Despite all of the complaining I’m about to do, it must be said that Venmo—the finance app that allows you to easily send and receive money via your bank account—is a fantastic service. I use it all the time. It’s how my girlfriend and I sort out rent payments, it effortlessly streamlines the thorny mathematics of weekend-trip grocery hauls, and it has singularly revolutionized the subtle art of a kitchen-table poker night. If you’re old enough, you can likely remember a time when a fair division of monetary resources required several trips to an ATM and a lot of stressful back-of-a-receipt algebra. Not anymore, baby! In 2023, everyone whips out their iPhones and bills each other. It’s become exceedingly easy to ask our friends for cash, a prospect that’s somehow utopian and dystopian at the same time.
Because, for all of Venmo’s utilitarian ease, I cannot think of another service on my phone that’s caused me to fly into more petty rages. Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook could never hold a candle to a particularly tone-deaf Venmo faux pas. None of this has to do with the app itself, which is generally tasteful—the fault falls exclusively on my wonderful friends, who all seem to hold eccentric (read: insane) perspectives on Venmo etiquette.
I can’t really blame them. We’re living in a new financial paradigm, and are lost without some ground rules. Let’s try to solve that—let’s create some ironclad Venmo traditions. Here, once and for all, are some things you should do, and should never do, when sending Venmo requests.
You have exactly one week to issue Venmo charges for a night out.
It sucks being the person to drop the plastic on gluttonous dinners with friends. Tabulating a bill full of disorganized pinot grigios and Chicken Franceses—while everyone else enjoys the waning hours of good company—is the sort of abasement that keeps people home and ordering takeout. But everyone has to take on that ignobility sometimes, and if you’re a good host, you’ll occasionally be waking up the next morning, receipt in hand, dutifully invoicing all of your wonderful guests.
Here’s the thing, though. Those Venmo requests need to arrive, at the very latest, a week after the corresponding soirée. You know what sucks? Receiving some mystery $70 charge out of the blue, forcing us to scroll through our memory banks to determine where, exactly, we left a tab open. (Oh that’s right, we did have Omakase six months ago, when I was a different man in a different world.) Those ambushing Venmo payments should be regarded as a straight-up taboo in our social contract, because it’s only within the immediate afterglow of one of those indulgences that I’ve made peace with all the money I’m recklessly spending. If you hit me up for cash for the fading birthday dinners of yore, I’m going to be both annoyed at you and angry at myself. A toxic combination! Assess the damages as soon as possible, so we can all feel like we’re in this together.
When you do get a charge for an indulgent night out, don’t be a weasel.
I present to you the ugliest words in the English language: “But I only had two drinks!” If you’ve texted that idiom in response to a Venmo charge that seemed a little more expensive than you liked, it means you’re trying to cheapskate your way out of the frailties of good living. Yes, we may have all shared the same dishes, yes, we all piled into the same Uber, but you saw so-and-so order a cocktail and two glasses of wine while you stuck with a couple of Coronas. Now you expect the Venmo czar to make a special exception for your tab—and therefore totally sabotage the equanimous harmony of an even split. And for what, exactly? Like, nine bucks? Go to hell!
This is perhaps the greatest tragedy of the Venmo era. In a more wholesome society, years ago, we’d throw all of our credit cards onto the bill and—get this—LIVE WITH IT if a few people ended up paying a couple dollars more in the aggregate. Is there a discrepancy between the $27 bouillabaisse and the $22 penne alla vodka? The correct answer is, “Who gives a shit?”
Yes, there are exceptions to this policy. If I’m ordering the porterhouse and you’re ordering a side of fries—and therefore have made it clear that you’re trying to save money—then we probably need to itemize the results. But in our family-style, tapas-forward restaurant ferment, you only sound like a malcontent weirdo when you tattletale your Venmo assessor over nickels and dimes. I’m so sorry you ended up paying for one-eleventh of Megan’s niçoise salad, how will you ever recover?
Consider setting your account to private.
In the same way that I don’t care that you’re listening to the new Caroline Polachek album on Spotify, I don’t care that you Venmoed a guy named Dave for a cocktail emoji, a croissant emoji, and a dancing emoji. It also goes without saying that you should never heckle an athlete, celebrity, or regular person over Venmo DMs, because that’s about as lame as getting in a fight on LinkedIn. Eventually, tech companies will understand that not every app on our phones needs to be a social media platform—and that no one needs to see that Dave sent $25 to Thomas for “stuff”—but for now, we must take matters into our own hands.
If you’re about to Venmo someone for under $5, don’t!
Personally, I set the threshold for these incidental charges at $5, but you could talk me into raising it all the way to $10. Obviously the parameters will shift depending on where you are in life—at the age of 19, when I was making $28,000 a year, I was desperately clinging to every cent I could get my hands on. But generally, we should have no qualms about donating a negligible amount of cash to our loved ones as we navigate life together. Did I buy you a water bottle in the park? Did we order beers on my tab? Great, we can continue to build this beautiful friendship invoice-free, because I know, soon enough, we are going to order beers on your tab, too.
This was implicit interpersonal logic in a pre-Venmo age, and now it’s been rendered into a radical act. A friend of mine texted me the other day that I should Venmo him for an Uber trip we took together. He owed something like $4. No, dude! The fact that you even feel the need to ask that is horrible! Who hurt you?!
However, when you’re charged with a reasonable amount, do not, under any circumstances, ghost on the payment.
I have watched a friendship deteriorate, slowly, painfully, over the course of a year, until the two parties stopped speaking to each other entirely. The root cause of the degradation? The original sin? A lapsed $50 Venmo payment. Our phones have provided us with a stalwart paper trail tracking whoever is currently trying to slip out the back door with their checking account intact. It was so much easier to be a scammer without the Venmo network keeping tabs on everyone, and it’s pretty disrespectful to think that your hosts are simply going to forget that your Saturday night karaoke bill is still unresolved.
And look, money can be short sometimes. I’m a freelance journalist, which means my income oscillates wildly depending on the mercurial contours of the media industry. Sometimes, I too must face the prospects of a uniquely heartbreaking Venmo charge. But if you’re hurting, you’re much better off coming clean to whoever is asking you for money. “Hey listen man, I’m waiting on a couple of paychecks, and when that comes through, I’ll totally pay you for the crawfish boil.”
If they’re a good friend, they’ll respond to that vulnerability with mercy. Let that be a lesson to anyone reading this who is currently dodging a Venmo invoice. The person who issued it knows exactly what you’re trying to do, and that feeling of resentment is curdling more with each passing day. You best get those affairs in order before it’s too late.
If it’s been less than 24 hours, don’t send me one of those Venmo reminder notifications.
I’m getting to it, I promise.