The four of us were sitting in my backyard, drinking a few beers while watching the flames in our fire pit dance into the night. We were talking about our plan to move to a larger house in a nicer part of town when one of my friends said, “We could never afford to do what you’re doing. My husband doesn’t make enough money.”
I was shocked – not at the words, but at the idea behind them. Here was my friend, suggesting that my husband’s profession – as a law enforcement officer – was more lucrative than her husband’s job. What did he do, you ask? He works as a dentist. Hardly a low-earning career path.
Should I set her straight? Tell her my husband has never made more than $40,000 in a year? Remind her that she and her husband could move into an even bigger house in an even nicer neighborhood if they simply watched their budget?
I opened my mouth, then immediately shut it again. So is the internal debate when it comes to talking about money with friends.
Friends Who Share Too Much
There are largely two groups of people in this world: people who talk about money all the time, and those who refuse to mention it at all. The latter group adheres to the old adage that it’s impolite to talk about money, religion, and politics; the former throws that adage out the window, then proceeds to ask how much the window costs.
My husband’s best friend from back home is one of those who is always talking about money. I can tell you how much he paid for his first house, how much it cost him to fix it up, how much he’s currently renting it for, how much his second home cost, his mortgage rate, his salary, his wife’s salary, how much they paid for their latest vacation, the amount on their auto loans, and how much is in his 401(k). As someone whose professional life as a personal finance blogger revolves around discussing money, at times this man’s candor can be refreshing. But at other times, it can make me feel like it’s one big competition between his family and mine – and that my family is losing.
Friends Who Don’t Share At All
And then there are the people who never, ever talk about money. While there’s no sense of competition with this group, not knowing anything about someone’s financial position can make friendships challenging in their own way.
I once had a coworker with whom I was very friendly. Over time, we started getting our families together for everything from dinners out to playdates at the local children’s museum to vacations to the beach. Then one day, they started declining all our invitations without explanation. We were very hurt, to say the least. Eventually, I asked my coworker if my husband or I had done something to offend her. She reassured me we hadn’t, but pulled away nonetheless. It was only later – after the friendship had fizzled – that I learned through the grapevine that her husband’s business had tanked, leaving them struggling financially. Turns out, they’d pulled away because they felt they couldn’t afford to go out with us. Had they only been up front about it – even without going into the gory details – we’d have been happy to suggest get together that didn’t cost a dime.
Is There A Perfect Balance?
I think the balance of friends and money boils down to one thing: honesty. To be a good friend, a person doesn’t have to hand me a copy of their W-2 or 1040; likewise, I don’t expect my friends to ask me intensely personal questions about my family’s finances. That said, I have had friends ask me how I’ve made a go of freelancing or working from home, and when they do, it is sometimes appropriate to give them a general idea of what you can expect to make in such a position. I’d be doing them a disservice if I wasn’t honest – if not specific – as I answered their question. Likewise, I’ve had friends give me advice on everything from getting a new car loan to credit cards with the best reward programs to mortgage applications.
Talking about money shouldn’t be a social taboo. Just like everything else, there is a polite way – and an impolite way – to talk about money. It’s knowing where that line lies that’s the real challenge, and it changes for different friends.
Reader, what are your rules when it comes to friends and money? What do you talk about – and what’s off limits?