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Virginia Ironside: Can I avoid lending a colleague money without feeling mean?

I've been asked by a colleague at work to lend him €500. I earn considerably more than he does, by the way. It is just to tide him over for a couple of months and I have no doubt I would get it back.

Despite several bad experiences, and having resolved never to lend money to anyone again, I'm finding it hard to say "no", as he is a particularly good colleague. Have you any ideas about how I can get out of this without hurting his feelings or, worse, seeming mean?

Yours sincerely, Diane

Virginia says . . .

I wonder why this man is asking you for money, rather than some male colleague or, even better, some member of his own family who might feel honour-bound to help him out of a tight spot. Is it because he's too ashamed? Or is it because he sees you as a soft touch? Or perhaps you've been rather too open about your bigger earnings and he feels resentful?

I've often been asked to lend people money and with one exception -- a Russian masseuse who never repaid it -- they have all been men. Rather feckless men. I think a woman is usually both too organised to have to ask for a loan and too proud to do so. Is it that some men see money as just jolly stuff to splash around, to be shared and spent in a raffish, bohemian way, rather than as the result of hard work, to be logged, recorded, and accounted for? Is it seen as rather masculine and classy to have a disregard for money, and rather female to be the tight-wad guarding the purse-strings?

You ask how you can wriggle out of this without seeming mean but just by asking you he has already been incredibly mean. He has put you in a position where you either say "yes", which you don't want to do, or "no", which makes you feel stingy. A good friend would not even consider putting you in that position. And, however much these blokes may protest that "I'd always lend you money if you needed it!", it's odd that this situation never seems to arise.

However, he has made the request, so what do you do? If you can afford it, you could always give him the money in return for a post-dated cheque (in case he drops dead or falls under a bus in the interim). And then, once you've cashed the cheque, you can say to him: "Look, we're all square now. But I'd rather you never, ever put me in that position again."

Or you could put him in just as difficult a spot as he's put you. You could say: "I never lend money. But I will give you €100 towards your loan. Why don't you ask some other friends at the office for €100 each?"

Oddly, borrowers never like to be given money -- that usually does make them feel rather lowly. Taking makes them feel rotten, but borrowing, for some reason, makes them feel fine.

Or you could ask some mutual friend to say to him: "I'm telling you this in confidence, but Diane is in a difficult position financially at the moment, though she doesn't want anyone to know and is agonising over this loan you've asked for." The idea that the whole office is starting to know of his unreasonable request should make him retract the idea pretty swiftly.

Readers say . . .

Give him the money

Since you clearly can afford it, you could consider giving the €500 to your colleague, only under the proviso that he will pass on the same amount (or whatever is within his means) to someone else who is in need of financial support.

My father, a long time ago, received an anonymous envelope with bank notes, along with a typed note stating the above condition. It took him years before he could repeat the gesture, but once he had, he felt great about it. It is not the amount of money involved that's important, it's the lack of pressure to "pay back". You eventually "pass it on". A very different feeling.

M Harris, Kildare

Try a little white lie

A little lie here and there helps the medicine go down. Perhaps you can say someone in your family is having mortgage/redundancy problems and you need to help them out.

Besides, I can't believe that he has no family or close friends, rather than a work colleague, whom he can ask for the money -- maybe he has and he has worked his way through them all?

I'm still waiting for the return of €50 borrowed nearly a year ago. This has completely soured my relationship with a friend.

Now I'm out of pocket and I've lost a friend.

Dave, by email

Help him out

How much do you need this €500? Can you afford to lose it? If yes, then lend it to the poor soul and forget it. Agree with yourself that it is a gift, but give it as a loan. This way, if he repays you it is a bonus, and if not, you will have done a good turn to someone going through a bad patch. Make sure he knows this is a one-off and that it is not to be discussed with other colleagues.

J Stevens, Dun Laoghaire

Heed this advice

This is my advice to Diane: "Neither a borrower nor a lender be; For loan oft loses both itself and friend, And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry." Hamlet 1:3

Anne, by email

Money changes people

I have struggled with the very same issue only this week. A guy at work I have become friends with asked me to lend him €70 on behalf of his adult daughter. I trust him and have no doubt he needs the money and will indeed spend it on his daughter and, I'm sure, pay me back. I also earn more than him.

However, after much thought I have resolved to say "no" because, however nice a colleague is, money can change people and sour relationships.

Advising him on avenues of help if he is struggling financially (however counter-intuitive it feels) is the "right" thing to do. You being a source of cash -- in this case a fairly large amount -- is not going to help him learn to manage money better or live to his means.

Kate, by email

Steer well clear

I think what you really need to ask yourself is why he has chosen you to approach for money. Colleagues, however friendly we are with them, are not generally the first port of call. It seems likely he has already borrowed from family and friends, and may have rather chaotic finances. So you should not get involved.

B Brewster, by email