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Money Talk Among Friends Can be Tricky but Necessary at Times--Part II

June 11, 2018 Barbara Ballinger & Margaret Crane

In last week’s blog post, we addressed the subject of not talking about money as our parents taught us. To do so was considered gauche, could make many feel uncomfortable if they had less then you did and make you seem to boast even if you weren’t.
 
And often the topic precluded discussions about more pertinent information. But let’s face it folks, if the adage is true that money is the root of all evil, it’s also at the root of almost every conversation we have.
 
Sometimes it’s blatant and tasteless. Other times it’s subtle and slips in where least expected whether discussing schools, clothing we like, real estate transactions, politics, health care, food, entertainment. You name it. In most conversations it just hangs like a chad.
 
And yet, today, we’re back peddling a bit and sharing that sometimes the topic needs to be addressed, should be addressed. A prime example is when you’re invited to dinner or to a party that involves a meal at a restaurant or club and maybe also a present.
 
In the city where we’ve both lived, there has long been a custom among certain circles to celebrate each other’s birthdays in a group, sharing in the cost of the meal out, paying for the birthday gal or guy and giving a group present or shared gift, usually in the form of a nice big check!
 
Barbara bowed out of the shared gift part long ago because she preferred to give a tangible gift rather than a check. She explained this early on to one woman who took charge of collecting checks. For another birthday celebration, which she and two others hosted rather than ask to divvy up the cost, she was surprised when of her co-hosts suggested the threesome needed to give a gift, too. Barbara felt the party was a more than sufficient gift but relented not to be disagreeable.
 
There have been other cases when we’ve each been surprised because there were different assumptions. Margaret and a former boyfriend were invited out by a friend to her birthday dinner, and Margaret wrongly assumed that the birthday gal was picking up the tab. At the end of the meal, Margaret and her guy were informed what their share would be. Surprise! Barbara has faced a similar situation several times. Each time she was invited, she wrongly assumed that the birthday host was paying. 
 
Are we cheap? Only sometimes, we think. But in all fairness and in these cases, we certainly were surprised because of how we handle gatherings. Doesn’t mean we are wrong or the friends are; we just come from different places and had different expectations.

When Barbara hosted a small dinner at a restaurant for her beau’s 70th birthday, she invited three couples they were close with; and the bill was hers alone. She never would have expected anyone to pay. This was part of her gift to her guy. And when Margaret’s siblings hosted a birthday dinner for her similar milestone, they picked up the tab for everyone invited. The same was true when her then boyfriend threw an informal 70th birthday celebration in her honor; it was all on him.
 
Yet, each of us has been invited to gatherings where we were asked at the end—not in advance—to put down our credit card or cash to help share the cost of the celebration. We’re fine about doing so, just were surprised.
 
Because Barbara decided she might not be up on current social etiquette, she asked one of her millennial daughters if they’ve had ever had a similar experience. It seems that paying for oneself when invited to a group birthday celebration is the thing to do these days. Her younger daughter informed her that she should never have assumed her meal was being covered. The daughter explained that when she invited friends to her husband’s last birthday dinner, she had told guests that she was buying the first round of drinks. “Nobody would have expected me to pay for everyone. None of us can afford to do that,” she explained. Makes perfect sense, though she did share in advance the first round of drinks was on her. That was smart and considerate because it left her friends to “assume” the rest was on them.
 
So, is this a generational thing or simply a matter of wrong expectations? Maybe, a bit of both. But the more important question is how would Barbara or Margaret have known that they were expected to share in the cost? Should they have been tacky and asked in advance, “Are we guests or do you expect us to share in the bill?” That would have been hard to utter since we’re uncomfortable talking money, as we’ve said. But at least we would have known. We guess you live and learn.
 
In all these cases, the costs of the meals plus gifts haven’t set us back financially and we’re happy to share to toast friends on happy events as there are far too few these days. However, we think this is something that should be spelled out when invites are extended, and we plan to do our part.
 
In the future when we expect to host a dinner out, we plan to say, “We’d love you to join us as our guest.” In certain cases where we don’t want to cover the tab all on our own—and we’re not sure when that would be, we might say, “We’d love you to join us and hope you understand that we plan to go Dutch.” At least it’s clear upfront and friends can decide if they want to participate or not.
 
And we’ve learned something else in the process. Hosting a dinner at home totally avoids the problem. It’s all on us, unless friends offer to bring this or that for some kind of pot luck celebration.
 
If you have better ideas, please share.  



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