The bank of BFFs.

Do you always grab for the tab, or do you and friends/roommates split even the smallest expenditures?

The first can leave you open to exploitation. The second can be aggravating if it becomes an exercise in, “SonyaAnn got the extra cup of ranch dressing so she owes 30 cents more.”

Treading that ticklish territory is the subject of my latest column over at MSN Money, “Your best friends’ bank: You.” (Edited to add: This article is no longer available since Microsoft changed platforms. Sorry about that.)


The “let’s split it evenly” situation can rankle, too, if you have a chicken Caesar salad and iced tea while everyone else at the table has appetizers, a couple of beers, an entree and dessert.

As I’d previously noted in “The bank of girlfriends,” some people find it easier to give than to take. Yet that can lead not just to budget-busting (can you really afford to pay so often?) but also to hurt feelings if your refusal to be treated is interpreted as, “I don’t need your help.”

These and other financial minefields are covered in the piece. The PF experts I interviewed offered interesting tactics for dealing both with the moochers and the mixed-martial-arts-deathmatches over the dinner check. (Hi, Linda B.!)

I’d be interested in your feedback after you’ve read it. To get the conversational ball rolling:

  • If you take turns treating, does it concern you whether it winds up being “fair” in the long run?
  • Have you ever argued with (or wound up dropping) friends you felt were taking advantage of you?
  • Did you ever loan $100 to a temporarily straitened pal who never repaid you when things get better?


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  1. Yes! Matter of fact, last month I was visiting a friend and asked if she wanted to go out for dinner. When I met her at the restaurant she had brought 3 extra people I was unaware of, but didn’t think to much into it.

    I gave the waitress my card and used the restroom and when she handed me back the receipt instead of 2 $25 dollar dinners, it was $125! When I mentioned it to my friend, she kind of brushed it aside saying, “Oh, I thought you knew you were paying for everybody.”

    The amount wasn’t the issue, it was that when I invited 1 person I wound up paying for 4 and not one person thought to even ask or offer to pay their portion.

    • Donna Freedman

      @HeidiEverett: Um…how exactly would you have known that? Did she ever bring it up? Of course not. She was bargaining on your being too polite to say anything.
      Wow. I’m sorry that happened. The only thing I can think of is to suggest you take comedian Rita Rudner’s advice: If a friend owes you money and doesn’t pay you back, go over to his house and break something of the approximate value of the loan. There. You’re square.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  2. Good advice, I love Rita Rudner!

  3. Hey Donna, great article as usual.. I used to be the ‘softie’ but age is wonderful, as at least for me, my spine got a whole lot tougher! Nowadays, I only surround myself with people who have proven to be true friends, so I don’t have to worry about keeping tabs. It always evens out sooner or later, either with goods or deeds! Most of my friends are as frugal as I am, so we have honest conversations about what is affordable etc and there is no ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ for us…thanks again for the lighthearted way that you approach this subject.

    • Donna Freedman

      @BC: My friend and I tussle over paying, and each of us wonders why the other one is always doing such nice things for us. I hope it all evens out, but I have the sneaking suspicion that she is always going to be a little bit ahead. She’s just that cool.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  4. My friends and I always split the check when we go out to eat, unless it’s someone’s birthday and then we treat that person whose birthday it is. I have socialized with people, however, who will often not order any food but will eat off of my plate; that always bothers me because I paid for the food and it’s rare that I get to eat out anyway. I feel bad about saying no when they ask if they can eat my food, though, but at the same time I feel like I have a right to eat it.

    • Donna Freedman

      @NeuroticWorkaholic: I think you should stab ’em with your fork, myself. You’re a freakin’ starvin’ student, for heaven’s sake! Why would anyone get between you and the tapas???
      Seriously: The woman in the article said you should practice saying, calmly, “I can’t afford to split the check evenly, so here’s what I owe for the food I ate plus tax and tip.” Maybe you could say, “Of course I’d love to share but I’m incredibly hungry tonight” or “My budget lets me eat out only once or twice a semester, so I need to savor every last bite.”
      But keep that fork handy, in case they think you’re only kidding.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  5. I tell the server in the beginning as I start to order, “Separate check.” I do not drink (I will but not at restaurant or bar prices), order cautiously, and cannot afford to subsidize others’ good time when I try to set a reasonable amount or the amount I can afford to spend.

    When I was in grad school, a teacher friend wanted to go to a seafood restaurant on the lake to eat. I said I would go somewhere cheaper. Finally, I told her to just take me home since I could really not afford even a cheap place. She said if I would let her treat me, she would just like my company. We wrangled. She insisted she wanted my company so badly, did not want to eat alone, I was soooo much fun (I am), and that I would not have to worry about the cost of my meal. Finally, she wore me down.

    As we pulled out of the parking lot, she said, “Now, you can sew me something to pay me back.” I sew well and for a tidy sum except for friends. I gasped, looked at her like she had lost her mind, and asked her about the “treating me in exchange for my company.” She was embarrassed. I was furious. She tried to laugh it off. I was cool for weeks.

    She would not buy groceries for 6 weeks, then come to my house for several cold glasses of milk, gulped in succession. No, she did not come for a visit, just for milk. One day, I hid the full gallon of milk in a cooler. She just went to my refrigerator, looked at the last two inches of milk in the other jug, and sighed and told me she couldn’t drink the last of my milk. Ha, had never given her permission that day or any other.

    Maybe that is another post for you–people who come by for their milk, coke, or the last of your chocolate….her other friends hid all snacks when they heard she was coming over! She was not strapped for money.

  6. Ooops, meant to say–I would have probably sewn the next garment for her for free, saying to her that this would make us even on the meal or something to let her know why the garment was free. I always try to do something nice for someone who has done something nice for me. Sewing is the thing friends love for me to do.

  7. It depends on the friend. With some , because I know they won’t pay , forgot their wallet , they’re ” a little short this week ” yada,yada, yada, I ask for separate checks up front.With others we figure out who owes what, and then all chip in for the tip. And with a select few , one of us gets the tab and the other the tip and then we switch next time. I learned the hard way that if the expectations are not set at the beginning or prior to the meal ,someone always gets stuck or feels like they got burned in the deal. Good friends and time to enjoy them are in short supply these days.

  8. anonniemouse

    Separate checks! We used to pay for one friend’s dinner because we thought the friend was in a bad way. We found out that the friend makes 3x what we do, but puts most of the money in one savings or another and always acts broke. No more Ms. and Mr. Generous from us.

  9. Danielle

    My friends and I all ask for separate checks when we order. Saves the hassle and misunderstanding. However, when I was younger and less confident, one of my college friends would always ask for five bucks to get lunch from the dog wagon. He would do this every time we had class together; which was three times a week! I regret that I never confronted the leech. Instead I just lied and said that I didn’t have any money on me. Of course this was after I was out about 50 bucks. Live and learn!

  10. 1. Not a problem. If I offer to treat, I mean it as a treat without expectation of “fair repayment”.

    2. Yes because taking advantage of me means they are NOT my friend so losing them doesn’t hurt my feelings.

    3. I won’t loan cold hard cash to even my best friend (now pay the bill that needs paying, yes, but give them cash, nope).

  11. cheapcat

    My husband has a few friends that tend to take advantage of the fact that he gets a discount at work. He doesn’t mind picking up a few small things once in a while, but a friend asked him to pick up a $300 item! Hubby charged the item on his CC, thinking that his friend would pay him back before the CC was due. Friend paid back everything but $80 the next week & then took weeks to pay the rest back.
    It was really annoying when his friend was complaining about needing to pay for repairs on his car but then spent a few hundred on more musical equipment. This friend is famous for not handling money well, so I told hubby that this was coming out of his spending money, & then took $80 less out of the ATM than usual so hubby would really notice not having the money. He tends to be a softy even with people who don’t deserve it.

  12. Yes, I lent a co-worker $100.00 that she was to repay at next pay day. It came and went and then she stopped talking to me. I should have just given it to her, not “lent” it to her. Never got it back and we’ve never spoken again. Very sad.

  13. Sarah L

    I used to have it happen all the time with a group of “friends” I hung out with. Two in particular never had the money to go to the movies (they suggested) we went to (and of course, the snacks they wanted), the restraunts, drinks while out shopping, etc… I wasted hundreds on those freeloaders before I finally just started telling them that I couldn’t go, I didn’t have the money. So I didn’t go, they went out, and I guess someone else paid for it all, and while I missed the company, the huge chunk of money I was pay for that company wasn’t worth it. I distanced myself from that whole group, even though it was just two of the freeloading, because the others always kept saying, oh, Sarah’ll pay for it, she can loan it to you… (loans I NEVER got back) Fast forward a bit, of course, once I stopped paying, they drifted away, on to the next person with a willing credit card, I’m guessing.

  14. bagelgirl

    Oh yes, have certainly loaned money that was never repaid, and treated people who never took their turn.

    But really hate to eat with groups of people, because some of them forget there is tax on restaurant meals, and forget the cost of their coffee and are still tipping at 10%. Then it falls to the rest of us.

    Definitely separate checks now.

  15. I usually don’t comment twice on one subject, but to the neurotic workaholic, I have to say that you are a more patient person than I am.. Eat off my plate indeed!! Even my hubby would get a fork stabbing for that one!!! Sorry just had to add my two cents on that one..

  16. Laughing! I am more than willing to share the dressing with you! I must have been on your mind or you think I owe you $.30. LOL. How about I buy lunch in October?
    I can’t wait to see you.

  17. ImJunipernow

    You’ll love this – I worked a second job as night secretary. The night receptionist and I became friendly. She’s a single Mom, working to making ends meet. We’d have coffee and a late night treat after work on many occasions. I felt that, since I was the big-deal secretary, I could better afford to pick up the check most nights. Then purely by accident I found out she made $10 an hour MORE than me and then my wallet suddenly felt very uncooperative. Luckily (?) we both lost those jobs around the same time.

    Ladies, don’t reach for that check unless you really feel you want to. And, if you have that $.30 dressing, for Heaven’s sake, at least pretend to want to pay for it!

  18. 1. Maybe it’s due to my age (24), but my friends and I don’t take turns when it comes to eating out. We have always asked for separate checks. The only time we offer to treat is for special occasions (i.e. birthdays).
    3. I’ve never been in this situation, none of my friends or family members have ever asked for a large amount of money. A quarter or dollar here or there. My husband did borrow money from a friend a few years ago before we were together, but he ended up paying back every dime. We don’t feel comfortable loaning money to anyone.

  19. I have a family member that now expects me to pick up all the bills. It got to the point where I felt like I was being taken advantage of so now we don’t go out with her as often. It was the classic, get apps, expensive entree, dessert and 3 glasses of wine and suddenly $150 later, she’s had a real nice night out because it wasn’t her money she was spending, it was mine. She even took me out one night and then forgot her wallet.

    I really don’t mind being generous especially if I know I am earning more, but when it gets to the point where I feel taken advantage of, I stop it. Now, she’ll get a meal 1 time/year and that’s it.

    • Donna Freedman

      @First Gen American: To paraphrase Eleanor Roosevelt, no one can take advantage of you without your permission. Sometimes we give this permission by being too polite or too timid to say anything. I’m glad you were able to close down the bank. It sounds like the right thing to do.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  20. I’m a single mother w/ two young kids. I hardly ever go out to eat and when i do go with friends i ask for separate checks. if friends invite me i tell them the truth i dont have money for that. Instead of going out to eat , we eat at each other houses taking turns or i’ll bring something over to share with everybody. If I say it’s my treat i’ll treat. I never live beyond my means and dont expect something in return. My only peeve is that my friends would stop asking me because they assumed that i didnt have money…i do! but i just like to eat out in moderation.

  21. When I’m out with friends or colleague, the assumption (for everyone) is separate bills. If it’s someone’s birthday or special occasion, we do split that bill, but it’s easier if we just keep it separate. The exception would be if I’m with one friend and we ordered the same thing (and we have similar tipping philosophies) – then it’s just as easy to get one bill and each pay half.

    I’ve never been asked for money – I’ve done trips with friends where someone (usually me) pays and gets paid back later, but everyone has always paid promptly.

    I do have one friend who is weird about money in a different way – she cannot accept gifts without immediately reciprocating. My group of friends doesn’t do birthday/Christmas/etc. gifts as a rule, but if I see something small that someone else would like, I’ll buy it for them whether it’s a special occasion or not. They do the same. For this one friend, I’ve learned that doing something like that is not really a gift for her – it’s an obligation that she now feels she has to pay off, and it will bother her until she does. This is only true about money, though – she feels no obligation after I spend a Saturday with her kids. I’m happy to do so – I enjoy her kids – but giving up a day of my weekend is a bigger imposition to me than spending $10 on something I think she’d like.

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