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. There’s a few other possible scenarios that not many people are likely to consider.

    I’m pretty tight right now as far as money goes. My fiance and I have had a couple of hard years, including some unemployment stretches that we really couldn’t do anything about (and believe me, we tried). However, we did pretty darn well for a while beforehand. We’ve got some decent things. And until we run out of the money to buy food, we’re not going to sell them; we save up and buy quality items that last. So someone could easily look at us and say, “Why are you complaining about money? You’ve got a motorbike, a 50″ plasma, 2 computers less than 5 years old, and lots of savings!” Yes. Yes, we do. But that motorbike is my only transportation, saves a ton of money on gas, and was purchased during better times. That 50″ plasma came when we decided that living without a TV for several years just started to suck. And those computers, also purchased in better times, replaced machines that were over a decade old and past the point of being worth upgrading (not to mention my fiance needs them for business). The savings are for retirement and serious emergencies. We’re penny-pinching right now because we’ve had a hard couple of years, and feel it’s worth saving everything we can to get back into a house rather than an apartment. So yeah, we can watch stuff on a nice big screen, but no, we can’t afford to go out to the theater right now. I look like my bike is just for fun, but I am not just a “weekend warrior” with it. We have a pretty valid back story to being our definition of “poor” at the moment.

    Some things can also be explained by passions, or simply be keepsakes. I’ve got some pretty darn nice jewelry… that was my grandmother’s. I went through some rough times as a teen and young adult, but there are some nice things I managed to hold onto. So yes, I may turn down going to an expensive dinner out, even if I’m wearing a diamond necklace. I’m not broke because of the necklace. But I’m also not broke enough that I’d dare consider selling it. I’ve also been given some very pricey gifts on occasion that I honestly didn’t care for, but couldn’t return for whatever reason, and just took a while to get rid of.

    Another crappier explanation for seemingly not having a great set of priorities is simply that. Everybody is wired differently, and for some people who grew up poor or went through some thin times in their lives simply aren’t mentally prepared when they *do* have money. Take this extreme example: If you’re starving and someone hands you a $5, what are you going to do? Are you going to go seek out a grocery store and carefully shop to plan out a few meals and stretch that $5 as far as possible? Most people wouldn’t. Most people would head to the nearest corner store or fast food place and buy the first thing they could get their hands on, especially since being hungry can easily cloud your judgement (which is why they say never to go grocery shopping when you’re hungry!). Having also been through the hard-times-and-then-got-a-fat-wallet-suddenly, I know how it goes. No, it doesn’t make sense. But if you’ve been drooling over that one collectible, or dress, or whatever, and convinced yourself for so long that you’d be happy if you could only just have that one rediculous item… Well, there you go. You get in more of a mindset of, “I’d better buy X, Y, and Z while I have the money, because I have no idea when or if I will again,” instead of the obviously more practical, “I should try and save this and make it last.” Being desparate, for any reason, tends to make a lot of people make stupid decisions. It takes a lot of hard work and tricking your brain back into being practical after those kinds of situations. Been there, done that, still occasionally struggle with it.

    Not trying to defend the OP’s friends… just offering possible background explanations that *might* apply.

    • yes!

      i just wanted to say (especially as someone who already posted a fairly critical comment) that your analysis is great. i love seeing this sort of critical thought as an alternative to judgement. i would assume that if one were close enough to consider commenting on someone’s finances (one of our major taboos), one knows enough detail to reach an informed conclusion (but who knows).

      (and in brief defense of my previous criticisms, my personal experience has been that folks who make a big deal of being broke are those who dug thier own hole; i’ve known people in really tough situations, but they never seem to be the ones. obviously that’s not scientific and totally biased, but it colors my opinions.)

    • This is an excellent point to bring up, because you’re right that I don’t know the history behind some items and I need to remember that. There are some I do know about that concern me, admittedly because of MY priorities which are not necessarily better or worse, just different. (They may not approve of the amount I spend on eating out or running shoes or vacation.)

      Ultimately I get frustrated because if people I care about are struggling I want to help! — but I don’t feel it’s fair to do so by intentionally or unintentionally imposing my own priorities or values on them. I don’t want to come across as “my way is right and your way is wrong and that’s why you’re having trouble” because I still have my own troubles with my way. When it keeps getting brought up, it’s hard to say anything without revealing your own values and possibly appearing judgmental of the values of others.

      I like what other commenters have said about when they bring it up asking if they are bringing it up because they WANT help, opening that door — if they want — of, “Yes! I’d love to help! What I do works for me, but know that my approach is different than yours.”

  2. I want to get judgey and defensive, but I won’t, because that’s not actually helpful or what you’re asking for. I will just say “no, you cannot ‘speak up’ to them about it”. You have no idea why they spend their money the way they do- and what they actually may have paid for some of those things. You also do not know if spending is an addiction for them- it may be a compulsion they know they have but are currently unable to deal with for whatever reason.

    If it bothers you enough to end your friendship, fine. But it is not your place at all, unless approached for advice. If you offer advice and it is ignored, that’s all you can do. Leave it alone.

  3. At Thanksgiving my brother told me that we shouldn’t have spent $3,000 on the vet bill to save our dog’s life (he had eaten a sock and it would have killed him because it was all tangled in his intestines) because “dogs don’t have souls and can’t go to heaven. You could have used that money to save souls for Jesus.”

    Um. Yeah.

    Meanwhile, he and his wife had just gotten back from a Mexican resort vacation (instead of paying my parents back from money they had loaned him)…and I wanted to ask “how many souls did you save for Jesus on your vacation?” but I kept my mouth shut…because nothing good can come from a conversation about money from someone with vastly different values.

    • I am so impressed that you kept your mouth shut. That conversation could go no where good.

      That being said, it seems that my priorities align with yours. If this type of thing becomes a pattern, I probably would break my silence. Even though it’s not what you are thinking, I think it would be ok to say “I am not commenting on how you spend your money, so please don’t comment on how I spend mine, especially without examining your priorities first.”

    • Wow, bless you for being able to keep your mouth shut. I probably would have retorted with a wide range of snarky comments. I’m the youngest, so my older siblings *love* to judge my life choices. Ah, siblings

  4. Wait until there’s an invitation for advice, or next time it comes up, simply ask, “well, would you like some advice?”. If they don’t want to hear it, and just need to get it off their chest, they’ll say no.

  5. Most posts seem to have focussed on the social norms and requirements of the poster, rather than the friends making these calls. Sure, I totally understand that you can only control your own behaviour, but to be honest I find constantly whinging about money to be really rude. It’s putting the listener in a really uncomfortable place. Like anything else, if it’s framed in a constructive sense for example “hey this is hard to bring up, but we’re really struggling financially at the moment, can we talk about that?” then all well and good – but this sounds to me like, well, whinging.

  6. These remarks like “oh, we can’t afford vegetables” are probably said casually and meant to be offhand, right? So over-react!

    When they say they can’t afford vegetables again, just look shocked, and say, “My goodness, that’s very drastic! Not even onions? Oh my!” Don’t offer help or advice. It will totally derail your conversation and probably, they will stop making comments like that.

  7. I think the conversation only comes up it if directly effects you. You say they’ve asked to borrow money. Even though they paid you back, its still a little worrisome to you that they aren’t the best at planning their finances. So if they ever ask you for money again, it’s appropriate to say “I’m just not comfortable lending you money.” Or, at this point, to offer them tips on how to budget, etc.

    But if it’s nothing more than annoying, I’d say the posters above had some great suggestions; it sounds like it’s really more about stopping the constant complaining (and yes, I totally think it’s annoying when people are always making “I’m too poor” comments in casual conversation. People who are truly poor are often too embarrassed to make those statements casually, in my experience.)

    I love the “I’m not sure how you’d like me to respond” answer, as it really focuses on the problem you can say something about – the “whining”. Assuming these comments are being made as either a passive-aggressive way to ask for money or for attention-seeking, then it is fine to say something to your friends. But I would keep any mention of actual spending out of the conversation, and focus on how you guys could talk about money more productively, or not talk about it at all.

  8. I ummed and erred about posting, because I think other people have already said everything better than I could, but just to throw in my two cents… I grew up as one of three kids brought up on the equivalent of a teacher’s salary. And there were days when we just ate pasta and cheap bacon, and a lot of big expenses got covered by wealthier relatives. But I still have a huge collection of hardback books and CDs bought during that period, my sister has a ton of movie collectables, and we all had computers, because apart from anything else, those actually work out as really cost-effective ways to fill your time when leaving the house is too expensive.

    Until I started earning a decent amount myself (aged about 24-ish), I almost never went to any kind of social thing, because there were the train tickets and food and drinks (even if that’s just chipping in for nibbles); and most of the time events weren’t planned a month in advance so they hit me as a sudden unexpected expense that threw out all my other plans.
    And honestly, socialising with people who aren’t in the same situation is a massive source of anxiety in all kinds of ways, so I often preferred to dodge them. ‘I can’t afford the travel’ is, at least in my experience, the understandable, non-hurtful way of saying ‘this will cost my entire entertainment budget for the next month, and I don’t really feel like I can take that hit right now, for one evening’.
    It’s not the easiest thing to do over and over again, but it’s a hard habit to get out of once you’ve started classifying social events as expendable luxuries. Which sounds *awful*, I know, and it’s not something I’d ever outright say to someone. But the feeling is always there. And I’m suddenly very grateful for the fact that friends never came round, because the idea of people making judgements on which of my possessions I should have exchanged for the ability to afford their parties is… difficult.
    (To this day, I am truly terrible at throwing parties, because I live in perpetual terror of people feeling obliged to turn up, or bring something, or put up with another guest talking about their trip to Thailand for two hours, or god knows what other horror may await…)

    Now, obviously, this is just me, and the people in question might have completely different motivations.

    I guess the point I’m trying to make is that when money is difficult, the ‘frivolous’ purchases with a clear price tag are the easy ones, and anything beyond that – especially if the total cost is vague, or it’s not an integral part of your life (which could easily include fruit and veg, if you don’t cook) – can be a major source of anxiety that may or may not seem worth it at the time.
    I’m not sure it’s even a question of priorities, in the purely objective sense. Lack of money just leaves you with some seriously messed-up comfort zones.

  9. To me, this sounds like not only how Kids Couple spends their money, but how they spend their *resources*. Without knowing any more of the details (and thus I may be way off-base here), you miss your friends, who are spending more and more of their time, energy and other resources away from the friends they traditional hung out with.

    Sometimes, discussions about money have “subtitles.” The subtitles for this one may be “My free time is smaller now that I have kids. Please understand how important that is and tell me it’s okay.”

    If this is the case, I think it’s perfectly okay to talk with your friends about missing them, or to reassure them that you understand their time needs to be divided up differently now. Or that you’re frustrated and would like to figure out a way to see them more.

    I think a discussion about money is sure to lead to hurt feelings. If hearing them talk about money makes you uncomfortable, perhaps you could tell them *that* instead, so that money doesn’t keep coming up in the conversation.

    Best of luck with this!

  10. A friend frequently had big issues about money, her (now ex) spouse was great at losing jobs and leaning on her. When things were very tight I would just show up with a couple of litres of milk, a loaf or two and maybe something for school lunches. I NEVER lent money. I knew it wouldnt come back and would just make the relationship uncomfortable for both of us. I am still her friend and will always be. Money is a killer of friendships, dont go there.

  11. It’s really frustrating, but there’s no way to have this conversation that won’t cause hurt feelings. I know several people like this who used to be friends but ultimately their assumptions about my finances and their moaning about being broke ultimately drove us apart. It’s incredibly frustrating, whether your budget is bigger or smaller than theirs. I don’t think there’s any good way to bring it up, unfortunately, and I’d just avoid conversations involving money and politely decline to lend/ donate any more. I’m all for personal choice in how you spend your income- that’s fine and your priorities don’t have to match mine, but if it’s got to the point that our priorities are so far apart that we can’t find something in common (free, inexpensive or otherwise) to enjoy together then that’s a serious problem for our relationship.

  12. Sometimes I use that statement when I’m joking around and sometimes I say it about things I’m prioritizing. For example, I might say I can’t afford to go out to dinner or to get more work clothes, but when the ski resorts around me were open I gladly paid the price of a lift ticket to ski all day because skiing was a priority to me.

    I would personally avoid trying to have a conversation with your friend about her finances unless she’s asking you to pay for certain items and then going off to buy these luxuries. If that’s the case, proceed with great caution because people get touchy about finances because it’s generally no one’s business but their own. Even then, I would personally find a way to gently say no unless there were an extremely clear cut situation. If her constant comments are getting to you, you could mention how they bother you without getting into a conversation about her finances. Good luck!

    Also, items like that expensive tea set may have been a nice gift from a relative for a wedding or something else. I’m currently registering for all kinds of things for my wedding that I could never afford myself, but my fiance and I are registering for them because they’re “keep forever” items that we would love to have but cannot in any way afford now.

  13. If your friends were on their own I would say let them buy all the crap they want and starve, it’s their business. HOWEVER, if there are children involved, I would be concerned. If the kids aren’t eating healthy because of their parents inability to act like adults, that’s a real problem.

    If I were you I would tell your friends that you just found this great software for money budgeting (you can use Mint or something similar), and tell them that they should try it out because it’s saved you TONS of money. If they say they’re not interested, pull out the “Think of the children!” card and say that you KNOW they don’t need help budgeting, but it just makes you feel so BAD when you hear them say that they can’t afford fruit and vegetables for the kids and you want to do something to help. You just love those little kids so much. Tear.

  14. Yeah, it’s a tricky subject and I’ve had a few friends in the past that were like that and the usual situations are:

    If you don’t say anything, then you will likely end up hearing them complain for the rest of the friendship, which probably won’t last too long as you will eventually start to avoid them.

    They could be trying to get handouts. This one was recent when a person assumed that my new marriage meant that I was swimming in cash. Not the case. They disappeared as soon as they realized this.

    They truly need assistance with money management and don’t know how to ask and by having asked you will now both live happily ever after and be financially confident.

    You will insult them and they will deny everything and end the friendship.

  15. I feel like I’m this friend. I’ve not asked any friends for money, but I often say that I’m broke or I can’t afford XYZ while sipping expensive tea, or texting them on my smartphone. Partially this is because they’re priorities to me (the tea is a comfort and reminds me of home, and the phone is my only means of communication, and a significant part of my entertainment, with a relatively low cost). And partially it’s trying to feel “normal”.

    I grew up in a home where there wasn’t much money, but we always had good tea. It was budgeted for, and had priority status. Now, normally I get some at the bulk food store for a couple bucks and go happily on my way.

    But – and heres where I admit my stupidity- this month, I spent $14 on tea because it was fair trade, organic, delicious, and totally an impulse buy. Did I really need another variety of earl grey? And I don’t even drink chai!

    The thing is, while I am quite poor, $14 wouldn’t go far towards bills at all. And that is the honest, and idiotic way I look at it. If I make the minimum payment on my hydro bill, the lights will stay on. Anything more than that is “extra”, with nothing to show for it. I’m trying to change this way of thinking, but it’s incredibly difficult. Plus, I can’t budget worth shit, and I don’t know where to learn.

    • Would you appreciate advice from your friends in this situation, or would you prefer them to not talk about it?

      (If you do want advice about budgeting, I think some other posters further up suggested some good websites and things.)

  16. I wouldn’t say anything because it is such a touchy subject that it might very well damage your friendship and create a lot of resentment and awkwardness between you – like many other commenters have already pointed out, much more thoroughly and eloquently than me 🙂

    But I completely understand your frustration as well. I have a friend who’s in a similar situation. One day she’ll tell me she’s completely broke, the next she’ll tell me she’s going on a 3-week trip to Europe. She quit her job months ago because she didn’t like it and decided to reinvent herself as a professional photographer (she’s never taken a single photography class, though I know that’s not always a prerequisite to success in the field) and dropped 4 figures on equipment. Her photography business promptly went nowhere. The other day she mentioned that her boyfriend is quitting HIS job because he doesn’t like it anymore. I wanted to grab her by the shoulders and shake her and say, “That would be REALLY DUMB since he’s the only one who makes any money between you two and you keep saying you have no savings!” It takes a bit of effort to bite my tongue.

  17. To start, I have to be honest and say that I’ve never had friends like that, and I’ve never been that friend. My husband has friends like that, and to be honest, I consider them to be leeches. Not in the way that they’re actually asking for or taking money/other items from him, but in a way that they’re sucking the enjoyment out of the friendship. Yet, the mister still clings to the friendship. I think in this case, he’s too nice to say “ye know man, it’d be nice to talk about my interests instead of how you’re broke and don’t have a house/good job/girlfriend.” He’d NEVER say that. But, he seems ok with being leeched off of in that emotional sense. To me, it’s not worth his time or energy. Friendships shouldn’t require that much work! I’m at a point in my life where I’ve come to realize that anything less than pleasant/enjoyable/fun/meaningful in a friendship, isn’t worth my time. I don’t have a ton of friends, but the ones I do have, have been with me forever, and I with them. I’ve never had money discussions with friends, but I once had a friend that did a lot of awfully draining things, like saying things like “I look so fat in these jeans” and “I haven’t eaten anything all day” ALL the time, obviously fishing for comments like “Oh you’re gorgeous, your jeans look great, you don’t need to lose weight, etc.”. When I read this post, that was the friend I immediately thought of. It did make me feel very uncomfortable, which, though I didn’t realize till much too much time went by, was quite rude of that friend. Could the “I’m broke” comments be stemming from some other source or a sense of feeling somehow insufficient amongst your group? I do agree with the posters here that have said, a person that is truly poor doesn’t go advertising to everyone they know.

  18. I work with a couple of women who are always complaining about being broke or unable to save money. That said, they seem unwilling to forego online shopping, maintaining their fake nails, eating out, etc. I’ve had to bite my tongue several times as my husband are on a tight budget with only one of us working full time. I’m with the the others who recommended having the conversation if/when a request for money opens that door. I’m a fan of sharing my budget tips in general conversation especially when I get compliments on my thrift-store clothing or my homemade whatever that I brought for lunch.

  19. Where I live (Wisconsin) bars and taverns are huge money holes. I used to bartend and I would be serving $5.00 drinks to people that can’t pay their bills at my family’s other business (Car repair)…. it would just kill me. Drinks at the bar is NOT for sustance…. it is not food… you don’t need it… and if you owe people money, going to the bar is irresponsible! BUT.. that said, unless they are asking you for money, or you are a super close best friend for life, I wouldn’t mention it.

    Maybe it’s cold hearted of me, but in my past that have done that same thing over and over, are no longer my freinds. My friends and the ones that have things in common with me, and that includes my values. These were extreme situations and I wasn’t as close to these people to begin with so this may be COMPLETLY different than your situation.

  20. Definitely don’t say anything, but I do agree with you. I am the kind of person that doesn’t spend money on much, but I do care about really good healthy food. People will talk about how broke they are and than say when they get X amount of money they are going to buy Y unnecessary good. It doesn’t compute in my mind, but the one time I did try to talk to someone about money they got very upset. Let it be!

  21. It is funny when friends who make more money than I do complain about being “hard up”. I’m like…hmmm…I’m making all of my bills and can afford nutritious groceries for my family on my salary which is significantly lower than yours, so what’s your deal? Then, they talk about getting their eyebrows waxed at the salon, buying new shoes, going to the mall, buying fancy icecream downtown (which requires a 45 minute drive to pick up)….I’m playing my tiny violin for them. I never say anything, but it is a little annoying.

    • So I’m right there with you on my violin… maybe we can start an orchestra.

      In their world, those things could be perceived as necessities. Right after I graduated college, I lived with two girls whose families were wealthy enough, but they weren’t wealthy independently. They always felt “sad” for me since I didn’t allow myself life’s little luxuries, and I always felt sad for them because they would have to call their parents or grandparents at the end of each month to send money. I would tell them that I didn’t have to get a facial to relax, didn’t need to buy a latte every day to be caffeinated, etc. They couldn’t understand why I was “living like a miser and constantly depriving myself.” I couldn’t understand how they could continue to be spoiled little girls and not make any steps to be independent and financially sound.

      So my point is…there are fundamental differences in how people see and use money. Their parents never gave them an allowance for “extras,” while my parents gave me a larger than normal allowance in high school, but I had to use it for all my clothing, school lunch, and all social activities I wanted. They said that their parents thought they were protecting them from having to worry about money. We also disagreed on how we would treat money with our kids, still believing that the way we were raised was best. These friendships did not last, for many reasons, but discussions about money and lifestyles were a large part of it because you lose respect for each other.

      Some people live better with less! They adjust their priorities and view money in a different way. I would much rather budget for my priorities and carry zero balance on my credit cards from month to month than have to ask for money, assuming I had a source of it. But not everyone sees it this way, and don’t care about being financially sound and independent, much less know how to do it.

  22. No. Do not give your friends any fiduciary advice, please! They may find it insulting.

    It’s not a moral failing to be broke, or to buy yourself treats even when you can barely afford it. Have you ever gone through a period of time when you and your partner had been under- or unemployed, barely able to cover rent or more than cans of refried beans and packets of rice to cook your dinner with? Being super broke, you want to save up your pennies for a treat as often as possible. Selling things on eBay to make ends meet enough to pay rent is nerve wracking. You treasure the infrequent new t-shirt, jacket, thrift store shoes or home-cooked dinner of fresh meat and veggies that comes on payday.

    It isn’t a moral failing to be a less-than-expert money manager either. You pay for it in different ways, but still live a happy and fulfilled life anyway.

  23. this is actually the reason i stopped living with my old roommates. every time they got paid, they would pay their rent and bills and buy some food then go out and blow every penny they had left on video games, pool cues, movies, etc. the whole reason i moved in with them in the first place was because one of their cars got totaled and they needed help with rent so they could afford the payments for its replacement. it made me very uncomfortable because they had no safety net and if one of them had lost their job or another major event had happened that required a lot of money it would have left my financially vulnerable because i would have had to pick up the slack.

    i brought this up to the husband once and he basically told me that logically, he knew they were being stupid but that it was they way they chose to live their life and it wasn’t going to change. fortunately i knew him well enough to know how to handle it without him getting angry or defensive but unfortunately it was 3 years ago and i don’t remember exactly what i said.

    however, all that being said, if it doesn’t directly effect you and their child(ren) aren’t being neglected because of it, i would stay out of it. money is a VERY touchy subject for a lot of people and it would be horrible to lose good friends over something like this. if you do say anything, all i would suggest is that you offer to help them create a budget. generally speaking, i’ve found that to be the least offensive way to broach the subject.

  24. I watched a really good friend of mine let her husband put her and their child into destitution more than once. After burning through her over half a million dollar inheritance, they are again living on social programs and a string, while neither of them have jobs, and the husband is “chasing his dream”.
    I, and other friends, have told them, begged them, and just stopped talking all together. They have stopped short of neglect of their child, but are willing to forever live this way.
    I would not say anything to your friends, unless they ask for advice. Even then, anything you say can be mistaken for being bossy and nosy.

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