"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
November 1, 2012
Asking for Money Owed
by Cyndie Swindlehurst

Question:

Last week, several friends and I planned to take our children to a special event in a city about two hours away. At the last minute, one friend could not go, and she asked if I wouldn’t mind driving her children and supervising them at the activity.

I said that was fine, and the trip went smoothly.

A few days later, I realized that my friend had not reimbursed me for the cost of her children’s tickets. It wasn’t a princely sum, but it was enough to throw off my weekly cash flow.

What can I do? I don’t want to be rude and ask her for the money, but what if she doesn’t ever pay me? Should I just forgive her the debt now and forget it?

Answer:

Whoa!

It is not rude to ask your friend for the money she owes you, even if you do feel awkward asking her for it.

There can be an element of discomfort asking a person for money owed because it may feel like you are accusing him of deliberately withholding what he ought to pay. But that is jumping to conclusions. It’s much better to assume a person merely forgot, and wishes to pay what he owes.

So although it’s big of you to offer to forgive her, your offer is incredibly premature. Indeed, it would be unfair of you to harbor a grudge — or make a big deal (in your head) of forgiving her — over money you never asked for, even if she should have remembered to pay it. Instead, give your friend the chance to pay you.

Give her a call and, after the standard pleasantries, say something like, “The event tickets were $19.00. Could I drop by and pick it up some time this week?” Or perhaps, “Would you mind bringing that $19.00 from the event to the kids’ soccer practice on Wednesday?” Or even, “The tickets at the event were $19.00. How would you like to work that out?”

She will probably respond by saying how silly it was of her to forget, and of course you can come by, and would you mind if she wrote you a check. You will say it’s no trouble, and you forget things, too, and a check is fine. Then you will arrange an actual time for you to get the money. (If she does not respond that way, you’ll have to write back with a new question.)

Make this call as soon as possible. Debts are best resolved quickly. Although it is not rude to ask for an old debt, it feels worse because it seems to indicate that you’ve been resenting the borrower for lack of payment. So if the debt is old, act like you just remembered it when you ask.

And keep it simple! Don’t add any excuses or extraneous information to the above script. Also, don’t drop hints! (“Gee, we sure had fun at that event.”) That puts the onus on your friend to correctly interpret your hints, which is an unfair expectation. Be straightforward and clear.

But I am still concerned that you thought asking for the money would be rude.

Is it because of the maxim that one does not discuss money? That maxim does not apply to collecting debts. It applies to disclosing private financial information or flaunting how much you spent on particular goods or services. The only way you could run afoul of it here is if you tried to explain to your friend the financial circumstances that led you to ask for the money instead of just eating the cost.

Is it because you feel ashamed to ask for a relatively small sum? Generosity is a wonderful thing, but it is not always possible to pay your own way and the way of others. But whether or not you need the money is beside the point. It is much better to assume that everyone wants to pay his own way, and to act accordingly. Being less willing to ask for the money the more you need it because you are ashamed to have your friend know you need it is perfectly ironic.

It is because you drove the car and thought of yourself as the host? Well, if you had invited her children to attend the event with your family as your guests, you would have been responsible for their tickets. But in this case, your friend asked you to drive her children somewhere she knew you were already going. You were the transportation, not the host. Therefore, the cost of the tickets remained her responsibility.

Is it because you fear that asking her will damage your friendship? If it does, she is not a good friend. No reasonable person in her position will be remotely offended that you asked her for the money. In fact, she will probably appreciate that you asked her so forthrightly. This will strengthen your relationship, and let her know that she can count on you to be open and honest in the future.

Do you have a quandary, conundrum, or sticky situation in your life? Click this button to drop Cyndie a line, and she’ll be happy to answer your question in a future column. Any topic is welcome!


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About Cyndie Swindlehurst

Cynthia Munk Swindlehurst spent her childhood in New Hampshire and her adolescence in San Diego. She served a mission in Manaus Brazil. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and from Duke University with a law degree.

She practiced law until her first child was born. She enjoys reading, tap dancing, and discussing current events. She and her husband live in Greensboro, North Carolina with their two sons.

Cyndie serves as the Sunbeams teacher in her ward.

Visit Cyndie at Dear Cyndie
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