Jun 23, 2018

How to say no to friends and family that want to borrow money

The common dilemma: to borrow or not to borrow

Asking friend or family to lend you money doesn’t feel good, but to reject those asking you is not easy either.

When facing such situation, most people don’t like to lend their money out, but most people doesn’t want the relationship to go sour just because of small amount of money either. When facing this situation, what can you do?

The wrong way: “how much do you need?”

A common response is to ask, “how much do you need?”

But that is a big mistake.

First, when you focus the conversation on “how much”, it means you already lose the opportunity to reject the request. (The thought that flows through the requestor would be something like this: “Hmm… if he do not want to borrow, he wouldn’t even care to ask how much. Since he ask, he would at least lend me some. ” )

Secondy, unless you could lend him the full amount straightaway, the negotiation of the amount itself would cause the money lending no longer seen as an act of favour. (The thought that goes through the person would likely be: “Huh… after negotiation then only willing to lend me this amount, although I got it but I feel insulted somehow.“)

The conversation would be something like this:

“Hey Malcolm, I have some financial difficulty recently. Can I borrow money from you?”

“How much do you need?”


“Ouch, I’m quite tight myself too. Why don’t I lend you $200, is it ok?”

“Haih, that is too little. Please, just see it as a favour to old friend, can you lend me more?”

“Hmm… let me think…”

These awkward and uncomfortable interaction continue throughout the whole conversation. From this, we can see that emphasis on “how much” is inappropriate. Because when the discussion point is on amount, everytime the requester begging for more is like questioning you:

“How much are you willing to give out?”

“How much cash do you have now?”

“How much do you think our relationship worth?”

And these questions are hard to answer, because telling lies is against our conscience, but telling truth is against our wallet, regardless, we’re unhappy. In most cases, lending the money after negotiation is worse than reject the request straightaway.

The solution: don’t care the amount, care the reason

The first step to handle friend and family want to borrow money from you is to ask “why?”

The difference is that when discuss on “how much”, the pressure is on us, but when discuss about “why need to borrow money?”, the pressure goes to the person himself, because he is obligated to give a reason. Besides, by being curious about the reason, it also shows that we’re a caring person.

Usually, there are only two type of reasons:

  1. Emergency

For example, family need huge money for medicine etc. When this happens, we would likely be help as much as we can without having sour feeling. Or we can go one step further, just give the money as a present (angpao).

  1. To avoid interest

For example, borrow money for the downpayment of house/car, to reduce the amount of interest to bank.

Frankly, this is like treating us as a bank without interest. If we borrow money due to this reason, the relationship would becomes debtor-creditor, we’ve become another bank that keep chasing them.

But this doesn’t mean that you should responds with “Borrow money to buy house? Huh, no way!“. Instead, the appropriate response is to confirm the underlying reason by giving an affimative remarks, e.g.

“Orhhh… not enough money for house downpayment. I understand, houses are just too expensive nowadays.”

When we’re agreeing with them, they would likely explaning further that it’s not that they want to buy house, but because of pressure from wife etc. And that give us a very good reason to reject them.

“I want to borrow money for my house downpayment. Could you help?”

“Yeah, houses are damn expensive man.”

“I initially also don’t want to buy house, but my wife insist that a family must have our own place.”

“I feel you man… my wife also pressuring me recently, so I’m also tight myself, sorry I can’t help bro.”

Now, since both of you also facing the same kind of pressure, pursuing same goal, he can’t be pressuring you further, saying “but my wife give me more pressure!!!”

The effectiveness of this trick is that, when someone give a reason, he would think that that reason is persuasive, therefore it is hard for him to pressure you when the same situation is happening to you.

Final thoughts

This article explains how to respond in the situation when someone want to borrow money from you, but to borrow or not to borrow is actually depends on your principle to relationship and money. For instance, in most Malaysian Chinese family, parents feel obligated to borrow their children money for their house downpayment (or even buy a house for them), but in Western culture that is not a norm.

Also, you may think that learning trick to handle family/friend is deceiving, but remember, lending money to our family/friend is never an obligation; putting more thought on handling the conversation to make sure the relationship doesn’t go sour, is an act of maturity.


The content of this article is mainly excerpted from the Chinese book “好好说话”。Highly recommended if you can read Chinse.

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