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Heavy Meddle: Help! My Best Friend Cries Poor Mouth And Then Overspends

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Dear Steve,

I am writing with what I imagine is an age old question.

What do you do when a friend, who assures you she is broke, tells you she may not make rent this month, and then in the very same breath mentions that she recently purchased a brand new guitar? Oh, and is also sporting new, presumably expensive, tattoos? Granted, said friend is going through a divorce, and has never really lived on their own, nor been the monetarily responsible one in any given relationship.

As a saver (as opposed to a spender), I am utterly confused. This person makes enough money to easily sustain all of her needs, and most wants. She is an established professional who is intelligent in just about every other aspect. I would like to shake her, and since she is my oldest, bestest friend this may actually be an option. However, since I’d prefer not to have to get physical, do you have some advice?

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Sincerely,
Penny Pincher (with a Distaste for Hyperbole)

Dear Penny,

As a fellow "penny-pincher" — my wife prefers the term "cheap-ass" — I sympathize with your situation.

That said, it sounds to me like your friend is in crisis. Even if her divorce is amicable, she’s having to adjust to being on her own and in charge of her finances. My guess (and you’d know better as her oldest, bestest friend) is that the purchases are part of her effort to figure out, or establish, who she is as a newly single person in the world.

As for why she’s poor-mouthing in your presence, my guess is that this is her own subconscious way of both provoking you and asking for your help. On some level, after all, she has to know that talking about her conspicuous consumption/rent troubles is pushing your buttons. So maybe this is her form of a loyalty test: if I do the two things designed to drive my best friend crazy, will she abandon me?

So maybe this is her form of a loyalty test: if I do the two things designed to drive my best friend crazy, will she abandon me?

Should you have to be subjected to a loyalty test after all these years? No. But that’s where you are. She’s acting out with money, which is triggering your own money issues. But money really and truly isn’t what matters here. What matters is that your best friend is going through a rough patch.

Rather than shaking her, now is the time to embrace her. It’s easy enough to say, ‘Look friend, I love you dearly. And you know me — I’m conservative with money. So if you’re worried about rent, I’d advise you not to buy new toys. But I’d prefer if we moved beyond the material stuff.’

If you can bring yourself to this sort of poise, it will help you get to the heart of the matter, which is her emotional life.

She may not be ready for that kind of help. Maybe she’s going to need to go through a phase of hypomanic behavior before she settles down. Maybe she needs to push you away a little until she can find her bearings.

That means you have to be patient, until she’s ready to face the fears that are living beneath all those new tattoos.

But look, Penny: I’m not telling you anything you don’t know already. What makes a friendship endure as long as yours has isn’t just soaking up the good times. It’s when one or both of you are struggling. The big bank that matters in the end isn’t the one full of money. It’s the one full of love.

Good luck,
Steve

Okay folks, now it's your turn. Did I get it right, or muck it up? Let me know in the comments section. And please do send your own question along, the more detailed the better. Even if I don't have a helpful response, chances are someone in the comments section will. Send your dilemmas via email.

This program aired on September 30, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.

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