We've all been there. You agree to a group meal when you're on a tight budget, ordering eggs on toast or a garden salad while your friends split appetisers, order entrees and try fancy new smoothies. You watch helplessly as the bill comes and your friend's boyfriend you were never really a fan of to begin with utters those five dark words: "Should we just split it?"
For someone who makes a lot less money than their friends, that can lead to weeks of penny-pinching to make up for a single meal. You didn't want to look cheap, but shouldn't your friends realise money's tight for some?
If this sounds like you, here are some tips to keep in mind when your money situation is different from your friends'.
Yes, this is the least fun option. But you should have a budget for eating out and if you think the place will be too expensive, then sit it out.
"Be honest with your friends about what you really can afford", says Dara Luber, TD Ameritrade's Family Finance Specialist. If they're really your friends, they'll be receptive to what you're saying and they won't be offended if you need to sit an event or two out.
It'll be tough at first — particularly when you're young — but ultimately it's the right call. And missing a dinner or two isn't the end of the world (if your friends are constantly eating out at expensive places you can't afford, maybe consider making some new friends).
Just be sure to suggest an alternate, less expensive hang at a different date, or explain to your friend why you can't go. If they really want you there, they'll be more mindful.
Ask for Separate Bills Beforehand
Let's say staying home isn't an option — you're already out, you had a coke and an app and now your friends expect you to split everything (entrees, desserts and the three bottles of wine) down the middle, or it's your friend's birthday and you really want to be there for her. What can you do?
"If you're at dinner and someone orders the lobster and another the salad, don't be afraid to speak up and say something when the bill comes", says Luber. "It can be awkward, but real friends will understand".
Better yet, Chantel Bonneau, wealth advisor at Northwestern Mutual, says to ask the friend who is organising the meal for separate bills before the meal starts. Then you can avoid any awkwardness and the pressure that comes at the end of the meal.
"Don't be afraid to be honest. Sometimes people in less stringent financial circumstances don't even realise the pressures of sticking to a budget", says Bonneau. "The transparency may lead them to be sensitive about planning more affordable situations in the future".
You could also ask a trusted friend to speak up for you at the end to ease the potential awkwardness.
Take the Hit
If you didn't request separate bills ahead of time, do consider if the difference is worth the effort when it comes time to pay. If it's a few dollar difference, you might let it slide in that case.
Set a dollar amount you can't exceed in your head. You can still ask for a separate bill at the end if you really do have a strict budget. Just be honest with your friends. It might be uncomfortable for a few minutes, but chances are everyone will forget soon and we could all stand to be a little more honest about our money.
You don't want to look like Scrooge, but on the other hand, you also don't want to pay for everyone else's steak and wine when you had a house salad and water. If you have a limited amount of cash and not a card, then you can make an even better case for just paying your share. Make sure you have a variety of bills so you can make exact change for your meal.
You could also just use an app like Venmo to pay your share, though that could make you look stingy.
Suggest a Potluck
If your friends routinely go out to eat, invite them over to your place or suggest a group dinner at someone else's place instead. It's more intimate and likely cheaper. You could also suggest a BYOB restaurant to cut back on drink costs.
And if paying more really bothers you, be frank with your friends. Tell them you're on a budget and you only order so much on purpose and it would mean a lot to you if everyone could pay their way in the future. Your friends will understand.