female friend

Friendship and Money: Minimizing Losses

Given the uncertainties of the global economy and the high rates of unemployment, money seems to be on everyone’s minds these days. This is the second part of a two-part interview on Friendship and Money with MSN Money columnist Emma Johnson. Part I of this interview can be found here: She’s Fired, You’re Not.

How do economic inequities between friends affect relationships?

In a perfect world, money wouldn’t affect friendships. But there are a few things going on here. For one, in our culture we measure success in terms of professional accomplishments and money, and we often judge ourselves by these sticks. So when one friend gets ahead financially, another might start feeling left behind and less successful all around.

The other thing that happens is that money often has a big impact on our lifestyles. When one friend starts making big bucks, she might move to a tonier zip code, start worrying about private schools for their kids, and spend weekends researching a second home to buy. This is her new life. The friend from way-back-when can’t identify with these new concerns, and vice versa. These are not trivial differences and can create big rifts in how people relate.

There are practical considerations, too, depending on the relationship. If a pair of friends is in the habit of spending money together – be it dinners out, shopping or vacationing – that can all come to a grinding halt once one party can no longer afford it. Worse, the unemployed woman may feel the need to now live beyond her means just to keep that much-needed friendship alive.

Should women talk openly with each other about their financial woes or those of their partners? Why?

I believe we all need someone to talk to about the important things in our lives. We’ve been raised to believe that talking about money is impolite, but it is such an important part of our lives – and often our worries – that the practice of bottling up all our money woes might just be at the root our country’s lousy financial habits.

Blabbing about the nitty-gritty of your income, credit card statements, taxes and inheritances is probably not a great idea most of the time, but there are no holds barred when you have a really truly great friend who will not judge you, will give you some tough love when needed and, most importantly, listen. On the other hand, if you’re tickled because your husband got a raise, your great aunt died and left you a chunk of change and you found a wad of cash in your attic, remember: no one likes a braggart.

Are there circumstances when you should lend a girlfriend money to keep her afloat? What are the perils? What safeguards would help preserve the friendship?

Lending money to a friend or relative is always a tough situation, and can be a real stressor in the relationship. Whenever you get together, the money will be on everyone’s mind, but no one will talk about it. And there is no better way to create resentment than to have an unpaid debt between parties.

If you do decide to lend money, write up a contract signed by both friends, and have it include terms of the loan, repayment dates, interest, etc. But lending money should be a business decision, not an emotional one, and that is tricky between friends. Ask yourself:

  • What is this person’s financial history?
  • What is the likelihood they will be gainfully employed soon?
  • Is the loan for a true emergency or basic living expenses, or something frivolous?
  • And perhaps most important, Will this loan put my own finances in peril?

In an article I wrote for Psychology Today about friendship and money, I profiled a woman who made all her own money and had a very modest existence, one she shared with a girlfriend who later came into a significant inheritance. The newly rich friend felt guilty about it and insisted on treating her friend to meals out, vacations and trips to the mall – which the working woman resented very much. They were able to talk it though, but that financial inequality proved to be a big deal.

Emma Johnson is a New York journalist who writes about business, finance and money topics for publications including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur and Psychology Today. Her series on MSN Money, “Jump Start Your Life,” explores money topics for people in their 20s and 30s.

Reader Q & A: No way out?



Dear Irene:

My "best" friend and I have been friends since last year. Sometimes I feel like I love her; other times, she’s my worst enemy. She comes from a controlling and abusive family and I was always there for her to get through it.

I just turned 18, and I realize more and more that she’s doing the same things to me that her mom did to her. I’ve watched her lie and manipulate older men and she’s only 17. She brought me into these situations to help her be more convincing. It made me feel guilty but I couldn’t do anything about it. I’ve lost almost all of my old friends because of her telling me they talk bad about me behind my back. She’s changed me into becoming more promiscuous and she gets me to meet new guys to "make me feel more confident." She says I can’t do it on my own because I’m too shy. Then she finds something bad about them to make me from stop talking to them if I start spending more time with one of them and not her.

She even said something about my parents not caring about me. She "jokingly" calls me stupid and puts me down. Other times, she tries to make me feel better about myself. She found me a job with her but if I do something wrong, she makes me feel like a bad friend because she throws it in my face about how she got me the job and all the other great things she’s done for me.

I wish I had an escape but I’m still in high school and I happen to live a street away from her and she knows almost everything about me, even that I may have an STD because of a guy she hooked me up with.



Dear Heather:

As a woman and as a mom, my heart goes out to you because it sounds like you are in a particularly painful situation for someone your age. Even if you desperately want to, it’s hard to escape from a girlfriend who lives near you, goes to school with you, has some of the same friends as you, and works with you.

It’s great that you have insight and recognize that this relationship is toxic. Your friend has you hooked on the excitement she provides but the costs are too great. She undermines your self-confidence---and tries to manipulate and control you.

You were brave to tell me about your worries and that you want to make positive changes. Although it will be difficult, you need to find a way to back off from this friendship. If you don't feel comfortable talking to one of your parents, I suggest that you talk to another trusted adult, perhaps a counselor at your high school, who can provide support to help you find a way to end this risky relationship. Also, make an appointment with a physician so you can reassure yourself about your health and can cross an STD off your worry list.


My best,


Lean on me: But enough is enough



Dear Irene,

I have a friend who was always interesting to talk to because we had interests in common. I always wondered how she could manage so many activities in addition to her work.

Unfortunately, some time ago, she developed a serious illness for which she is now being treated. She has been attempting to regain her formerly busy lifestyle. While helping her at her home, I got to know her better and see how her personality may have even contributed to her becoming ill. She puts herself under needless stress. Hers was a dysfunctional lifestyle that emphasized overachieving and helping everyone -- even if they didn't ask for it.

Maybe I should have backed off because I sensed that I was being leaned on out of proportion to the situation. To those family or relatives who could help, she barely delegates anything, and excuses others who say they are too busy. However, the people she is leaning on are not related to her and are just as busy with obligations, if not more.  

I stopped contacting her about two weeks ago and feel guilty because I know that coping with her health problem is not a picnic. It is somewhat flattering to be leaned on. However, I am happy having this "vacation" as I feel trapped when I think about contacting her again. I rarely have given her advice and rarely have stated my opinions about what she has been doing in her life. I am afraid that if I go back to contacting her, I may finally tell her my opinions and then I'll be sorry. Thanks for any suggestions about how I can handle this situation.  



Dear Trapped,

Whenever a friend has a serious illness, it also takes a toll on her female friends. The people around her may feel a range of emotions including guilt, anger, sadness, and fear. You haven’t told me the nature of your friend’s illness but it sounds like your friend is a classic portrait of a “woman who does too much.” She liked to have friends lean on her and now expects the same from her friends. Not too unreasonable an expectation, I think, if she can have it her way.

You felt you desperately needed a vacation because your relationship with her had crossed the line and was toxic. You were complicit in allowing her to lean on you excessively, without letting her know when it was getting to be too much for you. Instead, you simply escaped.

If you want to have a more comfortable and mutually satisfying relationship with your friend, you need to be candid and set some realistic boundaries regarding where your helpfulness starts and stops, and what you are willing to do for her and what you are not. She may need and ask for more help now than before, so it can get a little tricky.

Whether, or how, her personality may have contributed to her illness is somewhat speculative and probably irrelevant because you aren’t going to change her. Realistically, you can only work on yourself by recognizing that relationships don’t have to be “all or none.” You don’t have to acquiesce to all her needs. If you decide to resume your relationship with your friend, you need to work at shaping it so that it is more reciprocal.

My best,




Wisdom from Whitney: Rx for being a less needy friend


I recently received this post from a reader named Whitney that I thought was worth sharing. Whitney was fortunate to have a good friend---who gave her honest feedback about her neediness--- without making Whitney feel totally hurt or bent out of shape. Whitney also seems to have a fair degree of insight into her own behavior. As a result of the two factors, she’s found a way to reduce her neediness, which will hopefully work for her and make her a better friend. Thanks for sharing your story, Whitney!


Dear Irene:

Wow. This blog has definitely helped me realize what a needy person I am. I just wish I knew why. I've experienced my fair share of friends who required more than the usual amount of validation, or coddling. or praise, but tonight I was told that I am too dependent on people as well. Not just all people, but one person in particular. My good friend told me this tonight, and I admit that it is hard to hear. Especially since I can't stand that kind of behavior.


But even more than that, it is hard to hear because I have a great fear of losing people close to me. This fear isn't typically that unreasonable, but I believe since I've lost a few close friends recently to death and other complications life brings, I'm more sensitive to the notion of losing friends. Somehow I've allowed myself to believe that I need to spend much more time than necessary with this person, and that's not fair for anyone.


I realize now that I'm always complaining or have something physically or emotionally wrong with me, and those things are draining to hear or see all the time. It's good to be able to talk to friends about what's going on in your life, but to an extent. To all you out there struggling with finding your own independence like I am, I suggest talking to a counselor once a week like I'm going to start doing. I've decided that I'm going to write everything going on in my life down so that I can keep my friends in the loop to an extent, but all the especially deep and emotional trials I'm going through at the time will be told to a counselor first so I can learn better how to cope on my own.


It's always good to have a strong support system of friends, sharing EQUALLY in all of life's ups and downs. However, it's also good to have that unbiased opinion from a professional and NEVER good to lay out all your problems to ONE friend. That's too much for anyone person, and they have their own lives to deal with. What a night this has been! I'm so glad my friend was able to tell me about my neediness so I can start to remedy it. Thanks, friend ;)


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