How to navigate 5 embarrassing money situations

We’ve all been there, suddenly needing cash that we don’t have. On a date that gets pricier than expected, crossing our sweaty fingers in hopes that the dinner bill isn’t declined. At the checkout line with a cart full of groceries, horrified when the tally bigfoots the bills available in our wallet. Checking out after a veterinary appointment only to discover that those tests for Fido? Surprise! They’re exponentially more than what you have on hand.

It’s precisely in these moments that we realize: Things are about to get awkward. Since there is no universal instruction booklet on how we should handle ourselves when we discover we’re out of money at an inopportune time, consider this your uncomfortable-money-situation manual.

Your car breaks down – and you can’t pay for it. Whatever you do, stay in contact with those doing the work. This is no time for fight-or-flight responses. Say your car is at a mechanic’s, and you can’t afford to get it fixed and can’t drive it away because it’s on the fritz. Don’t bolt. Repeat: Don’t bolt. Your car may not be there when you finally pull together your money.

Instead, talk to your mechanic, says Jim Garnand, owner of Hi-Tech Car Repair in Phoenix.

The garage might be able to work with you, agreeing to fix your car with used parts or simply putting off making repairs until you can afford to pay. In most cases, he says, “The shop will help you … provided you communicate with them.”

But if you don’t, the car may be considered abandoned. “Abandoning a vehicle in Arizona could cost $500 to $600 in fees plus towing and storage,” Garnand says.

And, of course, your car may not even make it to a shop. You may find that you break down on the side of a road and can’t afford to have it towed. Eventually, the town-, state- or county-authorized towing facility will pick up the vehicle, says Brian Haggerty, owner of Cross Island Collision, an auto body shop in New York City.

“An attempt to contact the owner would be made,” Haggerty says. But if that doesn’t happen? “A lien action would be started,” he says.

You can’t afford to attend a wedding. If it’s a distant cousin or a friend you only see occasionally, you can probably make up a reasonable excuse for missing a wedding, but if it’s your brother or sister asking? Or your best friend?

On the one hand, if it’s a sibling or a best friend, they may know your financial situation and understand or try to help you out.

But when it comes to explaining yourself, “You have to be honest with them, and the sooner the better,” says April Masini, a relationship expert and advice columnist who runs AskApril.com.

For starters, by explaining your situation now versus later, Masini says you’ll give the bride and groom more time to make alternate plans or find a way to get you into the wedding regardless.

It may be hard, but Masini says the best approach is to simply be honest and say something along the lines of: “I want so much to be there, but I just can’t afford to go.”

Your credit card has been declined. Ah, a classic scenario in the annals of embarrassing moments.

Jennifer Donovan, a resident of Houghton, Michigan, who works in media relations for a university, recalls when she was traveling a few years ago in Bangkok and found her card was declined at a bank when she tried to transfer American dollars to Thai currency. Donovan had to slink out of there and later call her credit card company and reassure them that she wasn’t the victim of credit card theft but was actually traveling.

“The language barrier made that an especially difficult situation,” Donovan says.

She now always carries a second credit card and cash when she travels. Along with being good-natured and apologetic, and offering up identification if a restaurant or taxi company needs to bill you later, carrying extra cash is the best defense in these types of situations, says Liz Crawford, author of “The Shopper Economy.”

“My mother always told me to keep $40 cash tucked behind my driver’s license in my wallet,” Crawford says. “It’s ‘just in case’ money.”

You have to ask a friend or family member for a loan. This may go against every fiber of your being, which is exactly why it can be so embarrassing or even humiliating.

But Elena Brouwer, director of the International Etiquette Centre, based in Hollywood, Florida, will help you through this.

She says to be specific when explaining how you got into your mess. Be specific about everything, really, she says, including when you will pay back your family member or friend.

Brouwer also suggests, so there’s no doubt where the money is going to, that you “offer to have them write a check for a specific amount to your landlord, credit card company or any other legitimate entity you owe money to.”

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