Question of the Day – “Helping” Your Friends

A reader sent me an email that contained the following question:

A friend of mine asked for my advice on how to approach a friend of hers who needs some help getting her finances organized. My friend also has a couple names of professionals who might be able to provide help. What do you think is the best way for her to broach the subject?

Wow! I don’t know. Advice given without first being asked for advice, doesn’t work and can easily alienate the receiver. If this person has a close relationship with her friend, the best thing to do would be to just start a dialogue about finances in general and hope that the other person opens up. It may take a while because people tend to keep their finances in a lockbox and don’t discuss them with their friends. However, if this person is feeling overwhelmed with their situation, they may secretly want some help but just don’t know who or how to ask.

To start the dialogue (listen to me try to sound like a communications expert), here are a conversation-starters that might work:

1. “My 401(k) grew x% last year.”

2. “I just read a really good personal finance book…”

3. “My favorite blog is” (hey, it couldn’t hurt!)

4. “My life has been so much easier since I started banking online.”

5. “You need to get your act together!” (don’t really use this one.)

6. “Have you ever thought about what you want to do when you retire?”

7. “Man am I glad I have an emergency fund.”

8. “Well, I finally paid off my last credit card…”

There’s a few that I can think of. I’m sure there’s lots more that might help get things started. The main thing is to take it easy. If the friend doesn’t take the bait, don’t push it.

Now I would like to know what you guys think. What are your thoughts on this topic?

14 thoughts on “Question of the Day – “Helping” Your Friends”

  1. oooh this is a sticky issue. My roommate is terrible with her finances, but I can’t really say anything about it because she clearly doesn’t want to change. I think it is a very personal decision and the person has to want to change. Your suggestion of talking about money is a good one because it opens the door for the other person if they want to talk. I would say the exception to this is if you are lending money to the person. Then it is perfectly reasonable to give advice and follow up on it.

  2. You can’t help people who don’t want to be helped, and offering to help someone with their finances without them asking you, just like you can’t offer to help someone lose weight without them asking for your help. I think the only exception to the finances rule (but not the weight rule) is if you are in a serious relationship with someone, because their financial situation will end up affecting you in the future. (If they are overweight, that will affect you, too, but it’s a little further off and a little more sensitive). I think that your suggestion on how to bring up the subject and see if they open up is the perfect way to handle the situation.

  3. I think that she’ll have to tread lightly. No one likes unsolicited suggestions on how they can improve their life, especially around the topic of money. I agree that perhaps starting a neutral conversation about finances will help, but try not to be preach-y about any advice you may subsequently give.

  4. Money seem to be still taboo! It’s always a personal issue to talk about.

    But, in the past I have used :

    6. “Have you ever thought about what you want to do when you retire?”

    and 7. “Man am I glad I have an emergency fund.”

    does not really work.

    They say they have things together, but it’s just another way I do not want to talk about it.

  5. About 1983, someone gave me a copy of the software Managing Your Money. I started tracking all my expenses and it eventually helped me get debt free. I started giving MYM to my friends, but now have switched to Quicken. Several have told me that it helped them track their expenses and start a budget. Usually one spouse likes to use the software and the other spouse gets mad at me because they get put on a budget. Most of my friends ended up really liking the software and got serious about tracking their expenses/budgets/investments.

  6. Not so subtle, but I buy my family members PF books for their birthdays or conceal something finance related in a holiday themed basket as a gift. When they open it, I strike up the conversation.

  7. For people in order to really change they must pass their own threshold of pain. Many just never get to the point to say “enough is enough, I can not take this anymore and I need to take action to change”. Very nice for this friend to be willing to help but his friend must get to that point and realize by continuing to do whatever he/she has been doing will bring a lot more pain in the future!

    Dialogue, as JLP suggested, is probably the best course of action, perhaps a light bulb will come on. But don’t bet on it.

    I just thought of something…If they are really good friends who give nice birthday gifts to each other, why not gift him an hour (or two) with a GPN fee only financial planner (try the ones at He/She can bring it up as “I know several people who received such a gift and came out thinking that this was the best gift they ever received!”.

    Disclosure: I am NOT a GPN member!

  8. I gave my brother-in-law “The Richest Man in Babylon” — I think it went over well.

    I think JLPs approach is very wise.

  9. I was always the spender growing up. My parents always yelled “your money is burning a hole in your pocket!”, and I just couldn’t save any money.

    Having graduated college, and been the child (of 2) to actually buy a home, have a very well paying job, and have a “saver” wife, my parents now look to me for advice on finances.

    Sometimes the best advice is the silent kind. I like the idea of buying someone a copy of Quicken, but it might be best to just start them out with a simple spreadsheet first. I don’t use Quicken for its budget functions cause they’re too strict and difficult to figure out. I created a spreadsheet for myself (as did my parents), and it worked well for me.

    Whatever you do, don’t just hand them advice. Give them resources like yourself (e.g. sitting down and working through the tool with them), a good but simple book, or paying for a professional consultation.

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  11. I know of one for sure way to not help friends, and that’s lending them money! If you lend a friend money, that’s really a great way to not be friends with them anymore, it’ll change the relationship and not bring good things. Cosiging their loans is another big mistake to avoid!

  12. talking about money is a tricky issue…one of the things to get them interested is asking about their current situation with a certain bill and how to save money.

    E.G. Are you with sprint? did you know that you can do drop calls to save $10 a month? they also give at least 15% discount with certain company.

    or who do you bank with? did you know that WAMU can get you 5% APY savings account when you sign up with them online. and yes, you can go to the brick and mortar with the same account.

    if they are interested, then you can continue on with more in depth.


  13. I just started talking to my significant other about his “money ways” last month, after making sure to flash my “current reading” at him for about 2 months…which incidentally, always happened to be pf reads. Although he wasn’t exactly excited to discuss how he wasn’t saving money or planning for his future (not exactly my words…I had to finesse these a little), just last night, he actually told me he was glad that I “made him think.” Depending on how close the friendship is, an intervention could be a turning point, even if it takes a few tries!

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