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Personal Finance Archive

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Business, Friendship, and Money Etiquette

I have no problems with making sure that my purely personal friendships jive well when money’s involved; I pay my way and assist friends in need within reason, we’re honest with each other about our limits, and it generally works out pretty well. I have no problem with keeping my business money separate from personal money in a corporate environment, and generally dining out with the office has always been fairly straightforward: the office paid. But what of the gray area in between? Specifically, when you’re networking and not interviewing with or working for the person you’re dining with?

From a purely business perspective, my friend/mentor advised me not to quibble over who paid the bill when I dined out with an older, successful, networking acquaintance. “He can most certainly afford it, he invited you, and he can always write it off,” she asserts. These points were all true, at the time. The person in question is both gracious and helpful whenever possible leads come up, and has since taken the initiative to point me and my resume at highly placed persons who were interviewing for desirable positions. [At which point it’s up to me so that there isn’t impropriety or influence on my behalf which I would never ask for or expect.]

But what happens when the acquaintance morphs into a semi-friendship? When you’re meeting to catch up and tell stories, it’s no longer 100% business. I feel like that development then brings with it the obligation to offer to, and even insist on, paying sometimes. It’s only fair. I don’t want my acquaintance/now friend to think that I simply expect a great meal at his expense; that’s certainly not the case.

I’m aware that insisting on footing the bill when he has selected the restaurant, when he is more than financially comfortable [yes, finances have come up in the conversation in a career-related turn], and/or when I am unemployed seems to smack more of irrational pride than sense. But I’m unemployed, not destitute, and it hardly seems right to assume that I shouldn’t pay simply because I don’t have access to a corporate account. That seems like a recipe for brewing resentment; the line of reasoning that “you have more money than I, so let’s use your resources, thanks!” doesn’t sit well with me. Neither party’s resources should determine who pays. It can certainly influence the selection of the experience, but I think fair means that both parties take it in turn to pay.

How does the financial relationship change when your business relationship acquires shades of the personal? How should it?

[Disclosure: This post is also published at my blog, A Gai Shan Life.]

2

Is frugality fading?

Throughout the recession, bold sweeping statements were made about the deep and lasting change in the consumer mentality. Countless reporters declared that this recession was going to leave a mark akin to that of the Great Depression: frugality is here to stay.

The sky-high unemployment rates, the unprecedented call for long-term unemployment benefits, the staggering number of people struggling to make it from one day to the next, all these indicators point to the wisdom of continued frugality.

Officials talk about a “jobless recovery” which can only mean that the depredations of this recession – homelessness due to foreclosure (NY Times), students carrying tens of thousands in debt with few job prospects (LA Times), people joining the Army as a last resort for family medical care (Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel) – continue to take a huge bite out of whatever remaining resources, and hope, people may have.  Rainy day accounts, emergency funds, family and friends are tapped out, public and private sources of assistance are equally drained as charitable donations disappear.

And with the constant political fights over every single solution, none of which seem terribly effective [not to get political here], these circumstances aren’t getting better in a hurry.

If you read the sometimes harsh, certainly intense comments over at Bargaineering about the proposed extension of unemployment benefits, you can see that there’s a dichotomy between those who are currently unemployed, and those who are not.  Many of those unemployed have been so for months, some for over a year, and I have to wonder how deeply this will affect our career paths.

Yet, for some of those who still bring home a paycheck, the deprivation of frugality palls and as this article in the Washington Post notes, “deep and lasting change might prove challenging in a country where the phrase “shop ‘til you drop” gets 1.7 million Google hits.”

I admit that I was fatigued by all the dire recession talk by mid-May, despite my own preparation for unemployment.   Who wouldn’t become sick of such constant negativity?  But my baseline has always been set on savings and frugality.  For many Americans, that’s still a concept with negative connotations: “I’m saving/spending less because the company’s going through layoffs,” “I’m cutting back because we have less money.”   There aren’t a lot of positives associated with the notion of New Economy frugality, just a lot of coping techniques.

Because of that, I have to wonder how this will all shake out.  Will we reach a median somewhere between the high-luxe spending of the boom years and the extreme belt-tightening of this past year?  Or are we looking at the beginnings of a fissure in American society where a greater gap opens between the haves and have-nots?  Or will we return to business as usual as the cycle turns again?

[You can find my everyday writing over at A Gai Shan Life.]