5 Real Stories About What Happens When Money Comes Between Friends

Photographed by Rachel Cabitt.
The first money argument I had with my friends was over how to split rent in our first Brooklyn apartment. We were 22 and couldn’t agree on how much more the person living in the biggest room should pay. One roommate had called dibs on it before we had even figured out how we would price each room, and suggested at first that we should all pay pretty much the same amount, even though her room was over twice the size of the smallest one. In the end, she agreed to the split that the rest of us thought was fair, and we went on to live together for 3 years.
Rent is an extremely common point of conflict, especially when you’re new to managing your money. A Venmo request can sit uncompleted until the end of time, leaving you longing for a way to passive-aggressively nudge a friend instead of having to confront them directly. Maybe you don’t want to admit that your friend could be so selfish and shameless, because that leaves you questioning your own taste in people. Or maybe you worked up the nerve to ask your friend for help in a time of financial hardship, and they treated you with coldness.
When you have a money conflict with a friend, it’s emotional. It can be uncomfortable to set boundaries on and demand what you’re owed when it’s someone you care about. By the same token, it’s not just the money that hurts, but the disrespect and betrayal from someone who supposedly cares about you. We spoke to five women who opened up about their ugliest, most harrowing money fights — so ugly that they destroyed entire friendships.

If You Don’t Pay My Rent, You’re A Bad Friend

Age: 24
Dispute amount: $3,000

“My friend and I had a 12-month lease together. He lasted maybe six months. In the first two months, he paid on time. Rent was $450 each. Then he got fired (but told everyone he quit) from his gym job. He started doing drag, which was awesome and he was really good at it. He didn't make any money from drag, I just assumed he had some money saved up until he found the next move. He paid for high-quality makeup and outfits, though, and could never pay rent anymore
I wouldn't cover him because, knowing him, I would never see it back. If I wanted to pay $900 for rent, I would just live by myself. I told my landlord what was going on the moment we got the first sign, taped to our door in October. I think with the late fees it was over $3,000! The landlord saw that I paid my portion, as it was all done online, and when I told them the situation, they ended up kicking my friend out. If I hadn't snitched, I would've gotten kicked out too.
He told me I wasn't supportive and sucked as a friend since I wasn't paying his rent. I went to multiple shows of his and paid for his drinks and stuff, but I'm sorry, I refuse to cover three months of rent. I don't care how close we are. We no longer speak, and he has blocked me on everything.

How Dare You Tell People I’m Not Paying Rent

Age: 22
Dispute amount: $1,800
“I was living in a house in Washington, D.C., with my friends, but I moved to NYC for a job. Another friend, L., took my spot. I would charge her rent on Venmo, but, eventually, she stopped paying me and ignored all of my messages.
I didn't tell any of our mutual friends for the longest time, because I didn't want to embarrass her or make her feel uncomfortable. In the middle of all this I lost my job, so I was paying two rents with no salary. She would use excuses, like that her Venmo wasn't working, but then I would go on Venmo and see her sending money to other people. She would say she didn't have any money, and then I would see her out at happy hour or brunch on social media.
I sent her a message that essentially said this friendship was over. She begged for my friendship and my trust, but I was unable to forgive her. Finally, I told another roommate who was friends with us both. We were both friends with them so I thought they would make a good intermediary. They first approached L. from a place of concern, trying to see if maybe there were extenuating circumstances, or something that I wasn't aware of. That didn't work.
Eventually, she paid me back by borrowing money from her girlfriend and offered to leave our group chat for a while. At first I said it was fine, but then she kept texting the group about $200 sweaters she was buying and sending pics of the $300 tattoo she got. I had to ask her to leave the chat. I was trying to heal from the trauma of being taken advantage of and disrespected so openly. She refused to leave.
Then there were issues with renewing the lease (I obviously took myself off and said L. had to sign it), so there was a house meeting. I don't know exactly what was said, and I know it wasn't the full story, but it was enough for the rest of our friends to piece together what had been happening.
L. messaged me saying it was completely inappropriate that I told anyone about the situation. She denied any reckless spending or lying to me. She said that I created a toxic environment for her to live in and that speaking with me gave her anxiety. Keep in mind, I had spoken to her in the past when rent was late and told her I could work out a payment plan. She eventually left the chat and completely stopped speaking to everyone she lived with, and blocked everyone on all social media.”

That Escalated Quickly

Age: 26
Dispute amount: $500
“A sorority sister asked me to move into an apartment off-campus for my junior year. I volunteered to be in charge of making sure our internet and heat/electric bills were paid on time. We decided to pay $65 every month. When setting up our apartment with NYSEG, they said we could put a limit on what we owed every month and at the end of the year, we could pay the remaining balance. We never thought our bill would be higher than $65, but we were so wrong. We had a large apartment that needed a lot of heat, and we were constantly hosting events for our organization since we had the most space.
Once I started to discover how much we really owed, I brought it to my sisters’ attention, and they freaked out. Understandably. They blamed my space heater, even though I unplugged it every time I left the house. I never turned it back on, but the bill continued to climb. One sister refused to work and wanted to spend all her money on alcohol. She wouldn't answer me about whether she was going to pay me the money, and then she told me she was going to strangle me if I asked her again. At one point, she threatened to stab me in my sleep. I was genuinely scared to live there.
I remember calling my parents crying, unsure of how to proceed. I didn't want to ruin our friendship, but I couldn't afford it — and I couldn't ask my parents for the money, either. They were already covering my rent, which was very kind. I had to go to the police and file for her to be served paperwork mandating she pay her part, but she gave me the money a few days before it was due to be delivered to her.
I called off the cops, but we've never been able to get past it. Losing such a close friend so quickly was stressful. I sometimes miss our friendship. After six years, we wave when we see each other at reunions, and leave it at that.”

Wait Until My Father Hears About This

Age: 27
Dispute amount: $3,500
“Several friends and I lived together in a house in college. One of the roommates, K., studied abroad and lined up a girl to sublet her room. The girl never showed up. K. refused to pay her portion of the rent for about 8 months. The rental company sent an email to all the tenants, informing us of the balance on the account (we had previously assumed her parents were paying the rent). K. never even responded to that email. She just forwarded it straight to her father.
What transpired over the next four to five months was an email chain of six college kids and all of our parents. K. never said a single thing — only her dad did. K.’s family is very wealthy. Her father is a fancy producer in L.A., and she drove a BMW. She and her mean father made girls who were paying their own way through college scrimp and struggle to pay her debt. This line in particular from one of her dad’s emails is a scream: ‘I am a very reasonable person and I am willing to forgo any legal proceedings if you and the other roommates, not including K., will agree to pay the balance of the money owed and also return K.’s portion of the security deposit. These legal matters can get so messy and can cause a horrible rift between friends and I’m sure no one wants that.’
His language was so pompous, threatening, and condescending. It gave all of our parents a common enemy to rally around. He threatened to take college girls to court for ‘traitorous interference’ of the original lease terms.
In the end, we split the cost of what K. owed to the rental company. The company took all of our deposits to pay down that balance, and then we ended up having to pay about $400 each. K. did not contribute anything, and we never spoke to her again. Senior year in the sorority was very frosty. We just shot daggers at each other from across the dining room for an entire year.
K. was a fun friend and a fun roommate. There was only one red flag, in hindsight. I once watched her pull out of our house (it was in a narrow alley) and accidentally back into a parked car on the opposite side. She got out, looked at the other car, cringed, then drove away with her mother in the front seat. If it was just her — okay, college kids can be jerks. But to know her mom was fine with her dinging up a neighbor's car and not saying anything speaks volumes.

My Friend The Loan Shark

Age: 29
Dispute amount: $3,500
“In the second week of January, I borrowed $3,500 from my former best friend, M., on behalf of my boyfriend. My boyfriend's quarterly bonus pay (20K+) was delayed and he needed money to pay for legal affairs related to immigration. He works for a family-owned business, and when they get busy with orders, the pay of partners at the company gets delayed.
I started using one of my paychecks to pay the rent and the other half for our living expenses. M. was kind enough to lend the money to me, even though he’s very careful with his money (I don't blame him). Initially, my boyfriend thought he would get paid within two weeks. So we gave M. a two-week timeframe for when we would probably be able to pay him back. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. We let M. know that we haven’t forgotten that we owe him money.
This whole time — up until around a week ago, when we mutually decided to end our friendship — M. has been texting my boyfriend every two hours for a ‘status update.’ M. also emailed me every day, several times a day, claiming that the reason he needed to text my boyfriend so much was that my boyfriend didn’t provide him with an adequate number of updates.
M. and I agreed over email to end our friendship. The dispute over the loan, and even more so the communication about it, really epitomized how different and incompatible we’ve become. Our workday norm was to pass the time by emailing each other. As soon as we told him that my boyfriend had to delay repayment, our emails became just about money, the irresponsibility of my boyfriend, how much he wants to ‘cut all ties’ with him, and how my boyfriend isn’t ‘responsive’ enough for him. I told him that my boyfriend and I didn’t want around-the-clock messages about the money we owed him, because we never FORGOT that we owe him.
M. is also a Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez supporter. I’m a staunch Libertarian and despise Bernie and AOC. I think he’s a hypocrite for theoretically being generous in his politics, but being very strict about money and not wanting to pay taxes himself. He makes around 180k from two different jobs. I make 110k. M. complains constantly about spending even a dollar on any meal and nickels and dimes over every expense, even while on vacation. I don't understand the point of complaining about the cost if there isn't a pragmatic alternative. If I really feel I need or want something, I should be willing to pay the price.
I’m happy to be free of that toxic friendship. I really learned that people outgrow each other, and that’s okay. It's just another part of life.”
Responses have been edited for length.

More from Work & Money

R29 Original Series