I recently had a great night out with two friends that I thought would end in tragedy.
After a long evening of pre-show dinner, seeing a play, and post-show drinks, we decided to post up at a diner for 2 a.m. food. After finally finding a place that was still open (a bagel shop whose sole attendant took regular breaks to smoke weed), we entered, and placed our orders, one by one.
The shop was a fancy one, so I didn't expect to be hit with the cash-only line, and subsequently rebuffed by the broken ATM. It was after 2 a.m. at this point, so no other cash machines were open, and I slightly despaired of asking my friends for money.
It wasn't that I believed either of them would make a big deal of paying for me in the moment, it's that I wondered if they would secretly make a big deal of it once I was out of earshot. "Judi, the freeloader!" "Judi, the bagel grubber!" "Judi, who 'doesn't have cash.'"
The topic of friends and money can be so awkward. You can know someone well and not know their financial hang-ups until you're caught in the middle of one. Bank of America highlights that in their first-ever Friends Again report, which analyzes the impact of money on friendships and relationships.
"While it's clear that many consumers are willing to lend money to their friends, the idea of asking to be repaid causes tension and stress," wrote Meredith Verdone, the chief marketing officer at Bank of America.
The company notes that peer-to-peer payments apps like Venmo and Square cash have helped to mitigate that discomfort somewhat. Some of these interactions are perfectly adorable (BFFs giving a friend their $0.02, parents requesting back pay for childhood tee-ball registration), but others are far more uncomfortable. Novelist Teddy Wayne recently wrote an article for The New York Times looking at the idea that using money transfer apps "changes friendships and makes them more transactional," according to one 29-year-old woman. "It's nickel-and-diming everything, literally," she said.
These "transactional" friends aren't being stingy (by some people's assessments) for nothing: BoA's study found that 71% of people have loaned money to a friend and not been paid back. Millennials — 34% of them — were most likely to leave a friend hanging.
Nearly half of Americans (46%) said they do not remind friends to pay them back, which makes sense since "survey respondents say asking a friend to pay them back is second only to forgetting someone’s name as their most uncomfortable situation." Across age groups, asking friends for money back was more uncomfortable than tripping in public, confronting a coworker, sending a text to the wrong person, going to a party alone, going on a first date, and waving to a stranger.
It may be of some comfort that those who borrow money feel deeply uncomfortable about it. Eighty-six percent of respondents said it was worse to be in the debt of others than to be owed money, and younger people felt worse about owing money than other groups.
Compared to Gen Xers (ages 35-52, per this study), Baby Boomers (ages 53-71), and seniors (ages 72+), respondents ages 18-34 felt more awkward, stressed, anxious, and burdened by owing a friend money. The impact of that? Fear, dread, and avoidance.
Forty-two percent of millennials said they have been avoided by a friend who owes them money, and 45% of Gen Xers did the same (compared to 41% of Boomers and 26% of seniors). Methods included ignoring texts or calls, skipping events they might attend, lying about one's whereabouts, pretending not to see them after making eye contact, faking sick, and blocking the lender on social media.
It seems drastic, but steering clear of someone could likely be a way of avoiding confrontation, and keeping the friendship alive. Thirty-three percent of people surveyed fear losing a friendship over money owed, and "more than two in five (43%) Americans would be willing to end a relationship with a friend for not paying them back," the report stated. "Of those, nearly three-quarters say their financial breaking point is $500 or less."
So if you're in a cab, and the split of the fare comes to something like $8.28, ask your friend what they're comfortable with — an even split, or selecting who has next. Clarifying might make this uncomfortable social ritual a lot less painful.