Ask The Readers — What to do When Someone Abuses Your Trust

by Katy on August 14, 2012 · 34 comments

I recently received an e-mail from Sharon, a Non-Consumer Advocate reader who needs some help with a delicate situation. She’s hoping you might steer her in a direction of how to best deal with her issue. (By the way I’ve changed a few details, to protect her anonymity.)

Here’s her question:

We know some people that are in hard times like us, and to help them out we lent them an expensive useful item. Unfortunately part of it was nearly broken and there were some dents.  However, my question is this: in lending, loaning and/or renting our items to share, where do we draw the line? I do not ever want to let anyone use our things again.

This a hard one. I too make my belongings available to friends and family as needed, and so far I haven’t had anyone abuse the privilege.

My mother has a phrase she uses when she’s broaching difficult subjects, which is to say to the person, “I have an issue I need your help with,” and she then asks the guilty party what she should do. This technique puts the person in the role of problem solver rather than a place of defense. It also lets the person know that you take the situation seriously.

I would also suggest that she goes into any conversation with an idea of what she wants, whether it’s monetary compensation or just an apology. But she would also need to go into that conversation knowing that neither might happen.

How about you, have you dealt with a similar situation or have any advice for Sharon? Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

Steph August 14, 2012 at 11:30 pm

Hi Sharon, this isn’t a nice thing to happen. On GRS recently there was an article about how being too nice can cost you money (eg tipping too much). You should check it out (Katy, is it allowed to put links to other blogs?). I would broach the subject with your friend. You shouldn’t feel bad about that after all they put you in this position when you tried to help them out. It’s not easy though, good luck whatever you decide to do.


Anne Cross August 15, 2012 at 2:20 am

I’ve heard people say “never loan anyone anything with the expectation that you’ll ever get it back,” which used to strike me as totally absurd.

I have loaned people things that they have broken or lost and I used to get quite upset about it — especially the non-acknowledgement of the breakage or loss — but now I treat it as a nice surprise if someone borrows something and returns it in good shape.


Carol August 15, 2012 at 4:37 am

Wow, that is a tough one. I was brought up to return things promptly in as good or better condition. If I was to damage/break something, I’d offer to replace it. : (
I’d definately raise the issue, it’ll eat at the friendship otherwise. I like the intro you suggested, good “ice breaker.” Good luck



Linda H. August 15, 2012 at 11:35 am

I agree with Carol. I would be mortified if I damaged something that I had borrowed and would definitely replace it. I think I would ask the friend nicely if she noticed that it had been broken while in her care and see what she says. Maybe her husband used the item and he failed to mention to her that he had broken it and she didn’t realize it was damaged? I would not necessarily make a policy never to lend things again, but I would not lend anything to this particular friend again unless she made good on the broken item.


Amy August 15, 2012 at 5:07 am

I also never loan anything that I care too much about, expecting it to never come back to me or to come back worse for the wear. That being said, now that the deed is done, approaching the friend like your mom suggested is the best way to go. Whatever the outcome, remember that the reason you loaned a friend your stuff in the first place was to help someone who needed a hand. Don’t let this bad experience change who you are. Sometimes when you do a good thing you get burned, but the good remains.


Elle August 15, 2012 at 5:38 am

First off, was the broken part the most used part of the item? If so, it is likely that it was a time bomb waiting to break after so many uses anyway. If the breakage/denting was unintentional or happened during proper use of the item, you really can’t be too upset at your friend. If you share this item often with this friend, you may want to consider jointly purchasing a new one. Now, if the damage occurred when your friend chucked it across the room, then I would probably not loan them anything I cared about again. Talk to them about your concerns, otherwise you will harbor bad feelings towards them every time you see them.

As my husband says, “no one cares for you/your stuff more than yourself.” Damage is a risk you take when lending out your tools/whatever.


Reese August 15, 2012 at 5:58 am

I sort of think of things like this: You are loaning an item. At that point, it’s 50% yours (because you paid for it and rightfully own it), and 50% theirs (they’re borrowing it, and are using it). If something happens to that item, I’d say you should pay 50% of the cost, and they should pay 50% of the cost (especially if the item was in good condition when it was loaned out!).

I think if you think of it this way, sharing the replacement costs, it’s a lot easier to swallow. They might be more open to helping, and you won’t feel so bad about replacing all of it!


Lili@creativesavv August 15, 2012 at 6:34 am

I have lent things and had them come back damaged. For me, personally, I felt the friendship or family relationship was more important than the thing, and I paid for repairs, or put up with dents/dings. But this was never really expensive equipment, so that may discount my opinion.

Now, currently I have a friend who seems to be abusing our friendship by always asking for things for free (without ever reciprocating), free sourdough starter (a couple of times), free babysitting from me or my daughters, on several occasions, free coffee at Starbucks (using gift cards that were my birthday present), free plants and veggies from my garden. These are trivial things, but they all add up to someone abusing my good nature and my desire to help someone learn some frugal skills. I have recently begun declining her requests, as I feel she isn’t valuing our friendship. Is this wrong of me?


Lisa Under the Redwoods August 15, 2012 at 7:15 am

I don’t think it is at all wrong of you to decline a request you don’t feel comfortable with. Some people have no problem asking for the moon and don’t feel in the least bit put out if they don’t get it. The “if you don’t ask the answer will always be no” mentality taken to the extreme.

Looking on the optimistic side maybe your friend is just a bit socially stunted. Do you think she would be more likely to reciprocate if you suggested things? Maybe you could ask her over for coffee and to help you weed your garden.


Lili@creativesavv August 15, 2012 at 7:41 am

Hi Lisa, thanks for responding. Your insights are dead-on. I love the phrase “socially stunted”. I will try guiding her towards better friendship behavior. Maybe she just doesn’t know how to do things differently and needs a bit of guidance.


Pollyanna August 15, 2012 at 7:49 am

Lili, I don’t think it’s wrong to start declining your friend’s requests. I am not a fan of attempting to keep track of favors, but when you’re not keeping track but you get the overall feeling of being taken advantage of, then it must be heavily one-sided. If this causes the friendship to fizzle a little (or a lot), then it may not be much of a loss. Enjoy her company without the hand-outs and see if it sustains.


Lili@creativesavv August 15, 2012 at 8:29 am

I do think I need to evaluate what our friendship is all about. Thanks for your advice.


Bauunny August 15, 2012 at 3:28 pm

No, I don’t think you are wrong at all….you sound very emotionally healthy. A healthy friendship is a two way street where both parties contribute to the care and feeding.


AnnW August 15, 2012 at 5:08 pm

Some people are just takers. They have no conscience about doing the right thing. They believed that they are entitled, or it isn’t a big deal, or that you should pay “because you can afford it.” It is no fun to be friends with a non generous person. I’m sure she never thought about giving you a loaf of bread. If she doesn’t get a hint, cut her off. Life is too short to be irritated by “friends.” Imagine if you were in big trouble, like your mother died, or someone was in a car accident, would this person step in to help you? If not, cut her off. I have been taken advantage of too many times in my life and I am done with it. (I think.)


Anne August 15, 2012 at 7:57 am

In my long life I have come across a vast number of “socially stunted” friendships. I now usually let them die a slow (or quick) death. I have never had them turn around to being more equal. And bringing up the inequality almost always made the person angry, no matter how politely I did it.

This is a much larger topic than just loaning material objects, of course, but it usually applies to all aspects of the relationship. One slowly realizes one is giving a WHOLE lot more than one is receiving.

In my opinion, it is a process that simply takes decades to figure out. What people are really my friends, and there for me when needed, and who is shockingly not there. As you get older you start to see the warning signs much earlier in the relationship, sometimes before it gets off the ground.

Getting back loaning things, I will be quite surprised, but pleased, if this person steps up and offers to pay for half the repairs when asked. I take care of this by not loaning anything valuable.

I’m sure we would all like to know the outcome from the OP.


ruthie August 15, 2012 at 8:22 am

What a great blog you have! I just fell onto it and am enjoying your money-saving tips.


ReneeO August 15, 2012 at 8:57 am

Every single time I have lent something out, it has come back broken or damaged. Or I have to beg to even get it back. I always feel so disappointed in the person that I lent it too. How can they be so thoughtless? So now, I only loan out things that I don’t care if they are returned or not. That way I don’t get upset.


Lindsey August 15, 2012 at 11:00 am

I have sort of the opposite problem with a friend/neighbor. She is always bringing over plates of food to share, garden produce, or dropping off a magazine she saw that she bought because she thought I might like it. I am pretty picky about what I eat and I have a HUGE garden that more than keeps us supplied over the summer and, because I freeze and can, over the winter. If I don’t grow it, like okra, it is probably because I don’t like it (like okra), so I really feel akward when she brings over a dinner (like okra) that she has made from something out of her garden (like okra)…I am thankful that I have such a nice neighbor and I have tried being honest. (As in, “I am not a big fan of okra.” Her response? “Oh, you have never had it the way I make it…”) I even told her I feel awkward with all the gifts and sahring of food. She said she doesn’t expect anything in return and “just likes giving.” I wish she WOULD ask to borrow something, so I would feel like this is not so one sided.


EcoCatLady August 15, 2012 at 12:46 pm

I have similar issues with my parents. They tend to “give” me lots of things that I don’t want, don’t like, and don’t need. Over the years I have come to realize that this sort of “giving” isn’t really helpful, and it isn’t really a true gift. A real gift takes in mind both the giver and the receiver. This sort of thing is more like “dumping” in my book. Not to mention the fact that it’s okra! Ewwwwww! Garden ectoplasm!


Jacquelyn August 15, 2012 at 11:05 am

My general rule is: don’t lend things. If I offer something to somebody, I assume I am not getting it back. That way, if it comes back, hooray! If I do not want to give something away, I do not offer to lend it. The reason I came up with this policy is that relationships are more important than stuff. If I lend you something, and you do not return it, or you return it in poor shape, that may put a strain on our relationship. But if I give you something, with no attachments to the item itself, then if it is returned in any condition, it is a bonus. And if I never see it again, it won’t make a difference in our relationship, because it was as good as a gift anyways. I’ve ‘loaned’ a book to a good friend before and never got it back – I was kind of disappointed until I decided that the book was a gift and our friendship was more important. I also loaned money to a friend (once!) and it took her a long while to pay me back. I decided that I’d rather consider it a gift than risk damaging our friendship. She did repay, but that was when I decided that just giving, rather than lending, is best between friends.


Practically Frugal August 15, 2012 at 11:11 am

It seems as if Sharon was trying to do the right thing and help out someone less fortunate. Unfortunately for her, she learned the hard way that few people respect your property more than you do.

Since the borrowers couldn’t afford to buy the item in the first place, she shouldn’t expect them to be able to fix it or buy a replacement. She now knows she cannot lend anything to those people ever again, no matter how desperate their need, whether they are friends or not. If they are friends that she wants to maintain a friendship with, she could generously offer to pay for them to rent the item from a local rent it business. She just needs to make sure they sign the rental contract and not her in case of anything happening to the item.

It really sucks when generosity gets trampled on and abused and can cause a person to think twice about ever being so generous again.

I learned the hard way a long time ago that the old adage, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be” works best for me. I may borrow things to (and from) my family, but never to friends or neighbors.


Ellie August 15, 2012 at 12:12 pm

I suppose the thing to do now is to try to have a civil conversation with your friend…”Uh, I noticed that when I got the widget back, the whattzit was broken and there were several new dings. Did something happen when you were using it?”

I guess I’d just want to see how the person reacts, because that tells you a lot. Do they apologize? Or do they deny it? Do they offer to try and pay you back? (If they did offer and I knew they were strapped for cash, I would probably decline the offer – but the act of offering would tell me something.) If the person says “Oh yeah, I, uh, meant to tell you, there was a mishap, um, I’ll try to pay you back, but I don’t have the money right now…” then I would tell them to forget it and stay friends – but I would refrain from loaning to them in the future. If they lie and deny it – well, then, do you really need a “friend” like that?

As a general rule, I will loan things, but not to anyone. We have friends who are “loan-worthy”, and those who are not. Funny thing is, it often doesn’t have much to do with how well we like the person, or how close we are. We have neighbors that we don’t know so well who we loan to and borrow from, because we know, and they know, that we’re both responsible lenders and borrowers – there’s sort of an “on the same page” sense of responsibility. On the other hand, we have a couple we are friends with and whose company we enjoy, but we would NEVER lend them anything because the truth is, they’re careless about possessions, and we don’t want them messing up our stuff.

The way I see it, we have different relationships – and different levels of trust – with different people. I’m not categorically opposed to loaning (or borrowing), but I will not do it for everyone – people have to earn (and keep) the right to be on my “loan-worthy” list. And I don’t think that’s unreasonable.


Robin August 15, 2012 at 2:40 pm

I agree completely with the way you do things!!


EcoCatLady August 15, 2012 at 1:00 pm

I think Ellie hit the nail on the head. Different people have very different attitudes towards their possessions. I learned that lesson the hard way by lending out some things that meant a lot to me and never getting them back… books, CD’s, even musical instruments! And pretty much in all cases when I’d ask the person to return the item, they would deny all knowledge of ever borrowing it in the first place!

So I think Jacquelyn has the best strategy. If you loan it out, you pretty much have to consider it a gift to that person, and if it comes back it’s a bonus.

All of this makes me rather sad on some level, because in a big picture way it would be soooo much better for us all if we could share. Maybe the key is to set some clear ground rules ahead of time. At this point in my life if someone asks to borrow something, I’m pretty upfront about my misgivings, and I tell them about the bad loaning experiences I’ve had in the past. That’s usually enough to put them on notice about my expectations. Still, I try to avoid the situation as much as possible.


Tara Morrison August 15, 2012 at 2:24 pm

I have a personal rule of thumb about borrowing. I never borrow an item from someone that if I were to break I could not replace. If it is a expensive piece of equipment we often times ask that person if they could help us with the job in return for equal help or other service we could provide ( I am a chef and people will do most anything for food!) For example, we have had a friend with a tractor who came an tilled our yard in exchange for a birthday party catered.


Michaela August 15, 2012 at 2:41 pm

Personally, I try and not let people borrow things anymore. Its not that I’m mean, but I have had enough items broken or never brought back that I’m just done.

The most recent dealbreaker for me was the BIL, who took my suitcase for a vacation and refused to give it back because he claimed after the vacation (two months later) it was “his”. I literally had to take the bag from him, and pull out the ID sewn into the liner to prove it was MINE. He still tried to say it was his, and I still took it with me despite him and his wife’s protests. Then later when he bought his house, he took some of our tools to fix a wall (I was not home when these were lent out). He immediately broke all three of my most expensive/most used tools – and I threw the biggest fit ever. Even his wife who tried to defend him was horrified at my reaction, but I was truly upset at what he did and initially he has no intention of replacing them (he claimed they were junk, despite being top quality items I had owned for years). He ended up replacing two of the tools with brand new items, and I’m still waiting for that third replacement tool. He was very upset when he realized the cost to replace them (along with having to buy his own tool because I would no longer allow him to use mine), and I gave my husband hell for allowing him to take them.

My advice is never lend it out if you truly expect it back. Most likely it will get messed up or never return.


Trish August 15, 2012 at 2:51 pm

These are all great suggestions by some very enlightened people – wow! That’s an interesting observation that people have different attitudes towards their possessions, and it puzzles me that people can’t realize that that is the case – in other words, people who have a more casual attitude evidently can’t grasp that others may have a more conservative attitude towards possessions. I lent a book that I loved to a fellow reader, and even though I see her regularly, and have asked several times for the return of the book, no result. It’s been 3 years!


AnnW August 15, 2012 at 5:23 pm

This almost sounds like a car. I would call them on it, and ask them what they intend to do about it. Some people are just super careless, that’s why they are always in trouble. If you are asked again, say, “Oh, I couldn’t.” Some people will walk all over you if given a chance.


Cheryl August 15, 2012 at 5:47 pm

To play the Devil’s Advocate, maybe the friend cannot afford to fix or replace the item. Maybe this person is embarrassed by that fact and could not “face the music”. We have had his happen, and when the damage was brought up to the person, he was willing to help repair the damage in another way.


Cheryl August 16, 2012 at 7:29 am

Reading all these comments makes me very glad for the relationship I have with my lend to/borrow from friend. We’ve known each other for years and both take good care of our possessions. Recently I lent her something and went out one day to my car and found a sweet thank you note left on it (she just lives down the street), I have a car and she doesn’t so I’m happy to drive when we go places, and we usually have tea after at her place. We’re both early 20’s so I’m glad to have a relationship like this to maintain over the years!


AnnW August 16, 2012 at 8:08 am

What seems nice about your friend is that if you ever have a problem, she seems mature enough that you can discuss it. Some people are just never grateful for favors from friends and relatives. Good for you.


Kymm August 16, 2012 at 7:42 am

I’m currently working on a short-term project with a person who likes to “team up.” This person’s idea of “teaming up” is standing around about 90% of the time while I do the work. Am I going to team with her, knowing that? Nope, not if I can help it.

The same would apply to a person who borrows something and either fails to return it promptly and/or returns it damaged. Once bitten, twice shy.

That said, I like Katy’s mom’s approach to a difficult situation, and I’d give that a go, but I would be very reluctant to loan anything to these folks again.


Koliti August 20, 2012 at 11:19 am

It is disheartening when someone is not able to acknowledge or display any thankfulness when you show them a kindness. There are people who walk the planet who only care if you make THEIR LIFE EASIER. They are TAKERS and they do not like it if you call them on their crap.

Fences make good neighbors – EVERYONE NEEDS BOUNDARIES.
You need to decide what your boundaries are for certain people/situations and stick to them. You can premise it with – “It’s my personal policy not to…”. And no matter what sad tale they try, just say – “I’m sorry” (and repeat as many times as necessary). Afterall, they are adept at getting what THEY WANT – not at giving you what you need.

Life is too short – spend time and energy with your “good” friends.


Practical Parsimony August 20, 2012 at 3:18 pm

I am late to this party, but in several states by multiple people, my generosity has been abused. When a guy did not return a book, his response to my 20th request and finally several demands was, “But, you have so many books.” Now, I lend nothing! When people want to borrow my very expensive loppers, my response is, “I will buy you a pair. Meet me at the dollar store. They have a $5 pair down there.” Yes, that creates a little drama.

I lent a new package of pink plastic forks and a large piece of pink fabric to a friend for her g-gdaughter’s second unplanned wedding, her only shower. The friend returned half the forks, unwashed and said the rest must have been put in the trash. She returned the fabric cut into napkin-sized pieces and asked me to hem the pieces for napkins. She was not even sorry she cut up my lent fabric. She said she just forgot where she got it from… two weeks?

Don’t get me wrong. I give things to friends who need what i have, all the time. But, there are boundaries about lending things. I don’t.


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