When is it Okay to Ask a Friend to Pay You Back?

By Contributor | Friday 7th September, 2018

An alarm goes off somewhere in my room and I start to come to terms with no longer being asleep. It’s light outside - a sizable portion of the day has already evaporated. I detect a slight hangover and begin to recall memories from the previous night. The last thing I remember is being at some kebab shop somewhere, which explains the napkin-stuffed polystyrene boxes on my desk. A friend is there with me, asleep on my floor. I remember I paid for that friend’s cheesy chips because he didn’t bring his wallet out. Idiot. Wait. He didn’t bring his wallet out? How did he pay for his drinks? I check my app to see that last night, drinks cost me twice as much as usual. I must have paid for everything... Interesting.

In no time my friend and I are both awake -- and hungry. But after closer inspection, we find there is nothing in the kitchen that will appease the hangover cravings. Following my friend’s suggestion, we soon find ourselves on the way down the road to grab a bite to eat for breakfast at a local cafe -- at which point I realise that I’m going to be paying for that as well. At no stage does he suggest he’ll pay me back.


I can’t ask for that money back, can I? This situation happens fairly often, but he always somehow comes out of it seeming endearing. It’s long been his reputation. Everyone used to ridicule him for it at school, but no-one seemed to genuinely mind or call him out on it. Now, I don’t like the idea of asking him to pay for his half, but I’m also not crazy about the fact that hanging out with him always costs me twice as much as hanging out with anyone else.

Here’s the thing. True friendships don't, and shouldn't, come with a financial Terms and Conditions attached. But there’s this big, grey area that surrounds the nexus between money and friends that no one really likes to have to think about. For me, the very prospect of asking for money back from friends prompts uncertainty and self-questioning. Am I ungenerous? Do I care too much about money? What if they haven’t forgotten and my asking seems rude?

Most friends fall into two camps: they’re either casual or militant. I recently had two separate conversations with other friends and found that their views differ drastically. One friend seemed not to have even thought about it - she has no policy of asking for money back. But I think she’s quite lucky to have never had experiences that made her need to think about the topic seriously. Another friend told me that he makes sure he’s paid back to the exact penny as soon as possible, and that friends who don’t pay you back don’t respect you. Oh, he’s a laugh.


The whole thing gets more complicated. You can’t just live by your own philosophy of generosity and fairness. You also have to be sensitive to your friends’ circumstances when you owe them money. For example, if a friend is having a hard time making ends meet, then it’s up to you to make an extra effort to pay them back as soon as you can. It’s easy to forget every now and then. I’ll do my best remember when someone has spot me a pint or a ticket for something. But try making me remember 4 months down the line when we’re doing something else.

My experiences have led me to this philosophy: having a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work, and it’s better to work on a case by case basis, no matter how complicated that may seem. Be too casual, and you’ll never be in control of your own money. But being too strict can make you seem uptight and off-putting. It depends on yours and your friends’ circumstances, and compromising with their viewpoint, too. With your closest friends, it’s great to lead the way with generosity and to try to establish a friendship in which you’re only roughly keeping track -- if you can both afford it. If that doesn’t work out, you end up in a situation like mine at the beginning of this article, over and over again. When it starts to get to you, that’s when it’s time to just speak to your friend about it. After all, a true test of friendship is whether you can be honest with each other.

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Photo Credits: Giphy