There is a deep, under-discussed divide among every group of friends I know that has nothing to do with politics or income bracket or level of traditional hotness. It is whether or not a person will request an amount less than $5 from someone on Venmo.
Venmo, an app that lets you pay people without giving them cash, has somehow eclipsed Facebook, Instagram, and all the dating apps combined to become the most interesting social networking site on your phone. As a piece in the Atlantic articulated way back in 2014, the Venmo newsfeed includes all the unsexy little updates from friends like whether they split a cab or ordered wine at dinner that didn’t make it onto their Instagram stories — thereby revealing the actually important details, like who they’re with and what they’re doing.
And with this new mode of social networking comes entirely new rules for etiquette. Rules like “don’t wait three weeks to pay someone back” or “when you’re paying someone for a drink, include tip” are canon, but the one that nobody seems to agree on is what to do when the amount of money in question straddles the threshold of being trivial.
To be sure, a “trivial” amount of money varies widely from person to person, which makes our Venmo habits that much messier. And there are plenty of other concerns, too: privacy, guilt over appearing stingy, and the fact that requesting $12 from someone for a drink after you’ve already said your goodbyes is kind of a bummer of a way to bookend the night.
So in an attempt to find some kind of unified theory on proper Venmo etiquette, I decided to pose one very awkward question to a seven-person Brooklyn-based friend group (in fact, my friend group) whose Venmo habits run the gamut between the breezy “it all comes out in the wash” folks and the high-strung spreadsheet-keepers: Do you send Venmo requests for amounts under $5?
There were a few things we agreed on. The first was that if someone has put down their card for a $50 bottle of whiskey and we’re intending to split it, it’s fair to expect that we’ll all be Venmoing the buyer $5. But even though most of us say we wouldn’t request an amount under that, the reasons for not doing so varied pretty widely.
Susie, 26, works in finance and thinks Venmo requesting is too transactional
“I do not Venmo request someone for an amount under $5 in general because I feel like it’s an amount that I’m willing to “gift” and also I’d imagine it will sort itself out in the long run. I also am afraid of looking cheap or greedy if I request that amount. Venmo requests in general tend to irk me — even if I know I’m supposed to pay someone an amount, I’d rather have them text me or let me know to pay. Formally using Venmo to request an amount of money is passive-aggressive and very transactional.”
Laura, 28, works in TV and enjoys treating people to small things
“I will not request $5 from someone mostly because I wouldn’t have done so prior to Venmo existing. I feel like it’s just courtesy to treat people to a coffee or even a cab ride. They could eventually pay it forward to someone else. Whenever someone requests that from me, I feel a baby bit annoyed for a second, but ultimately it’s okay. People just think of transactions differently.”
CJ, 26, works in production and is pretty chill about it all
“I generally don’t Venmo people for anything under $10. Below that point, I’m probably buying someone something without expecting to be paid back or we’ve made some agreement that they’ll get me back at a later time (like say a drink at the next bar).”
Devan, 26, works in law and sends Venmo requests depending on how much he likes you
“Theoretically, yes. I would send a request, regardless of the amount, to an acquaintance or other type of person that I feel indifferent toward because I wouldn’t feel the need to be nice to them nor would I trust them to pay me back for any amount without a reminder.
Practically, no, and that “no” also applies to any amount above that $5 threshold. Since most Venmo business is between friends and family, I find sending a request to be an impolite and overly transactional thing to do in those kinds of relationships unless I am asked to send one by the would-be recipient. I trust those people to pay me back without a push notification, if I even want to be paid back in the first place.
But if I’m just dying to get back that $2.50 (which would mean I shouldn’t be spending money in the first place) or there’s some other greater amount that I’d like to be reimbursed for, maybe I’ll send the person a text or, better yet, say to him or her right after the initial transaction: ‘Hey, can you pay me back for that when you get a chance?’ No impersonal phone middleman necessary.”
Edmund, 26, works in finance and only requests when it’s a big purchase
“It goes both ways. If it’s someone I am out with often and we have a history of paying for each other, then most of the time no because in the scheme of things it will most likely even out. However, when it is a situation when I am always the person buying then I do Venmo for small amounts.”
Max, 26, works in real estate and has no qualms about Venmo requesting
“Short answer: absolutely.
- If it really was $5 or less, then whatever. It rarely is, though, especially when everything is a 12-way split.
- People consistently say they don’t care about the small amounts, but, really, they care.
- The pain of doing an exact calculation once and then never thinking about it again far outweighs the minor annoyance of having it hanging over everyone’s head until the end of time.
- The money of people in the group varies wildly. I don’t want anyone feeling gun-shy about requesting what I owe because I haven’t requested them.”
Allison, 26, works in finance and doesn’t want to look like a penny-pincher
“No, I wouldn’t Venmo request someone for an amount under $5. I can’t think of a situation where that would be a good idea. To be honest, I think it would make me look like a true penny-pincher. Asking a friend or a co-worker for $5 or less is really not worth the awkwardness. It will probably even out at some point, and if it doesn’t, that’s okay too. My threshold would be somewhere around $15, although it might depend on the situation.”
Anna, 26, works in finance and is a Venmo people-pleaser
“I think my habits of paying people back or having them pay me back have more to do with me being a people pleaser than anything else. I usually just go based off of what the other person does. If I know that they always pay me back for small expenses then I’ll do the same and vice versa, if they don’t usually pay me back for stuff under $5 then I won’t either. I’m just trying to avoid having anyone be mad at me because they don’t feel like I pay them back when I should.”
Ultimately, there’s no correct answer here. I think it’s true that in some cases, a Venmo request can be a rather passive-aggressive way to interact with your friends. You don’t get any of the couching and pleasantries that come with, say, a text like, “Hey girl! No rush but just a reminder to send me your half of the Uber when you get a sec!” It’s just a disembodied robot invading someone’s screen that basically yells “USER 13468 REQUESTS FIVE DOLLARS.”
There’s also something kind of sweet about coming to a mutual understanding that it does all come out in the wash, or that the little things we buy for each other makes the friendship stronger. But I also think that for a lot of close friends, the small, everyday Venmo requests keep one party from growing resentful about the perceived amount of money they spend.
If anything, I learned that the way we think about Venmo requests is similar to the way we view the world: My friends’ answers didn’t seem to adhere to any sort of pattern — it didn’t have to with gender or job description or income level; it was simply of a reflection of our own personalities.
When there’s money involved, though, everything gets more complicated, and more awkward. Even asking my friends to email me about their Venmo philosophies felt like a kind of invasion. That’s the thing about Venmo: Unlike pretty much every other social app, it’s weirder to talk about with the people you interact with on it the most. But in this case, I’m glad I did.