I have a friend who is pretty young (late 20s), and he’s really awesome. He listens to Tchaikovsky in his old Honda Accord; he’ll nod patiently while you cry for hours; and he has a very weird sense of humor. He’s smart and creative and hardworking. He only has one fault: He's really cheap.
He shows up at parties empty-handed. If you ask him to grab you a bottle of water while he’s inside the gas station and you’re pumping gas, he never says “forget it” when you hand him a dollar. If you go out to eat with him and he pays (because he lost a bet or something, he never just pays), you have to leave extra money on the table because he tips poorly, and he actually takes points off for things like having to ask a perfectly pleasant and decent server twice for a drink. I mean, who does that? He does.
Because he is much younger than me, I've decided to make it my project to make him less cheap. I coach him constantly:
“Do not announce in the middle of the yoga studio, in front of a bunch of nice, pretty, healthy, in-shape women that you might like to date, that even though you liked the class, which was only $8 ($8!), you will not be back because you are too cheap.”
“Do not tell your roommate that the reason you didn't replace the light bulbs while he was gone was that you ‘didn’t think it was your responsibility to buy them.’”
“Do not refuse to go to the 6 p.m. movie everyone can make and try to convince everyone to go to the less convenient one at 4 p.m. because it's four dollars cheaper.”
I've noticed that a lot of people who are younger, especially in their 20s, are kind of uptight about money in this way. I don’t know if it’s because when they graduated from college in the late aughts the economy was even shittier than when I graduated in the early '90s. Maybe playing video games makes you cheap (I’m kidding). Maybe it’s because they never do any drugs and therefore never have any mind-expanding thoughts about how ownership is like, fucked up, man, and how property is really, like, for all of us, you know? (Not kidding.)
By the way, I get being broke. I think it’s absolutely OK to say to friends, “I have no money, so if you want me to go, pay for me.” As long as you reciprocate when the shoe is on the other foot — and it will be. I also get that things are expensive, and that it sucks to pay $13 to see a movie. But life costs money. Having relationships costs money.
I try to explain to him that if you’re friends with the right people, you don’t have to worry about making an occasional act of generosity, because most people will return the favor. I tell him that I have been generous in my life and I have also accepted generosity, and I am pretty sure I have come out even, if not ahead. By the way, I’d like to point out that my friend is not broke at all. He’s just cheap.
Even though I wish I had more money (who doesn’t?), I am pretty proud of my relationship to it, proud enough to pass it on. The other day I apologized to my friend, “I’m sorry to nag you about this, but I think it’s kind of important.” And he said, “No. It’s OK. I need to hear it.” Come to think of it, what I’m teaching him is extremely valuable. I wonder if I could charge for my services?