No matter how much or little of it you have, money is an awkward subject to talk about amongst friends. Particularly if it's understood that there are disparities between salaries and expenses in groups. We all have our strong and weak areas when it comes to finances, and all value it in different ways, but one thing we can most likely all relate to is having that friend — or partner, family member, colleague or date — who always manages to be strapped for cash.
Sure, we're all in very different financial positions, and there can be a lot of pressure to 'keep up' with friends when you don't make as much. But what happens when you discover that the friends who are tight with their purse strings aren't as broke as they make out, and still let their friends consistently foot the bill for them?
This is what we like to coin: Brokefishing.
What is brokefishing?
Brokefishing is the act of positioning oneself as needing financial help when that isn't necessarily the case. There are usually two kinds of people that brokefish: the ones who are a little too good at budgeting, to the extent that they let their friends who aren't great with money cover them, and then there are the ones who are reckless with money but rely on their friends to bail them out.
Now, it's obviously fine to help friends out or be a little generous on a fun night out — if you're in a position to do so, anyway. But there’s a big difference between loaning them money during turbulent times, shouting a coffee here and there, and footing the bill for their leisure in a way that only sets you back.
How do you stop getting brokefished?
Firstly, understand that your money is just as valuable as theirs, even if you're someone that doesn't care to have much of it, it's the principle of the matter. So if they’re skating by on everyone else’s dime all to reach their personal financial goals, then they’re really just not good friends.
Situations can get a little more grey when it involves housemates, long-time friends and family, but for the most part, there is no way that it is reasonable for someone to expect you to shout them. Even if they did have to carry you home that one night.
Brokefishing is a two-way street, meaning it's both an issue on their part and yours.
A good friend should never make you feel like you have to cover the cost of their living — there is a difference between seeking consolation and just being emotionally manipulative. By shouting everyone more than you should, are you giving off the impression that you've got money to burn? Or even enabling people's bad habits by not setting boundaries?
Understand where they're coming from
The thing is, some people have an innate sense of scarcity ingrained in them which can manifest in the misguided idea that everyone else around them is much more financially comfortable.
Even if this really is the case, and they are significantly worse off than the people closest to them, they may not be brokefishing, but they still shouldn't have to rely on friends. If someone genuinely can't afford to be going to dinners and pub nights every weekend, it should never be the expectation that someone else needs to be covering them so that they can maintain that lifestyle.
Sure, we should all be saving to set ourselves up for the future, and some people may feel (understandably) different about their money if they don't have family or assets that they can tap should they ever need a lifeboat.
That said, there are ways to try and empathise without reaching into your pockets. Feelings of scarcity can stem from childhood, or having grown up around people who have troubled relationships with money. But if your friend, partner or a family member has roughly the same expenses, income and access as you, then it's worth not covering their costs if only for them to see that they may not be as screwed as they think they are.
Talk it out
Like we said, money can be an awkward topic of discussion. But if your brokefisher cares for you, then they should be willing to hear how you're feeling.
When broaching the conversation, try not to accuse them of intentionally ripping their friends off — and definitely don't assume to know their financial situation entirely. All you can do is be open about how you want to be more conscious with your money, and that means not shouting every other round of drinks.
Do not offer
Easier said than done but just… zip it. You actually don’t need to explain to anyone why you won’t pay for them. It’s simply a matter of not doing it.
And if you’re friend is complaining that they wish they would stay for another drink, if only they didn’t have to pay, well, that’s kind of a shitty position to put you in and we suggest you laugh it off and suggest that the evening wrap up.
Consider looking deeper into why you’re covering costs. Does it all come down to a tendency to people-please? Well, in the pursuit of wanting to seem nice, you're just doing yourself, your friends, and your future self, a major disservice. Hell, you may even find yourself getting left behind while all your brokefishers are reaching financial milestones.
It might be less of a question of how to stop paying for someone, and more of a question of whether or not this person actually deserves your friendship. Figure out if you really enjoy having this person in your life. If you do, then maintaining a healthy relationship should be a priority. And to do that, you need to set boundaries so that small issues don’t become the catalyst for any bitterness or breakups.
We all have our shortcomings as friends and partners, but if you feel you're being taken advantage of, then that's not something to just sweep under the rug. At the end of the day, what you've worked hard for is yours. And even though it’s important to be there for friends and family, and to contribute your equal part, no one should be expectant of financial support, especially if you know you’re in similar financial situations.