updated 2/22/2011 7:57:27 AM ET 2011-02-22T12:57:27

According to the Beatles, "a little help from your friends" is a good thing, but maybe not so much if they encourage you to spend yourself into debt.

Major Market Indices

"Friends give us advice and act as sound boards when we need to vent," says Irene S. Levine, a psychologist and friendship expert and author of "Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend."

But too much "advice" and the wrong type of "help," and a friendship can quickly cause your credit score to careen downhill and your expenses to soar sky-high.

If these financial frenemies sound like some of your gal pals, here are tips to help you keep your friendship intact and your wallet closed. And if you're lucky enough to have a friend who is your "voice of reason" when it comes to spending, try to seek out her advice first when faced with a big money decision.

The "everything will be OK" girlfriend
Most everyone has a friend who is an external optimist and can justify anything, even when you say you can't afford that Chanel sweater or spa weekend in Santa Barbara, Calif. She also has a knack for convincing you that spending this month's mortgage money on Gucci boots won't blow up in your face later. Options are few when a co-signed credit card goes bad

The friendly fix: Levine says this pal may have the mistaken idea that it's her responsibility to give you license to indulge in whatever you want, whenever you want. "When you're struggling with a tough choice, it's common to look for permission from others so you don't feel guilty about your choice."

Not surprisingly, then, this type of friend may be detrimental to your finances. "She's the equivalent to snacking on little 'cheats' when you're dieting. The impact of those cheats is greater than you think and can prevent you from achieving the success you want," says Susan Hirshman, president of She LTD, a consulting firm focused on enhancing the financial literacy of women globally, and author of "Does This Make My Assets Look Fat?"

To protect yourself from her unintentional sabotage, Levine suggests telling your friend you're counting on her to provide a reality check, and you need her help so you can stick to your budget and not overspend.

Reevaluating the time you spend together also helps. "If shopping is a big part of your friendship, leave your credit cards at home. This way you can only buy what you have the cash for," says Hirshman.

The "oh, come on, you deserve it" girlfriend
Thanks to this pal's selective hearing, she hears "talk me into spending" when you say, "I can't afford to go to lunch or a movie." Her secret weapon: guilt. And this buddy's a pro at guilting you into spending because "you deserve to splurge on yourself now and them."

The friendly fix: It's great to pamper yourself occasionally, but Levine says this pal is thinking more about herself and her needs than you treating yourself. "She wants to go to the movie and wants some company, so she'll make you feel guilty for not splurging on yourself," she says. Or she may be in deep debt herself and envies your ability to manage money and is just testing your resolve. Escaping from a credit limit Catch-22

The only way to deal with this type of manipulation, says Levine, is establishing and sticking to boundaries you define. "Tell your friend you have an allotted amount of 'mad money' and will not exceed that," says Levine. Deflect any guilt by explaining that splurging on "you" today will make you feel guilty and terrible tomorrow.

"You can also capitalize on your creativity to save the friendship and your finances at the same time," says Amanda Walker, manager of GreenPath, Inc. Debt Solutions in Elkhart, Ind. If you initiate the invitation and come up with the ideas for activities, you have the controlling interest in planning the event.

The "pusher" girlfriend
This girlfriend makes more than you and always encourages you to spend like she does. After all, it's only money.

The friendly fix: Attempting to keep up with this friend's spending habits is dangerous. "One Saturday afternoon with this person could tally up receipts totaling more than you'll make in a month," says Walker.

Walker says honesty is the best policy to simultaneously saving this friendship — and your finances. "Tell this friend spending isn't a contest. And you're not going to match her purchases dollar for dollar." 8 creative ways to stay debt-free

Then take control of the situation. "Instead of letting her choose the restaurant or plan, tell — don't ask — this friend you'll meet for coffee or a chat at a bookstore instead of going to the spa and shopping," says Walker.

The "voice of reason" girlfriend
Finally, the friend we all need is a devil's advocate who never fails to remind you that even though a new car would be fun to drive today, waiting a few more months until you pay off that pesky credit card bill might mean you'll have more expendable cash to go toward car payments.

The friendly fix: This person is trying to keep you away from financial danger and, Levine says, feels comfortable enough to assume that awkward role. "She probably makes you think twice before you make a financial mistake."

Walker says to ask this friend for help when you're wrestling with a financial decision. "She'll be honest and help you determine if this is a true ‘need' or an impulsive ‘want.'"

And don't forget to say thanks.

"Tell this friend you appreciate her advice even if you sometimes ignore it and decide to go ahead with a purchase. That way, the person will feel comfortable offering an opinion in the future," says Levine.

© 2012

Video: 5 tips for sticking to a debt diet

  1. Transcript of: 5 tips for sticking to a debt diet

    ROKER: And that's your latest weather. Ann :

    ANN CURRY, anchor: This morning on TODAY'S MONEY , keeping your spending in check with a debt diet . Credit card debt is on the rise for the first time in two years, so it's important to set a budget and stick to it for successful financial health. That's according to our experts, Jean Chatzky , TODAY financial editor; and Mandy Walker , a senior editor at Consumer Reports . Good morning to both of you.

    Ms. JEAN CHATZKY (Today Financial Editor): Nice to see you.

    Ms. MANDY WALKER (Senior Editor, Consumer Reports): Good morning.

    CURRY: So this is interesting, not only is -- savings is down...

    Ms. WALKER: Mm-hmm.

    CURRY: addition to credit card use being up. What explains this?

    Ms. CHATZKY: That's right . Well, we saw credit card use pop for the first time , revolving credit card debt , pop for the first time in about two years, and I think consumers are feeling a little tired of saving money combined with the fact that the spigots have opened a little bit for more debt, and consumers are taking advantage of that.

    Ms. WALKER: They spent a little more at Christmas , too, and to say it's the credit card debt that's gone up, and they're saving a little bit less, savings is down to just over 5 percent of pre-tax income, it was up to about 7 percent at the end of 2009 . And consumes are telling us -- we ask them every month about financial troubles they've had in our CR Index , and they said they're having trouble paying bills again and they've had problems -- negative changes in their credit card terms, higher interest rates .

    CURRY: So you really want to flash some warning lights this morning a little bit.

    Ms. WALKER: Right.

    CURRY: You want to say to people -- in fact, I wonder why we have to given that we've just gone through this terrible downturn in the economy, I mean you'd think if that didn't teach us we need to save our money , what will?

    Ms. CHATZKY: We always need reminders of these very basic things, it's like going on a regular diet, it's not that people don't know that they need to eat less and exercise more, but sometimes...

    CURRY: This is like chocolate, say no, just say no.

    Ms. CHATZKY: ...sometimes we just have to remind ourselves we got to spend a little less and save a little more and we can tell you how.

    CURRY: All right. Let's -- you're going to tell us how this morning. Number one, you suggest budget backwards and save first.

    Ms. CHATZKY: Right. You've got to be saving anywhere from about 10 to 15 percent of what you bring in every single month without fail. And once you do that, I don't care what you spend your money on...

    CURRY: Mm.

    Ms. CHATZKY: ...go spend it however you want, just put that savings aside first. And by the way, the money in a 401(k) and those matching dollars, they do count, we get that question all the time.

    Ms. WALKER: Yeah.

    CURRY: And you say max out those contributions. And now here's a question...

    Ms. WALKER: Mm-hmm.

    CURRY: -- no matter how young you are...

    Ms. WALKER: Yes, absolutely.

    CURRY: ...and then how much should you be donating?

    Ms. WALKER: It can make a big difference. We crunched some numbers over two decades, we found that someone that puts the maximum into their 401(k) vs. someone that puts the typical 7 percent money in of their income gets about $36,000 more, and that's after paying taxes.

    CURRY: Mm.

    Ms. WALKER: So it can make a significant amount of money . You can put $16,500 away if you're under age 50 and an additional $5,500 more.

    Ms. CHATZKY: And here's the thing, right, if you're putting 3 percent into your 401(k),4 percent, just increase it by a percentage point, just try it out. I guarantee you're not going to miss that you're doing it, so then you take it up by another percentage point and eventually you get to that max, just test the waters a little bit.


    Ms. WALKER: And matches are -- matches are up this year...

    Ms. CHATZKY: Yeah.

    Ms. WALKER: ...which is the good news about 401(k).

    CURRY: There you go.

    Ms. WALKER: More companies are reinstating them that had eliminated them and more are adding them, which is great.

    CURRY: All right. So there's some good news in terms of this world...

    Ms. CHATZKY: Absolutely.

    CURRY:'re trying to get us to. OK. Also, you say, consider using home equity . How?

    Ms. CHATZKY: Well, you can tap your home equity in the form of refinancing your mortgage...

    CURRY: Mm.

    Ms. CHATZKY: ...or, which is not the easiest thing to do right now, by the way, the paperwork is a complete bear, or...

    CURRY: Yeah, but the rates are so low people want to do it.

    Ms. CHATZKY: The rates have popped a little bit...

    CURRY: Oh.

    Ms. CHATZKY: ...but they're -- it's still worth doing for a lot of people. But home equity lines of credit are more available than they used to be. And look, I've had this debt diet out there for a long time, it -- on my Web site ; when you look at it, the most popular thing that people want to do is find the money to pay back that debt. Reducing their interest rates , borrowing cheaper, using home equity debt is a terrific way to do that. But you got to make sure that you don't go out and charge those credit cards right back up again. So if you don't think you have the willpower to leave your hands off the plastic, you've got to leave the home equity alone.

    CURRY: We have two more to get to.

    Ms. WALKER: Remember, you put your house at risk in that, so it can be risky, so.

    CURRY: OK. All right, we have two more to get to and not a lot of time. Get your portfolio in shape. How?

    Ms. WALKER: Well, you want to make sure you've got the right asset allocation for your future goals. They are online, calculators and questionnaires that can help, Vanguard 's got a great one, so you can make sure you've got the right overall asset allocation . You want to check it about once a year to make sure you're still in the right place .

    Ms. CHATZKY: And if you're not going to do it, just put your money in a target date retirement fund, they are not perfect but they will keep you balanced if you're not going to do it yourself.

    CURRY: And last but not least, be smart with that tax refund that is going to come in.

    Ms. CHATZKY: You're going to get $3,000, use it to pay back some debt, use it to save, split the difference.

    CURRY: Pay the debt, don't go buy off -- buy yourself a brand-new coat without having done that is what you're saying.


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments

Data: Latest rates in the US

Home equity rates View rates in your area
Home equity type Today +/- Chart
$30K HELOC FICO 3.79%
$30K home equity loan FICO 4.99%
$75K home equity loan FICO 4.69%
Credit card rates View more rates
Card type Today +/- Last Week
Low Interest Cards 13.83%
Cash Back Cards 17.80%
Rewards Cards 17.18%