In each issue of More than Money, we will invite readers to respond to specific questions about the theme. (For information on the next issue see page 10.) For the first issue, we asked a few of our friends, "What's an experience concerning money you've had with friends that stands out in your mind, wonderful or awful? Are there any lessons you would pass on to others? " What follows are some of their responses:
The Help Squad
I often feel guilty and confused about the money I inherited when my mom died. Now that I'm richer than my friends, I too easily feel obligated to bail them out when they're in financial trouble. I want to help the people I care about, but I don't be a walking bank!
Last year when my friend T. couldn't afford health insurance, I tried something new. I called a bunch of her friends, and we all pitched in and bought insurance for her. It worked: different friends contributed different amounts (the person collecting swore confidentiality); no one was obligated to contribute; and a few of us helped T. figure out how to get her finances more together.
T. said accepting money from a group of friends felt like love instead of indebtedness. Six months later, she was able to continue the insurance on her own. It was deeply satisfying to act on my caring impulse, yet not be solely responsible. -R.M.
Loans: Bitter and Sweet
I lent a close friend a significant amount of money for him to repurchase artwork we had owned together. When he became unable to repay me, he deliberately and totally disregarded our written agreement, and nothing I tried swayed him. I could have sued him but I preferred to walk away. Of course, then I had to deal with both the economic cost and my sense of total betrayal-we had been so close. I ended up hating his guts. Well, life goes on. A few people turn out deeply dishonest; most are not.
Recently, I lent a few thousand dollars to a friend in New York- a great person. She couldn't pay the rent temporarily. I said, "Look, don't sweat it, just let me do this." When we're rich, we get out of touch with what other people go through just to get the basics, and we forget most people won't ask for help because it feels too humiliating.
I feel good about most of my loans, but the pity of it is, when a friend breaks my trust in them, the bitter taste stays longer than the sweet. My parents would never loan to friends; they thought it was a terrible mistake. So I've come a long way.
In the best situations, loans have let me have a real, beneficial impact on people's lives and have extended my sense of family to include many more people. They've been one way for me to step out of the rigid boundaries of this economic system we're stuck in, and discover that two people can be helpful to each other, even if one has millions and the other has only what they made last week. -anonymous author
Cleaning Up the Past
I borrowed money from several friends in my twenties and never paid them back. It wasn't that much-between $50 and $200 each-but I still feel lousy about it. Looking back, what kept me from paying back was my pride.
To return the money at $10 or $20 a week felt too humiliating, an admission of how broke and out of control I felt. So I kept waiting until I could do it in one sum, just put $200 in their hands and say "thank you very much." But that day never came. I also felt righteous and resentful, like "why should I scrape to pay you back, when you've been given so much and I need it more than you?" I wasn't proud of that attitude, but there it was.
What's useful I could pass on from this experience? Well, if the people I borrowed from had disclosed more about their own needs, either saying "It's a real stretch for me to loan you this" or "It's not that I need the money, but I need you to pay back to feel good about the friendship," then it might have shaken my attitude.
And if instead of avoiding me they had gently suggested we arrange a repayment schedule, maybe I could have done it. I don't mean to imply they were responsible for my behavior! But people loaning money should know that borrowers often feel too ashamed and stuck to turn the situation around without help.
I'm in a different place now financially, fifteen years later. Telling you this story has inspired me to clean up those debts that still haunt me. I'm going to write to those old friends and pay them back! - J. P.
Loans Take Work
I've made about $500,000 of loans over the past ten years-almost all to friends, loved ones, and to projects or organizations that I've been involved with in some way. I consider it an important part of my social change work and my socially responsible investing.
Let's face it, the system isn't fair. Loans from institutions today are available, but almost exclusively for folks who already own property or have established credit and stable lives. Most of the people that ask me for a loan are in life transitions and can't access needed resources on their own.
As a person committed to making loans as part of my investment portfolio, I expect that I'm going to put in time (as I do with any investment) to get information and to problem-solve the process. If the loan is for $5,000 or more, the loan agreement always states that a small percentage of the loan will go into an escrow account. The money in escrow then becomes almost an insurance policy-an opportunity for the borrower to meet early on in the loan process with a business consultant or professional who can help the loan stay on schedule. My loan success rate has vastly improved since implementing this stipulation and borrowers have come to appreciate it. We also add a mediation or arbitration clause, and these expenses too are the sole responsibility of the borrower.
As a wealthy person, I know I'm the symbol of a system that is hurting a lot of people. Power issues are complicated but real in any loan situation. If I engage with people who have a lot less, they're bound to take some anger (conscious or unconscious) they rightfully feel toward the class system and dump it on me-even if we're friends. The steps for me are to: 1. Take time to consider my motivation for entering the loan. If I am making this loan to "be nice," then the most accountable thing I can do is to make a gift. 2. Take time to talk about their previous loan history. 3. Get professional help to draw up the agreement or to help with consulting or mediation the minute we need it. 4. Make reasonable agreements and define what mutual respect will mean throughout the relationship.
Empowering and entrusting someone else with money can be an incredible high. Funding in our backyards-including family members and loved ones-can deepen relationships. No matter how difficult the feelings get, if we create an atmosphere of honesty, we can create amazing changes. I urge you to loan at least a portion of your assets to a friend each year. I have, and my sense of abundance and community only grows. - anonymous author
The One Holding the Purse Strings
I have inherited wealth, and my best friend Jan is pretty broke. A few years ago I treated us both to a six-week trip to Europe. We tried to shift the power dynamics between us by taking turns "holding the purse." Even though it was all my money, in one country Jan paid for everything and in the next country I did. Jan felt respected, and I learned how challenging it is for me to share control! -P.D.
The Gift Goes On
I've made a number of loans over the years. Enough of them turned out awful that now most of the time I'd rather make gifts. I tell people, "What I'm giving you now, pass on to someone else someday, if you can." Well, a while ago a woman I was becoming friendly with mentioned to me she was about to lose her farm because the bank wouldn't give her a loan. I thought for a few minutes, and said quietly to her, "Maybe I can help you." It turned out all she needed was $6,000-something I could write a check for in a minute, but without it she would have lost all she had.
I offered it to her in my usual way as a gift, but she insisted on paying me back with interest. Now and again she writes me about a new gift or loan she made to someone else-letting me know my gift is still passing on. - anonymous author
In the Eye of the Beholder
I feel hurt when friends assume I'm on easy street because my father-in-law has a lot of money. One friend said with a smirk, "I'd sure like to be D.'s son-in-law!" Well, my wealthy relative has other places to put his money, so I'm usually scrambling for ways to support my music work.
On occasion I have asked friends to invest in my multi-media concerts. Of the people who tell me no, most people simply say, "Sorry, we don't have the money" or "We don't want to take the risk of losing it." But a few friends have pulled away from me emotionally; suddenly in their eyes I've become a solicitor instead of a friend. I guess they're scared I'm after their money. A few times I've been able to reach through their withdrawal and initiate an honest talk about what happened and end up closer for it. But I find some people aren't ready to confront their attitudes about money, so sometimes the barrier between us remains. -A. P.
Slowly but Surely
I loaned my oldest friend $10,000 (interest-free) to help his family business during a slump. I've just received the final check, after 8 years and 4 months of receiving $100/month. Somewhere along the line I realized this was costing me perhaps $3500 to $7000 in "lost interest," but the regularity of the checks was worth it. That monthly gesture of faithfulness sang to me and buoyed my faith.
I just wrote a note to them (he's married) and enclosed a check for $1000: a gift. "Spend on yourselves," I said, "on something luxurious and extravagant you wouldn't otherwise feel you could afford." We're celebrating. A trust has been honorably fulfilled, a promise kept.
- JD R.
Creating Common Security
I've always hated that the only ways to protect against emergencies are to build up a big pot of money or deal with faceless insurance companies who don't give a damn. So fifteen years ago I launched an experiment-a "mutual security fund" with about a dozen friends. We dubbed the fund FIN, for Friend In Need, and it ran successfully for about eight years. It was one of the best experiences I've had with money between friends.
To start the fund we pooled $6,000, and then each household contributed $5/month/person (including kids covered). All of us had modest incomes, so pooling our money made a big difference. FIN members could request money from the fund for any emergency. If a person needed more than $50, we would either call a special meeting or we would discuss it at our next monthly gathering (when we not only made consensus decisions about the fund, but enjoyed food, discussion, and singing together). If someone needed less than $50, they could just withdraw it from the account and report it at our next meeting.
At first the more prosperous members were concerned they'd be carrying us poorer folk. Ironically, when the highest-income person got laid off, he ended up drawing more from the fund than anyone because his monthly bills were higher! Over the years that humble FIN paid for setting a child's broken arm...for moving expenses...for emergency room visits...for replacing my stolen bike (my only vehicle).... Despite a withdrawal every 2-3 months, the balance generally stayed between $5,000 and $8,000.
Sure it took an investment of time, but it brought us all a profound sense of security, not just from having money but from cultivating a caring community. We didn't just throw money at problems-we helped each other think of new solutions, pitched in with child care when someone had to travel for a funeral, etc.
We closed up FIN when a bunch of us moved away-alas, before we could realize our vision of sowing the seeds for similar funds and federating them to handle larger emergencies. - anonymous author
Don't Blame Yourself
I loaned $5,000 to some good friends who were moving, about to have a child, and under enormous stress. We carefully wrote out a 4 year pay-back schedule.
Well, two years later they divorced, and the loan fell to the husband. After a long silence, I called him up about the loan. He apologized and we made a new agreement...but then I never heard from him. I called him again, we recontracted again...and again he broke the agreement. He went to great lengths to avoid me, and eventually I gave up. I could have gotten a lawyer to threaten him with court, but I really didn't want to. The cash itself wasn't that important to me, but being so disrespected by someone I had cared about was deeply painful.
I was determined not to become bitter. I mused a lot about the experience, and came to this way of viewing it: First, I re-affirmed my own generosity in making the loan. It was an expression of love and trust, and nothing can take the human goodness of that away. Second, I remembered that my friend's behavior is merely a symptom of how he leads his life-not a reflection on me. His failure to follow through does not mean I am a fool, or a wimp, or bad for having more money than he does. Certainly, this experience hurt our friendship-the loan uncovered a way that he isn't trustworthy. The loan didn't create this quality in him; it just exposed it, and I probably would have learned it in time anyway. Third, I'm proud I didn't decide from this painful experience that I should never loan money again. In fact, I've had several loan experiences since then that were loving and easy. -anonymous author
The Birth of a Dream
I wanted more than anything to give birth to my third child at home, where her brother and sister had been born. But of course insurance wouldn't cover the $1,200 midwife fee, and with my partner recently unemployed, there was no way we could afford it.
One day a letter arrived from my friends Jane and Larry, who are both midwives. It included a $200 check, with a note "For your home birth fund." I burst into tears-this was a significant amount of money for them.
To accept their generosity, I had to step beyond my encrusted habits of self-reliance and isolation and allow them to help. This was hard for me, but I was so moved by their faith that my home birth would happen, I felt my heart crack open and say "yes."
I started telling everyone I knew how powerful an experience their letter was for me. To my shock, the friends I told about it spontaneously offered to contribute to the fund. (I had fully intended to write a letter asking for donations, but it was never necessary. The money just came in, from about 20 different friends and acquaintances.)
This fall our daughter was born amid singing and candlelight, with her sister grinning and her brother present to cut the cord. The results of Larry and Jane's gift were powerful. Not only did I have a magical birth, but I stopped yearning for my dream community (and feeling depressed that I couldn't have it) and instead let myself experience how much community I have already. - anonymous author
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