How to deal with money among friends

or “Les bons comptes font les bons amis”

Good day to you friends!

You have probably had some issues, discussions with friends about splitting the bill at the bar/restaurant, lended or borrowed money from your mates, having to choose between a hostel or a more comfy 5 stars hotel when travelling with friends,…

From experience and depending on each situation person, it went either

Perfectly well : you borrowed the equivalent of 200 EUR to your buddy and by next paycheck you paid him straight away, you went to the restaurant with 7 friends and you simply agreed to split the bill in 8, you found a compromise on the accommodation for your trip, or…

Perfectly wrong : you have had to chase that guy for those 200 EUR or there were discussions at the restaurant because one person did not drink wine, one did not take a starter but had more expensive dish, and Howard is always trying to “trick” the group by ordering more expensive drinks, you all went to the youth hostel but somehow it made some of the group bitter since they preferred to have the comfort of 5-stars hotel, etc.

With my “cousin” Mike I have had many talks about this as well. In the first place he is a great buddy and secondly we have slightly different attitudes to money so it makes the conversations interesting. Our conclusion is that we found that there is no better way to handle the situation than to follow the french saying : Les bons comptes font les bons amis! (Good accounts makes good friends, I did not find the perfect translation)

To us the key is to be transparent about it and as far as possible the most upfront. We are friends, we trust each other, our attitudes and income levels are different, so let´s play cards on the table and try to find reasonable compromises.

This was the theory, now how to deal with it in practice.

  • Lending money

According to financial experts, even a small amount of money could tear a friendship apart so handle with care. Lending money for a meal knowing your friend just has not had the time to withdraw money from the ATM yet is easy, lending that same friend a few months of rent while he/she is jobless and looking for another job is something different. Ideally and depending on the situation I would advise not to lend too much (an amount you can afford to lose in the worst case scenario), if I lend 200 EUR to a friend and never see those 200 EUR back, I will be able to get on with my life (however I can tell you it be might without that friend), if we are talking a few months of rent, I am not even sure I could afford to miss that amount.

First of all write it down somewhere even if it is a small amount (I personally use Evernote as a backup of my own memory, and I highly recommend the tool), I sometimes had friends coming back to me : “Jon I owe you 300 NOK for the restaurant, here they are”, “oh thanks pal I totally forgot” and there were situations where I had to be reminded as well. Secondly discuss on how the friend will repay you, in what timeframe and of course what if the repayment cannot be honored in the agreed timeline. If needed you can write it in a contract form. It might sound weird to write a contract with a friend or a family member but this weird step is simply stating in written what has been agreed, trust me it will avoid a lot of discussions afterwards in case of non-payment.

For my Norwegian friends, for large sums lended within family or friends you can read more here about how to write a loan agreement.

  • Very nice, How much?

Your friend just bought his magnificent second home and you wonder how much it cost and how he can afford it with his average salary job.

For the first part with a little research you can probably see it listed online (immoweb in Belgium, Finn in Norway, seloger in France,..) the same goes for any other “standard” purchases : a Maserati, a huge TV, a Prada bag, a sophisticated Canon camera, a Ralph Lauren shirt…

For the second part, and on initial thought, I would say the how the friend can afford things or not is none of your business, however if the relation you have allows for discussion why not talk about it openly and try to find out how he manages to afford a nice house while you both know you have similar wages, in the end you might both learn from it.

Maybe your friend will tell you that he sold his appartement with a nice profit, he has been living more modestly and has been saving up on the side, he is now in a relationship and together with his life partner he can afford a bigger house, he inherited from a relative or he may simply have bought it far beyond his revenues allow and the coming months will be tough for him.

With close friends it is usually not too much of an issue to say how much things cost and how you afforded the items, but with less known persons I try to diplomatically say that I wish not to specify further.

  • Splitting the bill at the restaurant

In my experience there are 2 cases, each pays for what he ordered or the bill is split equally

The most fair situation is that each pays for himself : no surprises, no resentments and if 5 out of the 8 persons shared a 50 EUR bottle of wine then count 10 EUR (price/person) for the wine for these persons, once all of this is calculated and accepted you can either pay each one separately if the waiter allows for it, or one pays and you pay him cash or transfer later.

if 7 paid for the “Thai discovery menu” and one just ordered a Thai beef salad, most will vote for a simple split, I would suggest that the one that ordered the beef salad just pays his due in cash and the rest splits the rest of the bill in 7. Let´s be reasonable.

Little parenthesis for trips with friends. Here you can track down every purchase (cab, restaurant, accommodation, activities,…) and as I did back in the days make fancy excel sheets with formulas only you understand to know who owes what to whom. But friends, this is 2016 so just use more user-friendly apps such as Tricount and Splitwise, these are very easy to use and highly transparent as it synchronizes among everyone´s smartphone.

  • Your friends´ lifestyle is different than yours

It can be difficult to keep up if your friends are better off and are going to more fancy restaurants, travelling to exotic places at 5-star palaces, and the contrary can be annoying as well if they can´t keep up with your lifestyle :  you will “lower your standards” because your friends cannot afford to go to the same restaurant or fancy hotel as yourself. Although this might feel uncomfortable, let us not forget that the priority is the friendship even though as the years go by people go different routes, you were friends before money came in the picture! So make compromises or simply do some research : use services as thefork.com to eat at nice places at reduced rates, hit the bars at happy hours, use Ryanair if you travel in Europe, use Airbnb (click here for a 30 EUR discount),… There are possibilities to compromise on different lifestyles out there! The important is that you want to spend good time with your friends.

These are just a few common daily examples on how you will have to deal with your friends and money. Money should ideally not come in between your friends (family, beloved ones) and yourself but at the same time it cannot be ignored. To me the key of handling all these situations is simply to be open, honest and trying to ensure a fair treatment for everyone. And this is exactly how Mike and me understand “Les bons comptes font les bons amis”.

With all this being said, my question to you now is : What are your views and stories on the subject? I am definitely keen to hear on how you deal with money among friends!

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