Money and debt are still taboo topics in America. If a friend intimates her debt balances to you, it’s important you understand how much courage it took. There are several things you can do while she works on tackling her debt load. Let’s talk about how you can support your friend during this tough time.
How to be supportive of your indebted friend
Your first instinct may be to lend your friend money, but friendship and finances rarely mix. If you have the cash to gift her, you can do that, but remember that doesn’t give you the right to dictate your friend’s spending going forward. It’s probably a better idea to be supportive in mostly non-monetary ways.
Let’s assume your friend is a close one. The tips below are designed with her in mind. Note: If you’re dealing with someone who isn’t such a good friend, consider these tips, but proceed with caution. You don’t want to overstep your bounds.
1. Suggest affordable entertainment options when you go out. Indebted or not, everyone needs to get out and have some fun. Instead of doing expensive activities, suggest more affordable options. Organize a potluck with friends instead of going to to a restaurant, happy hour instead of a pricey club, jogging together instead of going to a dance or yoga class.
2. Pick up the tab every once in a while. If your friend won’t be offended by it, and you have the means and desire to do so, pay for your friend’s dinner or drinks every so often. Doing it every time would set a precedent, but there probably isn’t any harm in picking up the occasional tab.
3. Share your own “get out of debt” story. If you’ve been in debt and were able to pay it off, or are currently doing so, share your story for inspiration. She may feel better knowing she isn’t alone and that it’s possible for someone like her to triumph over debt. Certain taboo subjects — like money and health issues — are often left undiscussed, which is unfortunate since so many people are dealing with the same issues.
If you don’t have experience with debt, point her in the direction of someone you know who has dealt with it and overcome it. Of course, don’t tell this other person about your friend’s situation without her permission — she may not be ready to come clean to anyone else about her debt.
4. Help her create a plan to pay off debt. If you’re a good budgeter and planner, you may want to offer your services as a makeshift financial adviser. Go over her expenses and try to offer cheaper alternatives to her current lifestyle choices. Also, encourage her to pick up a second job or overtime at work for a short period of time. Just don’t push anything. She’s an adult and this is her money. All final budget and money decisions are up to her.
» MORE: How to pay off debt
5. Point her in the direction of good “get out of debt” resources. For additional help, tell your friend about the world of online financial websites. We write a lot about dealing with credit card debt at NerdWallet, but there are also numerous personal finance blogs and multiple debt paydown calculators and programs that are free to use.
Bottom line: You can be supportive to your indebted friend without assisting her financially. By keeping your time together cheap and helping her figure out a plan to pay off her debt, you’ll be able to help her get out of the mess and live a debt-free life. After all, that’s what friends are for, right?
Woman comforting distressed friend image via Shutterstock