Money Lessons I Learned from Friends: Joey Tribbiani

Joey holding a credit card and being shocked

If you missed the first two Friends posts, here’s the intro again to get you up to speed: I was thinking about my previous post about Minimalism in which I mention “everyone should have a Monica Closet,” and I thought about all the other things Friends characters taught me about money. As it happens, the Friends dealt with money in their lives and with each other quite often! And not always very well…

I’m splitting this into a series of posts over the next few days, one for each Friend, and then I’ll compile them all at the end. Rachel was up first then Ross, and now it’s Joey’s turn!

Joey Tribbiani

Joey…I’m trying to find the words to describe this [guy] without being disrespectful…Joey is a pretty dumb, irresponsible man-whore. But he has a heart of gold and is easily the sweetest, most loyal of all the Friends. He struggles at acting and over time the show exaggerates his poor acting and his dumbness to the point that Joey in later seasons kind of become a caricature of Joey in earlier seasons. Joey also has endless money storylines because he oscillates between being completely broke and throwing 100 dollar bills into the streets of New York.

Don’t spend more than you make or give in to lifestyle creept the second you have a good job. It can all go away. 

Joey is the ultimate Starving Artist Who Makes It Big Then Loses Everything. Obviously we see Joey struggle throughout the first few seasons until he finally lands a big break as Dr. Drake Ramoray. He immediately rents a huge apartment in an expensive area of town (abandoning Chandler in the process), buys a bunch of ridiculous stuff, and then promptly loses his job because he pissed off the writers of Days of Our Lives.

Long live the porcelain dog! (GIF via GIPHY)

Ross helps Joey sort through his Visa bill and discovers that Joey owes thousands and thousands of dollars to places like Porcelain Safari and I Love Lucite. Eventually, men come to Joey’s apartment to repossess all of his fancy new purchases, and Joey is left stuffless and homeless but for the porcelain dog Ross saves from repossession by purchasing it himself. Porcelain dog actually has a robust life of its own on Friends…

Joey’s mistakes offer a couple of lessons to the rest of us.

Don’t spend more than you make or rack up huge credit card bills in anticipation of money you will make later.

This applies to everyone regardless of their income. Joey went from being a broke, two-bit actor to a well-paid actor, but he still spent outrageous amounts of money compared to his salary (on outrageous things, no less. DO NOT DO THIS. If you don’t have the money, don’t spend money on it.

Don’t give in to lifestyle inflation. Jobs can disappear without warning.

This doesn’t mean you can’t improve your life with an improved paycheck, especially if you were at a subsistence level before your promotion. But if you immediately move into a luxury apartment by yourself, rack up tens of thousands of ridiculous purchases after a big promotion instead of staying put, budgeting that money and setting up a plan for the future that includes lots of savings, you’re putting yourself in danger of a financial disaster.

Most jobs are actually pretty unstable in the first 3-6 months, as many employers consider that an informal, if not formal, probationary period. I’d recommend staying locked down during that time period. Save as much as you can. Celebrate your better salary with a nice treat or two! Then dig into the job and start building your financial future, not a collection of 3D Renaissance art reproductions.

Be on your guard when you’re selling stuff to strangers. 

Remember when Joey built that REALLY BIG entertainment center that just didn’t fit in the guys’ apartment? I’m pretty sure Chandler almost lost an arm running into that thing. Eventually, as people do, they decide to sell the entertainment center on whatever the 1998 version of craigslist was…newspaper ads? Wow. Old school.

Anyway, Chandler leaves Joey to his own devices and he tells a prospective buyer that he can fit inside the cabinet and the guy dupes him into proving it before locking him in and casing the living room. Chandler returns home to an empty apartment, except for a panicked Joey locked in their still-unsold entertainment center. They end up trading the entertainment center for a canoe (because of course they did), which shockingly ends up with its own story arc.

The lesson here, of course, is that selling things to random strangers can actually be risky. It can be riskier for women, but everyone faces the risk of assault or something getting stolen, particularly if you’re selling an expensive item.

I read a Twitter thread recently that described an older, unassuming man who started saying sexually explicit things to a woman while she was helping him move the dryer he was purporting to buy from her. He was loading more and more weight onto her and basically asking for sex. He left (without the dryer) only when she called her husband to cheerily inform him the buyer had arrived and eventually returned to stalk the house. Police were involved. The woman had actually tried to take some basic precautions like only having potential buyers to the house when her husband was home, but the buyer had manipulated her into an unsafe situation with a reasonable story.

If you’re going to sell things to people on the internet, make sure you also take precautions, whether you’re a man or a woman:

  • Sell on platforms that don’t require meetups where possible (Poshmark, eBay, etc.)- just mind the fees when you’re assessing your sales strategy.

  • Public meeting places when possible; avoid providing your home address unless the item can’t be easily moved.

  • Ask for payment via Venmo or some other payment app rather than cash (keeps both of you safe)

  • Bring someone with you, make sure someone is home with you, or tell someone where you are

  • If you feel even the slightest bit off, don’t respond to the inquiry.

  • If someone is explicitly sketchy or harasses you, contact the selling platform that connected you and if appropriate, the police.

Obviously what happend to Joey is funny in the context of the episode, but it’s a real risk! Tons of us either side hustle by flipping items or we sell our own things to make extra money and reduce clutter in our homes. Don’t avoid selling things just to try to stay safe; people sell things to folks online all the time and it’s fine…just make sure you take at least the same precautions you would when you meet FREAKING LOVE INTERESTS ONLINE. This has been a Public Service Announcement. You’re welcome.

Return the favor to people who’ve helped you if your circumstances ever reverse.

Y’all, Chandler pays Joey’s bills for like 3 seasons of the show. I’m talking rent, utilities, his muffins…how do you find friends like that? I’ve never been in the position to need that, but even if I were, I certainly don’t have a friend who would do that for me! Maybe my friends all have better boundaries than that? Honestly, probably, and that’s a good thing. Borrowing money between friends almost always creates resentment. And I’d neither ask nor offer to pay someone’s rent for them I’m fairly certain.

I actually DO have a friend who paid one of her closest friend’s rent for several months and also regularly pays for her meals and drinks when they go out together. When this friend told me she’d done that, I was astonished. The situation was also outrageous on its own and has in fact created resentment (the girl was living in a $2,000+ apartment, not trying to minimize costs because of a hard time, etc. etc…appalling).

While Chandler did basically float Joey through the entirety of his mid-20s, when he get his first big break on Days of Our Lives, one of the first things Joey does is repay Chandler for part of his debt. Later, when Chandler leaves his job to try do do something more fulfilling (which ends up being advertising), Monica and Chandler end up on some hard financial times. Monica and Chandler both secretly go to Joey to borrow money in a twist on the Gift of the Magi, and Joey is more than willing to help his best friends in their time of need. Which is ironic because…

 he does share money, though, so who’s really winning here? (GIf via tenor)

he does share money, though, so who’s really winning here? (GIf via tenor)

Life is long and financial circumstances can change among friends with little to no warning. If you’ve been on the receiving end of generosity and your generous friend falls on hard times later, remember Joey and always have your friend’s back if your fortunes reverse. Or, in the words of The Rembrandts….

I’ll be there for you, when the rain starts to pour…I’ll be there for you, ‘cause you’re there for me too.

What other money stories remind you of Joey? Have you ever experienced any of the scenarios Joey has? What did you do? Share in the comments!

Up next, everyone’s favorite neurotic, neat freak: Monica!