I got a big surprise in the mail the other day: a check for $850. That’s the amount of the loan I made to a friend 15 months ago, plus the Western Union fee to get it to her.
In fact, it’s $6 more than I sent. I guess I should consider that interest, or maybe bus fare and aspirin.
Frankly, I was surprised that “Monica,” whom I wrote about before, was able to send it to me in one fell swoop. Not much has changed in her life since she called in a panic, one step ahead of the repo man. I assumed she’d send $50 at a time, the way she repaid a previous loan. But as the months wore on, I’d started to wonder.
Naturally, I was delighted to get the money. It went straight back into the emergency fund. I’m also a little nervous, wondering if she overextended in some other way to make this repayment.
When I think about her future, my head hurts. Monica and her husband still have three kids at home. She doesn’t have a pension or an individual retirement account. Heck, she doesn’t even have a replacement vehicle fund even though her van has a couple of hundred thousand miles on it.
I’ve lent money to her and others because I felt that I should. After all, I have that emergency fund, and a 401(k) from my newspapering days, and a Roth IRA that I’ve been able to fund fully for the past few years.
And I’ve also got:
- No real job security. (Of course, I don’t know anyone who is convinced of the stability of his job. But freelancing = risk.)
- The need to buy private health insurance, which currently costs about $5,000 per year. (No machine runs for 54 years without some maintenance issues. My recent surprise surgery certainly proved that.)
- Some $2,100 in loans still outstanding ($350 of which I’ve pretty much written off because the couple split up and both parties work low-paying jobs).
Thus I need to put on my own oxygen mask first, and pray that everyone else I know can secure his own strap and breathe normally.
A conversation I don’t want to have
Right now I’m also praying that I will keep the bank closed if the fertilizer hits the ventilator once more. The no-lend reasons listed above are valid. I know that. But guilt has been a strong force in my life thus far and old patterns are the devil to break.
Over and over in my mind I rehearse a technique shared with me by a personal finance expert. When someone asks for a loan that you cannot give, you should offer something else – help with budgeting, say, or a list of agencies that might help in the short term.
If that person says, “But I need money and I need it now,” your response must be a gentle but firm, “These are your options. If you choose anything but these options, our conversation has to be over.”
Here’s hoping this particular conversation doesn’t start up again. Because I know what the answer must be, and it’s an answer I truly don’t want to give.