How to handle sticky situations when it comes to money

Etiquette has a lot to do with learning how to gracefully handle sticky situations and when it comes to money, sticky situations are everywhere. Etiquette expert Lisa Orr tackles some money etiquette questions. 

Should you split the bill equally or split it based on who ate what?
Both ways can work. The advantage of people paying their own way is that they can order what they can afford. That way, friends with different financial situations can have a meal together and not resent the friend who orders 3 bottles of wine and the lobster.   

Splitting equally can work well too but you have to agree on that up front. You should always consider income disparity, especially if you know there is a big gap.  Selecting venues that are low key and budget friendly are a great solution because they allow you to focus on what’s important, spending time with your friends.

When should you bring up finances with your date?
Although it’s not particularly romantic, talking about finances and financial expectations is part of being in a relationship. A recent study found that 35% of people who experience stress in their relationship blame finances. Although I’d say it’s a little crass for first date material – you need to understand early on if you are financially compatible.  The right way to ask is to talk about topics related to your financial values – for instance, saving for a vacation or retirement, about how you were proud to have paid off student loans, or about how you’d like to buy a house before you’re 30 or 40.

If my friend is a hairstylist, should I pay her for styling my hair or should I assume that since we’re friends, no payment is expected?
The most appropriate approach is to pay your friend their market rate. He or she may give you a friends & family discount which is fine to accept, but in the end you aren’t being a great friend if every time he or she “works” for you she’s losing money. 

What if I can’t afford the price point that’s been set?
This is definitely the big challenge around group gifts.  The solution can be to either say you’ve decided to get her a gift solo, that way you can pick something in line with your budget, or you can go back and say what you are able to contribute, so if you’ve budgeted $50, tell them and offer to go on your own if that isn’t sufficient.  

What if the couple getting married specifically requests money, but I’d rather give something else?
A gift is up to the giver, not the recipient.  Even though the happy couple can indicate their preference, much like they do with registries, the ultimate gifting decision is up to you, so absolutely you can buy them a china set instead. The only warning I would offer is that often these happy couples can turn into tantrumming toddlers when they don’t get what they want, so be sure to include a gift receipt.

I don’t like feeling obligated to give! Help!
The etiquette is that you do not ever have to contribute to those businesses, campaigns or fundraisers, and no one should ever be judged for whether or not they choose to contribute.   We all have causes and projects that are vitally important to us, but that doesn’t mean your friends and family have to feel the same way as you do and you should never ever be made to feel guilty for not getting on board.

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