Show me the money!

Lending to a friend is… Awkward. But when he rarely pays it back? 

Don’t bank on him changing, says our elder. You have to say, “No more.”

Dear EWC:

One of my closest friends—really more like a brother—is chronically broke and frequently ‘borrows’ money from me, rarely paying it back, or doing so many months after he promises to. 

In better times (pre-pandemic) I sometimes told him not to pay the money back, but I’m not in a situation to do that now because I’m unemployed. Since I lost my job in May he has asked me for money three times. The first time was a very small amount that he paid back in a (relatively) timely manner. The last two times were larger amounts. I told him that of course I’m going to give him the money but that I feel uncomfortable doing so. 

He knows that I have some savings and that I care about him and won’t let his phone get shut off or his refrigerator stay empty, but I feel he’s taking advantage of me. He also knows that due to the nature of my career I could remain unemployed for awhile, that I’m almost at the end of my unemployment benefits, and that I recently had a lot of expenses due to a long, messy divorce and custody situation. The last time he told me he would absolutely pay me back by the end of the week, 100% for sure, guaranteed (even though he hadn’t paid back the previous amount). That was two weeks ago and I haven’t heard a word from him. He’s clearly avoiding me. I feel stupid and hurt and used. 

This person is very important to me and while I was going through my divorce he was there for me like no one else and gave me (and still does) great advice. I don’t want to lose his friendship but I also know he’s not going to change. The amount of money he borrows is really not that large—a few hundred dollars at a time—so it’s not really about the money—but the whole situation makes me uncomfortable, all of which I have told him. What should I do? Thank you!

William replies:

Around 1600, William Shakespeare wrote in the play Hamlet, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be. For loan oft loses both itself and friend.” In modern-day English, this means don’t borrow money and don’t lend it, since when you lend to a friend, you often lose the friendship as well as the money, and borrowing turns a person into a spendthrift. 

While your friend may need cash and be “close” to you, he seems to have a problem handling money. In my view, you need the money more than he does. You don’t indicate if he is still working or not, but you are unemployed. No one knows how long this coronavirus mess will last, and I don’t think you ought to be loaning out your savings to anyone. Because he never paid you back the last couple of times and is now avoiding you, it’s doubtful he’s going to. I believe he sees you as a source of money. 

The title of your letter says it all, “I’m Not A Bank.” There are banks, and if he really needs a loan, he should go to one of them. If they won’t loan him the money, it’s because they consider him high-risk. You have to say, “No more.” 

I understand this will be difficult. It’s not easy to say no to someone who is a close friend. However, if you don’t make it clear to him now that you are neither a charity nor an endless supply of “free” money, you will become more resentful of him. Tell him that you want him to return what he owes now and that you can no longer lend him more. He likely will become angry, but it’s better to settle this situation sooner than later. Waiting for him to cough it up on his own is unlikely to help. You say you feel he’s taking advantage of you. He is. How much of your savings do you want to give away to maintain this friendship?

Sometimes we elders have to tell advice seekers like you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. If he never repays you, consider the amount you lost as a lesson you have learned about lending anyone money. Shakespeare wrote the words I quoted above 420 years ago. They are just as accurate today as they were four centuries ago.

I hope this helped a little. Take care!



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *