All of us know a moocher or two. The type that thinks it is his/her birthright to sponge off you. The kind that always turns the other way when the bill arrives at a restaurant. The one who habitually get out of his share of chores and don’t chip in with his part. The one who perpetually gets caught off guard without funds at the most opportune moments—and guess who bails her out every time? Yes, you!
Moochers come in several forms—with the same fundamental raison d’être: to freeload. Whether money, resources, energy [those who accost you and burden you with all their trials and triumphs till you’ve been talked and talked to without end], or time [where helping them out takes hours off your clock]. One of my teachers would find a reason to come home with me during the lunch break: she had run out of cooking gas and needed to call the service; or she needed to call home to check on her son. When she came home, she would of course be offered lunch. I could never overtly deny her request to come home since she was in a position of power. Eventually, I did get around to telling her that my phone wasn’t working.
We’ve always guessed and squirmed at a moocher’s ulterior motives, found it difficult to say no when asked to lend favours, and spent distressing times thinking of ways to ward them off…the next time.
But they’re back, leeching off in whatever way they can, leaving you feeling helpless, used, irritated and sulking. Some of us may even resignedly accept the moocher as ‘fate’, passively shrugging our shoulders, and rolling eyes skywards, saying ‘what to do?’ But guess what? It is this attitude of being the fall guy [or girl] that the moocher preys on. Being soft-hearted makes you a soft target for the moocher’s machinations—the right audience for their smooth-talking, victim-playing act.
Spot a moocher
Most moochers have a few common characteristics that can help you to tune in to their mooching vibes.
Moochers are smooth talkers. They often talk a lot, sharing ‘confidences’ to make you feel like a close friend. This makes it easy for them to sponge off you, while difficult for you to refuse. “They are also charming, good conversationalists and ‘friendly’,” says Mumbai-based psychologist Pallavi Ullal. “This is a common and strong factor in all moochers.” You are always left wondering whether you are being taken advantage of, or is it all within ‘friendship’.
Moochers are crafty calculators. You will never catch a moocher chipping in with even a bag of chips at an impromptu get-together. Says Esha Trivedi, an HR Consultant, who gets regularly mooched upon in clever [‘sneaky’ she says] ways by the same person for a lift in her car, “Gifts for special celebrations are conveniently ‘forgotten at home in a hurry’ and promises to send them later are always just empty words”.
Moochers are convincing actors. A shadow of sadness in the eyes, the slight crestfallen turn of the lips, the ingratiating smiles—are all well-laid traps to ensnare hapless victims. We give them the benefit of doubt as their excuses take the guise of truth with their convincing acting performances.
Moochers are creative…with their excuses. You will rarely find them doling out the same reason for their inability to keep their side of the deal: the wallet got interchanged and the one with the cash got left at home; changed my jeans at the last minute and forgot to put the wallet in. Payal Sanghvi, a homemaker, has been given the interesting line, “the purse got left behind in the auto—thank God it just had a few hundred rupees in it!”
Moochers are friends in need—always. We have all borrowed money or other resources and somehow forgotten to return them. What separates the moochers is the frequency and consistency of their need. They are primarily driven by self-centredness. This is exactly what separates them from the frugal among us. The thrifty save and live within their resources; moochers save their resources by living on those of others.
Psychology of a moocher
Mind of the moocher
Moochers are at the centre of their own universe and also think they are the centre of everyone else’s universe too. Pallavi Ullal, practising counsellor and psychologist says, “You can trace the mooching behaviour to childhood learning patterns. The moocher probably got everything that he asked for and hence doesn’t value anything.” Another driving factor could be that they feel that somebody has more than them, so they have no qualms sponging off them.
Again, there are two kinds of moochers: one who sponge off others intentionally. They are devious—and by far, the more dangerous of the two kinds. The other variety comprises those who don’t realise that they are freeloading. It is more of a learnt habit from childhood, where they have taken everything for granted.
There is a distinct personality that actually lends themselves to mooching. These are people who constantly get mooched, whine about it, but are unable to take corrective action. “People who are habitually sponged off have not developed a personality that can be assertive. They are unable to speak their mind and often are also gullible,” says Ullal.
Disarm the moocher
Dealing with moochers involves treading the delicate balance between losing a relationship and being firm about being sponged upon. It is a tricky area to navigate since mooching is hardly ever a matter of etiquette and manners. However, there are several polite yet decisive ways, that we can stop being taken advantage of. It is far better to learn to disarm a moocher than to avoiding her or shrug helplessly every time you allow yourself to be mooched.
When you suspect you’re being taken for a ride, for instance, after you’ve paid for the cab the third time in a row, play the moochers’ game yourself. Fumble in your wallet and say you don’t have change and turn around and say [with a bright smile] –‘anyways it’s your turn this time’. Dipankar Ghosh, an IT Manager knows that this tactic works for, “it gets the message across that you have been keeping tabs on the times you’ve doled out the dough, and also that you expect expenses to be shared.”
- Decide on whose turn it is to pay before you go out. That’s what Nikhil Pradhan, senior engineer at a multinational, does after being sponged on by the same colleague several times. “It’s important to do so politely, saying that you feel best that everyone takes a go at the tab so that way no one feels the others owe them.”
- When asked for a loan [which you know will never be returned], decline firmly saying or say you have a policy not to lend money as it spoils relationships.
- Pointedly ask for a separate bill whenever you are out. Better still opt to go to a place with self-service. “I go up to the counter and pick up my tab,” says the recently wisened-up Rajita Amin, who is a corporate trainer. This way the moocher has no choice but to pick up her own bill. “I don’t mind sharing my food with her though,” says Rajita.
- Work on the moocher with group psychology. Nothing succeeds like excess. If you are in a group where everyone has had similar problems with the moocher, gang up and make pointed digs, and crack twisted jokes at the mooching habit. Suggests Vivek Tandan, CEO of a head-hunting firm, “Peer pressure and ridicule is one of the strongest and shortest routes to mending ways. Lessons learnt in this painful way are learnt forever.”
- Cut your losses, and move on. Moochers are often not real friends. They are just freeloaders that are there to have a ride at someone else’s expense. In fact, sometimes their thrill could be how to snare the next soft head. They could be getting their kicks out of finding out how and whom to bait again. If you sense that the moocher is just a receiver, and not a giver of anything worthwhile in a friendship, it might be better to end the relationship.
- Confront them. The most effective way to deal with moochers, suggests psychologist Ullal, is by directly confronting them, since “they do not understand subtle hints”. Also you need to plan in advance and be prepared with your own excuses for saying no, “since before you can give your reason, moochers have two of their own ready to undermine yours.”
This was first published in the April 2012 issue of Complete Wellbeing.
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