By Beth Levine
My friend Amy still can't believe it. She recently attended a friend's 40th birthday extravaganza organized by the friend's wife. No expense was spared -a lavish dinner at a top-tier restaurant, champagne, a chocolate fountain, the works.
"Up until the end, it was a wonderful evening," Amy says. But when the wife was given the bill, instead of discreetly taking care of it, she turned it over to the next person, saying, "Can you all figure out what you owe? I'm terrible at math."
"Hello? Who throws a huge party, expecting the guests to foot the bill?" Amy says, with exasperation. More people than you'd think. These days we all find ourselves in sticky money situations, and most of the time we never know quite what to say or do. In fact, Woman's Day reader Elaine Lee was so confused about who pays when that she turned to us for answers. So, Elaine (and everyone else), the next time you're in the middle of a do-I-or-don't-I moment, keep these rules in mind.
Rule #1: Pay Only What You OwePay only what you owe You ordered the salad. Your friend ordered the steak. And a few glasses of wine. And dessert. When the bill comes, she says, "Let's just split it." Really? Splitting the bill evenly between you is fine if the difference is just a few dollars and you don't want to look petty. "But for a large discrepancy, nip it in the bud the first time it happens, or else you'll set a precedent that's hard to break without you coming off badly," says Jeanne Fleming, PhD, "Money & Ethics" columnist at Forbes.com and coauthor of Isn't It Their Turn to Pick Up the Check? Firmly, but nicely, say-don't ask-"I think it would be best if each of us just paid for what we ordered." If your friend pushes the issue, calmly stick to your guns and pay for your meal only.
If you've caved in the past, vow to speak up from now on, Dr. Fleming recommends. You may need to explain why ("I'm a little uncomfortable paying for things I didn't order. I should have mentioned it before, but I wasn't sure how you would react"). Then use the same straightforward line as the first-timer above. Photo: Jamie Grill/Getty Images
Rule #2 Whoever Asks, Pays
Admit it: Most of us want the guy to pay on a first date. After that, we're happy to pick up the tab once in a while, but the first time out, it's nice to be treated. However, according to Diane Mapes, author of How to Date in a Post-Dating World, whoever asked for the date should pay, even if it's your first time going out. "You're both capable adults earning salaries. Why should he always be the one to pay?" she says.
The exception to the rule: If you decide to go out after meeting online, consider that a mutual invitation and expect to go dutch. Why? You've both been checking each other out online, texting and emailing for a while. "Getting together in person is the next logical step," says Mapes. It's not as if asking you on a date came out of the blue, as it would if you'd first met in person.
If you find this issue confusing, you're not alone. "Most men today are as confused about what's appropriate as you are," observes Mapes. So if the bill arrives and, instead of picking up the check, he suggests splitting it-even though he asked you out-be gracious and gladly pull out your wallet. "Don't automatically jump to the conclusion that he's cheap," she advises. After all, his last date may have been a little offended by his offer to treat, preferring to pay her own way instead. Give him the benefit of the doubt; if it keeps happening, then you can reassess.
If you make it to a second or third date-no matter how you met-have a conversation about monetary expectations. Say something like, "Just so you know, I don't expect you to pay all the time. Can we talk about what would work for us?" "He'll probably be relieved," says Mapes. If he seems to be offended, don't turn it into a battle. Thank him, and find other ways to show that the relationship goes both ways: Offer to pick up the tip or the movie tickets later, or treat him to a homemade meal another night. Photo: Jupiterimages/Thinkstock
Rule #3 You Break It, You Buy It
The old mantra doesn't just apply to stores. If you damage something in a friend's home, the financial burden is yours. "It's absolutely your responsibility to make it right," notes Dr. Fleming. The only exception is if the owner was negligent-say, you spilled wine on her Oriental rug because you tripped over a power cord strung across the room. Immediately, either offer to pay the cost of fixing the item or to get a replacement. If you truly can't afford to replace it, contribute what you can or suggest a payment plan. What if the item was irreplaceable? "Insist that your host pick out something similar that appeals to her and buy it," says Dr. Fleming. "Tell her you hope that, in time, it will also become a family treasure." And if the accident happened because you weren't on your best behavior- maybe you got a little tipsy and broke a vase-you not only owe her a replacement, but also a note of abject apology sent the next day, says Dr. Fleming.
What if you're the one crying over spilled wine on your expensive rug and your friend doesn't offer to make amends? First, see if your homeowner's insurance covers the damage. If not, consider giving her a pass anyway, as an act of friendship. If you expect her to pay for the item and don't feel comfortable enough to ask her in person, send a note saying how much it will cost to replace the damaged item, and ask if she would please consider contributing toward it. Know that confronting her may hurt your friendship-if not end it-"so think about how much the replacement really means to you," advises Sue Fox, founder and president of The Etiquette Survival Group, a California-based mentoring company. Photo: Thinkstock
Rule #4 Pay Your Share
It never fails: You pick out a birthday present for your mom, and when your sister confesses that she's giftless, you agree to let her go halfsies. Weeks later, she still hasn't given you a dime. You have every right to cry foul. When your name is going on the card for a gift, you should pay what you're asked to pay, unless different arrangements have been agreed upon ahead of time, says Jeanne Hamilton, author of Wedding Etiquette Hell and founder of EtiquetteHell.com. "The person organizing the present needs to be very clear about how much everyone is expected to chip in- and be prepared to ask for the money if they don't." File away the information: Next time, you'll know not to let the offender join in on your present.
If you're more financially stable than your sister is, the kind thing to do is accept whatever she can give and hope she'll return the favor in the future. Otherwise, tell her to make other plans when she first asks to go in on the gift with you. (You control the card-you don't have to put her name on it.) Whatever you do, don't ever let on to the recipient that you got stiffed. "You'll ruin the experience for her," says Hamilton. "And what is she supposed to do with that information anyway?"
On the flip side, if you're the one under pressure to kick in cash for an expensive present you didn't even select, simply say, "I'm going to give Kate my own present, but thanks for the offer. I'm sure she will love your gift." Photo: Jupiterimages/Thinkstock
Rule #5: Always Give at the Office
Every time you turn around, a coworker is collecting cash for someone's baby shower, wedding live well etiquette shower, birthday party or retirement bash. Do you have to contribute? In a perfect world without office politics, no. "But look at the situation pragmatically: This is where you work. Do you really want your colleagues, and especially your boss, thinking you're not a team player?" says Dr. Fleming. "You would be foolish to get everyone at work talking because you refused to kick in a few bucks."
Still, if the requests are happening too often and for too much money, consider politely saying to your supervisor, "Can we rethink this policy?" And come armed with alternatives, like putting a price cap on office parties or celebrating only certain events. Who knows? He may be just as tired of getting hit up for contributions as you are. Photo: Thinkstock
5 Tacky Money MovesAsking dinner guests to bring an appetizer or dessert. If you're hosting a dinner party, not a potluck, spring for the cost of the entire menu yourself.
Making an invite a thinly disguised invoice. Requesting money in lieu of gifts? Is this a celebration or a shakedown?
Stalking people in the name of charity. You want someone to donate for a good cause, fine. Mention it once and move on. If they don't, get over it.
Asking how much a person makes. Unless you're an IRS agent, it's not your business.
Rubbing it in when you bail out a friend. Coming to you for cash is probably embarrassing enough. If you need to pat yourself on the back, do it in private. Photo: Thinkstock
Original article appeared on WomansDay.com.
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