Most people like to think of themselves as being a great friend. But if you have a friend in debt, are you really as good a friend as you can be to them?
If you have a friend going through divorce, a job loss or bereavement, you’d naturally want to do what you could to support them, right?
And vice versa, you’d hope that your friends would surely do the same for you. Friendships are of course a two way thing, involving give and take from both parties.
Those examples above are all major life events that are extremely difficult to deal with. They are the sort of events where you just KNOW that your support and help would be needed.
The thing is that debt can be just as devastating for someone, only in a different way. Unlike divorce, job loss and bereavement though, debt isn’t talked about quite as much.
It’s still very much a taboo subject and if you’ve never struggled with debt yourself, you might not be able to fully appreciate what your friend in debt is going through. This could affect your friendship in the longrun.
When my husband and I were heavily in debt, we found that many of our friends didn’t understand the impact that debt was having on our lives.
After all, we’d managed to rack up over £41K ($62K) of credit card and loan debt between us by spending too much money on things we couldn’t afford – it was kind of hard to fully explain what we were going through, as we were just so embarrassed and down about our finances.
It was like debt somehow became a barrier in the middle of our friendships. We felt frustrated, isolated and like we couldn’t be honest with our friends and on the other hand, our friends just didn’t know what was going on with us.
In case you have a friend who is struggling with debt, there are some things you can do to help them and in turn, keep your friendship running smoothly. If I could turn the clocks back, these are the things I would have tried to talk about with my own friends at that time.
1. Someone in debt doesn’t need financial distractions
Regular friendships involve going out for dinner, to the cinema, to social events and even on holidays. The thing is that someone in a lot of debt can’t afford to spend money on those things, but they might not be able to see that just yet. Your friend struggling with debt will at some point be hit by the reality that they simply can’t afford to buy the things that they want (and sometimes, things that they need).
At first, your friend may try to carry on as normal but eventually they will have no choice but to rein in their spending. This might be difficult for you on the other side of the relationship as you’ll notice your friend taking a step back from taking part in things that cost money – but they may not be in the right place emotionally to tell you how bad things are.
There are two things you can do here if you want to be a better friend. If your friend starts saying they can’t meet up for nights out anymore or can’t make that weekend away, firstly – you could try to talk to them and ask them what’s wrong. In which case they may tell you what’s going on with their debt. Just let them know you’re there for them, even if you can’t fully understand their situation.
Secondly, as odd as this sounds, try not to keep asking them to do things that cost money. They will probably hate having to saying no to you and doing so will make them feel pretty bad.
2. Spending money on just a coffee can be a big deal for someone in debt
Small expenses can also be a big deal too. When someone is in debt and struggling, just going out for a coffee with a friend can present a hurdle financially. Whilst you might think that you’re just going out for a cheap cup of coffee, for your friend in debt, they may already be thinking about the cost of getting to and from a venue to actually have the aforementioned coffee. Then there’s the cost of the coffee and the added temptation of buying a cake or a sandwich to go with it.
Going out for coffee isn’t a small expense for someone struggling to pay their debts because it all adds up and most importantly – they need their money for debt repayment! Your friend will need to have some kind of social life of course, but whilst they try to get a handle on their debt, it’s worth being aware that even this could be a problem for them.
3. Support not financial help is what people in debt need
If your friend is in debt and you’re desperate to see them and enjoy time with them socially, you might find yourself offering to pay for them to eat out with you, so they can pay you back later. You might just want to offer them money as a gift without them paying you back at all.
You might be surprised to know that financial help and gifts such as this isn’t what people in debt usually need, for the following reasons…
The first is that there seems to be an unwritten rule that if you give someone a gift or treat them, there is an expectation to reciprocate. Now you may not want your friend to pay you back, but they may feel like they NEED to. Getting your friend to pay you back later is just another form of debt that will provide even more of a burden to your friend, even though you wouldn’t intend for this to be the case.
Secondly, your friend in debt needs to find their own solution to their problem, so they can learn about managing their money more effectively. This doesn’t apply to everyone in debt but it’s worth mentioning all the same: if you give your friend money to alleviate their debt problems, all they are learning is that they just received money for free. A lesson learned the hard way will truly help your friend in the long term.
So support your friend emotionally by being there for them – think twice before offering financial help.
4. Be sensitive when it comes to big and expensive purchases
Don’t take this the wrong way, but if you’ve just bought a nice new TV, shiny new car, a new home or have just come back from the most amazing holiday of a lifetime, be sensitive when talking to your friend in debt about it. As much as you’ll quite rightly want to shout your exciting news from the rooftops, it might just hurt your friend.
This is because your friend could start reflecting on how they got into debt and start beating themselves up about their situaton because they can’t be where you are right now. Even worse, your friend might end up going on a spending spree becuase they don’t want to feel like they’re being left behind.
5. A little extra effort from you will be greatly appreciated
A friend in debt is a friend in need, whether they know it or not. If you go the extra mile for them, by visiting them at home and focusing more on actual time spent with them rather than things that cost money, they will remember this for years to come. True friendship is about supporting one another, faithfully and without judging one another.
If your friend is fully aware of their money problems, you can guarantee they’ll be constantly be thinking about all the money mistakes they’ve made before. As much as they’ll probably appreciate helpful advice from you, try not to raise eyebrows or show that you’re shocked at how they got into such a mess. It’s like kicking someone when they’re down and will only make them feel worse.
If you want to be a good friend, support them through the tough times emotionally and when they’re back on the road to financial recovery, feel free to share with them your tips for money management (seeing as it’s something not everyone talks about)!
Good friendship matters most during bad times
Not everyone starts off on the right foot when it comes to personal finance. People get into debt for all kinds of reasons! Sometimes it’s through mindless spending and not being careful with money, but it can also be because of financial emergencies, business problems or other circumstances beyond their control.
No matter the reason, everyone who is struggling with debt needs a real friend. One who has their back and whom they can trust not to think badly of them. A true friend in times of need in return will gain a friend for life.
Could you be a better friend to someone in debt?
This is such an important topic to think about and discuss. With my current financial situation, I don’t think that some of my friends (and maybe even family members?) understand that I am broke. I can’t afford that one coffee or to go out for a few drinks. I can’t come to your baby shower because if I buy a gift, I can’t buy groceries. And so on…
But to be fair, when my finances were better, I was totally the “bad” friend that insisted you could afford ONE beer or ONE coffee. I’ll have to pay better attention in the future to avoid doing this anymore!
Amanda @ My Life, I Guess recently posted…No One Was There for My Job Interview
I’ve been the “bad” friend before too Amanda! Now I know what it feels like to have to keep saying no all the time, I definitely won’t be the bad friend again! When we were totally broke, we found some people didn’t understand what being broke was like, because they hadn’t experienced it themselves. We felt like the only way they would understand is if we showed them our bank statement. Which of course, we didn’t!
When my father died last 8 years ago, we had lots of debts especially the hospital debt which was really a huge amount. Sadly, but I don’t have any friend who come to me during my down time.
Clarisse @ Make Money Your Way recently posted…The guide to memorable marketing
I’m sorry to hear that Clarisse, I can imagine that must have been so hard for you. Medical bills can really add up over there I know.
I typically approach friends talking about my failures and successes with money. Once they understand I have had both I see if I can offer any help.
Brian @DebtDiscipline recently posted…Summer Jobs: Part Deux
Being able to help your friends because of your own experiences with money is a great thing to do Brian!
I shared my story with a friend to help him realize that there is always hope. Also any funds that I spent on that person, I never expected anything back. People get in debt for different reasons, and if your friend is in debt because they are just irresponsible, I think you owe it to them to be honest and provide solutions to help them learn how to use their money more wisely.
Petrish @ Debt Free Martini recently posted…Hazards of Not Having a Hiatus Emergency Plan
That’s great Petrish that you were able to share your story with a friend and help them in that way!
Great post!! I agree that I don’t want to be “treated” to dinner/movies, etc because I feel the need to pay back in some capacity. I’ve told friends that one of the best things they can do is just be my friend, and if they need a service like cat or dog sitting to think of me.
Tonya@Budget and the Beach recently posted…Money Talk!
I found that when my friends offered to pay, I felt burdened by the need to return the favour in some way or pay them back eventually, even when they said they didn’t want anything in return. That’s how being indebted makes you feel!
Love this! I always try to remember people’s specific financial situations. There are also many ways to have fun on a budget anyways, so why not?
Michelle recently posted…Do You Have An Emergency List For Your Family?
Thanks Michelle! Exactly – living on a budget is fun, especially when you get to enjoy something amazing for very little cost because of a good deal found!
Great post, Hayley! I always say you see who your true friends are when you go through hard times and getting out of debt definitely counts as a hard time. While you may not understandably want to broadcast to the world your financial problems, it also makes sense to clue in your closest friends. To explain, why you are stepping back on costly outings with them but not your friendship with them. Like you said, good friends will not only understand but be supportive, even if they don’t fully understand.
Shannon @ The Heavy Purse recently posted…4 Family Vacation Money Lessons for Kids
Thank you Shannon! 🙂 In other areas of life, we don’t always understand the decisions our friends make, but we still offer our support. It’s the same with debt. Our friends may not understand how the debt came about or why every penny paid off towards debt really does count, but true friends want what’s best for us and they will offer their support all the same.
I kinda wish I had more friends who were in debt like me, so they could relate to me better and we could think up fun, frugal things to do together! Truly, sometimes it might just seem like a cup of coffee or a drink at happy hour, but it all adds up and can easily blow the budget for someone who’s throwing all of their money at debt.
Niomi @ Financially Confident recently posted…How to Write a Check
Definitely Niomi. Going for a coffee isn’t the simple expense that it looks like on the surface of things. For someone struggling with debt, going out for coffee could actually mean that they can’t afford other, more important things, like being able to eat well for the rest of the month!
I love this post! This is not a topic that’s addressed very often, and it can be uncomfortable for both parties involved. I completely agree that the answer isn’t to keep paying for things for your friend, but instead to find ways to spend time together for free. Especially now that the weather is warmer, going for a walk can be a great way to talk, get a little exercise, and get an emotional boost.
Amy @ DebtGal recently posted…2015 Meal Plan #22 – Better Late than Never!
Thanks Amy! There’s a lot of social stigma attached to debt, which is why I think talking about these issues with friends can be difficult.
Really great advice here. It’s pretty annoying when you tell someone “I don’t have the money” and their response is, “come on, it’s only once / not much money”. They don’t understand that you are living on a budget, and it’s defeating to be told that you are living your life correctly.
Kirsten recently posted…How Technology Helps Me Manage My Finances
Thanks Kirsten! I found it was so hard to keep focused on what I was trying to achieve in my debt repayment goals when my friends wanted me to spend money on something. It was really hard to explain how even spending a little money could completely set me back in what I needed to do.
This is a very important post and brilliantly written! I felt terrible while I was debt free – depressed, alone, afraid (especially when we had bailiffs threatening us at our doorstep) and it was then that I realised who my friends were – it was the ones who took me for a drink but then didn’t ask me to buy a round! And knew that I was only buying a bitter lemon cause I only had 90p in the world! (Most of the time they would buy me a drink); or they were happy to go for a walk at lunch rather than take me to a cafeteria and force me to sit and watch them eat cause I had no money!
Small things but they add up! It is a strange situation for others cause debt has a stigma – you obviously blew it all on fast cars and cocaine or something ridiculous. So there is almost a sense you got yourself into a situation why should they help?
I never asked for money, never said yes when they offered to pay for something because I didn’t want that – and they respected me for it and I thank them for being by my side and being so understanding!
natalya @ cottage retreatist recently posted…What is my focus now I’m debt free?
Great post; debt can be so oppressive, but so few people share because of the stigma. Number 3 is my favorite!
Femme @ femmefrugality recently posted…Tips to Get Your Finances in Order
Excellent points! Even if you are in debt yourself like I am, I find some friends who are also in debt haven’t figured out that being debt free is possible so they still live life with trips, drinks, coffees. It is not my place to questions them since I don’t know all the details of their finances, all I can do is be honest about where I’m at and typically they are fairly understanding even if they don’t want to work to be debt free themselves.
That is why I always visit them at their house and never invite them to eat. I sometimes bring groceries so that we can cook these at their house so that we have something to share with. This is my way of spending some quality time with them, in part to help them.
Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank recently posted…Looking Into Amazon Selling
I’m lucky I had terrific friends while I was paying off student loans. I just leveled with them and said I couldn’t do most things that cost money. Several years before that, one of my good friends from high school went through a rough patch paying off her own student loans and trying to buy a home with her long term boyfriend. I remembered how irritated we all were with her that she seemed to blow off everything we were all doing, because she never mentioned why. Just telling the group what was up made everyone more understanding and it turned out most of them were fine trying to find free or really cheap things to do when we were together.
Mel recently posted…Financially Savvy Saturdays #93
Fantastic article! While I had great support from friends and family when I was struggling with debt it was local communities that helped me with debt the most. But I fully agree that friends are essential to anybody experiencing severe debt as they are throughout life.
Thanks Jeff! Glad you liked this article. 🙂 Everyone needs support from good friends during tough times and because debt isn’t talked about all that often, sometimes it’s brushed under the carpet instead of being dealt with as you would any other difficult event going on in life. If someone in debt has the support of a friend they can trust and who will understand their situation, then that can only be a good thing!
You make some great points here Hayley! These are all things to remember if you have friends in debt (that you know about). Sometimes we may have friends who are in debt, or struggling financially, but they don’t come out and talk about it.
Financial Conversation recently posted…Why You Should Have Multiple Streams of Income
This is something everyone should read. I try to be considerate of all my friends who are in debt when we plan to do things/buy gifts for each other. I agree that spending quality time with them is much better support than financial support.
Anum @Current on Currency recently posted…13 Ways You Are Blowing Your Money Away
Often debt = shame, so you might have to be a bit of a detective to learn whether a friend has more debt than he or she is comfortable with. But once you know, or suspect, these are great thoughts. Offering to talk about financial challenges can be helpful too, though one probably wouldn’t want to push this if clearly unwelcome.
Kurt recently posted…Another Wall Street Fleece
Thanks Kurt – you’re right, a bit of detective work might be in order to start with, so looking out for those warning signs is important. If you find that your friend is declining offers of meeting up socially or has started ordering water instead of a beer or wine when you meet up, these are classic signs of someone who is struggling financially. I really appreciate you stopping by to comment!
This is so great. I feel like #2 and #3 are something I used to be unable to explain to my friends when I first started out paying off my debts. A lot of people could really use this article. Thanks for sharing!
Thanks Alyssa! I really appreciate you stopping by and commenting! 🙂
#4 is something that has personally affected me. I lived with a good friend for the past 3 years. We were both majoring in math and had been friends for the past 6-7 years. I finished undergrad a year early and just finished my Master’s degree. I got a great job at a local regional bank and bought a house in which I have 3 friends paying me rent. He on the other hand, has not found a great job, has over 30k in student loans, and is moving back with his parents. This past year was defining for us since we are obviously going in different directions. He never wanted to go out and have fun, which could have been because of this debt. Hopefully he figures it out soon.
Thanks for the article and have a great day!
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