If your credit’s not so hot, it could have something to do with the people you hang around with.
Not directly, of course. Credit histories don’t get merged. So, unless you’re co-signing for a loan or, say, taking out a mortgage with someone, your friends can’t exactly affect your credit score. But their attitudes toward money could be influencing your own. That happens in a couple of ways, according to Amanda Clayman, a financial therapist based in New York.
“We form our frame of reference for what is normal based on the people that we’re in contact with … so that skews our thinking about what’s appropriate,” Clayman said.
Think of “keeping up with the Joneses” as an example. Your friends are all spending money on product X, so you want it as well and you might not take into account your own financial circumstances and how acquiring that product might affect your money situation.
Take that one step further, where your friends are maxing out their credit cards to get product X, and you may think nothing of doing the same. If that seems like normal behavior, it could become a major financial problem.
“Also, think of the ways that we use our friendships in a broader sense,” Clayman said. “One of the main functions of friendship is to be emotionally soothing when we get anxious or upset, so sometimes friends might — with the objective of being encouraging and supportive — inadvertently cause us to do things we really shouldn’t do.”
So, if your friend is encouraging you to go on a shopping spree as retail therapy for your recent breakup, it might feel good at the time, but that credit card debt isn’t going to feel so great when it comes time to pay your bill or it lingers for months at 23.99% interest.
It’s an argument for improving your circle of friends and looking for people whose lives you want to emulate.
“Friendships don’t just have to happen in our lives,” Clayman said. “Certainly we feel an authentic connection to some and not to others, but it’s something to keep in mind when we meet a person we really admire: ‘I’d like to be closer to this person and hope that it has an effect on me.’”
It’s like motivational speaker Jim Rohn said: “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
“It’s sort of like people who build good teams in business who say they hire people who are smarter than they are. It takes a strong ego and being a secure person, but that is how we can maybe set ourselves up to grow,” Clayman said.
Friends can also influence your spending habits by simply wanting to hang out with you, doing something you might not be able to afford at the time. It’s hard to tell your friends you can’t afford to do something, but honesty is always the best policy. Instead of charging the expense, consider letting them know that you need to decline because it’s been a tight month or that you’re saving your money for something bigger.
If you hit upon seriously hard times and one of your friends offers to lend you money, it can be a good idea to politely reject the offer. The consequences of you not being able to pay it back may be too high and you don’t want to strain your friendship. Unless you are willing to potentially break a friendship or you are guaranteed to have the cash to pay them back in full, consider just saying no. It’s a good idea to not be the lender, either, but if you have to, here’s a guide for the best ways to loan money to friends and family.
Remember, the best way to reduce the influence your friends might have on your money is by creating a budget and sticking to it. Running up high credit card bills or running out of money because of nights out or vacations can have very long-term effects on your wallet and your credit score. You can see what your debt will cost by using this lifetime cost of debt calculator, and you can see how your debt is affecting your credit by pulling your free credit report summary on Credit.com.
When it comes to your friends and money, it’s always a good idea to be honest and stick to your financial goals. By saying you can’t afford something, you could be helping out a friend who’s also been struggling to keep up and will be relieved to cut back a bit.
This article originally appeared on Credit.com.
Constance Brinkley-Badgett is an editor and writer at Credit.com. Prior to joining us, she worked as an editor for MSN.com, senior digital producer for CNBC, and digital producer for NBC Nightly News.