The Bible says that “the love of money is the root of evil” — or something similar. We hear that passage misquoted often as “money is the root of evil”. Do you ruminate on what your friends owe you? Is it your turn to pay the bar bill or someone else’s? Did you loan your buddy $10 and do you expect it back? So many friendships are allowed to sour because we’re keeping score.

I moved back to my small hometown several years ago (6 or 7, I can’t remember). I do remember that I hadn’t been home long when, as I had no plans for the evening, my dad asked me to watch my brother while my dad and mom went out for supper. As he was gathering up his wallet, keys, etc before he walked out the door, my Dad discovered he had no cash. He asked, “Nathan, do you have any cash?” As it was Friday and I had gotten paid that day and had taken some cash when I deposited my check, I had about $150. I told him so and he said, “Let me borrow about $100.” Of course I loaned it to him –I thought nothing of it…

Several weeks later I remembered this “loan” and quizzed pop about it… He said to me with a smile on his face, “If you wanna keep score, I can start dragging out American Express bills for the last several years.” I was a bit shocked — and humbled. Who knows how much of my father’s money I’d spent using that gold-plated credit-card — I don’t know and Dad certainly doesn’t know. I learned a valuable lesson from my father over the years and this was the moment when the lesson became real.

Don’t keep score…

If you love your friends and your friends love you — if they are true friends, you needn’t keep up with who owes who what. You spend on them, they spend on you. You do them favors, they do favors for you. Friendship should be an equitable relationship, yes, but you shouldn’t carry a ledger book around in your back pocket.

The minute you start keeping score, you're destroying the relationship.

When I can and when the fancy strikes me, I commonly pick up the check for dinner or other fun and exciting activities when I’m hanging out with my friends. Sometimes the tab is small and sometimes it’s not so small. Often, if we’re with people who don’t know me terribly well, folks begin to reach for the pocketbooks or bill-folds to “pay me back”. I can see the calculations rolling through their heads as they add up what their portion of the bill should be — I generally hide the ticket away as quickly as possible to make this process more difficult. My general response to requests for a sub-total is to say, “We’ll settle up later.” In my mind, we’ve already settled up! I’ve had the pleasure of their company and they’ve had to put up with me — a fair bargain for the cost of the meal or a few rounds of drinks, in my mind at least.

To not keep score can be a difficult habit to adopt. We tend to immediately think of what people owe us… But, if you’re with true friends, you should know that it’ll all come out even in the end.

It’s important, if you’re not keeping score, to remember to always give at every opportunity. Always offer to help. Always offer to pay (and sometimes force the issue). Always wash the dishes. Never remind someone that you paid last time. It’s always your turn.

Don’t loan money; give it away…

I don’t loan my friends money. I don’t do it. It’s a bad practice and it almost always leads to conflict. If you’re loaning friends money, you’re setting up a business relationship and business relationships and friendship often clash. I give folks money, if I can afford it, and am pleased when they pay me back. I’m not disappointed if they don’t — ’cause I didn’t expect it.

The important rule to remember is never to give a friend more money than you can afford to lose. If it hurts you to give it and you have to have it back at some point, don’t loan it. Simple, huh? You’ll save yourself lots of grief and strained conversations.

This was tough for me…
Several years ago a friend of mine — a very good friend — backed over my parked car. We laughed about it at the time. The damage was entirely superficial; a dented door and some scrapes were the only indication that something had happened. My friend offered to pay for the repairs and I said “sure”… The mistake on my part was preparing myself to actually be recompensed for the damage.

I had the car repaired — I think the bill was about $400, but it may have been closer to $600. I kept the bill and called my friend, saying that the repairs were complete and I offered to supply a copy of the bill. That’s okay, the friend said, no bother, I’ll send you a check. I’ve never seen a penny.

Now, I know that my friend simply forgot. My friend wouldn’t stiff me on purpose. I never mentioned it again, however. “WHAT???” you say? Nope, I never mentioned it. This would create a situation where money was, for only a second, at the center of our friendship. A debt would be the topic of conversation. As time passed I lay awake at night thinking about that money — there were times when I could really have used it, times when my own wallet was a bit thin. This is when not keeping score became hard. I had made a mistake, as I mentioned above, in preparing myself for the money.

I am simply not going to permit money come between me and those I love. It’s a cursed mistake and I’m not going to do it — I recommend that you avoid it as well.

Some warnings…

Don’t let yourself be taken advantage of by false friends. Know your true friends and keep them close. Be wary of folks who never pick up the tab — the amount isn’t important. If they’re buying dinner at Chez McDonalds and you’re buying dinner at Chez Phillipe, that’s fine. If you’re always buying dinner, you’re in trouble… Your true friends won’t abuse the relationship.

Don’t overspend or overcommit yourself in your friendships — it’s easy to get caught up giving to people. Whether you’re giving time, money, or even emotional capital, remember that you have to look after yourself. If your friends are true friends, they’ll help look after you just as you look after them.

Please, please, please.. Remember this: This works for me. I am at peace in my life; I’m as happy as I’ve ever been, I suppose. This isn’t a be-all-end-all blog post for friendship and there are caveats and contradictions to every rule. Your mileage may vary.


Originally posted 06 August, 2006