Whose Turn Is It To Pay the Check?

By Michelle Singletary
Sunday, January 6, 2008

They're just four little words, but they can cause strife after a pleasant meal out with co-workers, friends or family.

You've all heard them at one time or another: "Let's split the check."

I once went to lunch with a large group of co-workers. I purposely ordered a meal that cost less than $10, which even at that amount was more than I typically budget for lunch. One co-worker ordered a couple of appetizers, a steak entree and a drink. When the bill came she was the first to chirp, "Let's split the check."

I looked around the table. A few people discreetly rolled their eyes. Others, who had also ordered frugally, just reached for their wallets.

"Well, I would rather not split the check," I said. "I'm only paying for what I ordered and ate plus my share of the tip."

The woman who ordered the large meal and liquor said, "Michelle, you're such a cheapskate."

Some people laughed. I didn't think it was a funny or fair comment. This woman often ordered much more than everybody else when we all went out to lunch.

This is the kind of situation that makes dealing with money so maddening sometimes. We get into these little scuffles, and someone often walks away feeling used or abused. A less well-off friend may think you should pick up the tab more because you earn more. A sibling is always borrowing money from your parents, who complain to you. A relative is angry because you won't co-sign a loan. What's the right way to respond to all these situations?

For some useful guidance, I suggest reading "Isn't It Their Turn to Pick Up the Check?" (Free Press, $21) by Jeanne Fleming and Leonard Schwarz.

I've selected the couple's book for the January Color of Money Book Club because it is a great coffee-table volume. Leave it out, and it will surely stir up some interesting discussions and debates.

"Once upon a time it was sex that people felt uncomfortable discussing, but today it's money," the couple write. Now "it's the money problems you experience with friends and family -- problems you hate to mention for fear of sounding judgmental or just plain small, problems you're slow to raise because you think a confrontation could be in the cards."

The book certainly delivers on its subtitle, "Dealing With All of the Trickiest Money Problems Between Family and Friends -- From Serial Borrowers to Serious Cheapskates."

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