How I stopped being a walking ATM machine

April 11, 2022

Your university years are the best of your life, but what makes them so special? For me, it’s the cheeky nights at the pub with friends, low-budget trips over the Easter break and our gourmet cup of noodles for dinner with roomies.

Whilst being the best times, they have also been some of the most stressful for me. I often find myself anxious checking my bank balance with my heart beating as I enter my password waiting for my bank to start screaming at me reminding me that I am no Elon Musk... This is something I’m sure many people can relate to. You want to have a joyous university life, enjoying your social life but often do not have much time to fit in part time jobs, making it hard for you when you check your balance. Well you and I are not alone, there is a staggering 76% of students who are worried they won’t be able to make ends meet. 

But this becomes even more difficult when you are not able to say no when someone asks you to pay for them.

"We don't split bills here" said the waitress.

I always thought that I was very good at managing money, so much so that I had this mental badge of honor. My parents would never scold me about money (unlike my friends were) as I never went over budget or asked for more than my allowance. So when I went to university I thought I had it covered and even enrolled myself into Economics, but I was shocked. It turned out that I have become a walking ATM instead…

At my friend’s 22nd birthday, his last one at uni before graduation, we decided to go for a few drinks. The plan was to stay at the bar for just a short while, but when did few drinks every stopped a few? The drinks flowed…. the tab grew and before we knew it the waitress came with the bill of.. £200!

Being slightly less drunk, or maybe the bill sobered me up, I asked naively “how we will split the bill?” but I was immediately interrupted by the waitress who said “we don’t split bills here”. Being the one holding the bill my friend quickly patted me on the back and said “thanks Edward, tell us how much we owe you tomorrow”.

I felt a big sense of doom with every tap…it’s as if time stopped and I could feel his tapping in slow motion. That's a lot of money I thought… I had £250 left in my bank account and that would mean I had only £50 for the rest of the month. Not to mention I did not trust my friends to pay me back.. I’ve had still an all-you-can-eat-sushi bill to settle with them and the Fortnite pizza night… do I even have the phone number of the random guy who joined us tonight?

My heart started beating fast as I wanted to say “no, someone else should pay this time” but instead my hand went to my phone and tapped the machine to settle the bill. “What have I done” I thought to myself…. will my friends EVER pay me back?

Unfortunately for me, the answer was no... I chased them the next morning and some said “let me get lunch next time” and “do you want to track it on Excel?” to “next time we’ll see each other i’ll give you cash, paypal is annoying to use”... I realized not only have I become a walking ATM but now a Splitwise too.

Blaming me, myself and I.

"What kind of friends do you have?" said every mother ever.

I started blaming myself. Perhaps the reason they were so ok with this is that I felt too embarrassed to ask them to pay up the very first time this happened. As we have become close, now it would be so weird to bring it up. We are bros…fam… and you know you offer food to your best friends right? Immediately I could imagine the voice of my mother scolding me “what kind of friends do you have?”...  

Regrettably this is a situation most of us will experience far too often and not because we have bad friends or we cannot stand-up for ourselves, but because we all feel different about money & our relationships with friends. And that is ok, there is no one right or wrong way. We all come from different cultures and walks of life. However, I realized that for me it was a mental struggle and I needed more peace of mind… and there just had to be a better solution for this especially in 2022.

The peace of mind.

Luckily my fortunes turned when I was invited to trial out an early startup called Lama, who is building a shared virtual card. It sounded interesting so I joined since I wanted to learn more about fintech but I did not realize how it nailed solving one of my biggest pain points. 

On Lama you create groups with your friends, roommates or partner, same as you do on WhatsApp. A virtual card is instantly generated for the group and you set a ratio at which each payment will be auto-split. Then whenever you pay, only your share is charged to your bank account. Basically you pay together but only pay for yourself, never having to ask for money back. And no, you don’t need to open a bank account with Lama, it just connects directly to your existing bank account.

Only after Lama I have realized how much stress splitting bills was causing me. No longer I pretended that my phone was out of battery or that I forgot the wallet, no more laying at night thinking how I will remind tomorrow my friend about the payment request..  It was as if a big weight was lifted off my chest. Not to mention so much time saved as I did not have to manually track each payment or send payment requests. Lama auto-split and tracked everything for me so I could just enjoy my social life without my social anxiety. 

It's ok not to be ok, but there is a solution.

I just wanted to share this especially if you are as stressed as me. You are not alone. I know it feels kinda taboo talking about money and feelings you may be associating to it like being angry or upset for being owned money, but that is totally ok. I encourage all of us to be kind to ourselves and not to put ourselves down for not being able to do what we think we should be doing. Validate your feelings and find solutions to your problems (wether that's something you can do now or in due time, no pressure!).

And thankfully at least for splitting bills, there is a solution to solving all of it and it's called Cino.

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