We all know one. They turn up to the pub/restaurant/show knowing they can’t afford it, fumble around counting their coins in front of you, muttering about how they will cover the drink they just ordered by doing without vegetables until their next pay comes in. They complain about always being sick because they can’t afford to buy actual food, while punching a text on their latest model iPhone to the friend they’ve been out getting trashed with all week about the new pair of fashion stockings they just bought ‘on sale’!
I realise I must sound bitter and this post is something of a rant, yet I seem to find myself with this type of ‘budget-fail’ friend again and again. I’m fairly certain I once supported an ex’s lifestyle to the tune of $10,000 (his savings) while I watched my nest egg evaporate. Either I ooze ‘I’m a Sucker’ or I’m afflicted with a combination of minimal immunity to manipulation and an over-active ‘taking responsibility’ gland. I figure the least I can do is share my experiences so that others can see the red flags and run – something I still struggle to do.
Take this example: you’re on a date and your beau doesn’t offer to pay. Now, this alone shouldn’t be a red flag – in fact, I am totally okay with this and would insist on paying my own way anyway – but when they hold out their hand and ask me to pay for them? Red flag, hazard lights, and sirens all go off at once. It’s not always that direct, of course. Often it comes in the guise of persistent remarks throughout the evening about how tough they’ve been doing, sometimes accompanied by observations about how ‘rich’ and ‘lucky’ I am to actually have my shit together. Then when the bill arrives, my date acts out the fumbling scene described above, and I end up feeling guilty and almost obliged to cover more than my share. A more recent example was when inviting a friend to join me for dinner. Instead of the usual, ‘Thank you, that would be lovely, I look forward to catching up,’ the response was: ‘Free food!’ Just. Wow.
The best excuse I ever encountered was when I queried one budget-fail friend on how she had afforded to go out three times that week but still hadn’t paid her housemates money for bills. She said, ‘It’s okay, [insert Sucker’s name here] paid for me!’
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not talking about the mostly responsible friends/partners who find themselves temporarily out of work, fall on hard times, or otherwise get themselves into financial difficulty. Friends we know would be the first to bail us out if we were in the same position. I’m talking about those people who never seem to open their purse when they’re out in a group, who are happy to always eat at yours but never offer to host, or when they do, take you via the supermarket checkout or takeaway counter, and expect you to contribute – all the while telling you about how much they’re looking forward to their trip to Bali next month.
And I know getting by on Austudy or the dole or crappy cash-in-hand jobs isn’t easy. But it also shouldn’t be the friend/family’s problem and responsibility to bail them out again and again. Yes, we might have houses, jobs, savings, but that’s because we have made different choices and prioritised different things. Maybe we took that shitty admin job and waited until we had a stable financial base before pursuing our dream career. Maybe we didn’t couch surf around Europe for the better part of our twenties. Not that there is anything wrong with having done that. In fact, we probably envy the guts it took to live hand-to-mouth in order to have enjoyed that experience. It only becomes an issue when someone arrives back, unqualified, unemployed, and then assumes we will support their attempts to keep up with our lifestyle.
Not everyone who is living hand-to-mouth acts like this. One guy who was living on crappy jobs while he travelled never compared himself to me or made me overly aware of his situation. On the occasions he couldn’t afford to do something, he opted out or suggested a cheaper alternative where he could pay his own way, all without making me feel guilty or obliged to pay for him. If he wanted to drink he went to house parties where he could carry his own Goon. From what I could see his financial position was no better or worse than my budget-fail friends, but he never expected that other people would cover him and even offered to share what little he had.
The difference was one of attitude. He didn’t feel entitled to have something just because he felt he had a need. He took responsibility for his own finances and if that meant missing out on a gig or a festival he really wanted to see, he went without, and when people helped him, he showed genuine appreciation.
Of course not everyone can magically come up with money they don’t have, and no one wants to miss out all the time. If someone has difficulty repaying their friends, partners, family, maybe they should try offering their time – sometimes a more valuable commodity than cash to a person working fifty hours a week. They could also show some appreciation when people do help them out instead of expecting it simply because they are in a better financial position.
And if you find yourself (as have I) at the mercy of a repeat offender, wondering why each time you catch up with [insert Budget-Fail Offender here] you go home with an empty wallet and a vague sense of guilt over actually having a house and a job, it might be time to reconsider the terms of the relationship.
*Thus failing (again) to pay back [insert Sucker’s name here] who loaned them money ‘until next pay’ the last time they went out.