Many of us struggle to ask for money back from friends. But as much as it makes us squirm, if there is a good time to learn how to do it, a cost-of-living crisis is that time. New research has found that feeling too embarrassed to talk about money is costing us almost £900 a year.
A survey of 1,500 people by Moneyboat found that a third of us feel too awkward to ask for money back after footing the bill for something like a coffee, meal or event ticket.
We spoke to two people who have difficulty asking for their money back and offer some practical advice for anyone else in the same boat.
Sophie Barker, 26, a PR strategist from Leeds, ended up paying more than she bargained for on a day out with friends.
We went on a day trip from our local train station to York. It was my boyfriend’s birthday weekend and there were nine of us. We bought the tickets at the station’s ticket office and the guy found us a good deal for a group ticket, which had to be paid in one go. I said, “I’ll do that for now if everyone can give me the money back, either cash or transfer”. Everyone said they were happy with that so I paid £135 in total – £15 per person – but only one person gave me the money straight away in cash.
The others agreed to pay me back via bank transfer, so I shared my details in our group chat we had set up for the trip but none of the others transferred their cash.
It was just before Christmas and I actually got a pre-Christmas present from a family member in cash, so luckily it didn’t really affect me being able to pay my monthly bills, it just meant that I didn’t have that extra money to spend on myself.
I asked two others at a later date, and one transferred it straight away and the other said they’ll pay me back in cash when they see me next.
The awkwardness just kind of came as so much time passed. With Christmas and a few more hectic weeks at the beginning of the year, I didn’t really think of it and completely forgot to chase up. Now it’s been that long that I just feel like it’s passed and I know that some of the friends actually bought me drinks or invited me for breakfast since, so it kind of evened out again. It has not changed my relationship with these people, as I feel like I value their friendship more than money.
Emily*, 40, a swimming teacher from Surrey, found herself unintentionally buying people meals and accidentally given away concert tickets rather than have a cringy conversation about who owes who what.
I’m not very good at thinking on my feet and also get really easily embarrassed – the two things combined means I often find myself forking out cash left, right and centre rather than absorb the momentary discomfort of splitting a bill or reminding a friend about something I’ve paid for.
I’m not sure why I don’t have the guts to talk about cash in a straightforward manner – maybe it’s linked to being a people-pleaser.
I once had an extra ticket to a Madonna concert and mentioned it to a friend – she leapt at the chance and assumed the ticket was going free. I was too mortified to set her straight in the moment and it would have been even worse (for both of us) to set her straight later so I just took the hit. It still rankles a little bit to this day though.
My worst nightmare is buying rounds of drinks in a pub. I remember the new parents’ drinks when my son started school being super awkward. I would rather decline a drink from a near stranger than have them feel annoyed with me for accepting a free G&T. Given a choice I would much rather be the one forking out and ending up out of pocket than the one on the receiving end. But ideally everyone would buy their own drinks and avoid any awkwardness in the first place
Of course, it’s different for close friends. Sometimes it’s lovely to treat them to lunch when I’m feeling flush or a celebratory cocktail on a special occasion. But equally there have been times I’ve got my wallet out when I hadn’t intended to and that’s really annoying. I can sometimes find that moment when the bill arrives after a coffee or lunch out really uncomfortable and will sometime leap in and pay for the whole thing just to avoid that self-conscious feeling, even if it’s not really necessary. I can’t even blame it on the other person, it’s just a hang up I have.
Generally, I am getting a bit less awkward about splitting the cost of things as I get older – I think it helps that with everything being so expensive now everyone is much more mindful about making sure bills are split fairly and it doesn’t seem so out of the ordinary to scrutinise them before paying.
Saying that, the other day I went for dinner with a friend and she ended up ordering the lobster. My main was much cheaper but when the bill came she still expected to split it equally. I wouldn’t have dreamt of saying anything at the time but I did privately think it was a bit cheeky!
*not her real name
HOW TO ASK FOR YOUR MONEY BACK WITHOUT DYING OF EMBARASSMENT
Psychotherapist Anna Mathur thinks we would all benefit from talking more openly about money.
- There is so much awkwardness around talking about money, even in friend groups where people’s income seems to be the same there are hidden dynamics and unspoken narratives. Because it’s taboo and not talked about, this fosters a sense of shame. People feeling that behind the scenes they’re different. But resentment can build up and chip away at relationships if one person feels they’re taken for granted or if there is always an assumption that you will always split a bill equally.
- If you hate the confrontation of asking for money the other person owes you – send a WhatsApp. Even if you’re dying on the other end, you can make it sound like a non-event while still jogging their memory. Say something like, Just in case you’ve forgotten, here’s my bank details. How’s your day going?
- If splitting a bill equally is going to be an issue at a meal out think about how you might broach the situation ahead of time. Say something like ‘I’ve got a slightly tighter budget at the moment’ or ‘I’m going to have to choose my meal carefully tonight as I’m on a different budget before my holiday.’ By being open about finances you’re also giving your friends an opportunity to share their situation. We tell ourselves what other people will think or say and make assumptions that they’ll think we’re irresponsible or in debt. In reality showing vulnerability deepens relationships. It’s worth putting ourselves out there and taking the risk. You’ll usually find you are met with far more compassion than you expected and you may get the response ‘oh my gosh I’m in the same boat’.