#586: Splitting the bill with people who always forget their wallet.

Dear Captain,

I was wondering if you could spare some advice on how to go dutch (AKA ‘make-people-pay-their-share) with people who are ‘sensitive’ (where ‘sensitive’ is in the ”easily-offended’ way, not the ‘sensitive-they’ll-figure-it-out-with-only-a-little-prompting’ way.) And these ‘people’ are all members of my in-law family which I would described as a relationships which are ‘generally-pretty-friendly’ but coated with a thick layer of ‘don’t-rock-the-boat’.

I don’t mind being generous (and I come from a family of similar) but I’m finding it increasingly difficult to deal with my in’s who are all financially well-off but when a bill comes around for a shared service are always suddenly stuck by the need to ‘go to the bathroom’ or ‘get something from the car’, have forgotten wallets, don’t have cash on them right now, will ‘get the next round’ or ‘are really short this week’.

I’ve tried some techniques in the past –

  • Pre-arranging payment methods beforehand (these get ‘forgotten’, wrong payment is brought, or guilt is brought out ‘I didn’t know it was so expensive here’)
  • Only bring a set amount of cash or trying to remind them that I had the last round (the ‘bring only a set amount’ has been a disaster – its resulted in long moments standing awkwardly round the till in silence with everyone looking at me while I muttered pathetically “Sorry, I only brought enough for me” or worse, they have all walked out/vanished leaving the bill unpaid. A member went back and paid it once we realized it hadn’t been covered but the experience was very unpleasant. The ‘I had the last round’ is met with excuses similar to if payment is pre-arranged).
  • Ask my husband to speak with HIS family about this. This had been met with either apathy and sympathy but no results. (“Yeah, they are like that and it is annoying. But that’s just how they are.”) (“Just don’t go out with them then.”)

I like spending time with my in-law family and we do a lot of other free fun things together but I’d also love to occasionally go out for a meal, see a movie or get my nails done in their company without having the pay for the pleasure.

Advice?

Not-Made-of-Money

Dear Not Made of Money,

This would drive me absolutely bananas.

Your desire to see your spouse’s family and to have them behave reasonably is a perfectly reasonable thing to want. Unfortunately, I think your husband is right. You’ve tried all the things that normal people would do to fix this, and they have shown you that they have a complete inability to feel shame and zero desire to change.

Let’s be clear: It’s possible to actually forget one’s wallet, or to misunderstand whether something was an invitation that included an unspoken “I will pay for you,” or to be caught unawares by prices. It’s possible…one time. If that happens to you, you thank the other person for covering you with a minimum of fanfare. “I’m so sorry, I’m really embarrassed. Are you able to cover me for now and I will get you back tomorrow?” The next day, if humanly possible, you contact them with an offer to pay them back or issue an invitation to something where you will cover the cost entirely. What you invite them to doesn’t have to match exactly, dollar for dollar, as long as the spirit of reciprocity is observed. “Thank you so much for getting my dinner last night. Can I treat you to a movie soon?” There are loving and good ways to deal with friends around income disparities. The Letter Writer’s in-laws are not using any of those, though.

You could change the dynamic, slightly, in a few ways. This first batch of tactics are relatively un-confrontational and might have some impact:

  • With the entire group, do ONLY free things or things that happen at someone’s house. No “let’s ALL go to a restaurant” stuff. And if you’ve been the one making the plans for large group activities, scale that all the way back.
  • Invite them to dinner or to get nails done in smaller groups, or one at a time, and make clear in advance that it is your treat. You’ll still be paying, but you’ll get what you want which is family time without setting yourself up for horrible awkwardness and anger.
  • If you are the one suggesting the places or activities, and you are getting “I didn’t realize it was so expensive” feedback, take this at face value. However well-off you perceive these people to be, maybe this particular thing IS out of their price range or out of their comfort zone for what they want to spend on x activity. They have a responsibility to speak up when the plans are made, to suggest a different place, or decline if they can’t afford it, and they are almost definitely falling down on the job there. But if you’ve been eating at “moderately-priced” sit-down restaurants, try going to the $8 fancy sandwich joint where everyone pays for their own thing at the counter and see if it gets better.
  • Separate checks separate checks separate checks. Restaurants will sometimes limit the amount of separations in one party, but you want separate checks from now on, and you want to get on that quickly and loudly to the server (don’t negotiate it with your dining companions). As soon as you order anything, speak up. “Spouse and I need to be on our own check, thank you.” When your bill comes, pay it, leave really good tip, as I imagine you already do, and be the one to put on your coats and leave first. And don’t take them to your favorite places.

More confrontational:

  • If one of the main offenders from his family invites you to do something that costs money, get very explicit in a way that will feel rude and unclassy to you. “I feel very awkward about saying this, but the last few times you’ve suggested we get together I’ve ended up paying for everyone and I don’t want to do that again. Is this your treat or are we going Dutch? Because if this is going to be on me, I’d rather not go/go to this other place that I prefer.” Yes, they will be offended. Hold that thought.
  • See also “Thanks for inviting us, but after the way everything went with paying the bill last time, let’s do something free/at your house. I want to see you, but I’m never going through that again.” Yes, they will get offended. More on that later.
  • Talk to the person you are closest to out of the people who do this. “Hey, this has been really weighing on my mind. I love seeing you, but I hate making plans with anyone in Spouse-family lately because there is always some complication about the bill. What am I not understanding? Do we need to agree to pick less expensive outings? What are we supposed to do when everyone bails out at the last minute?” Ask the question directly in a  way that makes it their problem to explain and sort out.Yes, they will be offended by this, too.

If all of this sounds AWKWARD AS FUCK, it’s because IT IS. It sounds like that in their family, the culture is “when you invite me, I assume you will be paying, and when I invite you, I also assume you will be paying.” 

You say they are “sensitive,” aka, easily offended, which it sounds like they wield as a manipulation tool.  Let’s break this down, shall we? They repeatedly act like total clods, leaving you to pay their tab, and then they are the ones who are offended if you bring it up? Like “how dare you be so crass as to mention money“? And you are sort of …not allowed…to get offended yourself at their behavior? They are taking advantage of the social contract that says it’s rude to call attention to rude behavior, and deliberately trying to make it emotionally expensive for you to challenge them so they can keep enjoying the status quo where you take on the entire financial and emotional burden. So what’s the worst thing that could happen if they get really offended? Is it worth it to you to keep paying for them to avoid Mount Offended from erupting? Or is it time to pick the “You can’t actually be serious” fight you’ve been itching to have? Only you and your husband can decide what feels right, just know: It will never change on its own. They will never get it on their own. Hints do not work, they just create a sea of plausible deniability for clueless and malicious people to swim around in.

They shouldn’t behave this way. And your husband should probably be the one to handle this – “Mom, Dad, Brother, Sister, what’s up with bailing on the bill every time? Is there something you want to tell me?” But “should” is not working, either because the other people involved don’t know better or because they don’t care. Because it’s not your family of origin, and because the behavior is so ingrained, I think your power to change this dynamic is very limited, so my honest suggestion is to give yourself a long break from dealing with any of it. Hang out with your family and with friends who pay their share without it being a thing. Keep your expectations very, very low. Accept invitations from your spouse’s family sparingly, and issue them only when you are happy to pay the entire bill.

 

 

 

 

146 comments
    • Kade Azkyroth said:

      This can be dicey, too; around here (Sacramento Area), a surprising number of places (especially non-chain places) A) won’t split checks and B) are actually kind of self-righteous about it.

      • olivia0330 said:

        Might be a good idea to call ahead and ask. Could even be done in front of the in-laws. “Let’s go to X Food Place!” “Oh, I don’t know if they do separate checks. Honey, do they do separate checks there? Lemme just whip out my cell phone. . .”

      • jdrives said:

        Yay Sacramento!! Yeah I’ve experienced this too. Or they will only take a limited amount of cards AND won’t split checks. I’ve spoken to a few service-industry-working friends about this and it confuses them – apparently it’s not all that difficult to do? Anyway. Frustrating. /endrant

        • Muddie Mae said:

          Among other things, easiness will depend on what POS system they use and how it’s been set up. Some POS systems are more amenable to splitting than other.

          My favorite are the ones that list each diner separately, but are still printed on one bill. The server doesn’t have to ask if you want your check split, they just bring it to your table. If someone’s treating, the total is on the bottom. If you’re splitting, it’s easy enough to say this card is for diner 1 and that for diner 2, etc. Beats writing a million different amounts on the back of the bill.

        • omj said:

          Late to this one, but credit card companies charge businesses a fee every time they run one (which is why lots of smaller places have credit card minimums). Depending on how expensive the meal was and the number of cards you’re trying to use, that can cut into the restaurant’s profits quite a bit.

          • omj said:

            Oh, and that goes for debit cards too. This is why it’s pretty common for brand new, independent places to go cash-only until they get more established.

      • hrovitnir said:

        This always weirds me out so much. In NZ, we don’t tip (servers love people from the US…), pay at the counter, and it’s very normal to pay for what you had (to the point where I had to learn what “split the cheque” meant). I can tell you, going out for food in Canada was terrifying! O_O

  1. tawg said:

    I second going to restaurants where everyone goes up to the bar and orders for themselves (and pays when they order).

    Or you could try going to places that do banquets and collecting money up in advance – send around an e-mail or a text, with the menu attached and the price of the banquet very clear, and say you want the money by X date and you’ll make the reservation that day after. I find this works well if it’s a dinner for a set thing, like a birthday or a hen’s night or something. Some event where the idea is that the ‘gift’ people are giving is their company AND paying for their own damn dinner. If they don’t put up the money by the deadline, they don’t come to the dinner. However, the catch is that you may get people bugging you on the night about being mean and rude about it all, or you may get no bites and not go out to dinner at all. But you do have the benefit of it being super clear and explicit before people are even getting dressed to go out for dinner that everyone is expected to pay their own way.

    And maybe you could talk to your partner again? Not about getting him to speak to his family, but about making sure that he at least has your back if/when this turns into a fight with huffing and hurt feelings and it all coming out. I can sympathise with him not wanting to tackle the issue himself, but hopefully he’ll agree with you and back you up if his family complain to him about it etc.

  2. Oh wow. When I was married, it was impossible to convince both my parents and my spouse’s parents that we could afford to shoulder the bill occasionally. And as a general rule amongst my same-age friends (mid 40’s), parents and inlaws are usually insistent about paying even when their adult children are offended (pet theory: they like to still feel like the grownups in this situation). And as a rule, among friends my own age (I would assume some of your spouse’s family are your own age), people go Dutch or take turns in shouting. Or if the balance of payments is put aside, it’s because this or that person is short of cash and this is understood, and that’s what friends are for, and we make it up in other ways.

    LW, your in-laws are odd. I’m inclined to think – especially given the response of your spouse – that you needn’t feel at all bad about *not* hanging around them. Are you perhaps considerably more interested in creating a happy-family illusion than he is? They – honestly – don’t sound like terribly nice people. They sound like smarmy freeloaders who like that they can get something from you. Sorry if that sounds harsh, but really, they do.

    • Jaz said:

      Part of my extended family will pretty much fight to pay the bill. Once when we were at a resturant, my grandfather had said he was gonna pay. Towards the end of the meal his sister “went to the bathroom”, and when my grandfather asked for the check he was told that it had already been paid.

      • Oh yes. the Paying of The Bill as a dominance game. Sucks. Big time.

        • roramich said:

          Yes; I have inlaws who do this.

        • Jane said:

          I dunno, it can also be a big game of Who Is the Most Insecure, too. I think that’s more what the bill-paying battle is in my family — we all (at least, my mom and I) have this idea that our company isn’t a good enough reason to ask people to hang out with us, so if we inconvenience someone by inviting them out we HAVE to pay for the outing, or else we’re doubly in their debt.

          Money stuff gets emotionally really weird really fast.

        • Xenophile said:

          My dad does this, even if it humiliates people. “Oh, this is on us, we’re your hosts, you can get us next time when we visit you,” followed by, “Oh, this is on us, to thank you for hosting us.” So uncomfortable.

          • lengarion said:

            My mother insists on paying for absolutely everything when me + husband + toddler visit them. They don’t live close, so we’re with my parents rarely, but stay for a while.
            I used to be cool with this when I was young: They pay for all the fancy food items and I do the all the hours of fancy cooking – everyone wins.

            My husband hates it, however. I wonder if he feels humiliated by that? I’m not really OK with his solution, which is to skip everything expansive. He (coincidentally?) also is the only person who doesn’t like the food I cook.
            Neither my parents nor we are short on money, which just makes everything more awkward.

        • anorak said:

          When people want to pay for me and I’m not 100% on board with that, I offer only one complete round of sincere resistance. If they try to insist, I smile and say “Sure, but you owe me a favour”.

          This usually confuses them, so I have to explain: “The favour is that I’m letting you pay.” If they’re being slow to get it, I add that I’ll call the favour in later. Subtext: You will have no right to protest when I pay the next time we meet. If you contrive to have that next meetup at a much cheaper place and I get a whiff of that possibly being Pay The Bill As Dominance Game, I might just choose to keep holding on to the favour till a better occasion.

          If there’s any of that game in their thoughts (which of course often isn’t the case anyway), this doesn’t necessarily defuse it forever, but it usually makes it not worth their while to pursue it.

          (Of course, I couldn’t do it that easily if it’s a case of a rich person taking me out to a place that’s beyond my means. But if I’ve accepted that kind of an invitation in the first place, it means I was on board with them treating me.)

          • tessiselated said:

            Oh! This is excellent! Because people who always shoulder the bills themselves never realise that it is about them feeling good, not you. I’m using this.

          • Laughing Giraffe said:

            I remember about a year ago, my aunt and uncle were visiting. The deal was that they were going to come into my city, stay for a while and hang out with me and my other aunt, and then we would all go to my hometown together to visit my parents. They took us out for dinner one night at a restaurant that was pretty beyond my means, so I didn’t particularly mind them paying for me there. The issue arose for me when we got on the ferry to go to Hometown – it wasn’t anything close to outside of my ability to pay for the trip, which I would have made in any case, but they insisted on buying my ticket anyway. Now they’d not only bought me an expensive dinner, they’d pretty much subsidized my trip home. When I said I really was okay with stumping up the fifteen bucks to ride the ferry, they kind of went, “No, no, it’s no trouble, save your money!” without realizing that they were basically saying, “You aren’t good enough at adulting to do basic things like visit your parents without help.”

          • wrightrat said:

            Out of replies, apparently, so this is actually to Lengarion.

            Have you thought of covertly buying giftcards to the restaurants you want to go to ahead of time? That way you can say, “here, let me contribute by using up this old giftcard that’s about to expire!”. People don’t tend to turn that down as much as they would other forms of payment. Your relatives may catch on after a while, but by then they might be used to you contributing and not care as much.

      • olivia0330 said:

        Ah, some of my family does this. Big, generous spirits in that lot. I always get a kick out of it.

        • Cactus said:

          Most of my relatives do this to one degree or another when we all eat out together. It’s frankly pretty hilarious if my mom, my grandpa, my aunt, and 1-3 uncles are all trying to sneak their way into paying the bill without the others noticing.

          • victoria said:

            Yeah, this is my family too. My favorite was when one of my siblings (in city A) got another sibling (in city B) to find out where my parents (in city C) were going to have dinner for their anniversary, then called in his credit card to treat my parents for their anniversary dinner.

            At this point everyone has the means to handle it and we all see each other so rarely (we all live in different cities), so it’s cool; in other situations it wouldn’t be. Just depends on the dynamics involved.

          • emdashing said:

            My extended family does this as well–funny shenanigans often occur in an effort to beat the others. Being the youngest/poorest, I feel awkward sometimes because I can’t compete to pay for everyone’s meal–if I “won” at some of the places they want to eat, my credit card would be maxed out. Because of that, I don’t even offer to pay for everyone’s. I’ll make a sincere offer ONE TIME to the person who paid, but when they refuse (and they always do), I accept it. I do think there’s some ego at play, but it is really nice of everyone to treat everyone and I think they know I’ll do it too as soon as I’m able.

            I’m a little surprised at how many people seem…offended? is that the right word? by the pay check dominance game. I agree that if dominance is really what it’s about, it’s silly, but since it’s so entirely in the other person’s head, it seems low on the scale to be worried about. It also seems like a prime moment for passive resistance via no resistance. Just say “thanks” and don’t argue. Do that enough times and a) free stuff for you or b) they’ll stop.

            As to the LW’s situation–I had that happen at a group thing a month ago. Most awkward thing ever. I just kept saying, “I’m sorry, I don’t have the extra money. I only brought enough for me.” It was like a game of horrible horrible chicken, but it worked. I didn’t blink.

      • Cyberwulf said:

        My brother-in-law will pay for everything unless you get in there first, like physically handing over money/card first. On the plus side, nobody can accuse him of being mean with money.

    • Elsajeni said:

      That’s a good point, about the husband’s reaction — LW, if he’s saying things like, “Just don’t go out with them then,” does that mean he isn’t joining you on these outings? When he is there, does this still happen? Or is he ever there at all? It does sound a little bit like the LW might be more invested in the relationship with the in-laws than the husband is. I think it’s easy to end up in that situation, especially if you’re sensitive to cultural narratives like All Women Hate Their Mothers-In-Law and trying not to play into them or set off your in-laws’ anxieties/sensitivities about them — been there myself — but LW, if this sounds on-target, maybe try taking your cues about those relationships from your husband for a while.

      • lengarion said:

        It did sound a bit like the husband didn’t care as much about meeting them in the first place.

    • Courtney said:

      I will never forget the deeply startled look on my mom’s face the first time I grabbed the dinner bill (I think I was 25). It was like it had never occurred to her that I would be paying for a meal we shared together.

      • Beth B said:

        Every time I want to pay for a meal when eating out with my parents, I have to argue for it. It’s not a terrible stressful thing or anything, but my dad has the raised-in-the-40s-in-a-military-family dude instincts to go with the parental caretaking instincts, so every time I have to be like, “No, it’s your birthday, I MAKE MORE THAN YOU DO because you’re retired, I am taking this one! Really!” and have the staredown of No Really I Mean It, I’m Not Being Polite, I’m Being Stubborn. And that’s with my older brother having paved the way already. (My mom actually had the “I think he would like to feel adult and capable of paying instead of paid for all the time, honey” talk with him while older brother was in the bathroom one time. Dad loosened up a lot after that.) The very first time I grabbed the check — yeah, deeply startled that I might even think to try!

        And even with that, my parents often end up negotiating for me to cover the meal and them drinks, or vice versa. And I have never yet managed to get my girlfriend’s parents to let me contribute at all.

        I realize there’s socioeconomic and social class stuff in here, so LW’s inlaws may not be coming from the same cultural expectations (and clearly are not in tune with them even if they are theoretically from a similar background), but yeah, the polite but very real wrangling is definitely what I’m used to! It gets more genuinely competitive when you’ve got a couple of 50+ guys at the table, in my experience, because they’re all used to being the one who expects to win that argument.

        Competing to skip out on the bill — yyyyyeah, that one I have not seen, not even when I was in college around other college students. Opting out of a dinner because the place was too expensive (or with a polite fiction like “I’m busy” to cover over the financial issues), yes; repeatedly going along and trying to get someone else to pay for it, no. Egad.

        • Sparky said:

          I worked in a cafe for three years in college, the kind where people paid for their food then went and found seating. I saw people competing to pay many times (“Oh, I’ve got this, you bought breakfast” “No, let me, you’re letting me stay with you” “Well only if you let me get the tip” “Oh, stop, you’re money is no good here”…). A few times I saw confusion about who was going to pay. Only one time in three years did I see an uncomfortable exchange of a couple fighting to get the other person to pay: “It’s your turn to pay.” “I bought gas!” “Well, I bought groceries!” “You bought groceries for yourself and ate them all!” “I always pay, you need to pay for lunch!”

          So uncomfortable I remember this 20+ years later. Anyway, the cultural default is to want to pay for at least your own share of a meal and to politely negotiate who pays. Not to repeatedly stick someone with the whole group check.

      • Artemesia44 said:

        It was a moment of pride for me when my adult kids first picked up the check. I remember my daughter at about 22 in her first job in DC inviting me for lunch at the Eastern Market at her favorite little place (and one she could afford) and picking up the check with pride. Now my son and my daughter will pick up the occasional check when we visit and we pick up others in our turn. It is the way an adult relationship works. Freeloaders are always annoying. There is a big difference between people who don’t have much and so try to find ways to reciprocate within their means and people who just always expect other people to carry them. We have both kinds of relatives and guess which ones are welcome to visit?

    • Bunny said:

      My grandparents! Now, admittedly the other half and I have never exactly been all that well-off, but it’s a matter of pride for them that they treat us whenever they see us. They stopped by to take me out for lunch at a local bar this week, and when I mentioned that I had a £5 voucher leftover we could use towards the bill (leftover from a big voucher I got as a gift and have made much use of) they were offended I even mentioned it!

      I’ve found the only way to adequately do anything in return is to always get them a card, flowers and chocolate/booze when I see them – flowers for nan, chocolate/booze for grandad – because they will always accept “thank you for the lovely treat” gifts. It makes me feel a little better about it, anyway.

  3. dannipleasance said:

    Your husband has given you an out by telling you not to go out with these mooches,I say take advantage of it. They’re taking advantage of you and your desire to play happy family.

    Also, people who are “sensitive” and “Easily offended” are inclined to be that way because it gets them out of paying for dinners, pitching in for group gifts, paying back loans, and living up to other obligations. It’s amazing system, they take advantage of you, you object/ask for repayment, they make a huuuuuuuge scene about your rudeness in objecting/asking for repayment, you get embarrassed and doubt your position, you drop the subject, and they’re free to take advantage of you all over again!

    • Artemesia44 said:

      Remarkable how ‘sensitive’ insensitive and boorish people are. It is a weapon they wield to manipulate others.

  4. The mind boggles. I can’t believe people can be that inconsiderate over and over and over again!

    I’d really love an update on this one, Letter Writer! Let us know how it goes in the future.

  5. GERTI said:

    Oh man, LW, your letter brings back so many memories of a group of friends I had in college who always wanted to do stuff (that cost money) and then always seemed to be just a few dollars short or had their cards declined at the last minute. I understand how that gets really old, really fast.

    It’s not clear from your letter who is initiating these dinners/outings. Are you inviting your in-laws? Are they making plans with the expectation that you will pay every time? Because it really sounds to me like they know they have someone who will always foot the bill and they are milking that for all it’s worth. If they are the ones doing the inviting, could you try simply saying “I’m sorry, [actvitiy] just isn’t in my budget right now.” Yes, it is kind of awkward to say, but it doesn’t leave much room for argument. Maybe it will open up the possibility of them replying “oh, you always pay, let us get this for you?”

    If that conversation never happens, I think it’s safe to assume based on their past pattern of behavior that if you want to do activities that cost money, you will be paying the way, as much as you would like this not to be the case. Maybe it’s time to scale in-law activities back to free or low-cost stuff (coffee hour at someone’s house, free art crawl, etc.) until some other people come forward and offer to start footing bills and splitting costs.

    • I had a friend who used to call people (friends) up, chat for a while, then suggest an outing – dinner, movie, fun trip/activity. Once you got there or it came time to pay, he would be *baffled* if you expected him to pay for even himself. Some variation on “you know I don’t have any money” would come out of his mouth and there you’d be stuck paying for his huge steak when everybody else ordered burgers or salads. I finally started meeting ALL of his invitations with “mm, that sounds fun but I’m broke.” Eventually, this trend sank in and I started seeing a lot less of him but ALSO, when he did call it was just to talk and when we did go out it was because he wanted to hang with me, not because he wanted to play mini golf for free. (This didn’t stop him from mooching off other friends, but they were on their own)

      tl;dr: Yes, that thing you said to say. It works.

      • Awkially Socward said:

        Yes, it’s amazing how fast you can disappear of someones social radar as soon as you have no cash.

  6. MellifluousDissent said:

    I’m wondering if the in-laws perceive OP and H as being significantly better off than in-laws, and perhaps better off than OP and H actually are, and/or if the in-laws are significantly worse off than OP perceives them to be. I have both of these issues with my own mother. To outward appearances, she’s financially comfortable – she wears nice clothes, carries expensive bags, drives a late-model car, and has a nice home (albeit in a not-so-nice area). What most people don’t know is that the bags are gifts from my cousin who works at the fancy-bag outlet store and gets them on incredibly deep discount, the clothes are from the clearance racks and/or thrift stores, the car was paid for by her divorce settlement, and the house was a short sale she was able to purchase at more than $50K under market value because drug dealers live in the house next door. I had to actually sit down with my H and lay all this out for him when we were first dating, because he didn’t understand why I always paid for everything for my mom, sometimes to my own detriment (i.e. not having money to go out with H because I paid my mom’s cell phone bill that month or something). Now that he has a better understanding of her full financial picture, he really doesn’t mind at all, but we had some serious miscommunications about the issue before I realized we needed to have the “my mom makes less than $20K/year in one of the highest cost of living areas in the country” conversation.

    On the flip side, my mom sometimes overestimates *my* ability to afford things. She’ll think nothing of asking me to spend over $500 on a day trip, or to request that I take her on a $5000+ vacation, on the grounds that “well, you make so much money, of course you can afford it.” She’s technically not wrong – I *could* afford these things – but it would come at the expense of long-term financial goals, and/or just doesn’t match my personal priorities around how to spend my money. And that’s the boundary that ultimately needed to be set – it’s *my* money, and what I can afford is ultimately *my* call. I think sometimes in families – particularly families where maybe there wasn’t a lot of money to go around when kids were young – there’s a perception that one family member’s money is EVERYONE’S money (kind of a “we struggled to raise you and give you a better life and now you have that better life so you OWE US” mentality). Setting the “no actually I’m the only person who gets to decide how I spend my own money” boundary was ugly – my mom is valedictorian at the school of “using offendedness as a weapon” – but now that it’s set things are much smoother. It’s crass to have the “who’s paying/how much does that cost” conversation every time she issues an invitation, but it’s less awkward/aggravating than having to ask H to cover the electric bill this month by himself because mom had me take her to the mall and then went on a $500 shopping spree on my dime.

    So to OP, I would:
    1. Ask H if there’s anything you should know about in-laws’ true financial situation – maybe he doesn’t realize that you’re not aware of whatever their true circumstances are, and that that’s why he’s so blase about this issue.
    2. Ask H if in-laws are aware of your true financial situation (in a general way, obviously, they’re not entitled to your W-2s or anything) – something as stupid as carrying a designer bag or driving a new car can make my mom perceive someone as “omg so rich,” even though she knows darned well there are a million ways for people to come by nice things without necessarily having the ability to pay full retail price for them.
    3. Always ask “how much does that cost” and “who’s paying” before accepting an invitation, and don’t plan anything you can’t afford to pay for in full. If you go to even ONE event where they misstated the cost and/or said they’d pay but didn’t, stop accepting invitations from them to anything that isn’t free. If they ask why you keep turning them down for their sushi-and-pedicures dates or whatever, tell them you can’t afford it. If they push and say “oh, it’s only X per person!,” don’t be afraid to say, “I can’t afford to pay for everyone, and I ended up having to do that last time, so I figured it’s better to miss it this time, thanks for thinking of me.” Repeat ad nauseum. These are all crass conversations to have with normal people, but your in-laws have established that they aren’t normal people on this issue, so you don’t have to keep treating them as if they are.

    • Melissa said:

      “And that’s the boundary that ultimately needed to be set – it’s *my* money, and what I can afford is ultimately *my* call. I think sometimes in families – particularly families where maybe there wasn’t a lot of money to go around when kids were young – there’s a perception that one family member’s money is EVERYONE’S money (kind of a “we struggled to raise you and give you a better life and now you have that better life so you OWE US” mentality).”

      This is the exact same mentality my parents have – and they would come right out and say it! It took a lot of years for me to learn that their financial issues are not my responsibility. With my family, guilt is the biggest weapon in the aresenal and I had to learn to ignore the pointed comments about how nice it must be to be able to afford this or that or the other thing when they could not. It is nice, but I worked hard and planned ahead to be able to afford it.

      I know if I ever go anywhere with my parents I’ll have to pick up the check because they truly can’t afford it. I don’t really have any advice for the LW, but I understand how frustrating it is to always be expected to pay.

      • Artemesia44 said:

        One of the reasons some people don’t have money especially older people is that they never learned to manage and save and defer gratification. They spent theirs and now they expect to be able to spend yours. In my experience cautious people who have worked and saved over their own lives tend not to be cavalier with other people’s money even when they themselves are broke. My mother really scraped by in her last 20 years as a widow with some help from my wealthy sibling and to some extent from me, but she never presumed on us and always did her best to reciprocate as she could. She had always worked hard and been frugal and she didn’t expect us to be different.

    • My brother does that overestimation thing. He’s been insisting I fly out to his state to meet my new niece. I have some large expenses this summer and cannot do that. When I suggested they visit in the fall (I have two spare bedrooms so they wouldn’t even need a hotel), he cut me off with “no I’m poor.”

      …And I’m rolling in coins like Scrooge McDuck, apparently? He knows I haven’t worked in 7 years and we’re a single-income household.

    • eightysixed said:

      These are all excellent points – I would also like to add that there are also certain family dynamics that may be at play which aren’t obvious. My extended family sees paying for family events to be a ‘big deal’ and very related to power. One level this involves arguing over who covers the check (as it’s a sing of better standing, greater control, etc.) – the flip side is that for us “children” (all well over age 18) there’s this notion that it’s no big deal to show up without even our wallet (creating some very odd moments of cousins over age 30 trying to order alcohol in a restaurant and having no ID at all to show when carded but saying they’re out with their parents). My aunt recently invited me out to dinner at a place I would never go to due to price, and had moment of embarrassment when she told me that I’d pay – because I’d basically accepted the invitation without ever considering there’d be a chance of us going dutch (again, I’m an adult with a job).

      Basically, these dynamics in my extended family where among the cousins we’ve never thought of having to pay to hang out. We don’t live close geographically, so there aren’t frequent opportunities to spend time as adults – so it’s not as though this is a consistent pattern, but I hear echoes of that mentality in the OP’s letter.

      If the husband is just saying not to bother with these events – then it really may be other family issues at play that just aren’t worth dealing with.

    • MrsMorley said:

      The very rich are often stingy. They may be even better off than the letter writer knows!

  7. BradC said:

    I have to wonder: does the family play “check chicken” when they go out by themselves, when you aren’t there?

    This absolutely doesn’t excuse the behavior, but maybe this is a (really stupid) “game” they have learned to play (regardless of who is in attendance), and the “loser” of the game is the one that picks up the check.

    To be clear, I’m not recommending that LW learns to “play the game”, because this is a pretty shitty game.

    Not sure how this would change the Captain’s advice, maybe just give a more direct way of talking to them about it: “This ‘check chicken’ game your family plays is really stupid, from now on I’m getting my own check.”

  8. Bex said:

    LW, you mention going to movies with this family. What happens when you do that? I ask because that seems like a situation where it should be the simplest to resolve this problem (each person goes up to the window and purchases tickets separately). If you’re currently being manipulated into paying for everyone at the movies, you’re going to need a new strategy before the order-at-the-counter-restaurant thing will help you.

    Are you getting a lot of “oh, no, I forgot my wallet/they don’t take AmEx/whatever and I REALLLLLY wanted to see this/we all rode together so I can’t go home?”

    Can you respond with either “I’m so sorry, I can only afford to cover myself, but I’ve got this great book you can borrow while you wait for the rest of us to watch the movie” or “what a shame, I guess we’ll just have to go home and try to find another time to see this movie?” No one will be happy with those options, of course, but who cares? If they can’t/won’t pay, they don’t get to do the thing.

    (Keep establishing who will pay for things in advance, even though it hasn’t worked in the past – that will minimize their ability to make you feel guilty for suddenly cutting off the cash flow when you’ve always just ponied up before.)

    • Courtney said:

      For movies, I suggest buying tickets in advance, and sending the advance purchase link/phone number to everyone who is invited.

      • Or using gift certificates – either of those options can usually be done so you get a ticket and snacks, so you can leave your wallet or purse at home.

        My family does the “I’ll get that” thing, but in the Miss Manners sort of way – the ones who have more take the bill and the ones who have less do the “oh, let me get that, are you sure, let me get the tip, well thank you!” thing. The ones who have less will cover smaller things, like getting coffees and such. People like these relatives… I wouldn’t have lasted more than once or twice with this. This may be partly due to my own financial situation, but hell no. That’s not right at all.

  9. Mercutia said:

    “How delightful that you have all decided to ignore prudish social stigmas and become … well, forgive me my delicacy of speech, but ‘persons whose company is only available by purchase.’ When did you decide to throw social mores to the wind? And let me say, I fully support your chosen vocation! In fact, let me ostentatiously buy this round; perhaps it’ll catch others’ notice and help drum up business.”

    –Reason #384 Why Mercutia Does Not Have An Advice Column

    • JenniferP said:

      Ha, I’d read it if you did!

    • Have you read The Coquette? You would not be the snarkiest advice column out there by a mile. 😉

      • Dear Coquette* Because that is the blog name and the other thing is a book.

      • Mercutia said:

        I had not! Looked her up, AWESOME.

        • I don’t always agree with her, but she usually does nail it. In very blunt terms.

      • JenniferP said:

        Dear Coquette is a good time.

  10. egl said:

    For some non-food related outings, try meeting up at the location, at some place that requires them to have bought their own tickets to get to. (For example, don’t meet up outside the movie theater, meet up by the concession stand.)

    • Courtney said:

      Yes! This works for things like museums and advance-pay buffet restaurants as well. For buffet restaurants, get there early, and text everyone that you’ve gotten the table and are seated in X section. Actually, getting there early can work for any restaurant, because it gives you the opportunity to make it clear to the waiter that you need separate checks, without anyone to attempt to overrule you.

    • tinyorc said:

      This is a good idea! Also, start booking your own tickets for movies/outings well in advance and always go for the Print-At-Home option or whatever. That way when you arrive at Venue, you don’t have to go to the kiosk at all and can do a nice bright “Oh, I already got my ticket! I’ll be waiting for you in the lobby!”

    • Esti said:

      This is especially great for movies, I think. “I got here early so I went in to get seats, I’ll see you in the theater.” They can’t very well tell you in advance that they’re planning to “forget” their wallet and need you to cover them

      • bloodygranuaile said:

        And if they do, you are already safely ensconced in the movie theater where they are about to tell you to turn your phone off, then you get to watch a movie.

  11. tinyorc said:

    I like the Captain’s advice for both passive and confrontational avenues for dealing with this.

    I also think there’s a middleground you could try here. Because the techniques you’ve tried so far have been good, but they will only work if you absolutely stick to your guns. Essentially, you’re going to have to out-awkward your in-laws.

    At the moment, you’re teaching your in-laws that all they have to do is push through a bit of fleeting discomfort – humming and hawing, silent staring, making excuses while the waiter hovers – and you’ll cave to the awkwardness and whip out your wallet. Since they seem to have zero scruples when it comes to money or reciprocity, this is a low price to pay for infinite free meals and outings from their lovely In-Law who is too polite to object.

    You say the “I only brought enough for myself” technique was an absolute disaster when you tried it? GOOD. Let it be a disaster. Let it be a teeth-gratingly mortifying experience for everyone involved. Call the Awkward Bluff. Stare into space. Twiddle your thumbs. Turn their own tricks against them, and take an extended bathroom break or remember an important phone call you need to make (after you’ve deposited enough cash to cover your own meal, plus tip, squarely on the table). Teach them that trying to foist you will the bill will result in long protracted sessions of awkwardness and faffing around EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

    Meet “I forgot my wallet” or similar excuses with “Oh that’s too bad! Anyway, here’s my share, I have to dash!” Teach them that trying to foist you with the bill will result in a speedy exit from you and still no free meal for them.

    If it’s something you pay for in advance, I second Bex “Oh, you can’t afford it? Too bad, I guess you/we just have to go home.”

    You’re essentially retraining them to realise that expecting you to pony up is not going to result in free stuff after a little bit of pushing, but in a massive awkward stink and them paying their own way in the end no matter what. I think after a few episodes like this, they’ll start to realise that it’s not worth it and everyone will suddenly get a lot more conscientious about remembering their wallet.

    (Seconding everyone who has said these people are weird. I think we all have that person in our circles who is a massive inconsiderate flake when it comes to money, but marrying into a whole FAMILY of them? I know attitudes to money differ depending on culture, but what on earth is going on here?)

    • Muddie Mae said:

      The only thing I’d change about this advice is – give that cash for your meal + tip directly to the waitress. No reason to risk being painted with their brush if they dine & dash or under tip.

      It’s probably a good habit to be in generally, particularly at busy places. I’ve known more than a few people who’ve had their payments or tips stolen off the table.

    • Blue Meeple said:

      I agree, I like the “I only brought enough for myself” trick and then to let it be awkward. I used to be that person who was a flake about money and often borrowed from friends when I was short, but I PAID THEM BACK and also I have STOPPED DOING THAT (well, mostly).

    • Kade Azkyroth said:

      Yeah. To me, this is such a blatant violation of acceptable behavior for any adult relationship that I’m actually a bit unclear about why the letter writer *wants* to spend time with these people. I certainly wouldn’t. I kept thinking “evil bees” the whole time reading it. :/

      I don’t know if that’s helpful to hear, but maybe it can push the Overton-ish window a bit in the other direction from “I feel selfish and rude speaking up about this.”

      • hummingbear said:

        Me too. These people may have some redeeming virtues, but if so they didn’t come through in the letter.

    • mehting said:

      Seconded. Silence is awkward as hell, but it can also be very empowering if you come prepared to embrace it and decide that you’re the one who is going to create it. I only brought enough for me.

    • Binder said:

      I agree with this a lot. In fact, when LW said that this happened, I didn’t understand why she thought she still had a problem. You can hyper-prepare yourself for the amount of teeth-grating awkward by already deciding what you’ll do when the moment happens:
      * Deep breath (In-2-3-4, Out-2-3-4-5-6)
      * Problem solve (“Well, maybe we could call your partner/sibling/parent to bring your wallet? No, my partner is stuck at [thing] and can’t come by with more money. How about we stay here and you go to your bank?”)
      * Hide on your phone (Tumblr, text, etc.) (During an awkward moment, I once looked at my phone to quickly set an alarm for 4 minutes out, looked up in order to pretend to engage with what was happening, and when the alarm went off, I said it was a private call and needed to take it outside.)

      Assuming these people are normal-level clueless, they will only let this kind of awkward happen 2 or 3 times before it stops.

  12. Drew said:

    I wonder who pays when LW is not part of the group. It can’t be “no one,” not if they haven’t been banned from every retail establishment in the state. I fear that the game may be “Who’s going to cave first?” every time they go out, and LW is merely an “easy mark” they’ve latched on to. (Where “easy mark” is code for “generous and decent person who doesn’t play games like this.”)

    • Cactus said:

      Godddddd I hate being in groups like that where everything is always about trying to make people feel uncomfortable and embarrassed and it turns into “let’s pick on the outsider.”

      • jenfullmoon said:

        Oh fun. Like my dad’s side relatives were always pulling on my mom. And even me even though technically I was “blood.”

        They stopped talking to me after my dad died. Good riddance. On both sides, I’m sure, hah.

  13. Stayce said:

    This behavior from your in-laws just boggles the mind, especially the sad puppy eyes when you try to say ‘actually, I got the last round’. I like the Captain’s suggestions and particularly just flat-out asking whether there are some weird unspoken family rules you are running into. But also– who exactly is suggesting all these outings? From your letter, it sounds like it might be you? And it sounds like money stuff aside, you enjoy spending time with them, since you do a lot of fun, free things together and when your husband suggests that you just ‘don’t hang out with them then’ you don’t jump on that permission to not spend time together. Do you have a mental image of how these events will go, like it fits into your hopes for what a really awesome in-law relationship looks like? What is your price of admission (I know Dan Savage isn’t popular around these parts, but I really like that concept) for that relationship? Sounds like right now you are literally overpaying, so what would a more comfortable setup look like?

    • jenfullmoon said:

      I agree on “price of admission,” I just call it “the price you pay for having a family.” But never before this letter have I ever seen it so LITERAL.

  14. mythbri said:

    Something tangentially related to this, as someone who worked as a server, disagreements between a dining party about the bill are really frustrating for the server as well as the customers. Of course it’s awful if when you (as a server) discover that the bill has not been paid, or not been fully paid, and the difference is something that you have to bring up with your manager, and it may end up coming out of your tips.

    But something else that happened frequently that was also frustrating, is this:

    “Don’t you let her pay – this is my treat this time.”

    “Nonsense, I’m happy to pay the bill.”

    “You’re such a sweetheart, but I insist on paying.”

    “I absolutely refuse to let you. This one’s on me.”

    “No no no no no, darling, please allow me.”

    Or other flavors of this conversation.

    It’s rude to put the server in the position of having to decide who pays that bill. That’s your responsibility when you go out to eat with someone. I had customers actually get angry at ME for taking the first credit card that was offered to me when the time came to settle the bill (because I didn’t feel like waiting around listening to them argue about it forever, and I had other tables to take care of).

    “She’s a college student! She shouldn’t be spending money on this!”

    Her credit card was accepted. Not my problem.

    “He always pays. I wanted to pay this time.”

    Then maybe you should have asked me about it when I refilled your drinks and he was in the bathroom.

    “The customer is always right. You should have listened to ME when I said I was paying.”

    EVERY PERSON EATING HERE IS MY CUSTOMER. What makes you so special?

    • Lilith Gothica said:

      I witnessed something like this the other day, (the people arguing over who would pay, racing to the register, etc) at a counter, and I felt so bad for the girl behind the counter (I was paying at another register) that I almost wanted to say, “Boys, I’LL pay, if you’ll stop this pissing contest and let this lady get on with her job!” But that would only aggravate the problem. These things should be decided before the server comes with the check.

    • Becky said:

      When that happened at my place of business, my co-worker and I had a trick…hold out your hand, put on your best charming smile, and say “Whoever gets their card in my hand first gets to pay!” Usually worked like a charm. 🙂

    • TK said:

      As someone who is still a server, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THIS COMMENT.

      It is seriously the most awkward thing when you give a table their check and they fight to put their credit cards in your hand/take their date’s card out of your hand/shove your hand away with only their card. I always see couples do this last-minute thing and while it’s cute at first, it stops being cute when one of them starts making faces at YOU, THE SERVER and you have to wonder if this is going to affect your tips or their experience or anything like that. Please, diners of the world, do not put your servers on the spot like this.

      As for the LW’s question– I pretty much don’t have anything new to add, everyone’s giving great advice. And yeah, seconding the idea that this behavior is SUPER WEIRD, especially in a group, and especially from people who… don’t really have a history of being supported by LW? This sort of mooching seems more typical of a flaky friend, or a YOUNGER sibling, or one’s grown-up child. Not so much the family of a spouse.

  15. Esti said:

    OP, honestly, I’m not sure there’s anything you can say or do that will even slightly fix this behavior. If you already tried only bringing enough money for you and their response was to just leave without paying the bill, they are WAY past any amount of shaming or polite discussions. I think all you can do is avoid situations where you will be present when they are required to pay for something. Meet them inside the paid activity so that you’re not at the ticket counter in case they forget their wallet. Do things at people’s houses (and don’t expect them to bring any food or drinks if you’re hosting).

    And if you absolutely can’t avoid the situation — like it’s someone’s birthday and they want to have dinner at a restaurant — then your husband needs to step up. Either he agrees in advance that he’ll be covering the whole bill for the party, or when the check comes HE’S the one to say “we’re paying for us, and no one else.”

    I’m sorry you’re dealing with this. I am SO FURIOUS on your behalf at the idea that these people repeatedly just sit there and refuse to pay for the things they purchased and would have the gall to be offended if you told them that you didn’t want to keep paying for them. But it sounds like you’ve tried asking them to change, and the only thing left is to just not be in these situations with them at all.

    • MB said:

      Also FURIOUS… in fact I can barely think of a reply that doesn’t just contain expletives & make assertions about their moral character!

      So far I’ve only encountered the infuriating thing where you’re broke (I went back to grad school in the middle of the boom) and you go to dinner with people – you have salad and tap water, and they have three courses and booze and then someone says ‘just split the bill!’ ARGH. I brave the social awkward and go ‘sorry I just can’t!’ This is a huge social faux pas where I’m from – generousity is a big part of our culture.

      Nowadays I’m back getting paid a proper wage, I refuse to do the even split, unless its a broke person being removed from the payment or something like that.

      In my experience it is not poor people who ditch paying. Broke people are usually careful to pay their share (because I might not have it the next time to return the favour, or I don’t want to look stingy etc etc). And actually live in dread of declined cards or not having enough. It’s more likely that people who don’t think about money generally, don’t think about paying. I only have anecdotal evidence for that statement, but I’ve got a lot of it!

      LW I don’t know how you have not blown your top at these people. I want to tell them that they are WORSE THAN HITLER! which obvs is not true, but still. They are knowingly doing a really horrible thing to you. And the thought that some poor restaurant worked might get docked because they won’t pay.

      Honestly I think I would go to a fancy restaurant with them, quietly leave after the second course, pay my share at the till – and then tell the staff the others were planning to dine and dash. With any luck they’d get arrested! Enjoy your ‘being offended’ with a side order of ‘night in the cells’.

      But then I’m probably a much worse person than you… you should probably not do that. The Captain gives better advice!

      • Erika said:

        I will never understand the “even split” of a bill. Perhaps because I’m in Ohio, not NYC or Sacramento or Chicago, but I’ve never, ever, ever had a restaurant not offer separate checks as many ways as needed. Columbus has some amazing non-chain restaurants, including Zagat rated ones but they all do separate checks. Then when you do a big birthday thing, someone just mentions to the server that “birthday boy’s dinner is on me” and the others at the party throw in for the birthday person’s meal and pay for their own.

        Seriously, is splitting a bill evenly a thing? It seems just tailor-made for bad feelings.

        • Awkially Socward said:

          Yes, especially in the UK, splitting the bill equally is very much a thing.

          Typically done in chain pubs where starters and mains tend to be the same price, or there are two for one offers, or in places where dishes may have been shared such as pizza parlours, indian restaurants or chinese restaurants.

          Yes, it does cause exactly the bad feelings you’d expect, especially as eating light and eating vegetarian are typically middle class affectations over here, so the people with most ability to bear unfair payment division are also the biggest complainers.

        • Myrin said:

          I had not really heard of the “even split” thing before, even.
          Where I am, it’s the absolute standard for the waiter to, when they arrive with the bill, ask “Together or separate?” and then you can just split however you want and the waiter writes the prices down in their little notebook and calculate what it’ll make. Done.
          I’ve never before considered that to be specifically practical or not, mostly because it’s just normal and I never really thought of it at all, but now that I’m reading all of these stories I’m very happy that this is how it works here.

        • hummingbear said:

          It is a thing, mostly because the math is such an enormous pain in the ass. You’ve had a nice meal with your friends, conversation flowing, maybe a few drinks, a nice happy relaxed feeling. Then the bill comes and you have to totally break the mood to do all the math. Who had what, which drinks were whose, oh you had one of the spinach dip and I had the other but they put them in together on the total, now we have to figure out tax and tip… If you had more or less the same amount of food and drinks it’s just easier and way less painful to split it evenly. But as you say, that’s the best case scenario.

        • SMT said:

          I’m from the Northeast US and have done a lot of traveling elsewhere in the country and almost everywhere else I go, they ask upfront if the party wants separate checks or together, particularly the Southeast US and Midwestern US. The first time it happened, I assumed it was because we came in with a large group that was obviously different couples, etc, but I was shocked when it kept happening even when it was me and one other person. It’s definitely not the norm in the Northeast, at least not in New York (where I live now) or Massachusetts (where I grew up) or Connecticut (where I went to school). Mind, most places here have no problem either splitting the check, doing an even split, or even taking a list of what to charge each card, as long as it’s clearly marked.

          There are a couple of great restaurants in the city where I grew up (and still visit) that have these awesome futuristic apps and tablets they do the check on where you can literally just tap the screen to move the items on the bill to separate checks in whatever combination you want. I’m hoping those are the wave of the future because they make splitting the check SO easy.

        • Artemesia44 said:

          We dine out a lot and pretty much always just split the bill with another couple. BUT we often share dishes and we also tend to order similarly. If someone had the salad and tap water, we would insist on adjust ing the bill or us handling the tip or whatever to even it out. It is just a gracious way to dine, to not fiddle over every nickel so long as people don’t abuse it by ordering more expensive things or more booze routinely. In one couple, the wife doesn’t drink but then she always has coffee after dinner and I don’t and her husband sometimes has two drinks, so it sort of evens out.

          In grad school I well remember dining at conferences with professors and ordering low because I had little money and then having them grandly insist on splitting the check. One even said the ‘wine is on me’ and ordered a bottle of expensive wine and then didn’t step up when the bill came. After awhile I finally gave in and started ordering an appetizer, a nice entree and dessert and drinks just like they did and the first time that happened, Dr. Bigpockets was shocked at how much larger the bill was than it usually was. Not eating with them meant not doing some of the networking critical for eventual career advancement.

        • Courtney said:

          A friend of mine and I regularly do the even split when we go out together. We tend to have similar taste in food, so what we order is usually about the same anyway. We also tend to do a lot of things like brunch buffets (flat rate per person) and sushi (ordering all the food in common.) If the total is skewing where one of us is paying more than her fair share, the other will do one round of, “Are you sure?”

          • Courtney said:

            I find this easier than alternating who pays. That can easily fall into a toxic dynamic where one person always pays at the inexpensive restaurant and the other pays at the expensive one. Or some serious miscommunication where someone invites you out and then hints or outright says that it’s “your turn” to pay.

    • jenfullmoon said:

      I’m with you on that–good god, really? They’d rather walk out and publicly stiff than do ANYTHING? Plus hopefully get banned from the restaurant? Then there’s no hope for them and all you can do is refuse to do anything with them where something has to be paid for. Or be “sick” every time a birthday dinner comes up.

  16. Ya got your givers and ya got your takers. Takers love givers. Remember this.

    Once I’ve figured out someone is a taker, I’m much less interested in their company.
    It would be tough being “married into” to them. Great re-training advice above, though I expect they may be much less interested in your company after having their wile and guile exposed. Oh well… Not on you!
    surrounding yourself with kind generous people like yourself is a good practice.

  17. mamacitaconpistoles said:

    Are they… Trying to get you not to come along? Why would you do this to someone you like?

    I would very much like to know how you follow up, OP. I hope you find a way to enjoy their company without all this stress.

    And I would love to know what would happen if you said flat out “what you are doing is incredibly rude. Why are you doing that?” I am not sure I would actually advocate saying that. Just would like to know what happens if you did.

    • olivia0330 said:

      This was my first thought, as well. It’s unfathomably mean. It would be so much kinder to just turn down the LW’s invitations, if this is the case. But what is there to say? Sometimes people are mean– even in-laws.

    • tinyorc said:

      I also thought it sounded like something bizarre was going on here. Like some sort of weird family test or hazing maybe?

      (This is possibly just me being paranoid because I come from a place where everyone does the offer-reject-offer-reject-insist-accept dance every single time anyone has to pay for anything in a social situation and the idea of blithely letting someone else pay for me every time without so much as buying a pint in return is just… mind-boggling.)

      LW does not specify how many in-laws are engaging in this behaviour, or what generation they are (which seems relevant to me) but honestly, but either way if there are three or more of them consistently engaging in this behaviour and making no effort to rectify it, I repeat, WHAT ON EARTH IS GOING ON? It’s hard to see it as anything other than outright manipulation.

  18. Jae said:

    I second your husband’s idea: “Just don’t go out with them then.” Why would you? They are his folks. Let them issue the invitations in the future.

    And the excuse “We didn’t think it was that expensive…” RLY? Didn’t your menu have prices printed right next to the first, second, and third cause you ordered? That is a blunt lie and I think it deserves a blunt answer.

    And, yes, separate bills. Tell the restaurant when you reserve the table, tell the waiter when you order, and make it loud so they know what’s coming.

    I’d simply NOT go out with them or agree in the very direct and blunt announcement that, yes, provided you promise to pay your part. As mentioned above, they *lie* the bluntest of lies to save money, and they rely on you to be too well brought up and nice to call them out on it. I suggest you be as bad as them once, out loud, in front of everyone and see if they want to pull that stunt another time.

    • Mary said:

      >>And the excuse “We didn’t think it was that expensive…” RLY? Didn’t your menu have prices printed right next to the first, second, and third cause you ordered? That is a blunt lie and I think it deserves a blunt answer.

      Restaurant menus are always set up to make you underestimate how much your drinks + main + starter + side salad + extra bread + etc are going to come to, but really, most people have figured that out after a couple of years of being wealthy enough to afford restaurants and remember to round UP everything and add ten to fifteen percent for contingencies, especially if you know that it’s close to the top of your budget. I have been known to say things like, “oh, are you one of those people who really struggles with that kind of maths? Yeah, I have a friend like that and restaurant bills always come as a shock to her, so she takes a calculator with her now!” [insert optional “Anyway, we have to dash or we’ll miss our bus – see you later!”]

  19. After Katrina, I had 10 people in my house for a month. since I didn’t have power for 2 weeks, we ate like kings on all the food in my freezer. –then people did buy groceries, though some didn’t share. when they all left, all my cupboards were bare, my washing machine broken. One person gave me a hundred dollars, tho it was stolen by someone a good friend brought, along with another one sixty I had in my desk. But my favorite was an acquaintance that came with a can of potato chips, never bought anything, then waited until I was on the phone to talk into my other ear to say, I’m leaving now, do I need to give you anything? I was totally distracted and said, No, not at all, or something similar. By the time I got off the phone he was gone. A friend remarked, He’s done this before! And I think so. what a pro! Never again….

  20. No Saurus said:

    It sounds like the LW is bending over backwards to somehow contain the behavior of her in laws… While techniques can be helpful, at a certain point other people behaving badly is just not something that you (in this case the LW), should be obliged to address, let alone attempt to control. Seconding others’ recommendations for some emotional distance from this situation. Good luck, LW!

  21. stayce said:

    Not sure if my previous attempt got spam filtered or I just didn’t hit ‘send’, so here goes:
    Oy, your in-laws. Their behavior is gross. But since you do lots of free, fun things together and it sounds like you spend lots of time together in general (manicures and movies and dinners? You dudes hang out a lot!), and when your husband said “just don’t hang out with them” you didn’t jump on that suggestion, it sounds like you really like them. Are you getting invited along to family outings with a lot of pressure about spending time together and then they surprise you with the bill (gross), or are you initiating these events? Are there some weird assumptions going on where well, you suggested the thing, so you get to pay for the thing? Are the get-togethers hitting some sweet spot of ‘yes we are an awesome family who loves each other and does fun girly things’ so you want to keep that without getting sad puppy eyes whenever you decline to buy the next round?

    Because you could just hang out with them less, if you want. If you’re getting pressured to spend time with your in-laws (without your husband?) that is a good thing for you and husband to hash out and come up with some good responses as a team. But if the problem is you’d really like to keep doing the outings and just make these people not be gross moochers, well, maybe that problem is unsolvable. I know Dan Savage isn’t super-popular around here, but what is your price of admission for hanging out with your in-laws? It sounds like right now the price is literally too high, so what is reasonable and still gets some of your needs met?

  22. DameB said:

    I have little constructive to add to the genius advice above. My MIL is like this and we’ve just stopped going places that take money — either we meet at her house or ours. I will add that we go over she will sometimes order pizza delivery and then be in the bathroom when it came so we had to pay for that. She still does that but we figure we can fork out for a couple of pizzas now and again. (That said, we see her less because of it.)

    • unlurking said:

      “be in the bathroom” Oh my GOSH. The whole letter-writer story is terrible enough, and somehow this just takes the cake D:

    • remi said:

      I had a friend who did the shitty pizza thing, conveniently disappearing when the doorbell rang. After falling for it once or twice, our group eventually started pooling the money for food right after calling for the delivery, so we could be sure everyone was pitching in. Still though, it left such a bad taste in everyone’s mouths, along with a few other uncool habits that gradually outweighed his better traits, that we ended up phasing him out of the group by inviting him to fewer and fewer things. It’s definitely not a habit that wins any friends.

      • Awkially Socward said:

        My family always pools the money almost straight after ordering, although this is partly because delivery time from some places has a huge variance.

  23. MrsMorley said:

    Dear Letter Writer:

    I love the Captain’s scripts.

    You can’t change your in laws – not really, you can only make your life simpler and less expensive. I believe that you are best suited to separate checks because there’s no embarrassment. You want your check, and anything else is Someone Else’s Problem.

    You can also go to free stuff.

    If your employer gets you free admission with a guest to things, you can do those.

    For meals:

    Separate checks is fairly simple, because you don’t need separate for everyone, you need “My husband and I are on one check, I’m not sure how the others will arrange their checks, and I’m not in charge.” Ideally you say that when you come in, otherwise you say it when you order. If you’re feeling really generous you can say: “Please include the wine on my check.”

    For movies:

    Don’t buy all the tickets online. Buy yours. Look bewildered when the in-laws show up and haven’t paid for tickets yet. “Oh dear, I hope it’s not sold out. If it is, Husband and I will meet you after.”

    In general though, I think your best option is to sort of ignore what they’re up to, but never offer to pay. In fact, say up front, as you all make arrangements: Husband and I can’t treat this time.

    Your script when you arrive at the event:
    “Husband and I can’t treat this time.”

    Your script when they look uncomfortable at a restaurant is:
    “Lovely meal! So happy to see you! Bye!”

    Your script when they look over the menu and say “Wow! expensive” is
    “Oh dear. Where would you prefer to go?”

    When they say “I forgot my wallet”
    “Oh dear. Husband and I have to run!”

    When the card comes back declined:
    “Oh dear. Bye!”

    When they say “Can you cover me?”
    “Oh dear. Husband and I bought tickets online and didn’t bring our wallets”
    or
    “Oh dear. Husband and I only had enough cash for our check”

    The point being: you don’t offer to pay.

    It’s a pretty unpleasant situation. You have my sympathy.

    • Taiga said:

      “You can’t afford to pay? Well, maybe if you wash dishes for a few hours they’ll call it even. Have to run, bye!”

  24. zyronife said:

    “…with people who are ‘sensitive’ (where ‘sensitive’ is in the ”easily-offended’ way…”

    I’ve known very few people in my life who were genuinely sensitive. The vast majority of people who get labelled as “sensitive” should actually be labelled “I’ll act deeply offended whenever someone calls me on my bullshit so they will immediately back down.” Once I realized that, it became significantly easier to deal with “sensitive” people.

    • I’ve known at least one genuinely sensitive person (he’s much better now). His sensitivity came from experiencing some fairly horrifying things growing up and not knowing how to deal with situations. He did not attempt to use his sensitivity to win free meals.

    • I feel like a sensitive person would be embarrassed to not be able to pay, and avoid the situation.

    • Awkially Socward said:

      I’ve known quite a few people who have been truly sensitive. They’ve not always put that sensitivity to good use. Being able to work out other peoples feelings and the motivations and thoughts behind those feelings has not always meant that they could be trusted with that information.

  25. I get annoyed when a group of adults goes out for dinner and nobody has cash. Most middle-range restaurants that I go to won’t split bills. Only one person can be the one who pays on card and everyone else gives them cash.

    • MrsMorley said:

      That’s interesting. My experience with middle and more restaurants is that we all hand over cards. Sometimes when I go out with my friends the married couple, one of them says “two thirds on this one, one third on that one”.

      • My context is Melbourne, Australia. That’s probably relevant. I think these things change across cities and cultures

        • tesserae said:

          I live in Los Angeles and this is what the group of us do – the bill for x number of people comes, x number of credit cards come out, and the POS system bills equal amounts to each card, then tips are added manually. If I’m *really* budgeting, I’ll ask for a separate check and not share in the appetisers or bottles of wine… or not go. That business where people “underestimate” what they owe and leave everyone else to cover them – so annoying.

          • Erika said:

            Yes, this is standard in Columbus, Ohio too–all restaurants, even high end, will split multiple ways and take any number of cards, tips added manually to each card.

        • Ali said:

          This is my experience of Melbourne, too (at all price ranges), but it was a huge shock coming from the southern US.

    • Artemesia44 said:

      I would not patronize a restaurant that refused separate checks. They are in the business of selling food; there is no excuse for not allowing payment as the clientele wishes. If they refused and I didn’t want to leave, I would get the manager afterwards and tell him ‘this is the last time we eat here since you refuse to allow separate checks.’ Nothing fails as often as a restaurant; if diners refuse this nonsense, they will change.

      • If you were in a city where not separating bills was culturally normal, though, the list of good restaurants to eat at would run out fast.

  26. The husband’s response seems very significant to me. He’s been dealing with his family a lot longer than the letter writer, and the just don’t go out with them feels a lot like, I’ve tried to deal with this problem, I’m tired of putting up with it, and I found a solution. Many good people come from problematic families. There’s nothing wrong with distancing yourself from family members who cause you problems or in-laws who do, especially when your husband supports the distancing. I’d really lean toward just do free things.

    If the husband’s reaction were different, it might be worth him talking to some family members privately. Possibly bringing up the financial issues and asking them if they are having financial difficulties he doesn’t know about. There could be some actual hidden financial hardships motivating this behavior. But I think if that were the case, the husband who presumably knows them better would be reacting very differently. It just reads to me like he decided that some of their behaviors are toxic, and he found a way to protect himself. Now, he’s sharing that way with his wife as his advice. And it just seems a lot easier than trying to make them not act horrible in these situations.I don’t think this is some cultural thing or family game or whatnot that is okay to the other players if they lose, because then the husband should be aware of that and likely giving different advice.

    I guess, basically, my point is, the LW has someone she trusts and cares about who is more of an expert on these people than we can be from just reading this letter. So, it’s probably a good idea to listen to him. It is annoying and if you don’t want to deal with it, don’t go out with them to anything that costs money you aren’t willing to pay.

    And a side note to the whole world: being honest and upfront about how much you expect people to pay for some activity is really, really appreciated. Obviously, these people are being manipulative. But having to engage in money drama or suddenly find you’re paying more than you expected is awkward – more awkward than upfront discussions of money. Especially the hideous check roulette when you’re poor when you don’t know if you’ll be expected to pay for what you ordered + tax + tip or you’ll decide to divide it evenly across the number of people for simplicity, which can be very different things. More clarity at the start will really help those who are more financially constrained. So, if you’re not trying to be manipulative, being clear about how things will be paid for in advance is great.

  27. Legacy of silence said:

    LW, I hope you will look at all these stories of people /fighting/ to pay, and it can help illustrate for you just how skewed your in laws behavior is.

    You deserve better treatment, kindness and respect (which you have so generously given them time and again) is not a liscence for them to walk all over you (which they have done time and again).

  28. Taiga said:

    Hoo boy, is this bringing back memories. When my mother and I dined out I was always expected to pay for my meal, but when my mother went to a restaurant with my brothers she HAD to pay for their meals because they had penises – excuse me, “couldn’t afford it”. That stopped when my father overheard my mother telling me (before going to the restaurant, mind you!) that she was paying for their meals but I had to pay for mine. Then she just stopped going out to dinner with them altogether because she felt SO GUILTY about making grown men pay for their own goddamn food.
    And you know whose fault this is? My mother’s. My brothers never knew it was a problem because she never told them and I wasn’t allowed to. Now they’re grown up and will take my mother to a restaurant and insist on paying for her… and it makes her so guilty so that she’ll go and buy them expensive gifts to compensate. And they think it’s normal.

    • diloolie said:

      Just so you know, having a penis isn’t automatically a sign of being a dude. It’s not because your brothers have penises that they’re treated this way, it’s because they’re BOYS. If they were women with penises, it would be entirely different, and I think this site should be a safe one for trans people to join in on, so I’m pointing this out for that reason.

      • Indywind said:

        Hey, diloolie, let the commenter speak for their own situation. It’s not transphobic for a person to describe their own situation as they understand it, and it’s pretty darn presumptuous for someone uninvolved to butt in with “you’re interpreting your experiences wrong; let me explain what’s REALLY behind thoughts and behavior of people I don’t even know.”

        THAT–one person ‘correcting’ another person’s experience– THAT underlies more of the cissexism (and gender-binarism) I personally experience,

        than does noticing when people with penises get treated differently to people without penises irrespective of their gender identity or presentation. Which, BTW, is a thing that actually does happen– people treating others on basis of assumptions about their genitals, rather than their identities. Michigan Womyns Music Festival does it, excluding trans and intersex women on the basis of their presumed penises–insisting that because they have or had penises they’re really BOYS, not women and not welcome. You’ve done it, in insisting Taiga’s brothers are BOYS on the basis of their penises. If they were women with penises, the situation Taiga described might be different… or Taiga’s mother might, like you and the MWMF organizers, still insist penis people are BOYS and treat them accordingly. You don’t know. Unless you’re actually Taiga’s mother, or brother, or someone else who is at least as knowledgeable about the situation as Taiga.

        I think this site should be safe (ish; nowhere is completely safe, and personal boundaries are arguably each person’s own responsibility) for trans people, and persons of all gender identities and experiences, which is why I’m pointing out that your contribution may not be having the effect you hoped.

        Apologies for the derail, ya’ll; I’m done.

        • thaxted said:

          Pointing out casual (and unnecessary) cissexism in an off-hand conflation of gender and genitals is none of the things this comment describes. It’s not transphobic itself. It’s not making assumptions about anyone’s gender (Taiga literally described their brothers as “brothers”–that’s the tip-off, not the genitals reference). It’s not “correcting” someone else’s experience or asserting oneself over Taiga in understanding their own life. It’s just pointing out that it’s unnecessary and uncomfortable to suggest that gender can be boiled down to one’s genitals (actual or presumed) and that this is a habit which needs to fade out asap. It was an unnecessary part of the original comment by Taiga and it wouldn’t have changed their comment at all to not participate in that frustrating and cissexist trend, and your point-missing rebuttal to diloolie sounds a lot more like you grinding a particular axe on this issue.

          • JenniferP said:

            And here endeth this subthread, thank you.

    • Artemesia44 said:

      How much self hatred is involved in a mother who treats her daughter like this.

  29. Yeah, LW could definitely try places like Nando’s or Gourmet Burger Kitchen- basically slightly classier fast food places- where you have to order by going up to the bar and paying before you get your food. That way, you can just say, “Well, I know what I’m having!” *big grin* *walk up the counter and order for yourself*. These places are used to everyone from a single table ordering individually, so it’s how their system is built.

  30. SoItBegins said:

    Have you thought about billing your in-laws? Keep a tab of the amount they run out on and send them an itemized bill in the mail later on. And handle it as a real, honest-to-god invoice, 30-day reminders and all.

    REQUIRES: The guts to not back down when the situation blows up, and willingness to accept that things may turn sour very quickly.

  31. Reblogged this on Human Relationships and commented:
    I feel your pain! It’s very hard situation you are in, sometimes it’s gets to the point where enough is enough, but breaking any relationships over bills, and some money probably not worth. I would suggest to make it as a game and return the joke back the same way. 🙂

    • CatAss said:

      I disagree. Restructuring, limiting or even severing relationships with people who disrespect you and exploit your good will is 100% worth it, in my opinion.
      Also, this sort of nastiness on the part of the in-laws is not a “joke” or a “game”. Encouraging the LW to engage in the same behavior is twisted, because no one should be treating others like this ever.

      • Maybe I should explain this better, and I would never suggest anyone to be worth than someone. Kill them with kindness, but sometimes people needs to learn a lesson and not to make that lesson so obvious, you can make it as a joke. Not only for you to laugh, but for them too and at the same time not to break relative relationships. Jokes can be different and it’s up to you to create the big fun out of it, I would even suggest to record it on video for later. It will make them a little embarrassed, but for some time they will pay their bills.
        For some reason, your in-laws knows how much money you and your family makes. It’s seem to me that they know what you can or can’t afford to pay. Make a joke, create a story on how you got no money, put some colors and talk in the restaurant, while your order is on the table. Again, make a video and just record their faces when you will be telling them your ” joke” or “story”
        Ask them nicely if they can pick up this time your tab, and will pay them later. I would also assume that they might not even have enough money on hands to pay for the bill, and they will panic, while you still recording a video. This is just an idea, but nobody knows them so well as you, so don’t try it, unless you feel that is going to work.

        Also I would like to tell something about relationships between relatives: if your in-laws are your husband family, they are your family. His mother becomes your mother. It’s seems like they still warm and loving people. In many cultures and this is not a joke, kids are taking care of their parents, and it’s not only OK to pay their bills, but to give them money to live.. I do understand that in USA this rule a little banded just because everything is very expensive and if we will not keep a track of our income, we could be broke fast.

        I would recommend to talk to your husband first, and found out your in-laws background and think of them as they are your parents. If your husband is OK to pick up a check, I don’t think you should mention anything, but if he is not OK to pay for his parents, brothers or sisters, than just have a talk to them one on one, with each member and find out why they act and dressed so well, but never helps to pay for checks or repay to you guys later. Be honest to them, and tell them that it’s also hard for you to pay for everyone, and if you can’t afford to go, just say so, we can have get together ordering pizza or making your own meals at home. ( You will not only save tons of money, but will have than on your good site, because no restaurant will cook as good as your home meals!!!):)

        There is really not a set advise for this situation, Follow your heart and always be better. The joke is a joke, but life is life. What ever you do, don’t and I mean it, don’t lose that love and ability to love the relative relationships, because later in life you don’t know how much they could help you with kids, with household, with support. It’s worth much more than a check in restaurant once a week.
        Anyone who don’t have in-laws or parents knows that it would have been so much nicer to have them, than not to have.
        I have seen many families having their in-laws coming from different countries to leave with their kids, just to help raising the kids.
        If you have one child in the day care, it’s a mortgage payment, but your in-laws could help you to save 3 mortgages with 3 kids, but you need to provide food, roof and love for them, so they can love your kids and you.
        Stay positive and enjoy their company, be honest and straight up, don’t hide your feelings inside, be open with them and please share with us back on the progress and your thoughts.

        You are a good person, that’s is why you are sharing this concern, but remember that money is not everything. Nobody can take money with them in their graves, they come with hard work and go very easily, but hurting someones feelings could be for life.
        Many families are not talking to each other for that purpose, and it’s not right. Good luck to you and have an awesome weekend! 🙂

        .

    • Nanani said:

      Remind me never to read your advice.
      “Let them take advantage of you because FAMILY” is a terrible thing to say given that the LW has been already dealing with this for a long time and is looking for help setting boundaries. You do not get to say “so just don’t have that boundary”,

  32. Melly said:

    I knew a guy once who just… didn’t pay for things.

    He was well-off, owned his own business and slices of many other businesses, had a big fancy house, many fancy cars, etc. I’m as certain as I can be without examining his bank statements that he could have paid for things if he wanted – but he didn’t. And we’re talking big things, not just skipping out on restaurant bills. He’d order *raw product to be processed by his company*, and just never pay the supplier. Some suppliers wouldn’t do business with him again, some would continue in the hope that they’d be paid eventually. I never heard of any trying to take him to court over it – possibly he paid them at that point, I’m not sure.

    He didn’t seem to see anything wrong with this. It was as though he’d found a cheat code for life, and if everyone else was as smart as he was, they’d be taking advantage of it too. He would openly boast that he’d got so much out of *x company*, and they’d given up trying to get him to pay.

    He was unpredictable when it came to restaurants – most of the time he’d expect other people to pay for him, but occasionally he’d extravagently, loudly, and obviously pay for everyone else without being asked.

    I’m afraid the only advice I can give has already been given – don’t go anywhere with these people where you’re not happy handling the entire bill.

    • KellyK said:

      I wonder if he’s always been well off, or that particular con is a large part of his success?

      • Melly said:

        To me it seemed like a cyclical thing – he got away with it because he was well-off, and he was well-off because he got away with it.

        I don’t know what sort of a background he came from, but his wife was from a *very* wealthy family. If he wasn’t from a similar background himself, he very likely picked up the social (if not actual) currency to get away with such behavior from her, though I should add, I never heard any tales of her acting in a similar way.

  33. This is kind of horrifying. I’ve had times in my life where I ended up over-paying for other people (right now my brother is unemployed, so I often cover his lunch when we’re out with friends), but always on the understanding that in the future, it’ll swing around again.

    Although I’ll say this – when we were 12, I visited a relative (who was at the time 28) and she took us out for dinner, and when the cheque arrived, she left it squarely in the middle of the table and asked my brother and me if we wanted to pay this time. Needless to say, we were completely flummoxxed. She then gave us a lecture about expecting other people to pay for you. Luckily when I later relayed this story to my mother she was horrified, so this clearly was just bizarre behaviour my cousin picked up from god-knows-where. (It definitely wasn’t from her father). So yeah, some people are really weird about this kind of stuff. It’s bizarre.

  34. Groovy Biscuit Intervention said:

    As an alternative to the kinds of activities you’ve been doing, how about picnics/barbecues (or, if the weather where you are really doesn’t permit that, another kind of bring-and-share meal)? This could also act as a gentle start to the boundary-seeing that’s so clearly needed here…

    So, for example, propose a barbecue on [date] at [venue that isn’t your home – this part is important]. Offer to bring, say, the barbecue and charcoal, disposable plates/cutlery, and enough burger patties for everyone. And, along with each invite, explicitly put the expectation on each in-law to bring some specific item (either let them choose from a list, or just assign them something). So, for instance, cousin Mildred is down to bring ketchup and sausages; Maiden Aunt Nora gets burger buns and hot dog rolls; mother-in-law brings chicken drumsticks and coleslaw; sister-in-law is on vegetable kebabs. Whatever. A day or two beforehand, circulate the list to everyone as a reminder.

    On the day of the barbecue, one of two things happens. Either everyone turns up with their allotted items (or something, at any rate!), in which case, result! You have discovered an activity they doesn’t result in weirdness. (It also has the handy side effect of bring fairly cheap all round, so if anyone in the family is generally sort of cash it should be manageable). Or, possibly, some or all of the in-laws turn up without their contributions…

    In this scenario, you just get to look baffled:
    You: “Maiden Aunt Nora, how nice to see you! I’ve got the burgers on now, do you have the buns?”
    Maiden Aunt Nora: “Mumble mumble erm forgot.”
    You: “Not to worry, there’s a shop just round the corner where they stock them. You can just go and pick some up now!”
    Maiden Aunt Nora: “Eek oops also forgot wallet.”
    You: “Oh dear! Well, I’m afraid I didn’t bring any cash; I had my hands full with the charcoal/bbq/burgers. Perhaps someone else can lend you some money? ….Oh. Well, looks like we’re going paleo!”

    I think it’s relatively unlikely that your in-laws would forget to bring their contributions (you’ve made it part of the invitation – come to a barbecue, bringing buns with you); if they do, it’s on them (everyone knows Maiden Aunt Nora was bringing the buns) and has a direct consequence which affects them (Maiden Aunt Nora is now condemned to a bunless burger). Because you aren’t at your home, there’s no expectation that you’ll be able to supply any deficiencies – and you’ve brought exactly what you said you would. The one possible comeback you could get is that you might find yourself eating a plain burger patty with no bun and no accompaniments, surrounded by in-laws all saying “But you know how disorganised I am! Why would you think I’d remember? This thing that’s my fault is really your fault!” To which your response is, “I don’t understand.” “I don’t understand – you’ve telling me you remembered to come to the bring-and-share barbecue but not to bring anything to share? No, sorry, I must be missing something. Anyway, this is fun, isn’t it!”

    • JenniferP said:

      Not wrong but sooooooooo much work to basically throw a spite party where you will train people to be cool.

      • Groovy Biscuit Intervention said:

        Yeah, but if the LW is feeling awkward about having to train them to be cool about money (a topic people often do find pretty fraught) then it’s a way of starting them out on simpler stuff like ‘sharing’ and ‘taking responsibility for oneself’. And, it’s possible that they’d actually come through like normal people where it isn’t explicitly an issue of money (in which case this might genuinely be a fun model for how they could interact, plus it definitively identifies the problem as being about how they respond to actual cash). And if they do still behave as oddly, then it shows a broader inability to behave normally about any sort of social tradeoffs – which is at least instructive.

        I agree it would be a hassle – but I’m practically a hermit so I find most social/organising things unthinkably hard workand probably don’t have a very good hassle-radar. The LW’s mileage may vary – but it’s at least worth thinking about. Even just mulling over how the in-laws do respond in these sort of situations where they’re bringing literal bread rather than the figurative stuff might give the LW some more clarity about what’s actually going on in their stage dynamic…

        • Groovy Biscuit Intervention said:

          *strange dynamic! Bloody autocorrect.

  35. I had friends that did this all the time. If by some chance they did pay their share, they didn’t factor in tax and tip, or even drinks. It was infuriating.

    We dealt with it by asking for separate checks. No drama, no explanation. When we order, we just ask for separate checks straight up. As an alternative, when I had to go to a restaurant with the most egregious of these folks, I ate before I left, and just had water. I wanted to see them, and hang out, but I sure didn’t want to be entangled in the restaurant check scam. Then when the check came, I’d make my goodbyes and leave.

  36. Dr. Confused said:

    Your inlaws definitely have some strange social skills and are behaving very rudely. But I want to comment on one other small aspect of the letter.

    I used to hang out on a forum specifically for complaining about in-law relationships. It was great fun and a supportive place. But I noticed an interesting pattern about money issues.

    Sometimes people would write “she obviously has plenty of money! They just bought a huge new house!” Others might write “they seem to think we are made of money, but we just bought a new house, and moving is so expensive, and it’s really a stretch for us to make the mortgage every month!” Repeat with cars, nice clothes, etc. This wasn’t necessarily the same people saying this, but both sides of this were repeatedly described.

    Do you know the thesis of “The Millionaires Next Door”? It’s that the people with the big house, the fancy cars, etc. are usually not rich. Often they are up to their eyeballs in debt. The people living a more modest existence are likely to have more actual spendable cash.

    What someone is saying when they say that someone else can pay for expensive handbags, but not get more than a dollar-store toy for their nephew (a repeated theme on that forum), it’s not about the other person’s financial situation. It’s about their financial priorities.

    When your in-laws say that a restaurant is expensive, take them at their word. Go to a cheaper place next time. Yes, this is awful behaviour, but it doesn’t help for you to make assumptions about what they can and cannot afford. Maybe they are feeling pressured to do so many expensive things with you.

  37. photondancer said:

    I’m surprised only a couple of people have raised the possibility that this is deliberate, hostile behaviour on the in-laws part. Given that it seems to be quite a few people engaging in it, they’ve been doing it for quite a while, and husband’s response, it does smack to me of an organised campaign by the in-laws to discourage LW from seeing them, or seeing them so much anyway. By ‘organised’ I don’t necessarily mean that they plotted it beforehand (though they may have), but they are fully aware of what they’re doing. If the in-laws are in the gray zone where they dislike LW enough to act meanly towards her (in both senses of the word) but not enough to say outright ‘no I don’t want to see you’, then they may have ended up figuring free meals are a worthwhile compensation for having to endure her company for a couple of hours. It sounds a little like LW is overwhelming them with the sheer amount of time she wants to spend with them and maybe in defense they are trying to freeze her out by behaving outrageously. Maybe they’re as exasperated by the fact that this exceptionally blunt tactic isn’t working as she is.

    I suspect that if LW stopped issuing invitations she’d be surprised at how long she’ll be waiting to receive one in return. Or, possibly, deep down she does suspect this and she’s covering for her in-laws because she doesn’t want to face the possibility that they reject her. Try cutting back to the ‘fun free things’ for a while, no more often than once a month, and see if that helps.

  38. Saira Ali said:

    So probably about a quarter of the time I’m out with friends, I realize too late to make a difference that I’ve forgotten my wallet somewhere, or don’t have cash at a place that doesn’t take plastic, or I do have my wallet, but when I got my card back from the gas station attendant yesterday, I stuck it in my jeans instead of my wallet and those jeans are in a laundry bin on the other side of town today. It’s terribly terribly embarrassing, but you know how my friends can tell that I’m just a flake, and not a moocher? If I’ve forgotten my wallet on one outing, I always treat the next time we see each other. If the wait staff can’t split the bill for us, I make sure my contribution to the pot is plenty big enough for my share of the bill. Sometimes I pick up the bill just because (not in a show of dominance way — my father and his relatives do that shit, and I hate it so much. One time, no joke, my father actually walked around the table and put his arm around my throat and started choking me because my husband and I picked up a lunch bill.). Since LW’s inlaws aren’t doing this, it sounds to me like they are deliberately mooching, whether out of cheapness or trying to chase LW out or whatever, but they know what they’re doing is wrong and aren’t trying to make up for it.

  39. M said:

    Every single time I go out with in-laws, me and FiL pay half the bill each. We both married in, so we’re also the only people at the table related only to our own kids.

    I have no useful advice about this, sorry. I guess the upside of mine is at least they don’t pretend they’re going to pay and then wander off.

  40. “That business where people “underestimate” what they owe and leave everyone else to cover them – so annoying.”

    Yep. That’s one of the reasons so many places here (South Australia) refuse to take individual payments on a table bill. My daughter worked at a moderately expensive restaurant (now at a seriously expensive place) and she said they’d actually seen people left as the-last-one-to-pay being landed with a bill for almost $200 when they were expecting to pay $40 or so. I’ve also been at tables where people agreed to pay their share of the bill, half have already left having put in “their share” and the rest of us have to chip in extra to make up for what they “forgot” to contribute.

    Never underestimate how scaly some people can be. Daughter had a cheery table of blokes leave the restaurant suggesting various options for her to spend her lavish tip on. Tipping isn’t compulsory here, it’s just an acknowledgement of good service. She didn’t wonder why they said that, she just responded and laughed that nothing buys nothing. Shock, horror. Apparently they’d all given the bloke with the credit card cash to pay for the meal and for $100 tip. He’d paid the bill and kept the cash.

    I have No Idea At All what’s going on with LW’s in-laws. In her shoes I’d take her husband’s lead. He has much better knowledge and lifelong familiarity with these people. They’re so strange – in my view and I’m obviously not alone there – that trying to work it out alone would fry most of our brains.

  41. To expand upon a couple of others’ comments, I’d suggest that – for dinners anyway – the OP excuse herself some time after the food has arrived, go and pay for herself, then as soon as dinner is over (or close to over) stand up, say, ‘It’s been spectacular seeing you all! I knew I’d need to leave in a hurry so I’ve already paid. Ta ta for now!’ The key is to be gone before the bill arrives.

  42. Anonaconda said:

    I’m dying to know what would happen if you “forgot to bring your wallet” on one of these occasions. I’m sure it’d be excruciating, but certainly informative! I’m with those who are wondering who pays when this group goes out without you.

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