We've probably all experienced the stress of an awkward money moment, whether it's at a restaurant, at a party, or even at home. But how do you defuse such a tricky situation?
Here are typical scenarios and tips for avoiding embarrassment:
1. Splitting the food and drink check – You regularly go out with a group of friends and everybody except you enjoys a couple of high priced cocktails along with their meal. In the past you've equally split the check but your portion of the bill is always much less and you always end up paying more than you should. What do you do?
The solution is to speak up. You won't be the first person to reach for the tab and say, "It looks like my share is about $30." Nor will you be the first person to request separate checks. Ideally you will deal with the check-splitting problem in advance by asking the server to give each member of your party a separate check before you order. By taking the lead you make it easier for everyone. Your response, however, may depend on the size of the group and strength of your relationships. For example, you may be more open to splitting the check if it's just you and a good friend who meet for lunch often.
2. Charity at the office – It feels that every other week a co-worker is raising money for a charity in desperate need. You'd like to give more to your own charity this year and not respond to other charity appeals, but feel guilty. What do you do?
Follow your heart, and give only to the charity or charities you care most about. For all other appeals, a polite and simple "I'm so sorry, I have already chosen the charities I will be giving to this year" is sufficient. You can't say yes to every worthwhile cause, and you shouldn't feel bad when you say no. With all charity, you're not obligated to give and you do not have to justify your decision to others. However, if it's your office's "official" charity you may want to give a token charitable contribution to show you are a team player.
3. A family member or close friend asks for a loan – Your close friend says she has had an unexpected financial emergency with a matter of days to come up with a sum of money, and is asking for a loan. What do you do?
This is a potential relationship killer! Is the person – and the reason she wants the loan – responsible in your opinion, AND is the amount is something you can afford? The key is IF you can afford it, then you may want to offer to GIVE them the money with no strings attached. You can also offer to help them find other appropriate solutions such as organizing a budget, or credit counseling.
While there is often good reason to lend money to a relative or close friend in need and real satisfaction to be gained by helping out, you are entering a relationship minefield when you do so. If you do lend money, consider creating an agreement with explicit terms around interest required, payment due dates and consequences for late payments and default. If you question the borrower's ability to pay back a loan, do not cosign a loan. You will be on the hook to pay if they default and your credit rating could be negatively impacted.
4. The nosy party guest who wants to talk about your finances or brag about his – At a party, you announce that you're buying your first house. One of the other guests immediately asks, "How much was it?" What do you do?
A general answer with no specifics, such as "More than we wanted to" or "We got a great deal" may be enough to deflect a follow-up question. But if not and you're not comfortable answering, you can say, “I'm not comfortable going into details" or "That's not something that I talk about". Talking about money isn't taboo, and people brag all the time about the bargains they scored or the investment they just doubled their money on. But it should be up to the person who made the purchase to make it clear the subject is open for discussion. Inquiring about how much someone paid, or how much he or she earns, is just rude. Don't be afraid to speak up. It's a win-win.
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Being smart with your money includes not getting caught off-guard with unwanted money conversation topics or requests. Be proactive and make a plan ahead of time for how you’ll respond. Your wallet – and pride – will thank you.