How Do You Ask Family to Pay Their Fair Share?

by Miranda Marquit · 17 comments

When we go out with friends and family, the question of how to split the bill often comes up. In some cases, you might even notice that someone isn’t contributing very much. While you might want to overlook it, it’s hard to avoid feeling a little uncomfortable and annoyed when it appears as though someone is acting a bit like a mooch.

But what do you do when someone habitually avoids paying the bill?

How Much Money are We Talking About?

The first thing that you need to figure out is how much money is in question. If you pick up the tab for snacks out of the vending machine, the couple dollars you are losing may be worth the harmony in your relationship. However, if everyone but one of you pays for meals or drinks when you go out every single time, then that’s something different.

And, of course, in the case of a stay at a resort, or some other high cost situation, it can be even harder to stomach paying the whole cost when your family member doesn’t pay his or her “fair share.”

Overlooking a small amount on occasion might be worth it, especially if you don’t want to have an awkward conversation about money. But those small amounts can add up over time, and you might soon tire of always paying — even if it’s only $5 at a time. For something major, though, it’s important to establish ground rules ahead of time so that you know you won’t be on the hook for everything.

Broaching the Subject of Payment

While talking about money is not usually high on most peoples’ lists of things to do, it still might need to be done. One way to approach the subject is directly, and ahead of time. When you go out, as you’re sitting down, you can simply ask, “So, how are we doing this? Should we do separate checks?”

If you are planning a big get together, and have fees to pay, you can ask all involved to send in their share up front. Say that you want to reserve the hotel or pavilion, but that you need to know who is coming, and that you need payment from all those who want to participate. This is a gentle reminder that others need to contribute, and it might provide the “chronic avoider” with a definite reason to pay his or her fair share right now.

What If There are Other Issues?

Of course, in some cases your friend or family member might not be able to pay. Perhaps he or she is tight on cash right now, but still wants to participate. Instead of constantly rubbing it in while you go out and have fun, maybe you can plan other sorts of activities. A backyard barbecue, a potluck dinner, or a trip to the cheap theater or the drive-in can all be inexpensive ways to have fun while not putting others in an awkward situation.

Before you accuse someone of being a cheapskate, make sure you understand the situation. Try to be tactful as you ask for money. What are your suggestion when someone seems to never pay his or her share?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Nana P says:

    I’m renting this house for 515.00 a month I pay the whole electric bill cable bill together is 941.00 and my sista and her boyfriend moved in with me when their home burnt to the ground I felt sorry for them but it’s been like 6 or 7 years ago all they pay is 220.00 a piece not fair but how do say anything with out her screaming to the top of her lungs ???

  • Gail says:

    I have a situation that is a little more precarious. I have a lone surviving aunt (the baby of a family of 12 siblings) who is on a fixed income. All the nieces and nephews know she doesn’t have a lot of money so we are all prepared to pay when we take her out to lunch or share a room with her for family reunions, etc. (which I have done). But her attitude is one of expectation. She is never very appreciative or thankful. And in the age of FB, she has started posting everything on FB. She complains about her lack of money, she “wishes” for this or that (which then sometimes mysteriously appears from a family member or friend). She recently told me that her friend took her out to lunch for her birthday. When I asked when the friend’s birthday was and if she took the friend out for her day (not very subtle I know), she replied that the friend has way more money than she does and doesn’t expect her to reciprocate. This is embarrassing to me and most of my family. I know it’s not really my problem and I should just do what I feel right doing but it also makes me irritated that a grown woman (78) won’t act like an adult. Just venting really but if someone has a thought, I’m open.

  • Sil says:

    So I invited a friend on a home rental vacation. I did not mention cost or how much she should pay for their accommodations. She has not asked me how much or how they can chip in. How can I ask her nicely for payment?

    • David @ says:

      If the trip already happened, I feel like the ship has sailed. If not, maybe you can just ask her to chip in for the daily expenses like food or drinks. Next time, it’s best to be upfront about sharing costs before you give her a chance to respond to avoid any confusion.

  • Deby says:

    You have to deal with those people directly. I used to go out to eat weekly with a group of 10+ people. We had 2 that did not fairly contribute. One of the woman took over the job of collecting money and she would directly tell them what they owed. They would still try wiggling it down, but she would remind them that they also enjoyed a drink and needed to participate in tipping the waitress. They were trying to just pay for their meal only. We were not a cruel group we often took people who could not afford to go and treated them.

    I participated in a group camping trip and paid the share that was requested and brought food. Some of the family members of the person running the trip did not contribute. I discontinued participation because I didn’t like paying their way.

  • Kathleen says:

    My parents try to pick up the check when we are visiting. Since they are only 2 and we are a family of 7, it’s a big difference. My kids eat A LOT!! Any food bill would be enormous for them. When we go out with friends, I always ask for separate checks, up front, so there’s no mistaking that we are NOT paying for our friends very large and expensive eating habits. They drink, we don’t and I will definitely not split a bill with copious amounts of booze attached to it. Yes, we are “cheap”, but we also have 5 kids and only 1 income so money is always tight no matter what.

  • Maria says:

    I don’t go out with anybody who doesn’t know what his share of the bill should be. I enjoy treating people to nice places and a free dinner on special occassions. However, they are expected to pay the tip, and pay for the booze that they drink. Young relatives, I pick up the tab. Older relatives on a fixed or no income, I pick up the tab. My dates, they pick up the tab. I’ve been known to walk away from a restaurant if someone tries to pull the old “I forgot my wallet” trick. Let them sort it out and go home in a cab. It all seems very simple to me. If they are not my dependants, they do not get shit for free… what is all of this squaking about, anyway!

  • Caroline says:

    It’s very tricky if everyone is on vastly-different incomes, but I have noticed that there are certain people who always, always plead poverty. They can never afford anything ever… unles and until it suits them. That’s fine, nothing wrong at all with sticking to a budget, but it means that others, who may have incomes very similar, are perceived as having money to burn while the constant poverty-pleaders routinely get a free ride! Saying that, we have been caught a few times when there’s a set price given for a meal or whatever and then suddenly ”everyone” needs to throw in quite a lot more for something that someone else ordered (like wine), when you actually brought your own and paid for the corkage… and shared amongst the group… that sort of thing. It seems so incredibly mean and small to say ”but I didn’t order that wine, I’m not paying for any of it when the amount is relatively small”. Trouble is, these amounts DO add up! I think it’s best to be very clear before you start that you are either splitting the bill evenly or only paying for what you have.

  • Kevin@moneywisdomtips says:

    I think all one needs to do is let them know yot are trying to spend less and save more.

  • Merrie says:

    My dad had a friend, Chuck, who in 60+ years of friendship only picked up a check once: dinner for four on the day he and his wife stood up for my parents on their wedding day in front of the Justice of Peace. Dad always said Chuck was so tight he squeaked. My mother would chastise my dad for not making Chuck pay his fair share when the four of them went out for dinner, but she and my dad also enjoyed watching Chuck’s machinations to get out of paying his share: he would “forget” his wallet; he would let the check lie on the table until my dad finally picked it up; he would go to the bathroom and not come out until Dad had paid the bill and then he’d meet everyone in the restaurant lobby; or he would promise to get the check “next time.” Let me also say that Chuck had a very good job and income, so that was not the problem. I learned from my parents that you only get taken advantage of by people like Chuck when you let it happen!

  • Shane says:

    I generally don’t get upset over these things and I do take in consideration who can really afford to go and who may have been convinced to go even though they didn’t have the funds.

  • Kate says:

    In our family we split the bill evenly, unless someone offers to pay the whole tab (which is often Mama, but we try not to let her do it too often; although she does enjoy treating us, she’s on a fixed income.) If someone has significantly more to eat than everyone else, that person is expected to leave the tip. The differences even out over time. The important thing is to have a firmly fixed policy in place that everyone knows about in advance, that is reviewed at the table when the menus arrive.

  • Jean says:

    Yea, that is definitely one of my biggest fears when going out with people, lol. Fortunately, I’ve usually had to do the ‘fake fight’ to pay the bill (I insist!) until we arrive at a compromise and go dutch.


  • Marbella says:

    I do not go out with freeloaders, I go out only with people who want to always split the bill without debate.

  • Lance@MoneyLife&More says:

    I say if it becomes a problem and they refuse to split the bill just quit putting yourself in that situation. Only go places where money isn’t involved or it is very clear you pay separate.

  • Elisabeth says:

    By always saying “I’d like my check, please.” It’s very easy for restaurants to divide the ticket.

  • KM says:

    You hang out with the wrong people. When I go out with my family, my mom usually tries to treat us and pay for the meal, so I usually have to “fight” with her to let me pay, but sometimes I just let it go. My friends always split the bill according to who had what or in half if we all shared. I’ve never had problems.

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