I’m broke, but when is it okay to tell people and when is it not?
So you’ve hit a rough patch financially—mounting credit card or student loan debt has caught up to you, maybe you’ve lost your job. Whatever the case, no one aside from your partner needs to know, right? It’s embarrassing. But then friends ask you to chip in on a summer share. Or you get an invite to a destination wedding. Now what?
In social quandaries like these, money woes aren’t just stressful—they can be demoralizing, too. But, depending on the ask, spilling the beans about your financial status to your friends and extended family can actually be liberating (not to mention, money-savvy). Here are six common scenarios and advice on how to approach each of them:
You couldn’t be happier for your BFF, or more honored to have been chosen as a member of her wedding party. But that supporting role will cost you. In fact, a recent WeddingWire survey found that the average cost of being a bridesmaid, from attire to accommodations, is $1,200. For many, that’s a steep price tag.
Should you tell? If money’s tight, but you don’t want to air your financial laundry or stress out the bride (or the groom), get a sense of whether this is something you can shoulder without digging a deeper financial hole. Ask about location, attire, and event details. There’s a big difference between a local, “come as you are” vibe and a three-day bridal shower in Vegas followed by a destination wedding in Bali. If you can make the numbers work, mum’s the word. If you’ll need to borrow from your kid’s college fund or sell your comics collection to participate in the bridal party, you might need to graciously decline. (A good friend should understand.) Hopefully you can still attend the wedding, albeit in a non-supporting role.
What do you say? “This request means so much to me. It’s an honor I’ll never forget. But I’m in a huge financial bind right now. I did the math, and it’s just not possible given the costs. I hope you’ll understand.”
If the nuptials are in Jamaica and the bride or groom is one of your closest friends, you may feel like you have no choice but to go, which means it’s time for full on austerity measures, cutting back on indulgences like weekly manicures to make attending this destination wedding remotely feasible. (And it might be time to learn how to travel on the cheap.)
Should you tell? If you can swing it (even if just barely), no need to disclose the measures you’re taking to afford to be there. Just plot out a savings plan that’ll get you on that plane. This is best-friend stuff. That said, if it’s the wedding of a coworker or a distant cousin, you should decline and just send a gift. Especially if you have other expenses on the horizon. To avoid hurt feelings, let the bride or groom know that finances are tight prior to sending your RSVP. (It gives them an out, too.)
What do you say? “Thank you so much for including me. I hate to miss it, but finances are really tight right now. I can’t wait to celebrate with you when you return from your honeymoon!”
A summer share or group getaway with your friends or family can be the highlight of the year. People don’t ask just anyone to share their time off, so you know that any invitation was carefully considered. You’re flattered, even. But given your money woes this year, a staycation might be your only option.
Should you tell? There’s no shame in explaining that it’s not doable this time, but that you’ll be there will bells on next year. Start saving your pennies now by dumping them in a jar or using a “spare change” app, like Acorns or Digit.
What do you say? “There is no group of people I’d rather spend my vacation with, but I can’t swing it financially. Please hold a spot for me next year and I’ll try my best to make it work.”
Giving and investing
If you’re struggling to meet your own baseline financial obligations, donating to a friend’s cause or investing in their business is not the best use of the little money you have, no matter how much you might want to help. But don’t ignore the request or flat-out turn it down.
Should you tell? If you support the cause, let your friend know that you don’t have the funds right now, but you can help by spreading the word on your social channels or providing other assistance. Most people struggling to raise funds for a business or cause will understand.
What do you say? “You know I support all that you do, but I am not financially able to help right now. Please let me know if there’s another way I can pitch in.”
You’re at a family barbecue and your nosy aunt corners you to ask about your finances. (“So, I hear you got laid off?”) Gossip can spread rapidly within a family, so if you’re not forthright, your aunt may be hurt that you didn’t confide in her. Or worse: The real danger is that she’ll think you’re in an even graver situation than you are.
Should you tell? You don’t need to get granular about your money situation, but some level of honesty is the best policy here. If you know there’s a chance this may come up, arrive with a response ready so you’re not caught off guard.
What do you say? “It’s true, and it’s put me in a financial bind. But, I’m staying positive, I’ve got some great job leads, and I expect to be back on my feet in no time. Thanks for asking, though.”
Offers of assistance
Now what if a friend or family member learns about your plight and offers to help? A financial life raft could make all the difference right now. But if money is being offered, consider the source and the nature of your relationship; accepting a loan can create a rift if not handled carefully. If the person loaning you money will need the money back quickly, don’t accept unless you are certain that you can repay in short order. Whoever the lender is, establish payment terms in writing that you can meet or exceed, and start paying back on time.
Should you tell? The lender has a direct interest in your financial situation, so you need to be up-front about how the money will affect your life. In the interest of transparency, create and share a payment schedule that includes all of your financial obligations to demonstrate your ability to repay the debt.
What do you say? “Thank you for your generosity and for your trust. Please let me know if there is ever anything I can do for you down the road in return.”
Remember, financial circumstances change. Hopefully this tight spot is temporary, and you’ll learn from the experience. It might seem less stressful to keep your financial troubles under lock and key, but sharing with a few trusted people can help build a support system and possibly bring to light some surprising solutions you hadn’t considered. Don’t isolate yourself, and don’t be ashamed. The people who love you will understand.