Here’s My Problem: I Have A Friend Who Is About To Make A Really Stupid Decision

by Ron Haynes

Here’s an email I received from Karen (used with permission) and my response:

Hello Ron, thanks for all you have written on money and personal finances. I have been going through your archives and printing some out and sending others to friends of mine. One of these friends, I’ll call her Cloe, is about to make a really stupid decision with her money and I don’t know what to do. How do you keep someone from making a very bad personal finance decision?

If you don’t have time to answer, I understand. I hope you can tho!

My response:
Hi Karen. It sounds like you care for your friend’s well being and she’s fortunate to have someone like you on her side.

I started to ask you what the decision was, but later thought, “It doesn’t matter what the decision is. A bad decision is a bad decision!”

The real question you’re facing, since your friend is an adult is:

How far do you go in allowing someone to fail?

The answer depends on several things:

  • How serious will the mistake really be? Spending too much on a dinner at a restaurant isn’t the same as signing a 120 month note for a $65,000 car at 23 percent interest when you make $10.45/hour.
  • It also depends on where this person is in her life. Where is she in the learning process? What does she “get” and not “get?” Some people just cannot be taught and if she is one of these, life will just have to teach her.
  • How much weight do YOU carry in her decision making processes? Obviously, you’ve already tried to dissuade her from this decision, but it hasn’t worked yet.

Don’t confuse “giving advice” with “stepping in.”
Advising your friend before she makes the decision but allowing her to make it is entirely different than “stepping in” and forcing the issue. Many times with our children, we’re tempted to “step in” and prevent their failure, and many times we give in to that temptation, but when you’re dealing with adults, “stepping in” takes on a different meaning. It really is a judgment call.

Friends give advice all the time. Many times we just give it without being asked! I think it’s important though, when you’re dealing with adults, that you tread carefully here. Many times you can give advice by simply asking questions:

“What IS the payment going to be on that new boat?”

“Are you sure about the long term implications of this decision?”

“Can you get out of this contract if things don’t go so well at your job in the next couple of months?”

“Have you looked at any alternatives to your 6 week vacation cruise in the Greek Islands?”

“Are you going to need to make extra money because of this decision?”

Karen, I hope you can keep this one thing in mind when it comes to friends and money: Her choices on how to spend her money will never be the same as yours or mine. However, they are not wrong, they’re just different. Her choices reflect her personality, her priorities, and her passion; and she is, of course, free to make her own decisions. As a friend, all you really can do is ask some hard questions in a gentle way and hopefully steer her in a smarter direction, and hopefully, a wise direction!

photo credit: Coach O.

[tags]children, choices, decisions, finances, money, priorities, responsibility, teaching[tags]

About the author

Ron Haynes has written 1000 articles on The Wisdom Journal.

The founder and editor of The Wisdom Journal in 2007, Ron has worked in banking, distribution, retail, and upper management for companies ranging in size from small startups to multi-billion dollar corporations. He graduated Suma Cum Laude from a top MBA program and currently is a Human Resources and Management consultant, helping companies know how employees will behave in varying situations and what motivates them to action, assisting firms in identifying top talent, and coaching managers and employees on how to better communicate and make the workplace MUCH more enjoyable. If you'd like help in these areas, contact Ron using the contact form at the top of this page or at 870-761-7881.

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I think we’ve all got that “friend.” Mine is a friend/relative who constantly cries poverty, but then spends her money on things outside of the lifestyle she can afford. I frequently use the “give advice by asking questions” approach. She rarely takes my advice, almost never, but she knows I care enough to speak the truth in love to her. That’s all I can do.

Chelo Marroquin

Just remember the golden rule how would you like to treated? How would you like to be approached if you were about to make a decision that someone else that was a mistake?

Also keep in mind that what YOU think is a mistake or a bad decision may not be thought of the same by your friend. So be ready if asked to defend your position.

Joshua @ Accountable Living

For me, there are two points to the frustration: That they won’t “listen”, and that you know that they will continue to make bad decisions.

In all honesty, the idea of loving unconditionally does not mean that you have to be silent when a friend is making a decision that you don’t agree with. But part of the answer rests in whether or not the decision really affects you. If it doesn’t, then outside of some prompting, you have to ask yourself if you value your friendship more than the decision that they are making ( or continue to make ).

In the end, if you have lovingly expressed your opinion ( and more if it was asked for ), but a friend doesn’t heed your advice…… let them alone and let them experience the consequences of their decision. You can be just as good a friend when you help them on ” the other side”.


The short answer is that you can’t keep someone from making a bad decision – it’s one of the privileges of adulthood.

You can certainly say that you tihnk it’s a bad idea, but I’m not sure that I’d react all that well. I think asking questions is a good idea, and trying to remain neutral. And never saying “I told you so” if it all goes wrong. And accepting that it might not all go wrong.


It only took me fifteen+ years to learn this, but I cannot do unto others, because I personally expect others to be upfront with me if they think I’m doing something wrong or stupid. I expect to be, respectfully of course, informed of factual errors that play a role in my decision-making, and have no objection to being criticized if the person has a good point or my well-being at heart. Most people don’t function that way, take it personally or go entirely in the opposite direction that you would recommend because they’re taking it personally.

In learning that lesson, however, I did learn that there is a way to sit friends down and let them know you care about them, that because you care for them, you might suggest they do [insert action here] differently and why, and let them know that you’re there as support. Plus a dash of: Hope for the best. As plonkee says, it might not all go wrong.


Another question might be to ask ‘how many days or hours of wages is needed to pay for the vacation or car installment or whatever”.

This might help out the expense in perspective.


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