By Quentin Fottrell, MarketWatch
My best friend from college and I are both recent graduates. She moved in with me a couple months ago, and ever since then, I’ve realized she’s a financial idiot.
She constantly complains about how she doesn’t have enough money to buy food, go out for drinks or participate in group outings, but she travels at least once a month to places like New York and Hawaii. Not to mention, she spent three months in Europe after graduation.
Even worse, she complains about not being included in group events and says she feels like she has no friends because of it. The thing is, I frequently invite her to group outings, but she is always out of town or won’t go because it’s too expensive.
She was never like this before. She was the person who brought me cookie dough when my boyfriend and I broke up, who dropped everything to pick me up during a rainstorm, and who came to yoga at the crack of dawn with me before calculus class just so we could spend time together. She used to be such a giver. She doesn’t straight up take food, but she guilts me into taking my leftovers. Also, our other roommate works at Square and she takes advantage of her free startup meals.
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Now my friend is so stingy with money that she can no longer be generous with her friendship. Instead, she guilt trips me for having a life outside of our friendship. She’s turned into a total freeloader — and her constant fixation on how much things cost is a downer.
Since I helped her negotiate her salary, I know what she makes, and it’s a fair amount — but certainly not enough to fund monthly flights to tropical locales. I’m also cognizant of planning happy hours at places with $3 drink specials, or organizing hikes where the only cost is chipping in for gas money to get there.
I’ve broached the topic of FOMO (fear of missing out) with her multiple times and suggested that the simple solution to building better friendships with people here is to be more present in our own city. But her actions still haven’t changed. I am more hesitant to bring up money issues because I’m worried I’ll just come off as holier-than-thou. Her entitled attitude and uncompromising need for attention makes me feel like I want her out of my life. But she is my roommate and my former BFF!
What do I do? Do I just ghost her? Do I tell her she’s a financial idiot? Help!
P.S. She is on a flight to Cancun as I write this — paid for in large part by another friend’s frequent flier miles.
Anonymous in San Francisco
You know how it feels when you go home for the holidays and you revert into a teenager, because it feels good or maybe because your parents continue to treat you like one? It’s like “ The Curious Case of Benjamin Button ” and it appears to have happened here. Your former best friend and current roommate has experienced some kind of time travel. And it has played havoc with her moral compass. She is home again. Except, in this case, her friends have taken on the role of her family.
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She moved in with you and has turned into a petulant teenager and seems to think the world owes her a favor. This kind of behavior gives millennials a bad name. I have never heard of this happening with roommates before. It usually only happens with one’s parents. I can relate. When I’m back in the Auld Sod, and smell Irish corned beef and cabbage, I could easily put my feet up and perhaps forget to wash the dishes (or load the dishwasher) and grumble like I did when it was 1989.
In Ireland, we call this malady An Béal Bocht, which means “The Poor Mouth.” It comes from a 1941 novel of the same name by Flann O’Brien, an Irish language satire of what is known in modern times as the misery memoir. We Irish have had it hard over the last, say, 400 or so years — and we can’t blame others for all of them — but we rarely hesitate to tell you about it. It’s hard to compare 400 years of Irish oppression to a millennial pilfering other people’s Diet Snapple. But I’ll try.
It’s hard to compare 400 years of Irish oppression to a millennial pilfering other people’s Diet Snapple. But I’ll try.
Millennials are widely regarded as entitled, and your roommate fits squarely into that rather unflattering stereotype. Some 65% of American adults say millennials say those aged 18 to 29 are entitled, while 71% said they were selfish, according to a 2014 survey of 1,000 Americans by the online magazine Reason.com. (For the record, the Moneyist doesn’t agree with this conclusion, and 55% in that survey also said they were responsible and hard-working.)
But your roommate’s financial priorities are inside-out: Mooching off others so she can afford to go on lavish vacations, which are sometimes on other people’s air miles, is not OK. But she’s not alone: Nearly half of millennials say they couldn’t afford to come up with $2,000 in an emergency, a recent survey of 5,500 millennials by consultants PwC and the George Washington Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center found. (It makes you wonder where they learned it from.)
Your story about your roommate fuels bias against young Americans. But here’s the line in your story that worries me: “She doesn’t straight up take food, but she guilts me into taking my leftovers.” Stop bending over backwards to please her. Don’t ghost her, but don’t offer her free food either. Ghosting is passive-aggressive when you’re living with someone. Go about your life, instead. You are not responsible for her and the more you act like her mother, the more she will take advantage of it.
Tell her, “You have a great life. We all do. But your nickel and diming is getting me down.” Ask her if she wants help making a monthly budget. Show her how you manage your money. And the next time she asks for leftovers or takes something from the refrigerator that doesn’t belong to her, use that as an opportunity to talk. Try something like, “We all work hard and buy food and have money pressures, but we all need to be responsible for our own food budgets.”
It’s hard to transition from college to real life, and it’s not easy to lose friends at any age, but it happens when people get married, have children or, in this case, simply start their first job and mature at a different rate. Sometimes, it is personal. You don’t have to tell her you’re no longer friends. Not yet, anyway. But you do need to take a break from mollycoddling (that is, overindulging and spoiling) her. The gravy train has run out of, well, gravy. It’s time for her to pay her way.
Sometimes, we experience the most stress by not speaking up and standing up for ourselves. She doesn’t have to change her lifestyle, but at least you can mark her card and, if your friendship fades away, you know that you have been honest and upfront with her as to why.
Do you want to find out what happened? Read here in Moneyist Revisited.
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(This column was republished.)