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. I know I often remark that “I’m broke” or “can’t afford it” because I’ve run out of my discretionary budget for the month, even though overall, we are comfortable. I used to be a big impulse buyer of small thing that added up, so my husband and I agreed that I’d get so much a month for whatever I wanted (I really hate the term allowance, as it assumes that my husband is controlling). It definitely helped and avoids arguments about money.

  2. Yeah, this is one of those “Keep your mouth shut” moments. It might be frustrating, but it’s not your life and not your money, so you have literally no say in how they choose to manage things. I know I would be livid if a friend randomly took it upon him/herself to tell me that my spending habits were irresponsible and should be changed. It’s my money, I can spend it how I want. If I choose to go into massive debt and spend myself into oblivion, well, that’s my choice.

    The most you could do is a casual, non-specific mention. Like “Wow, I’ve been reading this book about finance and budgeting that’s really helped me a lot! Seriously, I think everyone should read it. Let me know if you ever want to borrow it.”

    It looks like earlier in the comments you alluded to the fact that these friends actually request money sometimes, though. If that’s the case, then I think the situation is different. I think you can absolutely refuse to loan money when you don’t feel they are spending responsibly. Even so, I don’t think it should be coupled with a financial lesson. Just a simple, “I’m sorry, but we just aren’t able to give you anymore money,” will suffice And then they have to figure out how to deal with that themselves.

    Obviously, if they ASK you for financial advice or want help getting a handle on their budget, then that’s different and you should totally offer advice in that situation. But if they don’t ask, don’t offer. It will only create bad blood between you, and probably won’t have any effect on their financial situation whatsoever.

    I also think the rules are different if their behavior is actually destructive to their family. Like, they’re going to get evicted, or can’t buy food/clothes/school supplies, or have their utilities turned off. But if it’s just occasional whining about being “broke,” then leave it alone.

  3. I totally understand your frustration. I have a friend that talks about how broke she is so often it almost comes across as a matter of pride, or a constant cry for pity. I can’t make any mention of spending money (and she ALWAYS steers the conversation to shopping and all the dresses she wants but *can’t afford*) without her saying she can’t do the same. It makes things very awkward, and I’ve become snippy with her a few times, telling her “Maybe you just need to let the idea of this dress go, you keep saying you can’t afford it and some things were just not meant to be. Get over it,” but she still acts like a brat. She’ll hunt down sale sites for MONTHS, seamstresses, fabrics, absolutely anything. I avoided telling her in advance about my last trip because I knew she would try to make me find her a deal and pick it up for her while I was there. She’ll also spend 100$ on 5 dresses from a very cheap store, brag about the deals she got, then complain 2 days later that she hates everything because it’s so cheap and ask once again to borrow my stuff. She has no concept of quality over quantity. Lastly, she works a job that is extremely low paying by choice. I’ve suggested that if money is such a terrible issue for her (her mother has to cover some of her bills every single month) then maybe a career change is in order. But she claims she could NEVER do that, as she loves her job so much. I hope I’m not out of line then in thinking that if she LOVES the career that she chose and refuses to consider a change then maybe she should just stop complaining about her finances, at least so it’s not an inevitable part of every single conversation. It really is tiring.

    Wow. Phew. Thanks for letting me vent.

  4. I would have a hard time with this because my mom would say crap like that to me. “We can’t afford this, that” but spend her money on garbage. When I was accepted into college she said, before anything else, “You better start applying for scholarships because I can’t afford this.” Ruined my excitement. Nothing good would come out of saying anything, mostly because I would tell them that it’s not healthy to be saying that in front of their kids. Children should not have to take on the stress of their parents, because I did, and I resent both of my parents because of it.

  5. These people actually make perfect sense to me. I don’t know where these people are from, but let me break down the math from where I live.

    Weekly cost to buy enough fresh produce to make healthy meals on the regular (I’m talking for two people only): $100-200/week. So that means $400-800/month.

    One-time cost of a cosplay costume: Depends on the costume, but probably not more than $1,000.

    So let’s say you had $1,000 dollars, right? Maybe you got a tax return or a bonus. Once it goes away, it’s gone. Would you… Buy 1-3 months of vegetables, experience what it’s like to be healthy, and then have to go back to eating like crap? Or would you spend it on something that will provide you with sustained happiness over time.

    Another thought: maybe you would you squirrel it away because you know the car will break, and treat that money like the untouchable emergency fund it is (read: not for groceries). Maybe the comments about not being able to see a doctor are because yeah, they could probably afford the doc visit, but not the follow-ups or the prescriptions.

    Also, you don’t know if they’ll actually buy that jacket. Or maybe someone will buy it for them. Or maybe they’ll turn around and sell it eventually, which is really common in Cosplayland.

    I’m pretty judgmental about money, having been absolutely and completely broke (and homeless. and hungry.) but as much as I hate to say it, I get these people. Sustaining a healthy diet with whole foods and produce costs a lot of money, and the cost is consistent all year round. You can only afford it if you can make enough money in every single paycheck.

    I know this because I’ve been on both sides. People will wax poetic about “ooh the farmers market will get you so much produce for so cheap” and then forget that most of the year, there are no farmer’s markets and what you save in the summer gets eaten up by off-season markups.

    Your diet is usually the last thing to improve as you start making enough money, and the first thing to go when your income gets cut. Eating well isn’t something you just “do” unless you were raised with enough money to know how to do so and also value it as a priority. If you think that eating whole foods is a priority, it’s most likely that you grew up in an environment where that was important, because making that a priority was affordable. Any other option probably seems sub-human.

    If you didn’t learn how to eat “like you’re supposed to”, it’s a skill set that has to be learned. If you don’t have the resources (time and money), you won’t learn to do it, and if it’s something you’ve lived without for a long time, it’s not going to ever feel like a priority.

    • $400-800? Really?! lol, I would struggle to spend that much on _food_ per month, forget produce alone. It’s only me and my husband, but I can’t even imagine a _family_ spending that much! (we spend ~$250/month on all food, eat _very_ well, and could probably cut down on our food budget if we tried)

      • I struggle to believe that you’d have to spend this much money just to eat healthy. I guess things are different in the USA (I live in Germany), but I only spend around 200-250€ per month on food and that includes LOADS of fresh veg and fruit, and also meat (not every day, by choice), and 3 meals every day plus snacks. Here, rent is a much bigger factor than food.

  6. Just to underscore a point: There are days I actually have to convince myself I need regular food because I grew up with days between meals. The idea that I actually *need* food every day is still weird to me, because I know for certain that no, I won’t die if I go a few days without eating. When people say they haven’t eaten since the morning, I have no idea what to say, because I usually haven’t eaten since the day before and the idea of eating three meals a day seems ridiculously indulgent to me.

    I still feel guilt purchasing “good food” because it seems so impeccably indulgent to get berries or greens. Justifying $5-7 dollars for some raspberries that I’ll eat in half a sitting? Just because I want them?

    Eating at other people’s houses is still difficult. Some people count calories, but I tabulate how much that meal must have cost them, how cost-efficient is this meal, is it OK for me to take seconds based on the cost, or is this an expensive meal that I shouldn’t be greedy about because they probably spent way more than they usually do?

    You don’t just stop being poor and start eating vegetables. It’s a process. The idea of eating three meals a day seems indulgent to me because I know it’s not necessary. Because I lived for years like that. If that idea seems appalling to you, you probably didn’t grow up in poverty, and I’m truly happy for you, but don’t bring your healthy eating high horse into my life. Eating once a day without guilt over cost is hard enough. I don’t need people telling me that I need to triple that cost just because THEY couldn’t live without it. Because really, they could. They just never had to.

  7. This request breaks down to “They aren’t doing what I would do and that upsets me.” I’m sorry if I come off a little touchy but this is my life currently. My husband has been unemployed/underemployed for the last 2 years. We have had to cut back substantially on pretty much any kinds of perks that we enjoyed before (i.e. going out to eat, buying a frivolous present, etc.). This is compounded by paying for our mortgage, car, and other long term bills that were obtained when my husband was gainfully employed. This is really freaking depressing. Years of living like this really takes it’s toll and occasionally buying something that isn’t an absolute necessity is a little bit of sanity in a horribly negative life.

    What makes this depressing situation worse is when friends and family judge your every move with money by comparing it to their own lives. Maybe those frivolous purchases were done with gift cards or were presents. What hurts even more is if you have to decline invitations due to the cost and knowing you should restrain your spending only to have friends become upset or judgmental that you aren’t spending the little money you have budgeted on them.

    Maybe it’s their own fault for being in that situation but maybe not. Maybe they were hit with a relatively large medical bill, even after insurance was applied. If they say they can’t come because they need to conserve money, take their word for it. The best thing you can do as a friend is be understanding of their situation.

  8. One thing to be aware of, is that re-selling things like cosplay outfits, kitchen gadgets, and video games will NOT likely yield a lot of money. When a person gets into financial difficulties, it’s common to point at things like cars, clothing, hot tubs and other things bought before the financial situation and think, “Well, why don’t they just sell that?” But that used BMW that runs well is probably smarter to hold onto than try to sell it and buy a cheaper car that isn’t reliable. GameStop won’t give the kids much for the video game, and it is a source of pleasure. Reselling household items isn’t the gold mine some people think it is.

  9. I feel like the money problems is just a red herring in the situation. The real issue is that by constantly discussing their financial situation your friends are making others uncomfortable. I see this as more similar to a friend who is CONSTANTLY talking about how she’s fat/is dieting/etc. while constantly making poor food choices. It’s boorish behavior and I think that’s what you have a right to call them on because it’s bugging you – and so that’s the problem you actually have ownership over. It would probably be an uncomfortable conversation because no one wants to hear they’re being boorish, but as long as you keep it to I statements (“I feel uncomfortable when you constantly talk about how broke you are, it makes me feel more involved in your financial life than I feel comfortable with….etc.”) you totally have standing grounds to discuss it with them.

    On the other hand – their financial decisions – zero standing in that convo – it would just make you a busy body. I disagree that them asking for a loan gives you standing for it either. Their finances = your business. Make your decision of whether or not to give them money assuming that once you give it to them they will spend it as they please.

  10. Hubby and me are both shit with money. We especially suck at saving up for rainy days. We complain a lot about lack of money, but when we have some we eat out because it makes us feel normal, though we know we shouldn’t.
    We have asked for money of better organised friends and family when rainy days hit. We give it back, sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly. When we ask, we usually also get financial advice. Though it’s hard to hear and makes us feel like a failure, truth is we are, so we take it in. Some advice we won’t take (for example, it’s really important to us to have good internet connection because we are immigrated and far from our family and this is how we communicate with them), but other advice we have taken and it has helped a lot.
    From my point of view, you should give advice. If it’s not well received, then they’re not really in trouble, they just want pity / money.

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