When we discuss signs of a toxic friendship, we usually focus on things based in emotions and communication. But while those things are, of course, important, it's not the only form of toxicity that can plague a relationship. So what are the signs of a financially toxic friendship? Financial abuse is a very real issue, and it can occur in all kinds of relationships — including those involving friends.
We often speak of financial abuse in terms of romantic relationships — that is, with significant others and domestic partners. The National Network to End Domestic Violence explains that financial abuse often involves limiting a partner's "access to assets or [concealing] information and accessibility to the family finances"; using these tactics, the abuser can exert more and more control over the victim and entrap them in the relationship. The NNEDV also notes that financial abuse can occur in any couple, regardless of your income, socioeconomic status, gender, background, orientation, and so forth.
But what does it mean for a friend to be financially toxic? Can a friend pressure you into spending money in ways you aren't comfortable with or try to manipulate you when it comes to your money? Sadly, according to experts, the answer is yes. According to Patrice C. Washington, author of Real Money Answers for Every Woman: How to Win the Money Game With or Without a Man, friends and family members can be perpetrators of financial abuse and financially toxic behavior just like a partner or spouse. As she explains to The Huffington Post, "financial abuse can creep into the picture very subtly with close friends and family members. It can happen when they lead you to believe that without your constant and consistent help and support, they’ll suffer some unimaginable fate."
If you think you could be in a financially toxic friendship, it's important to seek help and outside perspectives to help you get to a safer, healthier place. While these warning signs of a financially toxic friendship are certainly not all-inclusive, they may be a good starting point to seeing if a friendship is financially toxic:
1. Your Friend Pressures You Into Spending Money
No one should ever pressure you into spending money you don't want to. Seriously. Whether it's a partner, a family member, or a friend, it's never OK for someone to put you in a position where you feel like you need to spend money to keep you feeling safe and happy with them. Whether you friend wants you to buy into an expensive vacation or just a night at the bar, it doesn't matter: Your money, your comfort, your needs.
Of course, there are always times when a friend wants to do something and you don't (and vice versa), so it's important to be honest about what you're feeling; for example, do you really want to spend a day's pay on that painting class? If they ask, it's perfectly OK to say no, and the same goes if you ask them to do something that they're not feeling, either. But if the person who did the asking continues to put on the pressure even after they've received the answer "no," that's definitely a red flag.
2. Your Friend Pressures You Into Lending Them Money
Regardless of how much money you make or what your expenses are, you're never obligated to loan someone money. If you do offer someone financial help, it's also your decision on whether you want it back, whether it's a gift, whether you want it in exchange for something (who doesn't need a friend to help them clean up their attic, for example?), or so forth. But a friend shouldn't be actively pressuring or guilting you into letting them borrow money.
Your friendship shouldn't depend on whether or not you're willing to act as an impromptu bank, and you aren't obligated to explain yourself or justify why you can't lend them anything right now (or ever). It's one thing to let people know you're in need of help, but another entirely to pressure those close to you into making a decision they aren't comfortable with — and if someone is doing that to you, that's not OK.
3. Your Friend Judges Your Spending Habits
We all choose to spend our money differently. For some of us, spending more money on going out to eat or take-out is preferrable to spending time in the kitchen. For others, it's all about spending time at the farmer's market on weekend mornings. This mentality can come into play in almost every aspect of your life: Do you want to spend more of your income on rent for a one-bedroom apartment to have more privacy, or would you rather save a little and have roommates instead? Can you afford a furry friend right now, or is it better to wait? These are personal decisions that are definitely worth taking seriously, but at the end of the day, it's your money, so they're your decisions — and no one else's, including your friend's. Offering someone advice or guidance if they're asked for it is one thing, but putting forth judgment unsolicited is something else.
4. Your Friend Makes Judgments About Your Income
In an ideal world, we all make the amount we deserve; in reality, though, many of us can't afford to be picky about our jobs or our incomes, even if we think we're worth more. Generally speaking, what people are paid is heavily tied into structural and systematic oppression, especially when it comes to race, gender, and sexual orientation.
At the end of the day, though, your income is what you have to work with — not what your friend has to work with. If they don't agree with your decision to accept a certain wage or take on another job, remember that you don't owe them a justification about your finances and expenses. Also remember that a higher wage does not necessarily equal a happier life or a more successful career. It's your life, after all; do what works for you.
5. Your Friend Pushes Classist Views On You
No matter what your background is, or even what your current income is, it's never OK for someone to judge or insult you based on your social or economic class. Even if someone is "joking" or "teasing" you about the amount of money you make, the area you live in, or what you can or can't afford to buy, it's never acceptable for someone to tear you down about something so personal. For many people, class and class-related jokes are tied closely to feelings of shame and isolation. If your friend is "joking" about your income or finances in that way, it's definitely disrespectful and inappropriate. And hey, even if they say they are only "joking," that's usually just a way of absolving themself of responsibility for saying hurtful things. And you don't have to put with it.
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