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How to Mind Your Money Manners When Splitting the Bill

By Breena Fain
July 29, 2016

Dealing with money can be awkward regardless of how much you have, especially when it comes to splitting the bill. Whether it’s asking a roommate to pitch in for toilet paper or deciding who pays on a first date, navigating money manners for shared expenses can be tricky. Here are some common scenarios you may encounter with our tips for gracefully and economically splitting the bill.

The dinner with friends.

We’ve all been there — the group dinner with friends of varying tastes, and bank accounts. You’re on a budget so you order an appetizer and a beer, while your friend orders the prime rib and a bottle of Bordeaux. The bigger the group, the harder it is to make sure everyone pays their fair share of the check without pulling out a calculator.

If you want to avoid bankrolling your friend’s expensive taste in food while still maintaining your manners, offer to be the accountant. Instead of splitting hairs (and cents), my friends and I divide portions by $5 increments. This allows for a more equitable division of cost while still making it easy to manage. Most times, your friends will just be grateful that you’re handling the math on their behalf.

The group getaway.

If you are looped into an event or a trip that you can’t miss, offer to plan it so you can help find ways to keep it affordable and help manage how expenses get divvied up. If you can find quality options at a good price, you’ll also get bonus points for putting in the work.

First, create a list of costs that will need to be divided, such as groceries, activities, rental deposits, and fees. If one person is shopping, set a budget and create a grocery list so there are no complaints about unnecessary expenses. Set clear expectations up front with the group about what is shared and what is on the individual. If someone wants special items, they can pick it up separately.

To make it even easier, you can estimate the shared costs and have people send you ahead of time for shared items like food and accommodations. Use apps like Chimes’s mobile payment app which make dividing up expenses easier when there are lots of expenses to manage.

The shared monthly rent and bills.

Roommate situations can be tough. You live with these people after all, so money matters need to be handled with care. When a roommate is failing to pay his or her part of the household expenses, it’s more difficult to confront when there’s no formal expense tracking. The best way to fine-tune your money manners with roommates is to have a good mobile payment app, and thankfully technology can help with that.

Before you sign the lease or a new roommate moves in, agree to some rules about how expenses will be shared and the process for collecting everyone’s fair share. Again this is where apps like Splitwise and Divvy can streamline monthly bills and save you an awkward conversation.

The first date.

Who pays on the first date has become a tricky question when it comes to money manners. Dating culture evolving so quickly in the era of Instagram, Snapchat and Tinder, you might expect that traditional etiquette has become irrelevant. But surveys have found that even today, most heterosexual couples still aren’t going dutch on the first date. Yup, in most cases, the guy is still picking up the tab.

According to research conducted at California State University, about 10% of heterosexual daters expect the man to pay for everything, 10% expect to go 50/50, and the rest are somewhere in between. In other words, there’s no clear money manner on the first date.

This is why I like to stick to the simple rule of—if you ask someone out on a date, you should also offer to pick up the bill. If they insist on splitting it, great. But beware of the fake wallet reaches. About half of women reported they get upset if they end up having to pay, even if they offered. I suppose that’s on them, but just be aware.

The most important manner to keep in mind is this—don’t assume the other person has the same spending habits as you do. I personally think splitting the bill is a good move on a first date, but I wouldn’t be okay if I was forced to fork out $100 unexpectedly.

The alternative.

Social norms will tell us that talking about money is taboo. It’s uncomfortable. It makes us vulnerable. It can expose us. But when it impacts your ability to be financially stable, it’s important to communicate when you can’t afford something. Or at the very least, learn how to politely say “no”.

Next time you get an invitation to a dinner date, a weekend escape, or the trip of a lifetime, considering how it will impact your goals. Does it align with your priorities, or are you simply matching what others are forking out for the sake of appearances? While it’s tempting to live in the moment, and dreadful to experience FOMO, remember your budget is there so you won’t feel like you’re missing out down the road.

We haven’t even scratched the surface of awkward money situations and how to handle them, so feel free to share your stories with us! You can comment below or join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #MoneyManners

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