Neither a borrower nor a lender be, but if you must, don't do it off a mate, as Shakespeare never wrote. But probably should have. Why? Because according to some new financial survey, 82 per cent of us who lend money to friends end up chewing off their fingernails with regret that they ever did it. And with the credit crunch, it's obviously going to get worse.
On a basic level, I suppose this means you shouldn't leave your bank statements lying around in case a friend spots how much spare cash you have, and asks you for it. Well, this is never going to happen in my case, as my bank statements are always a case for astonished horror, not wishful thinking, but you get the point.
Even my dear friend Spendthrift Janie has been caught up in it. "It's a 'mare," she said dramatically. "My friend Bella wants to borrow £2,000. Says she needs to prop up her ailing PR business. Promises to pay it back. What do you think? I mean, I could, I suppose."
I look at her very sternly and bring out my much-thumbed copy of The Rules of Wealth. "'Rule No 90; Never lend to a friend unless you are prepared to write the money off.' Are you prepared to write it off?" She shakes her head sadly. "Not really. I'm prepared to go long-term, though."
Yes, but that is half the problem. Borrow £10,000 interest-free from Mr Egg or one of his myriad friends in the plastic world, and you will get a short, sharp period in which to enjoy your liberty. Then, wham! – after your 10 months is up, a 23 per cent APR horror arrives and slices off your hand. The very next day. It's hard-core.
Whereas if you have borrowed from a friend, you will get a very nice interest-free status on your loan until some time after the London Olympics have finished. "Oh, pay me back some time," your friend will say, more from a basic British horror of talking about finances than any sense of charity. "When you have the money. When it suits you. Was that what you said to Bella?" I ask Janie. She nods miserably. So she's done the deed. Idiot. A kindly idiot, but an idiot all the same.
Who has spare money these days? Apart from Madonna and Guy Ritchie? Indeed, they will have more than ever this Christmas, having banned present-giving at their domestic festivities. (Which makes me feel for poor little David Banda. Adopted by the world's richest mother, only to have Christmas pulled from under his feet. It's enough to make you wish he was back in Malawi. At least he would probably have had a stocking.)
But I digress. Loaning to mates is a mug's game. Friends never pay you back. They forget, and you have to remind them, and it's awkward. They stop calling you, because they fear you will remind them. Then you stop calling them, because every time you look at your statement, you see a ghostly £400, or £8,000, or whatever the loan was, hovering above your balance. And then you go into a green fit of barely concealed fury wrapped up in covetousness of how happy your parallel self would be and enviousness about all the things you could have done with the money. Your brain has turned into a giant ball of deadly sins all bound tightly together, rather like a ball of those evil red rubber bands that the postmen leave everywhere on the streets (and which my children persist in collecting, even though I tell them they are drenched in eight different strains of dog urine).
We ponder the situation.
"Does she have any skills?"
"Why not ask her whether she can pay you back by doing something for you? You know, like bartering."
"Bartering?" says Janie. She reacts as if I have asked her to don a sacking apron and clogs.
"Bartering is very now," I say.
For sure. With the way things are going – sub-prime credit crunches and Northern Rock in one corner, over-bonused City suits in the other – we impoverished professionals in the middle are just going to have to return to the simple life. Repaying friends via trading skills could be one of these things we return to. "Really?" says Janie.
"Sure," I say confidently. "From babysitting and washing the car, to – I don't know – one-on-one French conversations." Although I can't quite see anyone I know popping over to wash a friend's car, no matter how much they have borrowed.