Living with credit

The rich friends dilemma: 6 ways you can help each other

Erica Sandberg

My dear friend – I’ll call her Megan – is rich. And I mean really, really rich. After making a mint in the market, she’s now enjoying the high life.

Megan’s children, now adults, are financially independent, so she’s free to spend her money on whatever and whomever she likes. Occasionally I’m the beneficiary of her generosity.

Am I lucky to have her I’m my life? Absolutely, and I hope the feeling is reciprocated.

Yet achieving and maintaining balance is not always so simple.

When you have a friend whose net worth far exceeds yours, you have to treat that person – as well as your credit cards and cash – with special care.

Associating with big spenders can breed big balances. Their lavish spending can be contagious. In fact, a 2016 study by the banking app Fintonic found that 1 in 8 Americans is willing to assume $1,000 or more in debt to portray an extravagant lifestyle.

Want to have a financially healthy relationship with a person who’s in a radically different tax bracket? Here are six tips on how to handle the (rich) friends with benefits dilemma.

1. Give back in a meaningful way.
A sincere thank you is always appropriate for a gift, but there will come a time when you want to reciprocate with something tangible. If your bank account is empty or you’re in debt, focus on things with emotional rather than monitory value.

“As in any relationship, it is important to show your gratitude with thank you notes, flowers or small gifts such as candles or a bottle of wine,” says Jude Miller Burke, psychologist and author of “The Millionaire Mystique.”

“It is the act of appreciation that is important, not the cost of the gift.”

So if you know if your friend loves homemade bread, bake a loaf and wrap it up.

2. Be quick with your card.
Does your friend have the means to pay for the entire meal, whether you’re at a greasy spoon or a fine restaurant? Sure. Splurging on the entire menu won’t hurt his bank account a bit.

Yet unless he invited you out with an “It’s on me!” declaration, do not just sit there when the check arrives.

Never assume you’ll be treated to even a cup of coffee. Instead, whip out your wallet and at least pay your portion. Insist on it. And treat when you can, too.

3. Don’t accept every freebie.
Some people are especially generous and like to give things away – a dress worn once, tickets to a sporting event, a duplicate kitchen appliance, entry into an exclusive party.

What the gift may be, assess the offer and politely turn down whatever you don’t truly need or want. Saying something like “You are always so nice, but I really can’t accept it” evens out the friendship.

You also may want to suggest a cause or nonprofit organization you both love, so the item will go to good use.

4. Never treat your friend like a bank – or worse, a charity.
Even if you’re close pals with a long history between you, do not ask for a loan to tide you over.

As Mark Twain sagely said, “The holy passion of friendship is of so sweet and steady and loyal and enduring a nature that it will last through a whole lifetime, if not asked to lend money.”

And don’t even think about requesting a donation so you can cover your bills (or even worse, someone else’s). It’s just not done. Try it once and you may get some cash; try it twice and you’ll almost certainly lose a friend.

5. Be honest.
If you’re up to your neck in debt, you may become upset, frustrated or resentful over the inequity between the two of you.

Delicately explain that it sometimes hurts to hear about wild shopping sprees or fantastic vacations when you’re digging under couch cushions for change.

“Remember, rich friends most often were not always rich, so with a gentle reminder they understand the limitations of other people’s budgets,” Burke says.

6. Don’t try to keep up with plastic!
Someone else’s splashy spending ways can be seductive. But if you charge what she’s buying, you’ll regret the purchase as soon as the bill arrives.

Your limits are different, and you’ll hit your limit long before she hits hers.

This is where you’ve really got to pull back and opt out.

If you can’t afford NHL playoff seats, be clear with a straightforward, “Nope. Too rich for my blood. I’ll watch the game at home for free – and, of course, you’re invited!”

Finally, learn to say yes with grace, too.

“When you are struggling yourself, it is hard to imagine someone else has extra cash to pay for theater tickets or fancy parties, but indeed some people really do have extra cash and no kids to spend it on,” Burke says.

“What they really desire is someone to spend time with in an authentic friendship. You can offer to help pay, but there are no expectations for you to respond in kind.”

As for Megan and me, we’ve had our uncomfortable moments, one of which was when I ran this very blog post by her. As she rightly pointed out, the way wealthy people are perceived is not always flattering – or accurate.

The discussion revealed insecurities on both sides, but ultimately I’m glad we talked about it. Money is a sensitive subject, so if you want to be and remain close, you’ve got to be candid and kind.

Oh, and what does a person who has nearly everything want as a thank you? Meghan told me homemade bread is what she treasures.

What’s your experience with such a friendship? How did you handle it? Let me know in the comments below!

See related: Does more stuff really make you happy?, 5 reasons why you can’t seem to get out of debt

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  • EricaJSandberg

    just got word from another close friend, who read this. “I ended a friendship with someone because she was always asking me for money. Yes I have more than she does but I felt used.” Sad. Don’t let this happen.