Can a new friendship survive when one person is private about finances, but the other asks questions and shares intimately about her own financial life?
t Dear Amanda:
t I recently moved to a new city, and there is a woman at work with whom I’ve become good friends. But there is one thing she does that drives me crazy. If I compliment her on something she’s wearing, she’ll immediately tell me how much she paid for it. Or if she likes something I’m wearing she’ll ask how much it cost. Once she and I hung out at my house and I swear it was like she was taking inventory of the place. I really do like her, so I would like to work this out. Is there a way for me to calm down, or should I tell her to knock it off?
t Dear Private:
t While I’m sympathetic that you are annoyed by your friend’s level of financial frankness, it’s hard to tell from your letter whether this is her quirk or yours.
t Bear with me: Different people have different levels of comfort when it comes to communication around money. Some families and some cultures make all expression equal transgression. Mentioning money, asking personal questions about it, or discussing the price of something would be like, well, any of those unmannerly behaviors we’re socialized out of doing in front of people.
t But other groups use money talk as a bonding exercise. When you mention the price of something, you are inviting the other person to share their own feelings and thoughts about value, or the thrill of a good deal, or a helpful resource.
t Money talk is a way of establishing “are we the same or are we different?” In a sense, that’s what most purely social communication is about. Your friend’s behavior is establishing this on two levels. On one, she’s seeing whether you like the same things, can afford the same lifestyle, and are compatible in your tastes, values and aesthetic expressions. Since you otherwise like her and mentioned giving her compliments, I’m guessing that there are many things on this level that you do have in common.
t On level two, the “Different!” alarm is blaring. With her blunt comments and questions, she is showing you that she is completely comfortable with money talk. Again, maybe she is a true outlier on this and her interest in your personal financial life is legitimately creepy. Regardless, you need to step up to the communications plate here and let her know what you are comfortable with.
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t Regarding your friend’s questions about how much you paid for something, if your goal is to make your point but keep the relationship intact, then I recommend expressing personal difference as opposed to criticizing her behavior or putting her in the wrong. A vague first answer (“I don’t remember,” or “I don’t think it was much”) is a good place to start. If and when questions persist, be calm but not confrontational. Find language you feel comfortable with, and say something casual like, “I have to tell you it really weirds me out to talk so personally about money. We didn’t do that in my family/where I grew up so it makes me squeamish.” Then change the subject. Next time, do exactly the same thing.
t When it comes to her volunteering details of her own financial life, by responding with a smile and a neutral, “I see,” or “Oh, cool!” you simply show that it’s not a line of discussion on which you care to engage. She may continue or she may take the hint, but hey, it’s a free country. You can’t stop her from sharing what she wants to share.
t Money can be a uniquely sensitive topic, but I would suggest trying not to give this any more weight than you would any other personal difference. Not everyone in your life is going to be exactly the same as you on everything. This person may turn out to be a great friend in spite of differences in your native “financial cultures” or this may be a harbinger of further incompatibility. But having diversity in your personal relationships can be a wonderful way to discover and learn from others who bring a variety of perspectives into your life. Good luck, and I hope it works out!