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The Public Debtors’ List

The college I went to had bathrooms which connected two dorm rooms. My roommate and I were best friends with our, “John Mates.” (So called because you shared a bathroom.) I went over to visit them one day when I found that my friend -had stuck a yellow medium sized post it note written in black sharpie pen a list of people who owed her money. It was your name and how much it was that you owed her stuck right above her study desk, next to her pictures, anyone who entered her room could see this.

I was horrified at this discovery, and at once paid her the five dollars I owed her. I was glad however that I was not the one (who shall remain nameless) that owed her the forty dollars. But she kept that sticky note up there with my name crossed out until the end of the year. I never borrowed any money from her after that. So do we send my friend to Ehell or was I too sensitive?   0908-11


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  • Tracy October 4, 2011, 11:43 am

    I think you may have been a bit too sensitive. Like another poster mention she didn’t put it up on her front door for all to see just at her desk. It was probably just a reminder to herself placed at her desk. The fact that she did this in a dormroom and not her bedroom maybe the only faux pous on her part.

  • gramma dishes October 4, 2011, 11:45 am

    When people borrow money from someone and don’t pay it back then I think they deserve a little semi-public humiliation. I have to wonder whether or not you would have “remembered” had she not done what she did.

    At least your name got crossed off. That shows everyone else that you can be depended on to repay your debts, so that’s actually a good thing. If those whose names remained feel a little embarrassed, well, they deserve it! That’s what happens when people borrow things and don’t return them in a reasonably timely fashion.

    As long as the list was accurate, I don’t think anyone has any right to complain. It might also have saved others from being hit upon in the future. If you know Susie hasn’t paid back the loan Agnes made to her, then you are not going to be likely to be willing to loan Susie money when she asks you for it. Or Joan. Or Beth. You will all know better!

  • Tracy October 4, 2011, 11:46 am

    Eta spelling error on faux pas

  • alex October 4, 2011, 11:47 am

    I don’t think she probably even realized that it could offend people. It was meant as a way for her to know who owed her money and by having it above her desk she was able to keep track of who owed her what. 🙂

  • Snowy October 4, 2011, 11:49 am

    I had my own typing business back in college way back when, and I had a very organized, elaborate system for keeping track of who owed me money, and who had paid. If you were scheduled to bring me work, I put a sticky note on the Rush poster on the left of my desk. When your paper was in progress, I put the sticky note on the Rush poster above the middle of my desk. Once I did the work, I wrote the amount due on the sticky, and if you paid in part, I moved the sticky note to the Rush poster on the right of my desk. Finally, if you paid in full, I put the sticky note in the drawer.

    (It is, to date, the best and most effective system I have *ever* had for keeping track of clients.)

    But I also had a single room with no shared john, the stickies weren’t in view of the hallway, and my friends knew that it was my bookkeeping, not personal loans. Not that they could read my handwriting, or even knew which of the eighteen Susans in our building might owe me $3.

  • SJ October 4, 2011, 11:55 am

    We can’t know her intention. But, you saw a list on her desk -so? It’s not much different than a to-do list. Nothing about the story indicates to me that it was meant to be a public display.

    I think it’s a reach to say she was being passive aggressive.

    And, you paid her back. Good.

  • Cindy October 4, 2011, 12:10 pm

    This is what I want to know: if you had the $5 to immediately repay her when you noticed that other people could see you owed it, why didn’t you pay her earlier as soon as you had the money? If you happened to see the list in a less conspicuous place and no one else knew about it would you have felt as compelled to repay it on the spot? Seems to me like you are the rudest one in this story for not repaying a debt as soon as you could, regardless of the amount.

    I also think you are being too sensitive. While she should probably have moved the note to a less obvious place, I have a hard time believing there was anything malicious about this. As others have said, if she was trying to embarrass anyone she would have placed it somewhere other than her own desk. It’s a shared space, it’s hard to have privacy but still know where your things are. She could have kept it in a notebook, but maybe she wasn’t expecting people to go up to her desk and look around her things. I kept to-do lists on the wall above my desk in college. While I never wrote anything personal on it because I knew people could see it, I also never really expected people to come into my room and read the things I had written around my area. I’m not interested in the lists people keep for themselves, so I never thought people would be interested in mine. She probably never really thought about people seeing it and feeling embarrassed.

    If it bothered you, you should have said something. If she just didn’t think it would make anyone uncomfortable, she’d apologize and move it. If she was doing it intentionally, then you’d know she’s tactless. But since you didn’t have the backbone to even ask her about it, you’ll never know what her real intentions were.

  • Cat October 4, 2011, 12:12 pm

    My first thought was that perhaps she was not the type to go to you and say, “Look, I need the money you borrowed from me. When can you have it?” The fact that she had a list tells me that a lot of people saw her as a convenient piggy bank for themselves.
    I have loaned money to people who never paid it back. A very few have paid me, but books that I loan out are gone forever.
    One friend knew that I kept a thousand dollars in my checking account to avoid being charged for checks and that it paid me interest. He constantly borrowed money from me to pay his debts, costing me the interest on my account, but saving him the interest he would have had to pay for the debt. When I asked him why he always needed to borrow for me, he said all his money was in CDs. The last time he asked to borrow, I told him that I had followed his example and put all my money in CDs too so I couldn’t help him. He never asked me again.

  • --Lia October 4, 2011, 12:17 pm

    What were the circumstances of the loan? If this was a formal debt, the sort where you go over to your friend and ask for money because you’re short, presumably there’s a mention of pay-back at the time you take the money. You probably say “thanks, I’ll be cashing a check next week and will have the money for you then.” If that’s the case, you’re being too sensitive, probably the sensitivity that comes with embarrassment. You should have paid the money back without reminder. The amount doesn’t matter.

    But I’m reading between the lines and wondering if something else is at work. Maybe the loan was made when you were out together and she bought you a drink, or you were shopping together and put all the items on the check out carousel together, then didn’t do a rendering of who owes whom what when you got home. Maybe she bought items for the shared space (light bulbs, toilet paper, cleaning supplies) and wasn’t sure how to collect from the others. Or maybe some of the debts on the post-it went into the first category (formal loan), and you’re sensitive to have yours lumped in with those because your debt went into the second (informal shopping together). I do try hard to pay everyone back. I’m good about it when I’ve gotten short and borrowed some cash, but honestly, I do sometimes forget who bought the last lunch, or I think I’ve done a calculation splitting a check correctly but haven’t.

    As for the public/private bit, it’s not unreasonable for her to think of her dorm room as at least semi-private. That means that she may leave sensitive information lying around, but visitors have a responsibility to pretend they haven’t read it.

  • Louise October 4, 2011, 12:25 pm

    I don’t see passive aggression and drama and public humiliation, I see someone who’s trying to keep track of who owes her what. I think she did it in as private a way possible while keeping the note “in sight, in mind.” A passive aggressive person would have made it a lot more public than on her desk in her own room next to a bunch of photos. On a desk beside a bunch of photos is as private as it’s going to get in a dorm room while not being completely forgotten.

    To me, it’s the equivalent of sticking something up on a fridge in my own kitchen; it’s in a public area of my private dwelling, but that doesn’t mean it’s a passive aggressive message to my guests, it means it’s in a location convenient for me.

    Just because the OP wandered into her “john mate’s” room and was close enough to her desk to catch sight of the note and was humiliated doesn’t mean that was the john mate’s goal.

  • Amara October 4, 2011, 12:29 pm

    It could have been a simple reminder list for herself, or it could have been a passive-agressive action. There’s no way to be sure without asking her. But I suspect she wanted her own money back. She generously lent it when asked, and was apparently having some trouble getting it back. I think the borrowers should have been more straightforward about returning her money as soon as possible, and about keeping communication lines open (I’ll be able to pay you the $40 I owe you next Friday before 6:00 pm).

    Borrowing and lending money is a dangerously easy way to ruin friendships, families, professional relationships, etc. I can see where it might simply have been her own way of reminding herself who owed her what. I can also see where she might have, consciously or unconsciously, intended it to be a “public” shame. No one can say definitively, though.

  • Merry Mrs October 4, 2011, 12:35 pm

    A medium post it note is smaller then an index card , right? I don’t think that’s anyone who enters the room can see , more anyone who sits at the desk and then reads things posted on her wall. The issue is was this a private or public space , I think her room , her workspace is more private then public. It would be more considerate to keep this list in a book or turned backwards but I don’t think she was rude for puttin up a reminder note in her room in her space. Oh and unless the list was titled ” people who owe me money” it could be anything …….people she owes money to , the amounts people have contributed toward a a group event , gift or charity or how much people are paying here for a service or goods or any combination.

  • Laura October 4, 2011, 12:44 pm

    As someone living in a dorm right now, I can’t fault her for having the list in view from her desk. I have several notes to myself visible from my desk at any given time, and not all of them are meant to be viewed by anyone who comes in – especially for a casual visit. I think it’s also necessary to take into account the level of formality/spontaneity in such “visits” – I’ll vacuum and take down anything embarrassing if I’m having a party, but for a spur of the moment drop-by visit, the most I’d be will to do is hide the hamper and toss the comforter over the bed. Notes to myself wouldn’t even be on my radar for a quick clean.

    It seems to me it would only become passive aggressive if during your visit, your friend started making really obvious looks over to the note or dropping hints – just having a list in her private space is not something I’m willing to fault her for. This also might be just me, but I know that I can be bad about remembering to pay someone back, to the point where it’s hard for me to bring it up in a conversation – having the note would be a good way to say “Oh yes, silly me, here’s the money I owe you” with little fuss.

  • kate October 4, 2011, 12:49 pm

    I think that the OP was a little over sensitive, but I also think that the friend was as well. I do tend to keep a running tally with certain friends who are always short on money, and I know for certain I have one friend who has racked up a bill of about 120 bucks I’ll never see again. So it goes. However, 5 dollars from a good friend is not something I would worry about. Maybe if it were in larger increments I’d be worried, but with very good friends, like the OP seems to suggest these two are, I find that a small give and take eventually evens out. On the one hand I find that small a sum of money to not be a big deal, but on the other, if this girl does and wants to keep a tab at her desk, I find her attention to her own finances commendable.

  • Cami October 4, 2011, 12:57 pm

    She posted the information on her desk in her room. She did not post it in a public space. So there was no public display of this information.

    And frankly if you are humiliated by a public reminder that you are delinquent in paying back a debt to a friend, shouldn’t you be even more humiliated by the fact that you are delinquent?

  • Maitri October 4, 2011, 1:08 pm

    That was her personal living space. Personally I think it’s rude to read something that someone has posted in their personal space (above their desk, on the desk, on a fridge, etc). If a person snoops, then they had better be prepared to see things that they may not like.

  • ErinAnn October 4, 2011, 1:12 pm

    Sounds like a voucher in your favor that you repay your debts. Consider it a compliment.

  • lkb October 4, 2011, 1:30 pm

    I posted before but after reading all these comments, I have to ask:

    What was the OP doing reading notes on someone else’s desk?

    She apparently noted who else owed what — and I’m grateful she at least didn’t name them. But she paid enough attention to note that someone owed $40.

  • Louise October 4, 2011, 1:41 pm

    “However, 5 dollars from a good friend is not something I would worry about. Maybe if it were in larger increments I’d be worried, but with very good friends, like the OP seems to suggest these two are, I find that a small give and take eventually evens out.”

    As a 28-year-old with a decent job, I agree; but 10 years ago, I needed every dollar I had! The friend has loaned money to multiple people, and a handful of $5 loans add up.

  • Lucy October 4, 2011, 1:57 pm

    I mis-read this: I thought she had posted this in the bathroom!

    Then no, she wasn’t a jerk. Again: Should have stopped loaning money when people weren’t paying her back, but she’s welcome to keep lists in her own workspace, in her own room. If you don’t want to make the list, don’t borrow from her! And serves you right for reading stuff on her desk.

  • Gracie C. October 4, 2011, 2:01 pm

    Post-its aren’t that big. My guess is with more than a couple names and amounts on there, the OP had to be pretty much standing at the friend’s desk, examining and reading the items on her bulletin board to even see it. Doesn’t sound like the friend is e-hell worthy to me.

  • Aje October 4, 2011, 2:11 pm

    Etiquette hell no. It’d be different if it was publically, but it was on her desk, and if you are all in college it seems like she would really need the money back! Why are you so embarassed that you owe someone money? Even if I saw a sticky note for 40 dollars I wouldn’t be embarassed for that person- just a little cautious of loaning them money!

  • MellowedOne October 4, 2011, 2:31 pm


    Very much agree.

    Half the opinions posted on this thread wouldn’t even be here if folks had correctly realized that a person’s space in a dorm room is a private domain, not public, no matter how many people have the ability to walk in and out of it.

  • Hannabanana October 4, 2011, 3:32 pm

    Nope, no ehell for your friend. No ehell for anyone I don’t think except maybe you need to give yourself a little break here because I would never feel badly about you if I saw your name on a sticky note saying you owed someone money. So no sensitivity or humiliation from you either!

  • Twik October 4, 2011, 5:52 pm

    I think you need to own what you do.

    If I had borrowed $5 from a friend, I would not be embarrassed about it, unless I didn’t pay her back when I said I would. And I see no problem with her making a note to herself “Twik – $5”. Particularly as this girl seems to lend a lot of people money, and I’m sure needs to reminder herself of her financial picture.

    If being in debt (even for a small amount that you are paying back on time) embarrasses you, you should not borrow money, rather than complain that your lender hasn’t locked her records in a desk drawer labelled “Beware of the cobra”.

    I do notice, however, that the LW *had* the $5, and didn’t think of giving it to the lender until she saw her name up. So perhaps her perception was that it was passive-aggressive when it really wasn’t.

  • DocCAC October 4, 2011, 6:05 pm

    When I was in med school, my roomie and I bought groceries, etc. and posted what the other owed on a list on our fridge. We did this because one or the other would be a little short on money or one was out shopping and the other would ask the one shopping to pick a few things up for her. We did this for 4 years (when the list got too long, we totaled up each side and reposted). Anyone could have seen it who came into our apartment, and we did not see it as a form of public humiliation, just a running total of how much I owed her and how much she owed me. At the end of four years, we made the final accounting, and it came out one of us owed the other less than $10. I think you are being too sensitive–she’s just trying to do a similar thing. Obviously for her it was all give and no take, and this was the way she had of keeping track. It would have been nice if you had paid her back sooner, but maybe your debt was recent when she made up the list. This was a nonconfrontional way for her to get her money back, and if the person who owed her $40 was shamed by the listing, good. That is not a small amount when you are a student. I’ll do you the favor of assuming you forgot your debt, and commend you for paying it as soon as you were “reminded”. And as others have pointed out, having your name crossed off indicates you paid your debts and if she felt like it had to be up the rest of the year, let you and others (including her) know who were deadbeats.

  • Yuki October 4, 2011, 6:27 pm

    No ehell for the john mate! Dorms are private areas, so it’s not like she was trying to tell the entire college that people owed her money. And it was on her desk, which is even more of a private space than the actual dorm. In fact, OP, you really shouldn’t be looking at her stuff, unless it was just unavoidable in its location.

  • aventurine October 4, 2011, 6:29 pm

    I’m gonna go with:

    Friend: Not rude, not PA, and there was nothing “public” about her list.

    OP: Bit too sensitive.

  • Yvaine October 4, 2011, 7:12 pm

    One more thing–if it truly was just names with dollar amounts next to them, it was actually quite discreet. If anyone other than the debtors saw the list, they couldn’t be sure what it meant; it could just as easily have been a list of what she owed to others. The OP only knew what it means because she was on the inside of the situation.

  • Ista October 4, 2011, 8:52 pm

    Personally, I don’t have a habit of reading other people’s post it notes.
    In roommate type situations, I’m used to a posting of who owes what to whom, although that generally changes from month to month.
    If a note stating debtors is on the personal desk of your john mate, and your name is crossed off, never to be re-added, then consider it a badge of honor.

  • MidoriBird October 5, 2011, 3:41 pm

    The idea that a semi-public broadcast of the fact one cannot be trusted might spur some people to pay back debts.

    At least in fantasy.

    I’ve not put the fact into reality. I’m not mean enough to do it. I just keep track of whom to refuse loans to in the future, or objects, for that matter.

    The list on the desk is a much better idea.

  • Enna October 5, 2011, 4:07 pm

    I have to say now agree with those posters who say the note was a personal note to remind – it could have been a hint but unless the OP asks we won’t know. I also agree with those posters who say this was post-it note in her, all be it shared but still private room on her priavte desk. You would have to be paying the desk particular attention to notice it.

    As for those posters who critise the firend for being rude and passive aggressive and crass I think they would be right if the money list was written on a big piece of paper in big letters: but it wasn’t. Altough like Cordelia said maybe putting people’s initials down by amount owed could be a way to handle it a bit more senstivley e.g. loaning being private between two different parties. I still think the OP needs to just have a word with the firend. I can see where some posters are saying if it took a note to remind the OP, the OP has committed their own blunder for forgetting.

  • Enna October 5, 2011, 4:11 pm

    P.S just having a quiet word would also highlight to the firend that although it’s okay to put reminders up sometimes just a little bit more consideration could avoid her giving too much infomration away. E.g. I hope this firend doesn’t put her pin number up to remind her or passwords or if it is specifically large amount of money e.g. £50+. If someone got hold of that kind of information like a burglar they could steal money with a pin number or get a new identity depending on waht passwords are laying about. And as for large amounts of money pinned up someone might break in but then break in later on again to rob the student.

  • Dana October 5, 2011, 7:20 pm

    I think you are a bit sensitive…after all, she didn’t do like my roommate in college who kept track of who owed her on a blackboard!

  • Enna October 11, 2011, 5:25 am

    @ Dana, now that is rude. The OP is a bit senstive as it was on a post-it note. Now if the firend had put on the post it note “Meet Sally after her STI check at 2pm Tuesday” on her desk then someone should warn her that she needs a diary to keep that infomraiton personal.