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4 ‘Frenemies’ Leading You Into Debt

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For those of you unfamiliar with the term “frenemy,” here’s a quick crash course. A frenemy is a friend who secretly sabotages you. When it comes to your money, frenemies can have a major impact since spending is not always as private as you may think.

Take an online purchase — the most private of all types of spending, right? Not necessarily. Spending can not only be done socially — like seeing a movie with friends, eating out as a group, or shopping together — it can also be done for social reasons. You might be buying that suit or dress online, but are you doing it because you need it, or because all your friends have a newer suit, or they recommended that brand of dresses? Even indirectly, friends can affect your spending. Here, we break down some of the most common “frenemies” to your money and how you can work to change the way these people affect your wallet.

1. The Mooch

A mooch — the most obvious debt “frenemy” — is the person who is constantly trying to borrow money or promising that he or she will pay you back, then never does. Almost everyone has a friend like this, though some mooches are worse than others.

A mooch can cost you money in three ways:

  1. Borrowing money and never paying it back. “I forgot” is an excuse you’ll hear often. Combat this by being more upfront about when and how you’d like to be paid back. For example, tell the friend “That’s OK, as long as you can pay me back tomorrow at Chelsea’s party.” Setting a strict deadline makes the transaction feel more like an actual loan with terms and conditions.
  2. Putting you in a position where you have to pay. I was recently put in this position by a friend, who was at my house hanging out and wanted to order some food. Assuming we would split the cost, I ordered food for us both and then the friend told me she had forgotten her wallet. Left with no options, I paid for her food and mine.
  3. Borrowing physical goods. Just because a friend isn’t borrowing money doesn’t mean they can still take things without paying. This can range from the small to the large. A bag of chips probably won’t put you into debt, but a car that then is wrecked or stolen could be extremely costly.

2. The Partier

Do you know how much the average American spends on nights out in a year? Just to give you an idea, Americans spend roughly $213 billion a year on just beer and fast food. That’s about $685 per person. A big expense, and that’s not including fine dining, casual dining or hard alcohol and wine, all of which are more expensive options to the working man’s beer and fast food.

The partier is the person who loves the finer things in life. A $12 bottle of wine? No, the partier wants a $50 bottle. A birthday dinner for a friend? The partier wants to do dinner and bottle service at a swanky club. This type of friend has you spending beyond your means just to spend time with them, and those costs can add up. To solve this problem, make the friend aware of the situation and suggest lower-cost ways to spend time together. Or, if you don’t want to sound like you’re pleading poverty, just plan fun events yourself or make an effort to show your friend that money doesn’t equal fun.

Remember that overspending might not lead you into debt immediately, but it still can cause serious damage to your credit score and your financial future. Are you charging more than 20%-30% of your credit card limits? That will ding your credit score. To find out more about the factors that impact your score, check out your Credit Report Card and see where you stand.

3. The “Money Expert”

This is probably the most dangerous frenemy on our list, because a “money expert” can get you into serious financial trouble very quickly by acting like an authority on finances, when really he or she doesn’t have a clue. One of the biggest investing mistakes beginners make is investing without fully understanding the risks. The same goes for your personal finances.

The best money advice you can get is from two places — a financial literacy course or a true money expert like a CFP or a CPA. A financial literacy course gives you the tools to manage your own finances, while a money expert not only has extensive education requirements, but regulation over their fiduciary responsibilities to you. After all, getting advice from a friend on what impacts your credit score isn’t as authoritative as hearing it from a credit expert like Barry Paperno, who has spent decades in the credit scoring industry. The bottom line on dealing with this frenemy is to always check your facts with sources of record, even if the advice seems obvious. Take it from us, the people who hear credit and debt myths from our readers all the time.

4. The Competitive One

Keeping up with the Joneses — it’s a classic way of spending yourself into oblivion. Take the most recent housing market bust as an example. Too many Americans borrowed way more than they could afford to pay back and housing values continued to appreciate without reason. The problem was twofold — banks were more willing to lend, but borrowers were also willing to take on more debt.

Just because your friends have new cars doesn’t mean you have to have one, too. The competitive frenemy differs from the partier in that the competitive frenemy compels you to not only keep up with, but show up others to be “the best.” Don’t fall for the bait!

The upside of the frenemy is that many have turned frugality into a competition. At Credit.com, we had our own “Debt Diet” challenge. This frenemy could become a true friend by harnessing the competition into a positive one for both of you — very similar to the mania that is extreme couponing.

Image: lovelihood, via Flickr

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