Debt Management

We the frugal are frustrated with you spendthrift braggarts


You did a staycation and eat bag lunches. Your co-worker came home bragging about the foreign jaunt she can’t afford, and now whines about the bills

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Question for the expertDear New Frugal You,
I don’t think that I can take it anymore. I just got through listening to a co-worker complain that the credit card companies are being unfair to her and need to get off her back. She’s been missing payments and now they’re raising her rates.

What makes me mad is that she’s the same co-worker who makes fun of me for living frugally. She thinks it’s funny that I bring my lunch in to work to save money. Just last fall, she was bragging about how much better her weeklong cruise was than my staycation.

How can I keep from snapping and telling her to quit whining and that she brought this all on herself? — Rene

Answer for the expertDear Rene,
Sometimes it’s not easy being frugal. Most people consider it normal to brag about their possessions and how they spend money. So when you live frugally, you’re likely to stand out from the crowd.

It wasn’t always so. It’s probably safe to say that people have always wanted more material wealth. But until fairly recently, most people thought that the best way to accumulate wealth was to live a responsible financial lifestyle. They equated frugality with material success. In fact, the word “thrifty” comes from the same root at the word “thrive.”

But a funny thing happened as credit became easier to get in the last third of the 20th century: More people began to spend more than they earned. The result was that frugal living was set aside for a more debt-filled notion of personal finance.

There were always some people like your co-worker who borrowed more than they could repay. But in recent years, the number has grown quite large. We had 1.4 million bankruptcies in the U.S. in 2011. Many people seem not to see any relationship between what they spent and the trouble they have repaying the money they borrowed.

Interesting as that is, it still leaves the question as to what you should do with your co-worker. Much will depend on the nature of your relationship. Closer relationships will be harder to handle, but could provide some unique opportunities to share the frugal lifestyle.

If your co-worker is just that, only a co-worker that you don’t see away from work, then it’s just a matter of separating yourself from her. If she starts whining, tell her that you’re not able to help and you don’t feel like listening to her complaints. If she continues to make fun of your frugal lifestyle, calmly explain that living frugally is your way of avoiding debt problems. No need to be harsh, but you shouldn’t have to put up with abuse either.

With a friend or relative it gets a little tougher. You want to be able to spend time together without continual conflict.

If you haven’t already, you might want to try honestly sharing how you feel about her comments. She might not realize how hurtful they are. A real friend won’t want to hurt your feelings and will stop teasing you about your lifestyle choices.

A friend that continues to needle you might not be the friend that you think she is. It could be time to reevaluate the relationship. Perhaps you can find new friends who share your frugal lifestyle, who won’t be spenthrift braggarts who turn whiny when the money runs out, as it inevitably does.

On the other hand, if the relationship is particularly close, you might turn the other cheek, and try to help her escape the debt trap. The fact that she’s noticed your lifestyle and is complaining about hers could provide an opportunity to discuss how frugality has made your life better. If she’s really looking to end the collection callsm that could be the best thing that a friend could do for her.

It might also be that she’s not interested in a solution, but just wants to vent her frustration. Then you’ll need to decide whether you’re a good enough friend to listen to her complaints. You may find that you’re able to be around her without taking her comments to heart.

Regardless of how things work out with your co-worker, don’t let her shake your resolve to live within your means. She’s already demonstrated what happens when you don’t.

See related: Tips for finding fun while staying frugal

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