Experts weigh in on sticky scenarios in which friendship and finances seem to be on a fast track for collision
A group of women in the neighborhood meet for coffee twice a month. Inevitably, one friend asks me to pay for her, promising she’ll pay me back.
She never does.
Yaffa Palti, rebbetzin in Florida:
I’m a big believer in open communication, so ideally this is something that can be spoken about frankly. Maybe something deeper will be uncovered through openly communicating, and the whole scenario can look different. If that can’t work, here’s my go-to: Blame the husband! I feel like there’s a clause somewhere in the kesubah: whenever you need to set a boundary, just blame the husband. “I’m so sorry, I wish I could lay out the money for you, but my husband said we can’t budget in anything extra this month.” End of scene.
Michal Trenk, Director of Students, Tomer Devorah Seminary:
The way I see it, in any interpersonal situation, you essentially have one of two choices: change or acceptance. The reason for your discomfort here is that you haven’t yet committed to either one of those. You’re finding yourself in the same situation repeatedly, yet you aren’t attempting to change it, nor choosing to accept it. That can be a very valid source of frustration.
Let’s explore your options for a change. Ask yourself: is there a way you can communicate with your friend about this in a way that would be efficient and comfortable? (Tip: A little humor goes a long way!) Can you bring to her attention, maybe before the outing, that this time, she should come prepared to pay?
If communication seems to be futile or too uncomfortable for you (which is understandable), you may decide to choose acceptance. Perhaps it’s ultimately worth it for you to let go of the extra five dollars she may never pay you back for the sake of a more enjoyable, tension-free outing with a friend whom you enjoy spending time with. It’s very possible that once you make the choice to accept this pattern in your friend, the five dollars will start seeming negligible in the big picture.
While each of these two options, change or acceptance, may come with its challenges (“I don’t like confrontation,” “I can’t afford to pay for her every time!” “She’ll never get it,” “It’s not about the money, it’s about the boundaries!” “She’ll just think I’m petty if I bring it up”...all valid points!), at the end of the day, weigh which path you prefer to take, and commit to it. You’ll be freeing yourself and your friend from this pattern and setting yourself up for a much more relaxed, stress-free outing.
Work on changing it, or work on accepting it, but choose to make a choice.
My best friend, who I owe so much to, asked me to make her daughter’s sheva brachos. I’d love to in theory, but I really can’t afford such a huge outlay right now. We don’t really discuss our vastly different financial statuses and don’t know what to say because I know it would mean so much to her from a friendship stance.
Rebbetzin Yehudis Golshevsky, Yerushalayim:
This sounds like it’s about whether you should put your relationship ahead of your ability. Don’t view the chesed as an all or nothing proposition. While it’s true that making sheva brachos can be an expense that doesn’t always come at a convenient time, chesed is done in more ways than one.
Are you willing to cook and host, but need help with purchases? One possibility is to reach out to mutual friends and tell them that you’re excited to make a sheva brachos, and it would be great if it could be a team effort. I have a group of former students in Yerushalayim who have a wonderful, not-so-secret society. They’re like a well-oiled machine, parceling out the elements of a simchah seudah, and between five women, they can make any number of simchahs for others without any one person being overburdened financially or physically. You just need a hostess.
If that’s not possible, then I don’t think that it’s completely out of line to tell your friend that you’d love to prepare and host, but could use a little help with the cost of the meat/chicken/fish — whatever the big-ticket items will be. That’s a more subtle calculation; it has to do with whether the relationship is strong enough for you to be honest about your genuine desire to help as well as your financial situation. If she’s the kind of friend who will value your efforts and willingness, and money isn’t the object, then that’s another possibility.
In general, whenever it seems like there are limited options before me, I remind myself: “Hashem has far more elegant solutions to this problem than I’ve yet imagined.” There are many more possibilities than those I’ve come up with; the main thing is to keep my mind and eyes and heart open to them.
Helen Shere, MAT, financial coach:
This one is tricky, but honesty on your part now will save you heartache later. Remember that a true friend is someone who wants what is best for us and our families. If she’s really your best friend, she won’t want you to go into debt for her simchah.
Take a look at your finances and see what you’re able to afford — perhaps a more casually-constructed sheva brachos (taco or dairy pasta bar, anyone?) might fall into your budget. Or, perhaps you might not be able to host an entire event, but can share the duties with another friend (say, you bring appetizers and desserts while someone else hosts and makes the main).
After determining your firm boundary — what you can and cannot afford — have an honest conversation with your friend about it. Let her know that you want to contribute to her family’s simchah, then offer her what you can do. Choices work well here; for example, say “We can host a DIY pizza party, or I can do something more traditional by splitting the event with Shevy.”
If you’ve shown that you’ve put consideration into your decisions, your friend will probably respect your boundaries instead of making additional demands.
Coworkers ask me about my salary. I happen to be getting paid more than most people at my level due to my experience. I don’t want to share that, but can’t think of a nice way to avoid the question. And maybe I should let them know what they can aim for?
Brachah, Mesila coach:
It’s never a smart idea to compare salaries. There’s no way to compare exactly what advantages each employee brings to a company. However, if you know someone is being severely underpaid, you can help them plan out what they should bring to the table to ask for a raise… but it should be based on their skills, not someone else’s salary.
Start by asking yourself: where is the question coming from? Is it being asked for any practical reason or just out of curiosity? This is an important distinction.
You have no responsibility to satisfy anyone’s curiosity about your finances, so if they’re asking just for the sake of knowing, you can easily change the subject or make a joke and move on.
If they’re asking for a more practical reason, such as trying to gauge what they themselves can aim for, the truth is that knowing how much you earn is completely irrelevant. Even within the same field, and even with an identical title, every position is very individual, ranging vastly in its demands, hours, etc.
Not only that, but every employer is different, as is every employee. People vary in terms of their skills, their experience, their expectations, and even their personalities. Knowing more about your salary won’t help them in any practical way with their own. A much more helpful approach would be to offer them a “ballpark” or a range of what can be expected.
For example, you can say: “Well, a starting salary for someone in this position can range from around X to Y, and I’ve seen it go all the way up to Z.” Not making it a personal question would serve them so much better; after all, the goal isn’t to have your position, it’s to grow in theirs.
One coworker always chips in much less for office gifts and parties. Can I say something?
Open communication is key. Go over to them in private and ask sincerely if everything is okay since you notice they’re not chipping in the standard amount. Chances are, with open communication stemming from a genuine place of care, the problem will be solved.
Can you say something? Yes. But should you say something? No. In short, you don’t know (and it’s not your business to know) what your co-worker’s financial status is. Additionally, this is a chip-in for gifts — and the proper response to any gift, no matter how small, is a big thank you. If you’re feeling resentful about paying into office gifts and parties, you might want to take a look at your own contributions, and see if they fall within what you can afford.
My husband’s friend reached out and asked if we can loan him a significant amount for a real emergency. My husband agrees only if I’m comfortable. I’m not, but I want to help. What to do?
The way this is presented assumes a host of things that might need to be clarified. First, this sounds like an either/or proposition, but is it, really?
If you’re uncomfortable lending the entire amount, are you okay with lending less? This is still a great chesed, since it means that if he needs to turn to another person, it won’t be for as large a sum. So that’s one way to help — to define the limits of what is comfortable for you to lend and to stay within that, while still helping.
Now there’s another unclarified point: is lending money the only way you can possibly help? Is it possible that even if you can’t provide a loan, you can help him secure the funds he needs in another way?
To lend someone money is a chesed that you’re not obligated to perform, but if you have a desire to help, it can mean you might need to be creative in providing assistance that sits more easily upon you.
What’s more, when someone asks for help, they’ve put themselves in a vulnerable position. Even if you can’t satisfy the entirety of their need, it’s a chesed to help to the extent that you can, and it’s a significant chesed to demonstrate your willingness and care even if you can’t relieve the full extent of the other’s need.
Brachah, Mesila Coach:
As a Mesila coach (not an adviser) the approach I always take is to ask questions that can guide my clients to making their own decision.
The questions I’d ask in such a situation would look something like this:
- Do you and your husband have clear financial goals, and are you both on the same page? Whatever your goals are — bar mitzvah and camps, paying off or buying a house, paying for weddings and supporting married children, retirement, a vacation, medical treatments/debts — are you on the path to reaching your goals? Getting this clarified will either give you a clear conscience when you say you cannot help, or will show you that you do have the funds available to help, even if you don’t get the money back.
- How about asking your husband’s friend for a plan to pay it back? Do you feel embarrassed to bring these questions up? Having these answers will take away a lot of the fear of the unknown, and should make you comfortable saying yes to this great mitzvah. Again, having clarity about your own finances will allow you to know what the right decision is and to make it with greater confidence.
Sarah, Mesila Coach:
I’ve been running a money gemach for the last nine years and a lot of people in the questioner’s situations would help facilitate the loan as a way of being involved without actually loaning the money. Very often people who loan money as individuals will get messed over as they don’t have the same system gemachs have, and the personal nature of the loan comes back to bite them. Another option is for them to go to a gemach and say, “My friend needs a monetary loan. I want to put that money into the gemach as a loan to the gemach. Could you help him?” The gemach will require the regular areivim, and generally give the loan in a secure way. Then he can tell his friend, my money is in the gemach and they’re able to help you with regular gemach conditions. This allows the friend to be able to help without going out of his comfort zone, and without exposing himself to the pitfalls of personal loans.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 753)
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