I have this particular friend that I go out with often; however this friend of mine seems to be using me. Every time we go out I have to pay her share because she complains she doesn't have any money, because she collects social security. However, after going out with her she frequently asks me to stop at Barnes and Noble so she can buy books about vampires, and she spends 30 dollars or more; or she will spend her money on iTunes cards. When I confront her about it she says she doesn't get much to spend. However, the amount she dishes out for these items is money that I wish I had to spend.
In addition to these spending habits, she complains of being very lonely. Now, after looking at her patterns, I can see why she doesn't keep her friendships. I would like to tell her why she doesn't have many friends; but I don't want to sound harsh. For me, I can't keep a friendship going on me dishing out the money all the time and not getting money back in return (for the gas I use in my car to take her out and for the costs of the entertainment). What would you do in this situation?
Dear Worn-Out Friend:
You mention that your friend is on social security. Considering her spending habits, she is either a very hip senior citizen, or a young person on social security disability benefits. Just this past Christmas my Co-Mommie and her friend (both “seniors”) were commenting on how technology has gotten ahead of them, and that they are content with their VHS tapes and big-box TV's; so I am going to go out on a limb and guess that your friend is a younger person on SSD benefits who has a lot to learn.
In this economy, many humans are having a difficult time making ends meet, which means there is a lot less money left over for entertainment, fuel, food, catnip (sorry, I had to slip that one in there!), etc.; so your friend’s argument that she is on a fixed-income and that she “doesn’t get much to spend” is painfully self-absorbed. You have every right to be upset with her over her attitude, especially if she never offers to reciprocate in any way.
You mention that she is running out of friends, and from the sound of your letter you are ready to close the door on her, too. Before you do that, for the sake of the friendship, offering her some friendly advice could be the nicest thing you could do for her – even if it seems harsh to do so.
The next time the two of you make plans to get together, suggest that this time you each pay your own tab. If your friend is okay with this arrangement, your problem is solved! However, if she complains that she cannot afford it – as I suspect she will – gently point out the fact that the money she spends on books and iTunes cards could more than pay her tab, leaving her some left over for the goodies that you would also like to purchase for yourself, but cannot because you are constantly subsidizing her entertainment budget.
If your friend gets angry or defensive, tell her you mean no offense, but that you feel cheated; that the friendship has turned into a one-way street with all of the benefits going directly towards her. Explain that the books she purchases could probably be borrowed (for free) from the local library; and the iTunes songs she purchases can be heard on the radio or purchased for less through a different mp3 provider, such as Yahoo! Music or Amazon.com, which offers thousands of entire mp3 albums for $5 or less (many are free); and the most current music for the same price or less than what iTunes charges for the same songs. An online radio service like Pandora Internet Radio will allow her to listen to her customized musical tastes for free.
If, after offering these very reasonable suggestions, your friend is still claiming poverty and not willing to pay her own way I would broach the idea that her self-absorption could be what is driving people away; that few people are willing to go to the financial lengths you have to maintain a friendship. This will almost certainly upset her to the point she will push you away, hurling blame at you in order to push it away from where it belongs – squarely upon her.
If things reach this point, the only options remaining will be to continue with the status quo; look for low cost and free forms of entertainment; or choose to take a step back from the friendship and get together/go out places less often. Regardless of your decision, you will at least have had your say on the matter; and given your friend some things to consider. If she continues to believe that there is nothing wrong with her behavior, I predict that she will find herself all the lonelier. Therefore, depending on her age and her health, she may have a very long and lonely life to look forward to if she does not change her ways. This is something you may also want to mention.