Venmo Etiquette, From Food to Financial Domination

Money always makes us squirm. It doesn’t matter if it’s piles of cash or digital banking or cryptocurrency; asking for and giving money is uncomfortable. Venmo and other money transfer apps have helped with some of the awkwardness by removing the need for a face-to-face request for cash. It’s also raised new questions of etiquette and created more opportunities for assholes to be assholes.

Daniel Post Senning at The Emily Post Institute (and great-great grandson of renowned etiquette expert Post herself) says there aren’t rules for Venmo yet. Etiquette is really about “maintaining relationships,” he says. Was there a discussion beforehand? How long did you wait before sending the request? It’s generally best to both request and pay promptly. Still, Senning says charging too soon can make the person feel like they weren’t given a chance to be polite. At the same time, waiting a week to request can make the person feel like you’re fishing for cash because you’re broke.

Some people think the ease of requesting and sending money on Venmo kills the “I’ll get this, you can get the next one” practice. But I don’t think it does. It just kills the less romantic part of “You can get the next one,” which is when they don’t get the next one.

Andrew, a 25-year-old from Baltimore, was swindled by a subletter who agreed to pay rent via Venmo. But two unpaid requests later, totaling about $2,500, the subletter announced he checked their lease and discovered he wasn’t allowed to sublet and therefore wasn’t obligated to pay the previously agreed upon rent. “So what are you gonna do,” he challenged Andrew. In the end he left Andrew in the lurch for $3,750.

So while it’s not rude to request a big payment like rent over Venmo, assuming both or all parties agreed beforehand, it might be best to save the big payments for old-fashioned checks unless you know and trust the person really well. After all, it’s easy for someone to simply click “decline request.”

While Venmo use is ubiquitous among people in their 20s, some millennials still don’t use it. When splitting a restaurant bill in a group, having that one friend who refuses to get the app can be infuriating. Isn’t that impolite of that friend? I asked Senning. “Isn’t she so rude?”

“As much sympathy as I have for your perspective,” he laughs, “we’re just not there yet.” Money transfer apps may soon be as common and expected as credit cards but not yet. He recalls his dad bragging about never using a credit card. “No, you use mine,” his mother would always say.

Now, refusing to use a credit card is behavior generally reserved for people who live in caves or my crazy uncle who just doesn’t believe in money altogether. Of course, he’s lived in his parents’ house his whole adult life, sooo.

Image courtesy of Flickr user jseliger2

Some people also request money through Venmo simply by linking to their profile on their Twitter account or personal website. This is similar to the practice of putting up your Amazon wishlist or making a Patreon page. It can be a great way for people like artists and writers to say “if you like what I’m doing, support me!”

It’s also a popular method among women and femmes who do various kinds of sex work. @DariaButGay is one such Twitter user. She initially put a link to her Venmo in her Twitter bio as a joke that “men benefitting from the labor of my tweets should have to pay me for them.” She kept it there because she does sex work that includes selling photos and financial domination, or “fin domming.”

I asked Senning if he would consider this practice a “polite” use of the Venmo request. “This is so outside my usual territory” he laughs, surprised.

“Yeah this is actually pretty vanilla compared to what I often write about,” I responded.

He doesn’t think it’s impolite, though he does advise that you “know your audience” first. Maybe leave Venmo off your LinkedIn profile.