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I recently received, out of the blue, a text message from a friend which very much surprised me.

In the message, my friend mentions that I borrowed her Netflix account for about a month (she said she calculated this from going back and looking at her browsing history in Netflix) and as a result, wishes me to pay for half the cost of a month of Netflix, or about $10.

I do not feel I owe this person anything. First, there was no mention of payment at the time I borrowed their Netflix. Second, around the time this happened, I was helping her a lot with various computer problems she was having. Third, this happened about 4 to 5 months ago. Fourth, she could and was using Netflix at the time. Whether I used it or not would not affect her bill.

She is asking me to meet me tomorrow to collect payment as she will return to her home country after that. How can I tell her I will not be paying her? We have friends in common so ideally I would like to do so gently.

Some things I've thought of telling her:

  • Tell her I will pay her after she pays me for the tech support time I've spent with her (maybe this will make her realize how ridiculous her request is)

  • Ask her a series of questions to hopefully make her discover that her request is ridiculous (ie: "Was payment mentioned at the time?" etc.)

  • Tell her I am busy and will not be able to meet her (which could backfire if she asks me to send the money to her local bank account or give the money to one of her friends)

  • 6
    Is it possible she is short on money? – Divisadero Feb 15 '18 at 10:59
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    Can you clarify your goals in this? Dont you want to pay the 10er because it is expensive for you or do you deem it unfair? Do you want to stay friends with her or just not upset your social circle? Is it more important for you to be right or to be good company. – user6109 Feb 15 '18 at 15:17
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    From the information you gave, it sounds very petty. An important question is: how did you come about "borrowing" her Netflix account? Did she offer to you the right to use it for some period of time? – Noldorin Feb 15 '18 at 18:42
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    @Noldorin, when she came to me to ask me to fix her PC, I asked her if she minded me using her Netflix. She said there was no problem and logged into her account on my PC (I did not ask for her password). – Supreme Grand Ruler Feb 16 '18 at 3:04
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    @sudowoodo, I am aware of Netflix's pricing model but nonetheless, I clarified this with her and she confirmed she was not charged extra due to my use of her Netflix. – Supreme Grand Ruler Feb 16 '18 at 3:11

10 Answers 10

188

What a sad turn of events and potentially a sour note to end her time abroad and to leave friendships on, I’m sorry that you have to deal with this.

My first reaction is to wonder what is behind her move, and I think that how you deal with it may depend on what has prompted her action.

The situation, as you have explained it, is that she is preparing to leave the country you are both in to go back to her home country. I wonder if, in the process of tidying up her affairs, settling up accounts etc in preparation for that departure, she is finding herself with unanticipated costs to meet and has in a panic started trying to ‘recoup’ expenses. This would not of course justify asking you to pay for something that you understood to be in the nature of a quid pro quo for your assistance with her computers, but it might explain where she is coming from.

(This is assuming that you are correct in your assessment that there was no additional cost to her in your use of the service. I’ve never used Netflix and am not familiar with the business model, but before you go too much further with this you should double check that you didn’t watch some kind of premium content that was billable, or some kind of content that she is embarrassed to see on her account.)

It is also possible that your use of Netflix has been annoying her ever since it occurred and she is asking for this contribution as part of assuring herself that she has not allowed herself to be taken advantage of during her time in the country. That is not to say she is correct but people’s perspectives on things that upset them often aren’t.

Whatever the driver for this monetary claim, the fact that she would go to this effort, which might well be confrontational and unpleasant for her as well, for such a modest sum suggests that it is a big deal to her. It is possible that the ten dollars has become in some way emblematic for the real issue.

How you tell her that you won’t be paying depends in part what you want to achieve. Do you care whether you salvage the friendship, do you want to stay in touch with her, do you care about how it looks to mutual friends, do you want to understand her motivation, do you want her to understand that you are hurt and offended by her action?

Because there are a number of imponderables, I can’t write you a failsafe script, but I can suggest that when you meet her you try something like this:

I was really surprised that you thought I had been ignoring a debt to you. I had understood the Netflix thing to be just part of the give and take of being friends, like how I helped you with your computers when you needed it. I hate the idea that you think I wouldn’t honour a true debt, but this is so strange and out of the blue that I am not sure it’s really about Netflix at all. Is there something else behind this, something that is worrying or upsetting you… can you tell me about that? As your friend?

If she sticks to the issue being your use of Netflix and you are set on not giving her the money then there is no point in pursuing matters into an argument, you have both stated your case to no avail and a fight won’t change that.

I really am sorry that that’s how you see things, and how you see me, but I’m not going to clear a debt that never existed. If there is nothing else you want to talk to me about… know that I enjoyed being your friend and though this makes me sad, I wish you happiness for the future.

And leave.

  • 42
    I tried this along with Flater's answer. Unfortunately, her main and sole argument was that "everyone else paid her" so I should pay her too. The diplomatic option did not work so I had to firmly state I would not pay her back. Unfortunately, things took a turn for the worse and she assaulted me and I had to call security after she saw meby chance on campus. – Supreme Grand Ruler Feb 16 '18 at 3:10
  • Please keep comments on topic. If you would like to suggest improvements to the answer, that's fine; please stay away from side conversations. – HDE 226868 Feb 20 '18 at 14:49
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  • Tell her I am busy and will not be able to meet her (which could backfire if she asks me to send the money to her local bank account or give the money to one of her friends)

Lying is inherently devoid of interpersonal skills. It's not impossible to do so, but it's a bit out of scope for a question on IPS.
Furthermore, two wrongs don't make a right. If you lie to her, and your shared frieds get wind of this, they may see you as equally (or more) in the wrong.


  • Tell her I will pay her after she pays me for the tech support time I've spent with her (maybe this will make her realize how ridiculous her request is)

  • Ask her a series of questions to hopefully make her discover that her request is ridiculous (ie: "Was payment mentioned at the time?" etc.)

I would suggest a combination of both. Point out the discrepancy between having to pay for sharing her Netflix, yet not being paid for the tech support you offered.

Ideally, you'd want to use the Socratic method. This approach means that she is essentially destroying her own justification for needing compensation for Netflix, by having her explain why she feels that she doesn't need to pay for the tech support.

A simple example:

A - Hey, can you pay me half of the Netflix bill please?
B - I wasn't aware that we agreed on splitting the cost when you shared your account details with me.
A - It's only fair to split the cost.
B - Why?

At this point, she'll have to justify her claim that compensation is warranted. I'm not sure what she'll say, but in order to be a relevan justification, it will have to boil down to "things aren't free".

After she has established this herself, you can turn the tables on her by bringing up the tech support.

B - I had assumed that our friendship precluded the need for billing each other for favors. That's why I didn't ask for compensation when I helped you with [tech problems].

There are several possible responses for her.

  • She backs down.

Problem solved!

  • She gets offended at your insinuation that compensation is needed for tech support.

You can point back at her request for compensation for Netflix, and mention that you could be equally offended by her request.

  • She argues that it's not the same; and maintains the point that you need to compensate her but she doesn't need to compensate you.

There's little you can do at this point. If she pushes her argument again while dismissing your (reasonable) mention that the offered tech support more than makes up for the cost of the Netflix subscription, then she is willing to risk the friendship over this dispute.

If you wish to keep this friendship at all costs, then you should yield and give her what she wants. This is not a good approach, but there may be external factors why you'd want to remain in her good graces.

However, I would at this point demote the conversation to nothing more than a business transaction. She is making a business argument, so you should respond in kind.

There are a few possible responses here, depending on how you want to approach this.

If you're unsure how to approach it, or how strongly she feels about this issue; ask her why she is suddenly bringing this up.

Her answer can reveal to you whether she genuinely thought you'd compensate her (which isn't malevolent) or if she's trying to make some easy money by "morally suing" you for not paying for a favor (which is not how a friend should behave).

This can help you decide between the other two listed options.

If you think she is knowingly trying to force your hand unfairly, you should flat out refuse her request, explain why, and end the conversation there.

As there was no agreement about splitting the cost of the subscription, she cannot argue that you promised to pay her. She has no legal recourse. She might try to use your shared friends against you, but you can easily disable that argument by (a) repeating the "tech support" justification to your friends and (b) pointing out that it was never agreed upon.

If your friend blindly takes her side, and doesn't even consider your side of the story, then they are not your friend. Pure and simple.

If you think this was not malevolent (e.g. she may be honestly underestimating the effort of the tech support provided); you can walk her through the effort it took you to do everything.

You can list many relevant things here:

  • The time it took.
  • The complexity of the issues.
  • How long it has taken you to learn the needed skills to be able to help with the issue.
  • What it would cost her if she went to an IT shop for the same support.

Try to come up with a reasonable low-balled estimate of what it would cost her, and then contrast that to the $10 for the Netflix subscription. For the rest of the answer, let's assume you low-ball a tech support compensation of $35, i.e. she owes you $25 after subtracting the Netflix subscription compensation.

Personally, if the conversation reaches this point, I would ask her for the $25, repeatedly. Using the same approach that she used. I would try to use phrases that mimic her initial request for compensation, trying to use her words against her.
This way, if anyone else gets involved in this dispute, you can easily point back at her initial statements. This quickly shows to your friend that you're merely treating her the same way she treated you, while also avoiding coming across as the unprovoked aggressor in this dispute.

However, a more IPS-focused approach would be to offer the option of neither of you owing money to each other; as this was the initial implicit deal and you'd prefer to avoid this dispute altogether. Something along the lines of:

Even though I could ask you for the $35 compensation for my help with [tech problems], I'd prefer it if we simply let this go. I wasn't expecting to split the cost of the Netflix subscription, just like I wasn't expecting to be compensated for my time and effort helping you. I considered both as a friendly favor, with no attached cost.
In the future, if and when you feel uncomfortable doing a favor for free, I would prefer it if we address the money issue beforehand.

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    "Lying is inherently devoid of interpersonal skills." -- the other way of looking at it, would be that it's a rather powerful interpersonal skill, that is, if you're so inclined and can pull it off. – ilkkachu Feb 19 '18 at 21:07
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To preserve the relationship, pay the 10 and do not provide any computer support again and don't borrow the Netflix account again either.

An important thing to remember with interpersonal skills is that misunderstandings about money have ended many a relationship. In the future whenever dealing with a friend have the money issue ironed out first.

Hey, thanks for letting me borrow your Netflix, do you want me to throw you a few bucks?

or

Sure, I can fix your computer, I normally charge $50 for this, is $20 okay with you?

or

Normally I charge for this, but this one is on the house!

But make sure that money is discussed before you borrow, loan, do professional favors for or receive them from friends.

Sharpen this one skill and avoid problems in the future

  • I like this answer. Personally when any of my friends require anything that would require my professional skills, I charge them half my usual rate. I also have other friends who charge me half their usual rate, such as my friend who is a hair stylist, who usually charges £20 for upto an hour of his time, but only charges me £10. In return I built him a website which I would usually charge £300, but charged £150. – John Bell Feb 16 '18 at 10:55
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    I also like this answer, but I just want to point out that with most people I wouldn't say "do you want me to throw you a few bucks?" for small quantities; I would just say I'll get an extra round of drinks sometime, pay for dinner, etc. But this is certainly a cultural thing. For example, if the friend's home country is — oh, I don't know — the Netherlands, I'd expect her to be much more frank and comfortable about direct money transfers, so I would be comfortable offering to go Dutch, as suggested here. – Mike Feb 20 '18 at 15:44
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Not paying her will end the friendship, no matter how you say it. Actually: not paying it will show that you recognize that she wishes to end the friendship, because I believe that's what's happening.

Her emotional transition out of "your" world and back into "hers" may be very confusing for her, and it may be manifesting in a feeling that she needs to quantify her links and close them off. Effectively she wants to convert this relationship from a friendship to one which she can quantify, balance and close.

It may be the least painful way in which she can part. Or it may reflect a longstanding feeling that your relationship with her was more one-sided than you realize.

For ten bucks, I'd pay her. I might say something like, "Gosh, I'm sorry I didn't offer it sooner, I guess I though it was just part of our trading favours back and forth, like helping you with your computers. Had I not used your account I guess you could have closed it a month sooner." Possibly that's a bit on the passive-aggressive side but I think it summarizes the only reasonable reasons, that I can see, which would justify her position. (And if it was you who had broached the matter of borrowing her account, frankly, it may be quite reasonable after all.)

She can reconsider her outlook, if she wants, and get back in touch with you and let you know that she didn't manage her transition very well, and appreciate that you rode it through with her graciously. Meanwhile you can honestly say there's nobody on the planet that thinks you owe them. The moral high ground is worth $10 to me.

  • Half of the world subsists on $1 per day. How much it is worth "back home" depends on where "back home" is. In the US it's probably a cup or two of Starbucks. Maybe she is beginning to realize/regret just how much "back home" money she has "thrown away" and is trying to "get some of it back"? – Mawg Feb 20 '18 at 14:41
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    Yes, I think this is part of it. The mental transition is probably huge. Am I bringing as much back as I should? Have I wasted what I earned here? But I'm also thinking more and more that her view of this relationship was rather different that the poster's perspective. There may have been other aspects that make her feel "used" and this $10 is just one small way to feel that some part of it has been gotten back. – CCTO Feb 21 '18 at 17:07
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Compose a simple statement which succinctly expresses the situation and your feelings:

I was allowed to borrow your account as a favor and I will not pay for this as it has not incurred you any additional costs.

The best way is typically the simplest way; express the situation as you understand it and the actions you will or will not take.

What I consider best about simple approaches is that they are easily repeatable. She may of course ask you to pay up anyway for a myriad of reasons but you can simply state that you were allowed to borrow the account as a favor again. Repeat that it has not caused her any increased costs. If a common friend asks about the situation you can just as easily repeat the above statement as it clearly expresses the situation and your stance on it.

Make no elaborate statements or concoct extravagant plans on how to convince her. Avoid guilt tripping her by bringing up your tech support activities, lest you want to start playing the same game as her, and do not expect her to come to the conclusion that you don't her any money by a long aggravating series of questions.

7

It is unimaginable that somebody would.reasonably feel justified in retroactively billing someone for watching Netflix. That is like billing my guests when they watch TV with me.

What is more likely happening is that the girl is in financial trouble and too afraid to talk about it.

What I suggest is meeting her, talking and trying to sound out her root problem. If she is in trouble, tell her you will not pay her Netflix, but you will give her 10$ as a friend.

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    Among the rules of friendship are trust and generosity. If you're willing to give her $10 as a friend, trust that she has her reasons and be generous with her. Don't bother upsetting both parties by telling her you will not pay Netflix; just do it and go in a more positive direction. – Mike Feb 20 '18 at 15:35
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    No way man. The girl is trying to rip me off. It is not her friendship I am interested in. She is grabbing cash before she leaves to where 10 dollars buys you a house. It is our mutual friends I am trying to preserve. – Sentinel Feb 20 '18 at 21:22
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    Are you the same person as Supreme Grand Leader? Because that last comment suddenly sounds like it. Anyway, the OP used the word "friend" six times, including once in the title and once in the tags. If this is really what you think of the person, you shouldn't call her a friend. Acquaintance, associate, or contact would be more appropriate there. – Mike Feb 20 '18 at 21:32
  • No I was playing the role because you said "If you're willing" so I just came back at you with how I would see it. Friend, yeah, until she came begging for cash on a false premise. Honestly if it was me I would give her 100 dollars and tell her to go jump off a bridge. – Sentinel Feb 20 '18 at 21:41
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    Ever hear the saying "cut off your nose to spite your face"? Honestly, such bitterness does more harm to you than to its target. – Mike Feb 21 '18 at 1:38
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There are a lot of answers here but none of them cut to the core of this issue:

Is your friendship with her worth more or less than the $10 she is asking for?

At the end of the day $10 is not a lot of money. Yes, I know some people are poor and on strict budgets, but when all is said and done I have—for example—tossed more than $10 on a table after splitting a meal with friends just to move one.

Don’t be “Penny wise, pound foolish.” when it comes to friendship.

That said, don’t just give her the $10 without making it clear how you feel. And without knowing the details, this is what I would say:

“Here is the $10 you have asked for. I’m giving this to you not because I believe I owe you for the Netflix, but rather I value our friendship and I know you will be leaving soon so I would rather get this out of the way instead of fostering ill will. I still respect you, but I think that moving forward if you do something for me and believe you are owed compensation, please let me know ahead of time. Money should not get between friends. And—to me—$10 is not worth the headaches we might both get dealing with this.”

Now that said, if she—or her friends—as you to do work, I would gently bring up the incident in a way that makes it clear what boundaries are. Something like:

“I’d gladly help you with your PC, but you need to know this is work to me. And I generally do not want to do work if I don’t have to. So if you really want me to help you fix this, I am going to have to ask you this: Would you mind paying me what you feel it’s worth to get this done? I’m not looking to get rich but at the end of the day I cannot have everyone I know just come up to me and ask me to fix things on a whim.”

Of course you are not bringing up the friend that demanded the $10, but on the chance that you are asked why you are doing this, feel free to say, “I don’t think XYZ is a bad person, but my dealings with her when I fixed her PC really forced me to make this decision. I value our friendship and I just want to make it clear that I can’t just be put in a position like that ever again.”

The reality is if your friends are genuinely friends, this kind of “straight talk” won’t damage anything.

Last Resort: Close the “Free Repair” business down.

Another tactic is painful and unpleasant but might be necessary: Just say “No…” and state you have no more time for doing this stuff. I don’t know what your schedule is but—for example—if a new semester starts, just say, “Look my course load is too hectic for me this year. I’d like to help but I can’t. Sorry.”

At the end of the day, honesty and clarity will solve issues like this. And if your “friends” judge you harshly for daring to say “No!” Well, they are not your friends and it’s better to move on from the “free computer repair” business than further foster a co-dependent relationships like these.

  • +1 But I think you miss another important point: That $10 isn't just buying her continued friendship (and potentially continued friendship of other mutual friends if she were to badmouth the OP in the event of non-payment), but also a more pleasant life for the OP. Fighting for every little scrap in our lives — especially against someone who is presumably hard up for some cash during a major life transition — is unhealthy for ourselves. For your own good, just give her the $10 and reward yourself with a walk in the park on the way home. – Mike Feb 20 '18 at 15:33
3

Scenario 1: You will pay her under no circumstance.

In this case, refer to the logic behind the presumption of innocence. You don't have to clarify beforehand that it's free, she has to clarify that it will cost you. She has all the power of granting or denying you the access to the account so she has the responsibility to clearly state the terms before doing so.

Say some variation of:

I was under the impression that it wasn't going to cost me, and you made no effort to notify me it was. I'd not have agreed to pay if you did and I'm not agreeing now.

If you want an example:

What if you went to a supermarket and there was a stand where someone offered you a free sample product. There was no indication that it wasn't free. You took it and at checkout after walking away with it, the security guard stopped you and told you that you have to pay for it. How would you feel?

Scenario 2: You're willing to pay given certain circumstances.

I'd ask her why she wants it, whether it's because she needs that money or if she just feels that she's entitled to it. Of course, it depends on how close you are, but if she is in need and under the impression that you have the means to help, then it's probably a case of her feeling awkward for asking for help, or not wanting to be in debt. In that case, I recommend you try work that out and give her the money, it's not so much to break a relationship up over.

You'd basically be saying:

I won't pay for a favor (you can use the above reasoning) but I will gladly give you a small loan. If you don't want to be in debt, we can just say you let me borrow your Netflix so we're even.

This sends the message that you are the one doing her a favor, if you don't clarify this, she might ask money for another favor in the future. Not necessarily but I don't know what she's like so it's best to keep it straight.

  • 1
    While I'm not madly keen on your scenarion 1, because I generally am not a fan of 'I'm right because X is immutable' approaches, I think your Scenario 2 is a very elegant approach that I wish I'd thought of myself. +1 – Spagirl Feb 15 '18 at 14:44
  • 'I'm right because X is immutable' I'm not sure I understanding that but If I am, that's just a consequence of handling a situation while being oblivious to context. Edit: pressed enter accidentally: If I want to get an outcome, no matter what, then the best solution is the one that is hardest to attack logically or legally, not the one that causes the least amount of collateral damage. – Péter Simon Feb 15 '18 at 14:53
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I'm sorta with @spagirl; I reckon there is something behind the request and coming up short on returning home expenses the most likely scenario.

However, unless there is a high likelihood that she is ticked off with you using her Netflix account, I would suggest a different approach, one more along the lines of: "I'm not going to pay you for using Netflix - I don't believe I owe you money for that. However I am prepared to give you the $10 if you need it" and hand her the money.

Optional Extra:

Then, depending on your generosity and the value of the friendship, ask if she needs more money as you would rather give it than have her make up similar excuses to get money from other friends. If she mentions an inability to repay you, tell her not to worry about it till she comes back to wherever you are.

2

Say:

No, I won't pay you. I never agreed to paying you for using your Netflix.

Be kind and open for friendship. She might have her reasons.

Are you having financial troubles? I'm willing to help you in an other way.

This way you can keep the honor to yourself. She might respond by asking for a loan and never pay you back. But 'hey' at least you kept your honor. Perhaps after ten or twenty years she realizes she was wrong. If not, think twice before receiving any 'gifts' from her. Even better would be to refuse any gifts from her.

protected by Community Feb 15 '18 at 17:13

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