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‘I realized she was gonna hold that grudge forever': Over 20% of Americans have ended a friendship over money

Frazao Studio Latino | E+ | Getty Images

In December 2022, 25-year-old Carson was excited about starting a new job and moving out of state after finishing her graduate degree. She had also agreed to be a bridesmaid in a close friend's wedding.

But when the bridal party started planning a long weekend bachelorette trip, Carson had to put her personal finances first.

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"I evaluated everything and talked to my parents about it and realized that this was going to be over a $2,000, nearly $3,000 trip," she tells CNBC Make It. Her name has been changed to protect her privacy. 

Between moving and starting a new job, Carson decided the trip was simply not in her budget, and she wasn't willing to rack up a couple thousand dollars on a credit card in order to go.

But breaking the news to the bride didn't go smoothly. When the bride suggested Carson could pick up a side hustle to pay for the trip, "my jaw dropped," she says. 

Carson skipped the bachelorette trip, but remained a part of the wedding party, so she still wound up spending a couple hundred dollars on a dress, accommodations, food, drinks and a wedding present for the couple. Still, the bride didn't seem to forgive her for missing the bachelorette party.

Carson noticed communication between herself and her newlywed friend begin to taper off after the wedding. A year went by and despite Carson's efforts, including wishing her friend a happy anniversary, she still got the cold shoulder. She ultimately gave up trying.

"I realized that she was gonna hold that grudge for forever and I didn't really have interest in being friends with someone who couldn't be empathetic about that situation and couldn't at least give me some grace," she says.

Her situation isn't uncommon. Over 20% of Americans say they've ended a friendship over money disputes, according to a recent survey from fintech firm Bread Financial. 

It's not always over bachelorette trips or Venmo mishaps, though. 

"In my experience, it's rarely the first time that money stuff comes up in a friendship [that] is the time that a friendship breaks down over it," Lindsay Bryan-Podvin, a behavioral finance expert and consultant for Bread Financial, tells CNBC Make It.

Here are some of the common reasons friendships fall apart over money and how to avoid them.

The pressure to spend

Like Carson, many Americans face pressure from their friends to spend money, whether it's on big things like bachelorette trips or smaller things that add up, like dinners out or trendy clothes. 

Nearly 2 in 3 respondents say they've broken their budgets for social activities with their friends, Bread found. Dining out, birthday celebrations and buying clothes and beauty products are the top three ways respondents say they have been influenced by their friends to overspend.

On the one hand, you want to share experiences and do fun things with your friends. But on the other hand, you have your own financial security and goals to prioritize. Friendships can break down over those expenses when you're not communicating your boundaries around spending, Bryan-Podvin says. 

"It's really important to be transparent and clear around what your financial boundaries are," she says. 

Friends don't all need to have the same or similar incomes, or the same financial goals. But real friends should understand where you're coming from financially when they invite you to spend on activities or encourage you to buy something you probably don't need, Bryan-Podvin says.

Carson says she was clear with her friend about why she couldn't make the trip happen money-wise. But they hadn't talked much about money and boundaries in the past. They'd split bills evenly or pay their own way when they went out, but didn't discuss differences in income that contributed to their opposing views when it came to paying for a bachelorette trip.

"[With] my friend who cares about me and my wellbeing and my financial goals, I can trust that I can say to them, 'Hey, I can't [buy] VIP Beyoncé tickets with you,'" Bryan-Podvin says.

Communicate expectations

Another common occurrence happens when friends go all-in on a plan, but aren't clear about the financial expectations. In Carson's case, she knew she'd have to cover her flight and her portion of the Airbnb for the bachelorette trip and initially thought she could reasonably do that.

Then she saw the itinerary for the weekend and realized there would be a number of other costs, including groceries, outings at bars, matching outfits and more, which could have easily added several hundred dollars to her $200 Airbnb contribution.

"There's nothing worse, in my opinion, than doing something in a friend group, but not being clear on what those financial expectations are and then having a [large] bill come at the end," Bryan-Podvin says.

Your friends probably aren't trying to trick you into overspending. But when you assume everyone in the group is on the same page about being willing and able to pay whatever the final bill is, you could be leading some people astray, Bryan-Podvin says.

"If we can just have those conversations upfront and be transparent, what I find is that our friends are often more responsive than we think they will be," she says.

That wasn't the case for Carson, but the experience taught her another valuable lesson: Friends who don't respect your financial boundaries are typically not friends you want to keep around.

"If you are finding that the friends that you hang out with only want to hang out with you when you're dropping lots of money, it's worth re-evaluating that friendship," Bryan-Podvin says.

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