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Nothing kills a night out with friends like people trying to dodge the check. One person may regularly “forget” his wallet. Another doesn’t protest — ever — when you offer to pick up the tab.
Ongoing spending differences may strain your relationships and hurt your financial goals. A budget calculator will reveal just how generous you can afford to be. But if you’re unhappy with a friend who consistently doesn’t pay her share, fix it before resentment takes hold. Here’s how:
IDENTIFY THE UNDERLYING ISSUE
You will have a range of financial personalities among friends. Sort out the ones you can live with from the ones who make you feel shortchanged.
–The nickel-and-dimer: Some friends prefer to pay only for what they consumed, down to the penny, even when the group wants to split the check evenly.
While stinginess isn’t exactly mooching, it may breed a similar feeling of resentment. Still, though your friend’s preference is different from yours, there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. In this instance, it’s up to you to accept your friend can’t or doesn’t want to pay extra, and move on.
“A sensitive friend looks at the big picture and says, `OK, this might be a quirk that I don’t have, but it’s also probably the fairest way to go about this,”‘ says Andrea Bonior, a clinical psychologist and author of “The Friendship Fix.”
That’s especially true if your friend forgoes costly cocktails or orders less-expensive dishes. A number of mobile apps exist to simplify check-splitting.
–The cash-crunched: A friend who is between jobs or who just put a security deposit on a new apartment might not have spare fun money. But if he’s not a frequent bill dodger and you want to go out with him, picking up the tab occasionally is fine, says Irene S. Levine, a psychologist and creator of The Friendship Blog . Again, understanding your own budget constraints can help you gauge the right frequency.
If your friend’s cash crunch is longer-term — he has a lower-paying job than you, say — consider cheaper entertainment like a night at home binge-watching “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” You’ll save money and patience, and your friend won’t feel endlessly indebted to you.
–The chronic freeloader: The trouble starts when your generosity becomes expected. Some friends actively avoid paying their share. Perhaps they conveniently retire to the bathroom before the check comes or, when you travel together, don’t reimburse you for the hotel until months later, if at all. This can lead to anger and bitterness. If you care about saving the friendship, a mature, respectful discussion is your next step.
TALK IT OUT
Instead of holding a grudge, Bonior suggests you pick a time to have a private conversation that’s not in the moment — not, for instance, when your friend says her paycheck is late and she’ll cover drinks next time.
When you’re in a place where you both feel comfortable, say, “This is really awkward, but remember when you put that concert ticket on my credit card? You still haven’t paid me back, and I could really use the money.” Or “I feel a little frustrated because you haven’t thrown in cash for drinks lately.”
Go with “I” statements, which focus the conversation on how you feel, rather than attacking your friend’s character.
KNOW WHEN TO MOVE ON
Friends may take time to address your concerns. But if three months later the same issues continue to crop up, say something. Again. If you have a sense of how much money you’ve expended covering shortfalls since you first talked, let your friend know. At this point, it may be time to re-evaluate your relationship.
“If a friendship consistently makes you feel drained, put upon, used or stressed, it’s time to move on,” Levine says.
That doesn’t require announcing your friendship is over. Start by turning down your friend’s invitations and slowly extricating yourself from daily interactions. If your friend asks what’s going on, you can be honest; but remember you don’t have to feel guilty for letting the friendship fizzle. Your happiness — and bank account — are too precious to squander.
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