! no eating out!). I’m not giving advice or passing judgment when I tell these stories. Instead I’m being upfront about what I have, what I spend, and how it’s been exciting. The more candid I was with dollar figures the more someone would stop and go, “Wow, if YOU could do that then maybe I could pay off my loans in a year too…”

  8. It sucks that they think they can’t afford fruit and vegetables, but it’s their (constipated) cross to bear. I can’t think of a way to bring it up without sounding like a jerk though, like “Yeah, that’s a really nice pair of costume pantaloons, but think of all the carrots and spinach you could buy for your kid with that money instead…”
    I do have some friends who constantly complain about being broke as they spend money on things I’d never prioritize, but I try to just keep my mouth shut. I grew up below the poverty line, so I look at things differently. It’s not just different values, it’s different perspectives.

    • I LOLed at “their (constipated) cross”. 😛 Next time I’m in the store buying veggies I’ll mutter, “It’s not my constipated cross to bear!” and get strange looks from people.

    • It frustrates me when I see people eating snack foods while complaining about fruits and veggies being expensive. You can get 3-4 bags of frozen veggies for the price of a bag of doritos!

      • Jane: That’s true, but the bags of frozen veggies also require…
        1. A functioning freezer
        2. A functioning stove
        3. A clean pot or pan, plus clean plates or bowls to serve on
        4. Potable water
        5. At least 15 minutes in which to cook, in a place with all of the above
        6. The ability to stand for long enough to cook and wash the dishes
        7. Either the ability to carry the weight of the groceries or a functioning car

        It seems silly, but there are people who don’t have these things. A friend of mine loves to cook, but his gas has been turned off, he has a malfunctioning sink which makes doing dishes difficult (since they can’t touch the bottom of the sink), and he often has trouble standing for long enough to do dishes. Sometimes I’ll invite him over to my place to cook (so he has a working kitchen and also so I can do the dishes), but that’s not always an option.

        Sure, there are times when it makes sense to say, “Eat veggies instead of chips!”, but sometimes it’s not that easy.

  9. I really wouldn’t say anything. There is no way to do it nicely. I also want to point out that sometimes choices that seem crazy from the outside do make financial good sense. We don’t have health insurance for my fiancé. We can’t afford it. We do spend 9 dollars a week I half a gallon of raw grassfed milk. To my parents, this seems crazy, but we try to keep in good health by eating well, but healthcare is wildly out of reach. Not being able to afford veggies often is because someone doesn’t know where to shop for them, or how to cook them, or doesn’t realize you can cook for very little money. But it really isn’t your place.

    They sounds like a lot of the poor folk (while we probably aren’t truely poor, my fiancé’s family is) in that when money comes in, they splurge. There is an amazing cracked article about this mindset that helped me understand much better, and my fiancé was shocked at how accurate it was. http://www.cracked.com/blog/the-5-stupidest-habits-you-develop-growing-up-poor/

      • Yeah, the article is great. Having grown up not quite that broke, but still on assistance at points I really identified with both the windfall check thing, the knowing exact numbers thing, and most crucially “Being poor is a mindset. And it’s one that, if given the chance, will make your ass poor again.”

    • Such a good article. I am thankfully now a bean counter, but have been there done that for everything as described. As a kid, I remember our potato phase, where we had nothing but, for about 3 months. The disappearing money with nothing to show gives me heart failure to this day. Me to a T.
      And as for the original, no don’t say anything!!!! They don’t want your advice.
      When they ask, answer. Until then, change the subject as sucky as that is.

  10. From experience, it won’t matter what you say, things likely won’t change for your friends and you could ultimately hurt your friendship by speaking up. Finances are something that really needs to be learned in the first person, and sometimes the best wake up call is one that comes from a creditor or a phone being shut off.

    My parent’s were notorious over-spenders on wants over needs (granted we had gardens and things to offset the needs category), and that is still something that pervades to this day with my mom. I have spent time trying to talk to her about finances (I got myself into a bit of financial trouble in university by doing what my parent’s did and learned my lesson the hard way, now my husband and I budget like crazy). I’ve dropped hints about books, or websites that Marc and I were finding really helping (mint.com), how our budget works, etc. And ultimately while my mom claims she wants to change her habits, she hasn’t personally put the effort forward to do so and instead continues to spend on things that she doesn’t need.

    Here’s the reality: That is totally 100% her choice, and it isn’t up to me to change things for her.

    Once I kind of accepted this mantra, I stopped getting frustrated or angry about her mismanagement of money (or how I perceived it to be mismanaged). I can only focus and change my own life, and ultimately lead by example. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.

    • I’ve also found that that saying can be extended… if the darn horse doesn’t want to move out of the field TO the water, it ain’t movin’ …

  11. If ANYTHING is to be said (again, the perils of which were beautifully outlined before I jumped in and I totally agree), it’s going to have to be done from a place of I love you/I’m worried about you. They bring up a No We’re Broke point? Ask them if they’re ok, let them vent, maybe they’re struggling and it’s a chance to connect and share a something-worked-for-us moment. And proposing an alternative by just saying Well We Miss Spending Time Together How Can We Make This Work? might open up a door for them to consider their priorities – which seems like a big issue.

  12. If you are really close to this friend and they are bringing up a lack of money all the time, I think I would approach this differently. Next time they say something like, “We can’t afford fruits and veggies. We are so broke.” I would say something like, “Ya know. I’m not sure what to say to that. Are you looking for ideas of how to save money for this or just blowing off steam?” It will kind of let them know that this topic comes up a lot, and the uncertainty of how you should respond is making you uncomfortable. Now, if they say that they are just blowing off steam, I would let any ideas or tips you have fall to the wayside. It sucks they don’t even have money to drive to hang out, but it is what it is. If they are looking for advice, couch it in love and helpfulness. Once you give them some thoughts though, you’ve got to go ahead and drop it anyway. You don’t want to end up being their money police.

    • I totally agree with this: “Next time they say something like, “We can’t afford fruits and veggies. We are so broke.” I would say something like, “Ya know. I’m not sure what to say to that. Are you looking for ideas of how to save money for this or just blowing off steam?”

    • I love this suggestion, Whitney S! I think it really gets at the heart of the matter. I may try that next time this comes up.

      By the way, guys, I want to thank you for your comments and thoughts. Beyond this specific circumstance, I was interested in crowd-sourced ideas about when uncomfortable and sticky and sensitive topics like this come up amongst those we all care about.

  13. I think a lot of people say they can’t afford to do something because they feel it’s impolite to say they just don’t want to.

    • This.

      It seems that we humans can usually find the time and money for the things that we value. (Within reason.)

  14. I’ve encountered a similar situation with one of my best friends. First, I looked at it from the ‘we all have different priorities’ angle. After a while, I noticed I was (got) hurt by comments like ‘we can’t visit you because gas is so expensive’ while I knew they were buying other stuff. In the end, I had a heart-to-heart with my friend. It was not easy, but I explained that the “we can’t visit’ comments really hurt me, because to me it said ‘we prioritize [stuff they bought] over the friendship with you’. It was definitely a hard conversation, but it did clear the air. And we found a way do deal with it. If you’re hurt and it’s a close friend, I think you could start from there to bring up the topic. Ultimately, I agree with all the other commenters, it is not your place to criticise their spending behaviour.

    • I’ve had to have this conversation with a couple of friends. If you come from a place of “I want to do what I can to help, maybe sit down with you and share with you what I know about budgeting/investments…” then it can be well received. There is one friend who I don’t really talk to anymore because of this, but frankly I felt she was using me all too often. Asking to meet me for lunch or a movie, only to show up and say she wasn’t going to order anything because she didn’t have any money, knowing full well I was going to end up paying her bill.

      • Oh man! That is the absolute worse! I’ve had that happen to me way too often and it drives me nuts! In my family all social gatherings revolve around food. So if you know you don’t have money for lunch AND a movie you might say something like, “Oh, why don’t you come over for lunch, I have a new recipe, and then we can catch a movie.” You don’t even have to mention that you don’t have the money for lunch, and yet you still get to spend time together. It’s so much more polite!
        I had one friend who would always show up for coffee or dinner without money, and I got to the point, that I would literally just eat in front of her and would not offer her to get her something or to share my plate with her. I decided that if she was going to be rude and not even politely ask me to help her out, but instead force me to help her, that I was just going to be rude right back! It was very satisfying. Haha!

        • Eh, this is why i usually suggest mexican or someplace with bread. I can nibble on the free stuff while the other person eats. We broke people aren’t always looking for a handout. Sometimes, we just cant afford to eat out and cant afford to feed you at our place instead, but still recognize that socializing is most comfortably done over food or drinks and DO want to hang out.

          • Huh, I’m glad this works for your friend group, but to be honest I would be SUPER uncomfortable eating a pasta dish or something while my friend just nibbled on bread. I like things like walking in the park or browsing (without buying) bookstores, or just inviting people over to hang out.

  15. I wouldn’t say anything.

    a. Except for things you actually see them by, you don’t know what they paid for those items, or if they were gifts, or if they were purchased at a a time when they had more disposable income.

    b. Right, priorities. If they want a cosplay costume more than they want that other stuff, that’s their business. Hopefully if any of the family became seriously ill they’d be selling that stuff off so they COULD go to the doctor, but still, their business.

    c. “We can’t afford that” is often a way of weaseling out of something someone doesn’t actually *want* to do. Not always, of course. But… c’mon, fruits and veggies are way cheaper than prepackaged junk food. Unless you live really far away, the gas would probably cost like $5 tops. I’m betting some of it is justifying (to themselves and others) something they don’t really want to do for other reasons. Or maybe just looking for pity and attention.

    There’s just no way to bring all that up without it ending badly. Tell ’em “Oh, sorry you can’t make it”, don’t get in the habit of loaning them money, and just stay far away from the whole topic.

  16. Different financial priorities reflect different life priorities, that’s why this is so fraught. You aren’t just helping them with technical skills, you’re criticizing their lives. People would say that my husband and I spend too much on video games and movies, but these things are important to us. While I look wistfully at a mustang, I may say “I wish I could afford a new car.” Probably I could afford one if I didn’t buy so many video games or go out to so many movies. But my car is perfectly fine, so I see no reason to “grow up” and stop playing new games. On the extreme end, I have a friend who sees a car and its upkeep as a frivolous expense even though he lives in a city known for a lack of public transportation.

    I would say, since these are you friends, you are allowed *one* sidelong remark. When they say “I can’t afford XYZ,” you can reply with “Oh, that reminds me, I just finished this great Dave Ramsay book/ found a fantastic advisor/ caught this great episode of Suze Ormon/ etc.” If they don’t bite at the bait, then leave it alone and try not to judge.

    • Or a sidelong idea: a yard sale. If you happen to have junk you want to get rid of, propose to do a yard sale together. Or even just say something like “I’m itching to do something this summer–do you have any stuff you want to get rid of? I’ll help you price stuff and sort through everything, if you want.” It might be a nice opportunity for you both to make a little spare cash and to take inventory. It might help Friend realize just how senseless some of their spending really is.

  17. Yeah, it’s hard to approach this issue without offending people. I have a friend who doesn’t have much money, but insists on name brand clothing and makeup and I just can’t understand why she would prioritize those things. But that’s just it; I don’t understand it, and trying to give advice on something without understanding where the other person is coming from rarely ends well. If the other party approaches you for advice, or if it turns from just a light “Ahh, no money!” complaint to what seems like a cry for help, then you can approach the subject.

    My mother-in-law is the same way, where she complains about not having enough money and yet will buy herself a new $3000 mattress on a whim. And I’m learning to accept that her idea of having money and mine are different, and that there’s not something inherently wrong with it. It bothers me, but it’s not because she’s doing something wrong, but because she’s doing it differently from how I would.

  18. From the tone of this question, it seems like their constant stream of “we’re poor” comments is actually impacting your friendship with them. Which, to me, actually supports you saying something to your friend about it, because if they continue to make you uncomfortable, sooner or later you’re going to stop hanging out. However, the tone is very important. I think others further up thread gave a couple of very good examples of how to do this without offending (sincerely ask if they’re doing okay, talk about your money management strategies, etc). I’d add that if they’re consistently blowing off invites to really inexpensive outings for money problems, stop inviting them. There’s no need to open the door to those types of excuses.

  19. I will admit, I have used the “we don’t have the money” excuse; however, it was done because 1) husband didn’t have a job, and we were living on one income; 2) we were planning our wedding, and paying for it ourselves. I used it mostly to avoid places where money was spent (restaurants, theaters, amusement parks, etc). We still drove places to see friends…we’d just play nerdy board games instead of going places!

    I say proceed with caution; I think the “oh hey, so, I read this article about money management by (whoever) and thought it was interesting. Did you see that?” approach is the most tactful. I can see how that would get old listening to; just…don’t loan any money. I have watched enough Judge Judy to know that seldom ends well.

  20. Do you know for sure that they’re paying full retail price on these things? Cosplay items can be found pretty cheap if you look long and hard enough, and some custom makers are willing to trade services. New gadgets could come from sales, and like-new gadgets could come from yard sales or auctions. I have several video games and have hardly ever paid more than $5 for them. New.

  21. I would chalk it up as “an annoying thing my friend does” and leave it at that – because they’re right. No good can come of this.

    Hey, I’m often short of money too, though I spend what I do have on things like food from the farmer’s market that someone else would consider a luxury because it’s more expensive. But even if I choose to complain about it, I still consider it *my* business. Not my friend’s.

  22. i would add one other thing to the original comment, which is that it is unlikely that this is simply a thing a friend does that annoys you. if it is, hey, let it slide. but from my experience with similar situations it is probably bigger than that.

    i have found different spending priorities often come with the expectation that you should change them (which is, of course, what you are thinking about your friend, but i have found that while it is considered rude to tell a friend they should spend less money, it is completely acceptable to want them to spend more – like only wanting to hang out if we’re going out to eat, or to a bar, or shopping).

    it has also led to an expectation that, because we never complained about being broke, we obviously had plenty of money. which, yes: we have plenty of money for the things we need. but if we share a hotel room, we actually were planning on you paying your half.

    planning. which leads us to maybe the biggest friendship strain: it’s really insulting. it always came across with a big unspoken dose of “you guys are so *lucky*”. (which, yes, i strongly believe that there is a dose of luck or such in all success, but…) no. we have worked and continue to work very hard to be in a stable financial situation.

    sorry- this is getting long, but i wanted to address the fact that this is an important relationship question, not some kind of “not your business” butting into someone else’s finances thing – it’s very possible for this issue to break your friendship apart.

    as to what to actually do, i think it depends (of course). i’ve done a number of things, sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t.

    you can try starting to repeat your own positive money remarks – a sort of subtle educational commentary: “man, it was so hard to get used to making coffee at home, but i just realized i’ve save up enough money for ____” “that’s so cool, i want to get one too! but i’ve already spent my fun money this month; maybe i’ll get it next month”

    you can try to start responding to his complaints with direct solutions. this can be done politely: “yeah, it’s hard to fit in the budget, but i always look for the managers special veggies, which are great as long as you use them the day of.” maybe he’ll take some of it to heart, but also if he’s just looking for an ear to bitch to, getting a response other than the wanted sympathy might at least get him to talk about it less.

    you might be able to snark at him, depending on your friendship: “oh, yeah, it must be hard to afford gas after what you spent at the bar saturday/getting to dragon*con” it took years and some other outside circumstances, but this eventually got through to one of our friends. it also allows you to get it off your chest. and gives him the opportunity to say “shut up, man!” thus ending the conversation and moving on.

    last, but not least, polite and helpful sympathy could be in order: “hey, i know you’re really upset that you can’t afford to move to a bigger house for your kids/some legitimately important thing. do you want some help figuring it out?” of course, this only works if you’re enough of a money nerd (and polite and sympathetic enough) to actually sit down with him and work on a reasonable (to his priorities, not yours) and achievable budget. most folks i know who are “always broke” because of messy spending habits don’t do it because they don’t care, they do it because they actually have no idea how not to.

    • These are all fantastic suggestions. I’m definitely going to have to use them. So much better than when I’m tempted to retort, “Well, when I need more money, I get a second job. Or a third job. Ya do what you gotta do.” I don’t actually say this out loud, but it’s what I’ve actually done in the past, and frankly, it’s frustrating when a friend who only works part time or relies solely on a spouse’s income complains as if there aren’t other options. Plus there’s always ebay, yard sales, freelance works, I could go on… If lack of finances is an issue, it can be fixed. If it’s really an excuse (which it often is) there are polite ways to call someone out on it without them realizing that’s what you’re doing.

    • This is a great comment with lots of practical advice. The expectations thing really resonates with me, because a family member of mine seems to think that because I don’t complain about money that I always have plenty to pay for them and buy them things. Which is why this person brings up the topic all the time! Also luck, they think luck is all it takes to have money, not careful decisions and hard work. Great tips that I will be using when interacting with my family member who has the same issue as the original poster’s.

  23. I would stick my fingers in my ears when they bring up money. Maybe not literally. But unless they ask for help, they probably won’t be receptive to it anyway. You could maybe make some attempts in the vein of “I’ve been doing this budget thing whatever to help save money, it’s great!” and see if they take an interest. But beyond that, probably won’t end well.

  24. You should not say anything. For all you know, the fun extras they’re “wasting” money on might have been paid for by a generous relative or friend. Or a contest win. Or they got a really good gift card / coupon / garage sale find / Craig’s list barter. Either way, you don’t know. Have we not seen the Frasier episode where Roz gets accused of “You said you were broke, but why are you’re spending money”

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