In this weekly feature I answer your personal finance questions.
Dear Emma, WTF?!
I’m a reasonably happily married mom (who am I kidding? I read your blog every day), and one of my best friends is a single mom. We both have two kids. We go way back to high school and are more like sisters. I feel very close to her. But there is one thorn in my craw, and that is money.
We don’t talk about exactly how much we earn, but I estimate that between her child support and successful career as an industrial designer, her income is maybe only slightly less than what my husband and I earn together — maybe even the same. Yet she is constantly screaming poverty and makes snide remarks about how much wealthier (she thinks) my husband and I are.
For example, I drive an Audi. I really enjoy having a nice car and that is one of the few things my husband and I chose to splurge on. Same with international travel. But otherwise we live very frugally, nearly always cook at home, stick to a budget and rarely indulge in impulse buys.
Meanwhile, my friend drives a beat-up Dodge minivan that is constantly in need of repair, and yet her house is overflowing with the spoils of her frequent shopping trips. Barely-used cosmetics spill out of her bathroom cabinets, her and her children’s closets are bursting with clothes — many still baring tags — and she throws out far more food than she eats.
And yet she has the nerve to make comments like, “Would you mind driving to dinner tonight? I know it’s m turn but the van is in the shop again – you know how it is for single moms!” and “Boy, I’d love to take my kids to Italy, too, but there is no way I could afford that on one income. Your kids are so lucky that they can take a trip like that.”
I feel like she is jealous of my lifestyle, which would be tricky if I actually had more money than she does — but I don’t! Please stop me from killing her.
Frustrated in Phoenix
Sounds like your bestie has a case of single-mom syndrome. Symptoms include self-pity, refusal to take responsibility for one’s actions, and being annoying — all in the name of her family status.
Here’s what you do:
Take away her excuses. You go way back, and you say you are very close. I appreciate that every relationship has its boundaries, and in this case you don’t share financial information. That’s over.
Next time you two get together and share a bottle of Chardonnay and she starts in on her bull, treat her to a smack-down. Say: “Listen, I’m not so sure that I have more money than you do. Let’s just lay things out here for the sake of our friendship. This is how much Tom and I brought in last year. How much do you make? How much child support do you get?”
This will do a few things: It makes her face her reality in cold, hard numbers. Can’t argue with numbers! It also sets some boundaries in your relationship. You’re telling her that you are no fool, and you won’t let her try to make you feel guilty about your choices. Also — hopefully — it will make her just shut up already.
Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post’s ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.
A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.