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Money 'Moochers' Sometimes Need Tough Love


I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up: an Indian tribe in Brazil with one surviving member. But first, I want to talk more about how to deal with money. Do you ever feel like you pay more than your share at dinner with friends? Are you waiting on that money to come back that you loaned your friend a year ago? Got a family member who has a perpetual hole in his pocket?

Most of us have, at some point, faced the dilemma of negotiating money with family and friends. Few of us have felt very good about it. So we're talking about it today in our regular feature, Behind Close Doors.

Here with me in our Washington Studio is Michelle Singletary. She's an expert on personal finance and the author of the nationally syndicated column, "The Color of Money." Also joining us is Jeanne Fleming. She and Leonard Schwartz write a column on money, ethics and relationships, which appears on Money magazine. And they have a new book called, "Isn't It Their Turn to Pick Up the Check?" She joins me from Stanford, California.

Thanks so much for joining me.


Ms. JEANNE FLEMING (Co-Author, "Isn't It Their Turn to Pick Up the Check?"):Great to be here.

MARTIN: Now, Michelle, I tell you, you wrote a column about this, Jeanne's book, recently. And I must tell you that I read every word because it just makes me crazy. I think probably because I don't drink, and alcohol is expensive. And, you know, if I go out with people who - it's like, you know, you don't drink at all or you drink a lot.

SINGLETARY: Right. Then it's just like…

MARTIN: And as you point out in your column, the person who has, like, three scotches and sodas is the first person to say, hey, let's split the check. The question is, why don't more of us speak up about this?

SINGLETARY: You know, money is so embarrassing to so many people. And people are afraid to be labeled if they speak up, which is what happens to me all the time. My family and friends call me cheapskate. They call me everything but a child of God. But you know what, I don't care because it's my money. And it's not just liquor, by the way. It's also those people who order coffee, all those expensive coffee drinks as well.

Before, you know, the lunch or dinner…

MARTIN: Oh, see…

SINGLETARY: …or afterwards…

MARTIN: Okay. See now…

SINGLETARY: See there, you go there. Right?

MARTIN: …now she's talking about me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: I'll have a coffee.

SINGLETARY: Here's the bottom line: It's not really what people order. It's being able to say this is all I want to pay, I hope that's okay with everybody at this table, and not be labeled. And people don't just have to freedom to speak up.

MARTIN: Jeanne, the scenario that Michelle has just described, this must be a common one because you got a whole book out of it. But you went beyond anecdote. You actually did a survey, a national survey to talk about these issues.

How common is this dilemma for people to be uncomfortable negotiating these kinds of interpersonal interactions around something as - what seems as simple as picking up the check?

Ms. FLEMING: Well, one of the things we found in our survey was that one out of three people told us that they believe that whenever friends go out for a meal together, there's always somebody who's dissatisfied with the way the tab is being handled.

MARTIN: You talk about a number of scenarios in the book, from the picking-up-the-check scenario to the family members borrowing money, et cetera.

Can you just name, maybe the top most - what's the most painful sort of interpersonal financial dilemma for people that you've encountered in the course of doing your work?

Ms. FLEMING: Well, there are really three areas that seem to cause the most trouble for people when it comes to money and relationships. And one is what you were just talking about, and that is loans - borrowing and lending between friends and between family members. That's what we call the bank of friends and family. Second big problem area has to do with transfers of wealth between family members. That may be through the vehicle of inheritance, but also gifts that are made. You know, for example, mom gives a big gift of money to one adult child and not to the other.

And then the third area that we found causes lots of problems is disparities in wealth. So what I'm talking about here is relatively large gaps in wealth either between family members - brothers and sisters, say - or between friends.

MARTIN: Let's talk about those hot-button issues that you've talked about. Let's talk about lending and the borrowing issue. Is there a way to lend money without ending up with hurt feelings on both sides, because there's other scenarios that you talk about in your book where people who've borrowed the money then feel - even if they had a very good reason, sometimes wind up feeling humiliated by the fact - even if they've paid it back.

Ms. FLEMING: Sure. I think the first thing to do is - and, you know, this is very straightforward and simple, but its surprising how often people don't stop do it.

When someone asks you if they can borrow money from you, first thing you need to think about is whether if that person wouldn't be able to pay you the money back, you could afford to make that loan a gift.

One of the things that we found in the surveys is that when we ask people with respect to the largest loan they had ever made to a family or friend - family member or friends, sorry - was it paid back, 43 percent of the time they said it was only paid back partially. And 27 percent of the time, they said they were paid back at all. And that's, again, with the largest loan they ever made. So the odds that you won't get paid back if you make a personal loan like this are rather high, and you need to be able to figure out whether you can afford to make that a gift.

MARTIN: Should you think about why the person wants the loan? Some people…

Ms. FLEMING: Absolutely.

MARTIN: …just think that, you know, you shouldn't - if you're a family member and you ask another family member for a loan - I've had someone say this to me. They said, well, if I ask you, you should assume I need it.

SINGLETARY: Ah, I want to see statements. I want to see an affidavit. I want to see proof why you need this money.

MARTIN: Really?

SINGLETARY: And you if you - absolutely. I require to know why you need it. I want to make sure that you don't get in this predicament again. And so, I have, like, an outline that you have to come and sit at my table and talk to me about what's going on. And I also have categories in which I will lend you money. Actually, I don't really lend. I give. And so, for example, if you need money to go to school, we talk about how else you can do scholarships and things like that, and I also pay the vendor directly. I don't give the money to the person. I make sure whatever they need it for - say, for their rent. Say they got sick or something, and they need the rent money. I will give it to the rent office myself.

MARTIN: Jeanne, why don't you give us some common sense guidelines for how people can better handle these kinds of tricky dilemmas.

Ms. FLEMING: Well - and I'd like to point out that eight out of 10 of the people that we interviewed in our survey said that you should never let relatives know how much money you have.

(Soundbite of laughter)


(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FLEMING: And that's a place to start, you know? I mean, your relatives have a right to many things from you, but they don't have a right to know what your balance sheet looks like. Try to be respectful of the other person. You know, it is always difficult when someone has a great deal more money than you do to not feel just a tad resentful of that, and I think if you're in that position vis-a-vis a friend or a relative, you have to work on it. And by the same token, if you're the person who has more money, you have to be pretty careful there, too, that you're not giving offense to your friend, you know? For example, behaving in ways that seem critical of them for not spending more money than they do on some things that you take for granted.

MARTIN: Okay. Jeanne Fleming is co-author of a new book, "Isn't It Their Turn to Pick Up the Check?" She joined us from Stanford, California. We were also joined by Michelle Singletary. She's an expert on personal finance and author of the nationally syndicated column "The Color of Money." She also dishes up advice every week on NPR's news magazine, DAY TO DAY. She joined us here in the studio. Thank you both so much.

SINGLETARY: You're welcome.

Ms. FLEMING: My pleasure.

MARTIN: And I promise to pay for my latte. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.