#682: Redirecting my friends away from expensive dinner invitations.

Dear Captain Awkward,

My husband and I are newlyweds. He is currently unemployed and job searching. We are living on my income and it isn’t much. However, I place my health at a high priority because I’ve had high healthcare costs in the past. We eat well, but we make up for it by almost never dining out. We budget carefully for when we do dine out and for our discretionary funds and we’re financially responsible.

We’re not exactly poor, but we do watch our budget. However, many of our friends don’t seem to understand this. When we arrange hangouts, we try actively to schedule something that doesn’t cost money or costs little. We even prefer having a single person over to going out to dinner with that person, because it is literally cheaper to cook for 3 than to pay for 2 at a sit down place in our area.

Our friends don’t seem to understand that we’re not poor, and that we don’t want to be treated to dinner. Everyone wants to go out, and when we ask about how much the place they want to go is, they offer to pay. This is not what we want. We just want to pay for our food or ask to hang out somewhere a little more affordable. We are hoping to have a family in the next 5 years so I’m saving very carefully.

We would say something like:

“I’d love to hang out, but we’re on a tight budget and we’re trying to eat home more. Would you like to come over for brunch instead of going out? I can make an amazing gingerbread waffle and some bacon and eggs, and Husband makes amazing pour-over coffee.”

And get this:

“No don’t worry, my treat!”

I know some of these friends are in financial difficulty too and their money is tight. I can’t tell if it’s cultural, because many of them are from my culture (Chinese) and we really love to treat others to food. That’s how we show love! I think it’s great, but how can I tell them that we can’t keep going out on their treat and enforce it lovingly but firmly?

Trying to Adult

Dear Trying,

I think your script is lovely and direct, and also that more people should be frank about financial boundaries. Not 100% sure you’re in the USA, but I know that in the USA we have a very sick culture of everyone pretending to be wealthy and feeling a lot of shame about reversals like a job loss. Your frankness here is awesome.

I also think there is some tweaking to do here, in the delivery and in the how these conversations come about. One suggestion that come to mind is: Don’t ask the friends how much the restaurant costs when they make the suggestion. Say instead, “That sounds nice. Let me check my calendar/check with husband and let you know.” Then find the restaurant’s menu online and make a decision for yourself. If it’s affordable AND you want to go, you will have sidestepped the offers to pay. If it’s not affordable, you could tell the friend your script inviting them over, or ask them to meet you somewhere less expensive, or decline without giving a reason at all, i.e. “Thanks for the invitation. We can’t make that, but can we invite you over for brunch next Sunday? We want to see you.” I don’t think your friends think you are fishing for them to offer to pay, but I do think that having the cost conversation at the same moment as the invitation conversation is muddying the waters.

I also think that sometimes you should cook dinner for your friends, sometimes you should go and pay your way, and sometimes you should think about letting your friends pay for you if they want to. It feels good to treat someone, when you have more than enough. Someday your husband will be working also and you’ll have more than enough and it will feel good to you to treat people (the way it feels good now to host them). Your good friends likely know that your husband isn’t working right now, and offering to take you to a nice dinner isn’t mean to stress you out. It’s meant, sincerely, to be a treat for you and the treat of your company for them, and it’s done with the understanding that you’d do the same for them. Reciprocity in a friendship isn’t counted dollar for dollar. I think you are being very responsible with your money in an admirable way, but you don’t have to control everything about how you hang out with your friends. Learning to accept a gift gracefully is part of adulting, too.

Finally, I think you might enjoy this piece about some freelancers who started a tradition of having their friends over for dinner on Friday nights. I’ve been lucky enough to be part of a few ongoing Friends-Who-Are-Family dinners over the years, and they really keep people connected in lean times and in fat. If your budget and schedule allows for it, you could do worse than channeling your hosting energies into such a gift for your community.


135 thoughts on “#682: Redirecting my friends away from expensive dinner invitations.

  1. I think Capt’s advice here is quite elegant. I’d only add to curb the tendency to manage your friends’ budgets too. However kindly meant, it’s not your lookout.

  2. ” It’s meant, sincerely, to be a treat for you and the treat of your company for them, and it’s done with the understanding that you’d do the same for them. ”

    THIS! I have a friend who has significantly more money then me, and while usually we will eat at places we can both afford, sometimes she takes me to the super expensive place because she wants to eat there, she wants me there with her to hang out, and paying for my meal gets her what she wants. It felt a little weird at first but once I internalized that reciprocity in friendships is about intent and effort, not dollar values, it’s no longer odd. I will often treat my friends to homemade gifts that they don’t have patience to make for themselves, like scarves and stationary and jewelry and hollow books. Or I’ll do their sewing because the local tailor charges the earth and I find repair jobs therapeutic.

    LW, congrats on rocking this adulting thing, I think the Captain’s advice nails it and I wish you loads of luck and happy hangouts!

    1. Very much this!!

      During times in my life when I had more discretionary money than many of my friends, it was a genuine pleasure to treat them to a meal.

      Not only did I get to enjoy their company, I also was able to enjoy sharing an experience with them.

      Going to a restaurant on your own can be nice, but going with friends is genuinely special.

      (FWIW, I also accepted offers of home cooking with good grace, and shared plenty of moderately-priced paying-your-own-way meals — but I was more than happy to treat a friend anytime, and some friends would alternate with me on paying for meals, depending on the situation.)

      And when I had friends in the LW’s position, who were uncomfortable with me picking up the tab, I tried to find other ways of being inclusive-but-not-expensive.

      I’ve been actually-poor, more than once (I was a mother at 16), but my amazing friends shared some great and generous experiences with me, that I never could have afforded on my own… and I always want to pay that forward and exercise generosity and compassion to the people I care about — BUT it’s important to be sensitive to other people’s boundaries. It’s not a gift if it’s unwelcome.

      I think the LW’s script is good, and the Captain’s tweaks make it better.

      I will say to the LW that your friends aren’t necessarily acting like you’re “poor” when they offer to treat — they may just very much want to share an event in your company. (They may not feel as confident in their home cooking or housekeeping — I know that I’m hesitant to have guests when a flare-up of my chronic illness means that the house is a wreck — and going out for an evening may be a welcome break for them.)

      It doesn’t have to be tit-for-tat — a friend who loves your waffles may be happy to buy you dinner in “exchange” for a nice brunch at your house.

      Just keep in mind that people have different talents and levels of comfort, and that a meal “out” may be much less stressful than a dinner in their home, for a friend who may not be a great cook or housekeeper… so, the idea of saving money by eating at home may be more fraught than allowing a friend to treat you to a meal occasionally.

      (First comment here — semi-longtime reader, but this was the first thing I felt that I had a perspective to share about!)

      1. The last part of this comment is something I wanted to say too, for some people treating you out is their version of hosting because they can’t or don’t want to host for some reason. I’m the opposite of the LW. I feel guilty when I go to someone’s place and they cook for me because I know there is like a 5% chance of me returning the favour. I’ve dealt with this by making sure I always bring something when I go to dinners at someone’s place, but some people might deal with it by paying for a meal out sometime.

      2. I think your last point is really important. Spouse and I have a small child and we both work full-time, so our house is in a more-or-less constant state of barely controlled chaos. If I have friends over for dinner, not only will I have to purchase food and cook it (and I am a reasonably competent cook who actually enjoys it when I have the time), but I will also feel the need to get my house into a considerably cleaner state than it generally exists at, which is both time-consuming and stressful. Also, honestly, I just don’t really like having people in my space. And sure, you could say, ‘well, I don’t care what your house looks like’, but…I care. It is way, way less strain for me to get a babysitter for the night and go treat my friends to a nice dinner at a restaurant where I don’t have to cook or clean up afterward.

        I would advise the LW that if she would be okay with going over to a friend’s house and having that person cook for her, she should be willing to accept the option of going out to dinner instead.

        Also–most of my friends and I have relatively comparable incomes, and we still treat each other all the time. It’s not about someone being poor, for us–it’s a form of hosting and being polite. I don’t know LW’s friends, but maybe that’s a possible different angle to look at it?

    2. I used to do this when I was single, with concert tickets and the like. I missed having a guaranteed date so I just started buying stuff and then offering a ticket to a friend once the actual show date was near. Some friends gave me money or bought my drinks, others didn’t. By the time the show rolled around I had spent the money so long ago I didn’t care either way!

    3. Oh, me too! Sometimes I want to try something different and maybe it is expensive, but it’s boring to go by yourself! It’s an experience I want to share, and I’m willing to pay for the whole group sometimes if that’s what it takes. I just want the pleasure of your company! Just like some people have more teaspoons and can accomplish more in a day and are willing to share their spoons without expectation of return, some of us have a little more money and want to share it too.

  3. Maybe look at reciprocating but in home-cooked food; you could say- “Okay, I’ll let you treat us this time but NEXT time you’ll come over and we can feed you delicious, delicious waffles. MWAHAHAAHAA!”

    Okay, maybe not the last part, but still. People don’t like feeling like they’re being taken advantage of- which I think is what you’re afraid they’ll think. This kind of give and take could help smooth things over and make them more fair.

    1. And, depending on how stressful they find hosting, your friends may genuinely think that having people over is a stressful second-best that you’re putting a polite face on, rather than something you’d really prefer to do. Some people love hosting; other people find it godawful, because you have to clean and cook and then your guests are in your space so you can’t control when the hanging out ends without politely kicking them out, etc. So it may be helpful all around to put it in a reciprocal framework: “Okay, you can treat us this time, but we’re hosting you next time for waffles brunch at our place, okay? That’ll be our treat back.”

      And then they can see that you really are relaxed and having fun and repeating the invitation on future occasions, not flitting about like an overstressed butterfly.

      1. This is so true. A friend of mine used to never want me to make her dinner until she saw that I enjoy doing it.

      2. I dislike having people over because I hate having people in my space, or I fret that it’s not tidy enough and people will judge me. I also dislike eating at other people’s houses because I’m an incredibly fussy eater (ASD sensory issues make a lot of foods disgusting to me) and it’s a lot easier to pick something off a full menu than take the risk that someone’s lovingly prepared meal will make me want to throw up. So I have a really huge preference for going to a place and meeting people there. That said I’m as happy meeting for coffee and cake as I am for a full meal (probably happier, actually). Or I’m fine with going to someone’s house as long as they don’t expect me to eat anything.

        Anyway the reason why I’m saying this is that people have all sorts of preferences and it may be that the compromise involves something not yet considered, such as meeting for drinks or ice cream.

          1. I have a lot of food allergies, and even my boyfriend, who makes food for me pretty often, has trouble keeping track sometimes. Going to someone’s house for the first time to let them make food for me is nerve-wracking. Did I send them the most recent allergy list? Did they understand it? Did they take it seriously? Am I about to take an unscheduled trip to the ER? Or be unable to leave their house for several hours while I occupy their washroom in the most miserable of fashions?

            At a restaurant I can just say “hey, no cabbage on that, please” and it doesn’t hurt the chef’s feelings and I don’t have to explain why.

          2. Yes. Or, even worse, they’ll go to a lot of trouble to make a couple really interesting dishes that you can eat… and you find that you really don’t like one of them. 😦 I’ve felt so bad when that’s happened, because I know they’ve gone to a lot of trouble.

        1. I think this is a really good point–this might be a matter of too much accommodating the other person and nobody straight up saying “actually I prefer this” so it looks like the friend is being super generous/not wanting to put out the OP, but actually they just prefer a restaurant, sort of like how the OP genuinely would prefer eating at home. This is one of those situations where I end up getting really confused because it feels like I’m always second guessing–are they suggesting this to be polite? Or do they really want it? because there’s such a cultural trope of “person says X to be nice, but really wants Y” that it can be hard to believe someone who is like “no seriously, I want X”.

          I get this a lot over things like birthday celebrations, where it’s like nobody believes me if I just say “yeah I am cool with going out to dinner, or not, it honestly is not that big a deal to me”.

        2. I once had an experience where a person in my social circle and I went around having a sad because we each thought the other didn’t like us. (I think that makes sense; reciprocal pronouns are weird.) He thought I thought he was an annoying pain in the ass because he had complicated dietary issues and I obviously put in a lot of effort when someone came over to my house; I thought he hated me because, after I tried to make something he would like, he would refuse to eat it. He thought by refusing, he was indicating that I could relax and take it easy and not feel obligated; I felt like I had just offered someone a plate with a big pile of my affection on it and they looked at it and went “ew”.
          We eventually got it sorted out, and now he does eat my cooking (partly because he’s now much more comfortable around me), but I’ve since tried not to take it so personally when someone declines.

        3. Oh, yeah, seconded on the fussy eating thing. I’ve never really had an issue with it in adulthood because I’m pretty much in control of what I eat, but I have so many texture issues with a lot of common foods that letting other people cook for me is always a fraught experience, and about 70 percent of the time I end up choking down a socially acceptable amount of food and then politely refusing seconds.

          I think it’s hard for people who aren’t really picky eaters to understand, because it has nothing to do with whether or not you’re a good cook; if what you’re making contains, for example, cooked onions, cooked peppers, tomatoes in any form, margarine, eggs in any form, any cheese other than cheddar, mushrooms, most kinds of seafood, any variety of pig, any kind of chicken other than skinless breast…

          (this is a partial list)

          But my point is, it’s not about the quality of the food. It’s about the fact that I just won’t eat certain things, given the choice. In a restaurant, I can just order something that doesn’t contain things I don’t want to eat. When someone is cooking for me, I really can’t.

          1. Ick, texture issues are a pain to deal with. It’s hard enough to explain “I don’t eat X”, but it’s worse to try and go with “I don’t eat X unless it’s cooked in Y way, for about Z long, and sometimes even then I can’t eat it (because Venus is in retrograde or something? I just know it feels wrong)”, so you don’t explain it fully, and then someone goes “What do you mean you don’t eat X? I saw you eat X that one time! Liar!”

            Anyway, my sympathies. Food issues can be so tense.

          2. Thanks. 🙂

            Another thing is that I won’t eat something that contains chunks of multiple different textures, even if none of them would bother me individually. Unless I’m the one who cooked it. Because…IDEK. Flavors aren’t usually an issue for me, but textures are.

            It usually doesn’t become that much of an issue these days, because my friends and I don’t usually do formal dinner-party type things and I’m not the only picky eater in the group, but it could be pretty hellish when I was younger.

      3. This a million times! I’ve been financially strapped before, but now I’m very comfortable, and I’d happily buy a meal for friends in order to have the pleasure of their company. On the other hand, home-cooked meals take a lot of work, and while I enjoy cooking, my house is a disaster and takes forever to clean. For me, it’s FAR less stressful to treat someone to a dinner out than to invite them over for a cheaper, homemade meal. But if they were to cook for me I’d feel honored and like they were spoiling me much more than I was them.

      4. Additionally, you could frame having them over in an inherently positive light. Like saying “I found this recipe for gingerbread waffles I’m really excited to try out, how about you come for brunch?” rather than “We’re trying to save money by eating at home, how about you come for brunch?” Both statements can be true, but the former suggests that you’d prefer to eat at home even if your budget can allow eating out (which was the feeling I got from the letter, but that might just be personal bias).

    2. Yes, I agree with this. In my friend group we often take turns providing meals, and if one person is always buying said meals in a restaurant and another is always making food at home, that’s pretty unremarkable.

    3. We do this with well-off friends who don’t cook. When they invite us over for dinner, we all hang out at their place and order in, and they pay for it. When we invite them over for dinner, we buy groceries and cook. Once I offered to pay for our share of the takeout, and they said, “If you cooked for us, you wouldn’t charge us for it! This is our treat.” Now that it’s an established pattern that we know everyone’s pretty comfortable with, it goes unremarked.

  4. Earlier on when I was working “for the Man” (the hippie man, but I was making more money than most of my friends), I treated a lot of the time. Now that I’m not making a lot of money (self-employed in marginal field), I have a very dear friend who makes a LOT of money. I know that whenever we go out, she’ll pay for it. She has expensive tastes & she’s very generous & she likes my company.
    I call it The Karmic Bank.

      1. That guy looks almost exactly like my old roommate, except my old roommate doesn’t play guitar…

    1. I like the idea of a Karmic Bank. When I was younger, car-less, and struggling financially, I was lucky enough to have friends and family who helped me out. So now that I’m financially comfortable, and someone wants to decline my offer to treat or assist, I say, “Hey, I’ve been there. And lots of people helped me when I was broke. So now it’s my chance to pass it on, and someday it will be your turn, too.”

      1. that’s why I’m very generous with lending people my beater pickup — paying back all the people who ever gave me rides, helped me move, etc.

      2. I’m a big believer in paying it forward. In fact, I just ran into someone I hadn’t seen in fifteen years who remembered me because I’d done that for her, and who told me she’d done it for someone else in rememberance of my kindness, which was a lovely thing to hear.

  5. I love to cook and host, and it makes me really happy to invite friends over and cook for them at my house. After several such invitations, most of my friends end up wanting to reciprocate in some way. Some of them will invite us over for a meal. Some of them will bring a dish or ingredients to my place and we’ll make it a pot luck. The friends who don’t like to cook will occasionally treat us out to dinner. I agree with the Captain here, that letting friends treat you to a meal out once in a while can also be an act of love, because a lot of people are conditioned to reciprocate. If they are always accepting invitations where you cook for them, they probably want to do something nice for you in return.

  6. Wonderfully said, Captain. I’d like to add that as the person who couldn’t afford…well, food at all for a while there, if we’re being very honest, if you make the conversation about money every time and turn down every offer to go out “their treat”, eventually the offers do stop coming…sometimes altogether. I learned after a while that accepting here and there was a compromise- I got to see my friends, they got to feel good about helping out, and a few months down the line when I got my financial feet under me, I was able to return the favor. Accepting that my friends sometimes did (and could!) have different wants in the hangout region from mine meant less friction and more yeses when I said “why don’t we just sit on my couch and I’ll make X?”

  7. LW, I like your approach and I love the Captain’s advice. I know for some of my friends it’s really important to show love by occasionally treating people they love. I hope this advice works for you.

    Captain, thanks so much for the link to the Friday Night Meatballs piece. My situation is rather different (no kids or friends with kids) but I would love to have more low-key food-based socialising in my life. This is a real inspiration.

  8. I give you mad props for being financially responsible, and for your matter-of-fact approach. Your friends aren’t hearing what you’re saying – “amazing food at my house” is coming into their ears as “sawdust on a plate because we’re poor” or “we’re virtuous and you’re a spendthrift and we’re judging you” which is annoying. I’ve found in my life that there are people on my frugal wave length, and people who are not, and conversations should be tailored accordingly.

    I agree that if you disengage the invitation from the money, you may short circuit this faulty feedback loop.

    You may also want to get ahead of the invitations and grab hold of the social secretary reins – monthly dinner at your place, or at a restaurant (or several) you know is affordable but doesn’t come across as cheap.

    Good luck! And if you don’t already, you might check out PF blogs like Mr Money Mustache and Budgets are Sexy. Those are my two favorites.

    Ps seriously, you rock!

  9. LW, have you considered explaining your point of view to your friends in more depth?

    I don’t think this would be an easy or appropriate discussion at the time an invitation is issued, but it might be a one-on-one conversation to have with select friends at another time. At that point, you could say something like: “I really appreciate your offers to treat Husband and me. We’re on a tight budget right now, and it makes more financial sense for us to cook/host than it does to eat out often. I/We want to see you and hang out with you; it just needs to be at lower-budget restaurants/events or our house for a little while.”

    This may head off some high-priced invitations at the pass, and as a bonus, seeding your friend group with folks who are sensitive to your financial situation might help in instances where you’re all deciding to eat out as a group. It’s a little easier to direct the group’s attention toward a less-expensive option if you aren’t the only one advocating for it.

    A final point: you say that treating each other is how Chinese people express love. With that in mind, I think it’s a great idea to take the Captain’s advice and allow your friends to treat you once in a while. You don’t have to accept all the time, but if you’re putting the Captain’s advice into practice and have told some trusted friends about your situation, remembering that this is how your friends show you they love you could help you feel more comfortable accepting their generosity on occasion.

    1. >>it makes more financial sense for us to cook/host than it does to eat out often

      I agree with the sentiment, but I would find that wording quite off-putting. As someone says above, if you focus on the fiscal decision-making it does make it seems kind of second-best: “in an ideal world, we’d eat out, but Finances mean we have to compromise.” I think that even if the bottom like is finance, you’d want to emphasise the “delicious waffles! And we love having you!” side of things.

      Plus, do pay attention to the vibes you get from your friends when you invite them over. They might not actually like coming over: they might not find your house comfortable, they might not like your cooking, they might find it a right hassle to get there because they have to change buses, all sorts of reasons that they might not want to share with you. I love cooking and hosting too and I love it when my friends enjoy my cooking, but your desire to host doesn’t automatically win.

      1. I’m not sure why that wording is off-putting in the context of a private conversation with a friend about your reasoning behind not accepting their invitations to eat out. I didn’t get the sense from the LW’s letter that they are Morally Opposed to eating out, but rather that they are in straitened financial circumstances because of the husband’s lack of job/wanting to saving for a family/possibly paying off wedding debt.

        1. I think the wording is off-putting because it only mentions financial sense, and therefore implies that financial sense is the primary or only concern to be addressed in response to a dinner invitation.

          It is not quite “Let’s do this fun thing together!” “Let me see if the bank balance says you’re worth it.” but it definitely frames finances as the primary thing which is considered in response to a social invitation, rather than, f’r ex, getting to spend time with a friend.

  10. Speaking as someone who has been on a tight budget and still wanted to treat her friends- let them do it sometimes. When you end up always the guest, you can start to feel like a freeloader and a user, which is not fun at all. Let them say “I love you and appreciate our friendship” this way.

  11. I personally am much more comfortable eating at restaurants than friend’s houses. It’s not money, it’s…a whole different social thing to navigate. I have to eat what they’re cooking specifically, praise it to the correct degree, and help clean up afterward, and the reciprocal obligation is far greater. Did I do enough to help? Did I thank them enough? Was I able to turn down the shrimp graciously enough?

    Which is fine if they want to do it, but it’s a big damn deal and since I do not cook (full stop) I cannot repay in kind. Restaurants are EASY. Neutral ground, no clean up, no lingering sense that I owe them.

    Cultural concerns may come into play here, so I’ve got no suggestions, just that it’s possible some of those friends are opting to eat out because it’s much easier on the mind than the wallet.

    1. Yes! I find entering other people’s homes not-relaxing. Do they have different definitions/standards/manners/rules I have to navigate? What if I knock over their favourite vase/I tred mud in on the carpet? What if the food they cook is actually inedibly terrible and I have to remain hungry for the rest of the night out of politeness?

      The LW may mean well, but equally, their inviters may really actual prefer to eat out than go to someone’s house.

    2. This, this, this, a thousand times this! Dear LW, you know how reluctant you are to have someone pay for your meals out? That’s exactly how reluctant I am to go to someone else’s house without bringing something. When I’m invited out, years of social conditioning make me feel obligated to bring SOMETHING, even if my hosts insist that it’s okay to come empty handed. (Probably the same years of social conditioning that make you reluctant to let someone pay for your meals at a restaurant.)

      Here are my thought processes for these two options:
      Eating out: super-easy, show up with wallet and enjoy!
      Eating at someone’s house: oh heck, I have to bring something? what do I bring? what are they making? what do I know how to make that will complement their meal? oh heck, I’m a terrible cook! what if they don’t like it? okay, what can I buy that will work with the meal? is it okay to bring pre-made things? oh heck, do they know about my food allergies? they’re offering gingerbread waffles, bacon, eggs, and coffee — but I don’t eat waffles or bacon, and I don’t drink coffee! will I be an ungracious guest if I turn down these foods? will it be insulting if I bring my own food to eat? oh heck, do they have pets? do they know I’m super-allergic to dogs? am I going to be miserable? oh heck, oh heck, oh heck, I do not want to do this!

      So I would far rather pay for their meal at a restaurant than go over to someone’s house for a meal, and I would hope that my friends would understand and would work to find a situation that’s mutually agreeable (perhaps alternating between when we eat out and when we dine at their home, perhaps letting me to pick up budget-friendly take-out that we can eat in their home, perhaps eating a meal at their home and then going out for dessert, perhaps another combination).

      1. Yes this! I am vegetarian, so it’s excruciating eating at other people’s houses because either there probably won’t be anything for me to eat (if I don’t tell them) or I tell them and then they’re making a huge fuss for me and cooking all this extra food (and what if I don’t like the food they made especially for me?)… And reciprocating is a nightmare because a) I will cook exclusively vegetarian and some people hate that and b) I actually suck at cooking and c) I also have limited social energy and once someone is at my house I can’t just up and leave early because I’ve run out of ability to be near people. And now I live in a tiny flat so there literally no room for more than one or two guests. And yes when I have to bring things to people’s places I end up in a doom spiral where I try to think of something to cook or to buy and often I screw it up or just don’t have time to sort it out in advance.

        Then of course there’s the fact I don’t have a car so someone’s house in the suburbs might (depending on public transport and bike riding options) be really hard to get to, perhaps really really expensive for me to get to if I have to take a taxi. Or I have to get a lift with a friend and then I’m stuck there until they want to leave, and again have no way to reciprocate the lift…Restaurants for group outings are usually centrally located…

        A restaurant on the other hand? Bring wallet. Choose food that meets dietary requirements. No problem. I often offer to pay for other people who can’t afford it. I can check the menu in advance and see if they have something I can eat, and if they don’t it feels way easier to just suggest a different restaurant – way less onerous or insulting or ungrateful than trying to discuss how I choose to eat with a friend who really really loves meat and doesn’t really know how to cook anything else.

        Thankfully most of my friends aren’t much into cooking and take away is common when at their houses (also easy to deal with).

        Or they’re parties where everyone brings a dish – where I know between my food and the food of other vego friends and the people whose salads happen to be meat free there will be plenty to eat with no awkward discussions or demands. I still agonise over what to bring, and still feel terrible that I buy something to bring and others go to all this effort to cook elaborate stuff. But I can at least disappear into the crowd.

        So yes. Restaurants = uncomplicated social fun.

        1. I second this. I’m a gluten-free vegetarian, and I don’t want my friends to feel pressured into cooking a whole extra dish for me! I do have some close friends that I’ve done potluck-style dinners before— that way, we can hang out, but have no pressure on cooking a meal with strict dietary requirements.

          But restaurants are still way easier. Everyone gets exactly what they want, and no one has to do dishes.

      2. Thanks for everyone in this thread & perspective. I hadn’t thought of the stress of going to someone’s house…. and it’s true I get those same feelings too when I go to someone’s home. I’ll definitely be thinking more about this and trying to see it from Friends’ perspectives.

    3. I feel the same way. I’m a picky eater and it’s just SO much easier to go somewhere where I can just order something. And I hate to cook so much that I don’t even want to watch somebody else cook. Ew, getting your hands dirty. I realize others enjoy it but all the social stuff on top of that makes it hard for me. So, let’s go out! I will cheerfully pay!

      Also, I’m wondering how amazing pour-over coffee could possibly be….

      1. Eh, depends on the coffee, and the dedication of the coffee nerd. I make pour-over coffee every day, because I’m the only one drinking coffee and I don’t have counter space for a machine. I put in my tablespoon of Bustelo, count to ten because that gives me the right volume for my mug, and I have perfectly acceptable coffee, but I wouldn’t call it amazing.

        Someone who’s picking some rarefied type of coffee, carefully roasted and freshly ground, bringing the water to an exact temperature, pouring enough to wet the grounds and then letting the flavor bloom for 30 seconds and then pouring the rest at a carefully monitored rate, not too fast or too slow, may be producing an Amazing Coffee Experience. At least according to food writer Corby Kummer. I’ve never had the experience.

        This digression brought to you by a person with picky tastes who’s too lazy to be a true coffee nerd.

    4. I feel the same way about a lot of this. I really really hate cooking, I hate cleaning and it isn’t relaxing for me if hanging over my head is “do I offer to do dishes? do I not? help!”

      I have some awesome friends who like doing a semi-potluck dinner thing around seasonal holidays for those of us who don’t spend them with family, and this is basically the exception to this rule because we throw every host/manners/etc rule out there, and horrify a lot of people–I pay for a portion of the food in exchange for me not having to help at all. it really works because they wouldn’t be able to afford feeding all of us all by themselves,but they like hosting. I like eating and not feeling guilty. I know a lot of my relatives would be seriously distressed by this arrangement, but it works for us.

  12. Having been on both ends of the treater/treated dynamic, I will just say that it can feel SO good when it’s all done with a generous heart and a gracious recipient. I love the idea of accepting your friends’ generosity and offering to reciprocate with a home-cooked meal down the road. I’m not completely clear on this, but if it’s the case that the only sort of meal-sharing you are currently doing with your friends is of the “you cook for them” variety, they very well might feel like it’s YOU who feels taken advantage of! But since they don’t like to cook or aren’t good at it or don’t enjoy hosting, or whatever, their version of reciprocity is treating you to a restaurant meal. I don’t think things have to work out dollar for dollar for everyone to feel that the friendship is on equal footing.

    I also wonder if it’s possible to start organizing events like “BYO picnic food in the park” or “let’s meet up for this cool free concert after the dinner hour” or whatever that don’t really involve ANYONE hosting, but also aren’t expensive for anyone. I had one friend who always wanted to go out to eat for lunch, while I always liked to pack my lunch, so when we wanted to meet up for lunch he’d grab takeout from a nearby restaurant and we’d eat outside at public picnic tables where we could each eat our own thing. This type of thing could provide your friends to do their own thing with purchasing food if they don’t like to cook, but still hang out with you.

  13. May I suggest that you sometimes be proactive in inviting your friends over for meals rather than reactive? Perhaps they might take it better that way?

    1. Yeah, that was what I was thinking – from the phrasing in the letter it sounds like LW is trying to redirect an existing invite into something LW would prefer (brunch at home instead of dinner at a restaurant) – it might go down better if LW treats them as two separate things (politely declines restaurant offer, extends separate brunch invitation).

  14. I have treated friends to movies/dinner/etc bc I wanted to share the thing/experience with them but also known it wasn’t in their budget to pay themselves. I’ve done this even when money was tight for myself bc for me sharing the Exierience with my friend was worth it. I’ve also had friends do the same for me with no expectation of repayment or pity or wev. Gingerbread waffles sound really awesome and that’s a great idea, but going out is fun too. For me, if there’s no sense of obligation, I’d say graciously accept the treats from your friends. They obviously want your company & to share time/food/experiences with you. But if it feels uneven or obligatory then skip it/suggest alternatives. A regular pot luck gathering sounds awesome. Sorry for any types or oddities, this is from my phone & I just finished at the dentist.

  15. I have less money for eating out than my friends (and less time/place flexibility) and so we host a lot. I think it works in part because my offer to host generally isn’t in response to someone’s offer to go out, but rather an offer in itself. If someone is already asking, they may be set on going out and there may be multiple people involved. But if you make your own event beforehand, you’re not asking people to change their plans.

  16. Long time lurker, first time commentor here. I had a situation like this when my husband and I were first married. I found out an old high-school boyfriend lived in our town. After a few visits, it turned out that not only had he mellowed as a person, but my husband and he had a lot in common (surprise!) and we all became good friends. At the time, my husband was going back to college and I was unemployed, but the friend had a relatively well-paying job and few expenses. He liked to take us out to dinner, including drinks, maybe once a month or so. It was hard at first to let him treat us because it felt so much like charity. What helped me learn to enjoy it was to realize that he was giving us a chance to experience something that usually wasn’t an option for us, and to find ways to provide a similarly rare and enjoyable experience for him. He was a bachelor who lived in an apartment and traveled often for work. When it was our “turn” to host, we invited him over to our house to barbecue with us in the backyard and play with our dog until the stars came out, or to have a movie night where we watched and mocked bad movies. We got to experience a nice meal without financial worries, and he got to enjoy a household without upkeep worries.

    If your friends are reluctant to join you for brunch, try to find some other thing you could do for/with them that would provide them something they might be missing. Maybe they aren’t brunch people, but they might be cheap chinese take-out and drive-in movie people. And, as a seriously independent person, it may feel very weird to let someone treat you, but actually, that’s how friendship really works, with both give and take.

  17. I am curious whether people feel like there is some kind of cultural shift happening around the “pretend you’re rich and never admit you can’t afford something” culture, or whether it’s a specific thing to my group of friends (or maybe to NYC?). As 20-somethings who all graduated college during the economic crash and live in NYC, I really find that people are increasingly upfront about money. I have to remind myself in other cities sometimes that not everyone thinks it’s normal to ask what someone pays in rent when you go to their house. I know how much money all my friend’s make, what their rent is and we also talk pretty frequently about financial planning, so people are pretty up front about things they can’t afford. Is this true for anyone else?

    1. My friend group is somewhat similar, though perhaps not as frank or forthcoming with actual numbers (I don’t know my friends’ exact salaries, for example, though I do know roughly what they make).

      One thing we are always up-front about is our day-to-day budgets. My friend group has a weekly Ladies’ Night, during which we either go out to eat, go out for drinks, or – usually – gather at someone’s house and share a meal. When one of us has a particularly tight budget, we’re very forthcoming about letting the rest know. Because we’re close and meet up every week, we’re also all very aware of each others’ “background” financial situations, if that makes sense. Meaning that we’re all aware that Friend A just quit her salaried job in order to go back to school; that she’s living on student loans and part-time work. We’re all aware when Friend B is saving for a house, or Friend C just went on vacation, so she has less free funds. We’ll tailor our Ladies’ Nights accordingly: when someone says she’s budgeting, we’re all more than happy to do a potluck at someone’s house rather than go out to eat.

    2. i feel like this could definitely be an NYC thing. i am guessing we are close to the same age by the context you provided, and i experienced this in nyc too. everyone is very open about what they can and cannot afford, about being in debt, and definitely about trying to help each other with financial planning. i feel like, especially in a large city where you can have friends who are barely scraping by and friends who are making six figures in the same group, it’s a big talking point. i live across the country now, in a city that is generally considered to be pretty wealthy overall (although i do not fit into that category) and it’s definitely not something that is discussed. no one talks about finances or rent, kind of in the same way no one out here seems to care what bus i took to get to them. which my NYC brain still has trouble with. “But, it’s public transportation! don’t we want to talk about it all the time? how did YOU get here???”

      To tie this into the LW’s question (sorry if my comment was derailing), I have pretty much always been on the poorer side of this friendship equation, and I completely understand how difficult it can be, and how, even if no on actively makes you feel guilty, you will sometimes still feel that way no matter what. Would it be possible to combine their evening out with your evening in? Maybe something like, “Husband & I can’t make it out, but if you guys would like to stop over for pre-dinner drinks and snacks, or a post-dinner dessert, we would love to see you and cook for you.” And if that’s too complicated, as others have said wonderfully, there is no shame in saying, “We want to see you, but we can’t make this. Let’s make a date for you to come over soon.” or offer to go over to their houses and cook there. Sometimes going out to eat isn’t about the food, it’s just about being able to kick back.

      1. Interesting! That is definitely very similar to my experience– my friend group includes people scraping by on coffee shop jobs, corporate lawyers making six figures, people making 40ish for nonprofits, and everything in between, and everyone is super up front about it. I wonder if I lived somewhere that people’s incomes were less diverse it would change. I also think it might be partially because my friend group is also very politically conscious and discusses privilege a lot– so for me, it’s kind of important personally that I’m open about not having any college debt, etc, and I think a lot of my friends feel similarly.

    3. I was in the middle of typing something about how my friends are very upfront with what they can and can’t afford… and then I realized there are two couples I know who spend fairly lavishly and have never turned anything down based on budget. Who knows what’s going on under the surface – maybe years from now I’ll find out their bankrupt and were lying all along.

      The way the recession has gone, it seems like a lot of people ended up more budget conscious than destitute. I live in a city that weathered the recession very well so that may be unique to here. In my experience, at least, it’s so much more comfortable emotionally to decline something because I’d rather spend my entertainment dollars elsewhere, as opposed to having no entertainment dollars to spend. There never seemed to be any cultural shame attached to that. Although I did grow up in a very frugal family so maybe there is cultural shame and I just never learned it.

    4. My friend groups in the Northeast were pretty honest about their budgets, but we were in a big city and things were really expensive. We didn’t discuss financial planning for the most part but everything else came up. I had no problem being honest about my rent being reasonable because I was in the burbs, but that it left me with transport issues.

    5. I think it’s more common to be able to do that if you’re in a group where the group identity is not “young professional”. When I was a postgrad student, then it was assumed that we were all on a budget. If you’re in a group that recently graduated and people are still in “starting out” jobs, or everyone’s trying to do creative stuff, or you are all working in socially-useful-but-not-especially-well-paid sectors, I think it’s easier to talk about budgets in that situation because you have a shared group identity of people who have chosen not to identify with money but with something else, and to say you can’t afford something is expressing that group identity. It gets harder if your group starts to move into professional roles and think house-buying and savings and long-term security, and people get increasingly reticent about their finances and it just starts to become the group rule that you’re supposed to have covered that stuff up.

      (The Sexand the City episode where Carrie says “everybody rents!” and then finds all three of her best friends own their own flats is really acute on RS, I think.)

      1. Hmmm, that makes a lot of sense. I have noticed that occasionally I’ll find myself in a more “young-professional” type group and people are a little less open about money, and more likely to assume that everyone has plenty– like I was in a group the other day where someone casually threw out that she spends about $1000 every time she goes to a friend’s wedding, as if that was a number everyone could relate to. And a friend of mine recently went out to lunch with coworkers at a restaurant with $30 entrees and got a cup of soup because it’s all she could afford, then every said “oh let’s just split the bill”.

        1. “And a friend of mine recently went out to lunch with coworkers at a restaurant with $30 entrees and got a cup of soup because it’s all she could afford, then every said “oh let’s just split the bill”.”

          Oof. Been there, right after moving to Expensive City, out with The Partner’s colleagues, who are engineers. I was making minimum wage. To add insult to injury, I was the only vegetarian there, and there were a grand total of two dishes on the menu without meat, and the group decided that eating family style would be really awesome. These were people I barely knew, and I didn’t want their introduction to me to be about why I thought this approach to dinner might suck for me. I hate feeling like a pain in the ass, especially among people with whom I have not yet built up a significant reservoir of mutual goodwill.

          After that meal I said to The Partner, “The next time we go out to dinner with your colleagues, can you cover my portion and I’ll pay you back some mutually agreeable amount? Or can I exempt myself from the whole family style thing, and you’ll back me up and not treat it like a weird thing to ask? Because I am not happy with how this evening turned out and want to be proactive about making next time better.”

        2. People who say “Let’s just split the bill” drive me nuts. If it’s something that you clearly agreed upon, fine. But when I’m a vegetarian and spend $7 on a salad and $2 on a soda, and everyone else spends $15-20 on an entree and has one or two $7-9 beers… NO I DO NOT WANT TO SPLIT THE BILL. What is wrong with you?

          (This has happened to me before. I’m not still bitter about it or about the fact that I was a lot less confident then than I am today, so I didn’t object as loudly as I could have and felt ashamed that I asked for “special treatment.” And I’m definitely not angry that people continue to pull this nonsense every day.)

          1. Totally. I don’t understand how people are so oblivious to that. Like, I will suggest splitting the bill if we all ordered the exact same thing, or if I ordered slightly less than others and am feeling generous. I don’t understand how it can be considered rude to talk directly about money, rather than it being rude to assume people have limitless amounts of it and can subsidize your food choices.

          2. Yep. “Let’s just split the bill” is a cool thing to say if you’d otherwise be paying the same OR LESS than other people.

          3. When I go out, I have almost always looked at the menu online and always determined how much I can budget for this evening. “lets split the bill” 9/10 will throw that calculus off.

      2. I’ve actually had the exact opposite experience. The young professionals I know (and I’m one of them) tend to be very upfront about finances, because we all had similar debt levels, similar starting salaries, etc. so it didn’t feel awkward to talk about money because for the most part we were in the same boat. My friend groups that have more diverse job profiles are places where I don’t see nearly as much financial discussion, which for me at least is because I feel a lot more awkward about talking to a friend about how much I’m saving for a house or what I spent on vacation when there’s a real chance that friend is in a *completely* different head space about what “a lot” of money means or “things are a little tight right now” looks like. Maybe I shouldn’t feel that way, but I definitely do.

      3. Yes, this is a big part of it in my experience. I live in a city with a massive income gap between people in one particular industry and just about everyone else, and there are friend groups I had to drift away from because I couldn’t keep up with the activities they wanted to do. I’ve also noticed that my lower-income friends are very frank when it comes to talking about the exact dollar figures on rent and income, while the higher-income friends just assume that everyone has enough to pay for whatever they want.

    6. (Sorry, this is my fourth comment or so on this topic, apparently I find it really interesting..)

      Yeah, we’re like that too (20s/early 30s, medium sized city in Canada.) I think it comes from the fact that a lot of us got to be friends when we were either in university, or university-aged working low-paying jobs (hi!!) The “pretend to be rich” thing is really alien to me because I’m used to the opposite, which is only now going away–essentially people “one-downing” each other about how broke they are. “Sorry, can’t afford it this week” or “maybe after I get paid” etc. are all totally normal and unquestioned responses to every offer from going out to dinner to going to the pool.

      1. Same here. We’ve all kind of figured out how to “adult” together, so conversations about money have a kind of ‘goodness this is complicated, counting is hard, how much do YOU have?” quality with very little embarrassment in it.

    7. I do not live in NYC, but have similar discussions with my friends.

      I think the reason people traditionally avoid those discussions is they’re worried that either the lower-income people will then start asking for money, or the higher-income people will use their money as a way to put the lower-income people down (or the lower-income people will just feel bad about themselves even if no one is trying to make them feel bad.) But I trust my friends not to be jerks, and not to base their self-worth on their finances, and I try very hard not to be a jerk/base my self-worth on my finances, so I have no problem talking about money with them.

      Because we’re all getting started in Adulthood, it’s useful to know how much different types of jobs pay, how much rent in different neighborhoods costs, how other people do or don’t do their budgeting. I lived rent-free at my job for the first few years post-college, and it *really* helped hearing what things actually cost from my friends so I could figure out how moving to an apartment was going to change my finances when I left that job.

    8. In the 1980s, my friends and I had a general idea how much we all made in our various professions. I knew to the dollar how much rent people paid, because the process of finding affordable housing in San Francisco in 1984 was Not Fun. (And I do grasp that it’s worse there now. Hard to imagine, but I can read the numbers, so I believe it.)

      I remember that my parents were sort of vaguely appalled that my friends and I knew so much about each other’s finances, but my parents lived in a subirb where no one was on the edge of poverty or living from paycheck to paycheck. Some families had more children, some were more frugal, and some spent money in ways that surprised their neighbors, but money didn’t matter to their social lives the way it mattered to ours. They could (and some of them did) host potlucks in their backyards. We didn’t have backyards and not all of us had kitchens.

      Some of us lived in situations where we could not host people where we lived (for awhile, my then-lover and I rented one small bedroom from other people and our admittedly low rent bought us a bedroom, a shared bathroom and a nook in the bedroom with a toaster oven and hot plate that we used to make food that we bought the day we cooked it). Some of us could not afford to eat in any restaurant. We knew these things because these facts affected our ability to eat meals together.

      As we got older and started making more money, we were less open about our finances. But in our early 20s, money and the lack thereof was the focus of our existences. So no, I am not convinced it’s a cultural thing that,s changing now, so much as it is a young urban thing, whatever year it might be.

      1. Interesting! Do you think you and your friends have become less open about your finances because you actively don’t want to talk about it/feel it’s private, or is it more that it’s just become less interesting as you’ve become more established? I can imagine that, as my friends and I get more established in our lives and careers, there might just be less to talk about when it comes to money because we won’t be baffled and worried about it all the time (as I type it this really sounds like a ridiculous pipe dream).

    9. No, it’s definitely A Thing in my group of friends, both my college friends and my (close) hobby friends. My college friends are just as broke as I am (or more broke than me, but more willing to spend money to have fun than me, which, hey, their life their choice), and we have conversations about whether we’re ordering food in or having a potluck, or whose bringing drinks to movie night this weekend, and whether we want to go to the bars this weekend, and “nope, too broke” is a totally acceptable thing to throw out.

      And with my hobby friends, they’re pretty much all 10+ years older than me, so I don’t think it’s necessarily an age thing (though finances is something that comes up much more frequently with the ones that are only 10 years my senior versus 30 or 40 years, unless it’s them trying to pay for my meal/drinks). None of them are really professionals though, so that might factor in too.

  18. I agree with others that you might be able to prevent some of these conflicts by making the first invitation rather than inviting people over as a counteroffer. If several people have already agreed they’d like to meet in the evening at a restaurant, it can be a little difficult to shift plans to daytime at someone’s home. I think you’ll find that people may be more responsive to your suggestions if they’re made independently.

    Along with this, I think you and your husband might want to spend a little time brainstorming and considering whether you can think of an activity that you and your friends might enjoy that is inexpensive, doesn’t involve food, and doesn’t take place at anyone’s home. I think this could accomplish a few different things. Finding something that isn’t food-centered might shake up some of the assumptions about treating and paying that are happening in your circle and let you set a new dynamic. Also, coming up with a second activity gives you an opportunity to see if some of your friends might be willing to do something other than eat at a restaurant so long as it’s taking place on neutral ground. Sometimes people feel a little uncomfortable accepting home hospitality, either because of distance, parking, pets, or just feeling uncomfortable about not being able to reciprocate it because they can’t cook themselves. Beyond all that, it might be kind of fun for your group to diversify the ways you spend time together a little. I’d say it’s at least worth a try.

    1. I’m not sure if this is actually the case, but the letter writer is making it sound like the only kind of socializing that they are willing to participate in is hosting people/cooking for them at their home, which I think is pretty unreasonable. There are plenty of reasons why the friends might not want this that have nothing to do with them not being as budget-conscious as LW – maybe the LW’s house isn’t geographically convenient/public transit accessible, maybe the friends don’t love the LW’s cooking, or they just want a change of pace every so often.

      Here is how I think the interaction looks from the perspective of the friends: friend suggests going to a restaurant they wanted to try and had specifically picked out, and then the LW counters with the “responsible” option, which just so happens to mean LW has complete control over the food and setting, and that everyone else has to travel to them. I understand why the LW doesn’t see it this way, and there’s certainly plenty of hard work that goes into hosting, but I think it’s pretty presumptuous to do this every time your friends suggest an activity. The friends are already making a very good faith effort to accommodate the LW’s preferences for not spending lots of money, so I think it’s only fair for the LW to respect their friend’s preferences sometimes by either accepting the offers to pay, or at least finding cheap/free social options outside of their home. Doesn’t have to be all the time, but I got a bit of a “my way or the highway” vibe from the letter that didn’t sit well.

      1. Yeah, I agree with the idea that the counter-offer of “no, don’t go out, come to my place instead!” can be perceived as a drag. The Captain’s idea of “I’m sorry we can’t make this one, but let’s get together at my place sometime—I’ll send out an invite” gets a little closer to giving both parties what they want.

        One of the things I had to come to terms with as an adult trying to make a small income stretch was that “going out” is one of the Costs of Adulthood. It is overpriced compared to making meals at home, but Out is where adults gather and form friendships and connections. It isn’t frivolous.

        1. Well… Out is where some/many adults gather and form friendships and connections. I do agree it isn’t frivolous.

          Just throwing in the modifier because I’m someone who tends to find restaurants stressful and unpleasant, and so one of the things I had to come to terms with as an adult is that usually people who prefer Socializing Out aren’t the best friends for me to invest in. As a new adult, I used to worry about whether my Adult Friendship Skills were deeply compromised by this preference and I put energy that I regret into trying to make things work out with nice people even though we had incompatible connection-building patterns. As time has gone by, it seems to have worked out fine for me to focus on Socializing In and having that just be part of how I figure out whether I “click” with someone. YMMV, obviously! But any new adults who are reading this and are in the place I was just a few years ago – if you’re cool with a smallish friendgroup, you may not need to suffer through Common Social Venues That Do Not Work For You just because that is How The Adults Do It. Adults gather and form friendships in the ways that make them happy.

          1. Thank you for this perspective. As a fellow hater of restaurants, I have also struggled with the fact that so many people consider eating out an essential social bonding ritual, and to accept that this probably makes these people not great friends for me.

          2. Agreed. I like eating out, I really do, but I also really like cooking for people, and it’s so hard these days to find willing victims. 🙂 I’m delighted that a couple of college friends and their kids are coming through town and that they would rather have dinner at my house than go out.

      2. I don’t get so much of a “my way or the highway” vibe from the LW. Rather, I got the impression that this might be a fairly young group of people who are all still hashing out the ways they socialize with each other, and who haven’t necessarily had to work out creative ways to spend time together to accommodate different people’s tastes and needs yet. I know that some of these issues didn’t even occur to me until some of my friends started to lives that were very different from mine.

        I do agree with your assessment of how things might look from the friends’ side of things, though. I have friends who I know I can only see if I go to visit them in their homes, especially the parents of small children, but that is a fairly high price of maintaining a friendship and not all friendships will survive that kind of transition. If finding free concerts or gallery shows or suggesting board games at a coffee shop are possibilities, I think the LW might want to try going that route first. It might be especially helpful to zero in on things that are scheduled in the evening, or at least I noticed that the friends are suggesting dinner and the LW is suggesting brunch. There may be some scheduling clashes there that haven’t been discussed but could perhaps be worked around.

        1. LW here! I definitely didn’t want to give an impression of “my way or the highway.” My suggestion for brunch was actually because brunch was the thing on my mind that day when I wrote the letter since I had a standing appointment with a dear friend who was going to treat us to brunch the very next day, so that’s the script I used.

          When we were all in college I was able to spend money much more thoughtlessly because I wasn’t trying to save, and it became a pattern in our friendship groups to just eat out all the time together, and you are absolutely right that this is part of the transition to figure out other creative ways to spend time together. Thanks for the suggestions on more budget-friendly activities—I’ll have to look into what my city has but seriously, I feel like i’m a boring person now because I’ve never thought about most of these options!

          1. Someone I know had a party in a park last weekend! With BUBBLES.

            It was fantastic – and bubbles are cheap. Maybe now that it’s spring, you can do outdoor things in public spaces?

  19. Would they be up to a “When you do X, I feel Y” statement? It might clear the air as to what the LW is feeling and the friend is expecting. The friend might not mean anything more than “Hey I like you. I want to hang. Here, let me do this cool thing for you, since you go through all the trouble to have us over.”

  20. This is obviously a different situation, but I know when I was dating a guy who made much much less money than me, he had a lot of pride tied up in paying for all of our meals together. But he was working 8 hours a week at minimum wage, and I was working full time as an electrical engineer. It meant that we could basically only eat fast food or, if he’d gotten extra hours, lower end chain restaurant food. And I mean, I enjoy the occasional french fry from McDonalds, but other than his birthday, for the entirety of that relationship, we couldn’t go anywhere that I might have actively wanted to go, because he refused to ever let me pay for it.

    which is a long way of saying, sometime people want to go to a specific restaurant or event. And hang out with you, of course, but they want to be able to do it at that specific location. So maybe it isn’t so bad to let them do so occasionally.

  21. LW, as a fellow frugal person, I think there’s a compromise here that be workable financially for you, and give your friends the restaurant experience they enjoy (becuase dining out is fun!) Also, whenever I’m a guest in someone’s home, unless they’re practically family, I feel like I have to be on Good Guest Behavior (bring a present! Compliment everything! Offer to help!) which is less relaxing than being at a restaurant, because no one expects me to jump up and start helping the waitress clear away plates before dessert, you know? I’m wondering if this may be some of what your friends are feeling when they offer to treat you guys.

    Next time your firends invite you to Expensive Fancy Restaurant, you can say “Oh, gosh, I can’t make it to that, but why don’t we meet up on Day for Gelatto?” or “Why don’t we meet up on Evening for Drinks?” I don’t know your geographic specifics, but where I live, there are a lot of restaurants that have super-cheap mimosas during weekend brunch, so an appetizer and some mimosas are still pretty budget-y..

    Planning some dining out excursions around little splurges, rather than an entire meal, will stretch your restaurant budget further, and still give your friends the ability to enjoy your company in a way that lets them relax around you and order what they want.

    1. One of my best friends was the master of this when she was doing a year of service. She came to all kinds of dinners having already eaten or snacked, but would hang out, have a drink or two, and possibly order a small plate or a dessert. In fact, she’s not much of a foodie so she still does this, even though she can afford to, because she doesn’t especially care to pay for it.

      1. Ahhhh this reminds me of a time that this horribly backfired on me. When I was in uni my then-boyfriend and I were invited out to a friend’s birthday dinner in a relatively fancy restaurant (beyond what we could comfortably afford on our student budgets). We compromised by saying we would go for a drink. Then my boyfriend went to the bar to order a bottle of wine and – being unversed in the ways of restaurants – just picked the bottle from the bottom of the list without realising that this would, of course, be the most expensive bottle (he said afterwards that he thought the bottle on the bottom would be the cheapest). Fortunately it wasn’t such a fancy restaurant that this was in the hundreds, but it was still 3 or 4 times what we would normally have spent and wiped out all the savings we were making by not eating.

        The worst thing was that we had been poured the last of the wine frm the much cheaper bottle on the table and then everyone else’s glasses were filled from the fancy bottle, so we didn’t even get to taste the expensive wine! AND at the end of the meal the friend’s boyfriend offered to pay for all the wine (at the time, he was earning a pretty good wage, much more than the other guests) but the friend declined because (as it turned out) he was planning to break up with that guy. /0\

        Easily avoided, but oh young diners, always check the price of what you are ordering!

    2. Thank you for these scripts with built in compromises for things more affordable… that’s a really good approach. Thanks!

  22. I agree with others–sometimes I just want to be ouuuuttttt. Out of my house, out of anybody’s house, just out of houses period. And if I want someone’s company and am flush at the time, I’m willing to pay so we can all have fun…out. The whole feel is different, and plus almost all my friends have cats, and I’m allergic. And sometimes I just have cabin fever.

    I agree with others that initiating with the home invitation is probably going to turn out better than countering the invitation to go out.

    1. Definitely agree with this… and, as someone who does not have kitchen skills (and DOES have friends with picky palettes), sometimes hosting someone at a restaurant (or getting take out) is what I’m most comfortable with, and it is the type invitation I will extend to my friends – sometimes to pay them back for hosting me at their place and making me waffles!

      Also, you don’t want to put your friends in a positioning of having to invite themselves over to your place. If they are in the position of initiating invitations, they’re not exactly going to call you up and be like “WAFFLE TIME AT UR PLACE!!!” (not ok in any culture, sadly) So, as others have said, maybe schedule things regularly with your friends, and set the trend you want.

      And then go out and let them pay sometimes when they want to pay you back!

  23. In general figuring out where and what to eat involves a lot of parameters and I’m in favor of being geekily direct about it upfront. I like it best when the person making the suggestion makes an effort to acknowledge possible blocking factors. That doesn’t mean memorizing everything about a person, but leaving it clear that they have the option to say “yes but.” So I like best a conversation that goes “Let’s hang out. Do you want to go out to eat? What places do you like?” and then the other person can say “I prefer to cook myself” or “cheap places” or “places with vegetarian options” or “places with a parking lot.” Or if one wants to treat and/or go somewhere specific, one could say “May I take you out to eat? I like this restaurant, here’s the menu, does it work for you?”

  24. Hi LW:
    I thoroughly agree with the Captain’s advice. Especially the part where you don’t ask the price.

    Here’s why. When you ask about the cost you redirect the hang out convo into a convo about budget. While you may want to talk budget, the other person is thinking more about “food yum” or “yay! I get to see LW!” The other person may well get confused.

    Also, great idea to invite people over. Do that often, and sometimes suggest less expensive restaurants.

    Because I promise you, each time you ask about cost, or mention budget, all anyone will hear is “LW is broke”

    1. This just made me think – it’s also requires your friends to make a judgement call about what you can afford. They’re probably not looking at the menu as they invite you, so they have to dredge up the approximate price level they remember from the last time they were there, and then decide if that level is cheap/medium/expensive *to you*. They might worry that they remembered it wrong, or that the menu has changed, or that they didn’t realize it was happy hour last time they were there. They might feel anxious that they will declare a restaurant “cheap” and you will get there and be upset because you think it’s “expensive”. Offering to treat takes all of those questions away in one fell swoop.

  25. Related question…how do you deal with this while dating? I recently dated someone who paid on the first date. On the second date, I stepped forward to pay, and he was very pleased by that. His belief was that men and women should split everything 50/50 while dating. While I agree with the ideal behind the thought, the reality was that he was working and I wasn’t (due to my duties as a caregiver), and it quickly became a major strain on my already very limited budget. When I tried to bring this up, he basically said I could treat him to places like Burger King…which still adds up! He would also really pressure me to go to cons or other events, and paying my ticket was a huge blow. If I said I couldn’t attend, he would up the pressure or imply I didn’t like spending time with him.

    Obviously there are bunch of red flags there, and I’ve already broken up with him due to the pressuring and general disparity in social needs. But I never really knew how to respond to the money issue, because again…I do in theory agree everyone should pay their own way, but with that comes financial limitations and I don’t know how to state that clearly.

    1. When this came up in the past I was blunt. And what I would bluntly say is that I was happy to spend money on things x,y,z,w but if they wanted to do a,b,c,d it would have to be on their dime. And a,b,c,d covered a lot of ground.

      Also, I’m glad you broke up with him.

      1. True! And can I put a word in here for being cognizant when you’re doing something on someone else’s dime…the ex-boyfriend I mentioned below would tell me beforehand that he didn’t have any money and dinner was on me, which I appreciated knowing in advance, buuuuuuuuut we’d get to the restaurant and he’d order the $30 beer flight. Or a round of shots for friends. Or order a beer for me that I didn’t want. And suddenly the $35-40 dinner I’d been envisioning was $70 or $80…but I’d said I would pay for it, and I was stuck footing a bill that I felt was really unnecessarily expensive.

          1. Oh, man, my condolences….I had a lightbulb moment when he ordered a round of shots that no one wanted or asked for (Fireball, ugh) on my bar tab for my friends, I suppose in an attempt to impress them.
            When we broke up I pointed out that not being able to support yourself, while a reality for a lot of people and not something that you should feel ashamed of, is not something I can work with in a relationship, and that we’d known each other for five months, it was not as though we had a years-long partnership where we’d agreed that I would be shouldering living expenses, etc. etc., and that I was not prepared to start a relationship with someone whose finances were beyond precarious.
            He interpreted this as me just caring about money. Which, duh, I do, when someone else seems to feel entitled to mine.

          2. (Ran out of nesting; responding to Commander Banana.)
            and that I was not prepared to start a relationship with someone whose finances were beyond precarious. He interpreted this as me just caring about money. Which, duh, I do, when someone else seems to feel entitled to mine.
            I’ve noticed that in the broader culture, there seems to be this notion that if you’re in a romantic relationship, enough love will overcome any conceivable objection or hardship – without anyone stopping to think about where all this free-floating love is supposed to come from, if it’s not based in how your relationship actually is. I’ve seen people be accused of every character flaw imaginable, from greed to shallowness to outright sociopathy, because they broke up with a partner for sexual incompatibility, or hating their family, or even because one of them was going to live twelve time zones away for an indefinite period.

          1. Re: Laughing Giraffe – so true! The Captain has talked about things like having the hard conversations about money, etc. before taking a step like living together or pooling finances and I think it’s such good advice. You can love someone as much as possible and that’s not going to magically disappear issues like this.

            When we stopped dating, our exchanges went something like this:
            Me: We’ve only been dating for five months, but I can see that your financial situation is very precarious (you have 80K in student debt, two maxed out credit cards, are freelancing but have no savings or cushion if you have a slow few weeks, routinely owe your long-suffering friends rent, would have nowhere to live if your roommates were not said long-suffering friends, etc.) and I’m not prepared to start a relationship with someone in such an unstable situation. And bill collectors are hounding you.
            Him: You only care about money! You don’t care about me!

            Every conversation we had about how the reality of the situation was impacting our relationship got turned into me not caring enough, and since he’d decided he was ‘falling in love’ with me, that should be enough for me, right? All of our problems could be solved if I just cared more!

            I’m still waiting for him to pay me back the last bit of the money he owes; I will probably never see it.

    2. I’d say figuring out free things to do together and doing the planning labor for those would be a good way to start if you run into this again. If he still wants to be treated to meals out or doesn’t seem interested in things you suggest, then I’d say it’s time for a blunt conversation where you tell him exactly how much money you have to spend on dating per week or per month and ask him for feedback about how often he’d like to see you and what sorts of things he’d find entertaining within those limits.

      I’d say that some partners will be able to deal with that and some won’t, and that there wouldn’t necessarily be something wrong with someone who wasn’t up for either treating all the time or doing free things half the time. The bit where he pressured you to go to expensive events like cons, though? I don’t think there’s any negotiating there. Asking someone to pay to attend something you want to go to and want them as a companion to is already a little dicey if they’re not equally excited. Asking when you already know they have a limited entertainment budget seems like the kind of selfishness that can only be dealt with via the various “no” scripts.

    3. There’s the non-reality ideal of splitting everything 50/50 while dating — and there’s the actual reality that in every couple, one person makes more money than the other person. So you can pull out your tax forms and figure every frickin’ restaurant tab based on each person’s AGI and calculate it to the penny, or the party who makes more dough can say, “Hey, don’t worry about it, I got the check this time” for some majority of the time.

      I’ve dealt with this while dating by simply being very clear about it. I’ve said, “OK, so I have zero disposable income right now. My budget is one where we stay in, watch something on Netflix, and have cheese, crackers, and wine for dinner. If you want to do something else on our date, then I’m afraid it’s going to have to come out of your wallet, not mine.” If someone I was dating couldn’t get on board with that, well . . . I hope he found someone else to date!

    4. Sounds like this person, may he send you a thousand roses of apology for you to bed your next lover upon, has confused “equal” with “same.” Which it’s not, when you’re not navigating the same financial landscape. (Kudos to you for stepping up to the financial plate even when it was uncomfortable, and more kudos for not being in that situation anymore.)

      So next time, I suggest you handle it the way some judges handle child support:

      Let’s say my net income this week after expenses is 200 gil, while my girlfriend’s net is 800 gil. Together, our net income with “wiggle room” is 1000 gil this week. Choco-Con, after badges, lodging, and extra-special racing-saddle workshop fee for two, will cost 100 gil. So I’ll pay 20 gil and my girlfriend will pay 80 gil, and if I’m somehow uncomfortable about her paying the bulk of the fees because I’m a part-time adventurer and she works lawyer’s hours, I’ll put extra effort into making her eidolons cool costumes for their limit breaks.

      Money is many things, but it is on one level a representation of the time you’ve traded for it. When I say, “I want us to pay for things equally,” I am saying, “I want us to invest our resources— time, spoons, social capital— equally.” And if I put in the two hours I’ve traded in the form of, say, $20, I’d like my (theoretical) girlfriend to pay two hours, as well, whether she makes $200/ hour or $2/ hour. My time is not inherently more valuable than hers to ME, just to the people who set the price for it.

      Which may not be a workable solution if you’re not in a place where you or your putative partner is comfortable with full financial disclosure, However, it seems to me that ideally you’d want to be with someone who’d pay a little more when you can’t, knowing that, were the situation reversed, you would happily do so for him.

      1. My time is not inherently more valuable than hers to ME, just to the people who set the price for it.

        +20 gazillion. I’ve been having such a hard time trying to figure out how to phrase this in an issue I’m having in my current relationship, and this is perfect.

    5. My algorithm:

      Where possible, each person pays for their own costs (which is not the same as a 50-50 split.)
      If I make more money than you, I’m willing to pay some or all of your costs (within my own financial comfort zone.)
      If you make more money than me and aren’t a jerk about it, I will let you pay some or all of my costs.
      If one of us wants to go to This Thing that is either too expensive or not very exciting for the other person, we cover their costs.

      And, because income disparity is a thing and can be stressful for both individuals, keeping an eye out for enjoyable cheap dates.

      1. yes, this exactly. i’ve been on both sides of this equation and am currently on the more-money side. it’s not MUCH more, but it’s “able to pay my rent & still have some left over for a beer” more. we are both very open about our financial positions when necessary–it’s still a new relationship and we live separately, so having some “secrecy” for lack of a better word here isn’t an issue–and he has been transitioning between two jobs, putting an extra strain on him while hours at one place fade before the hours at the new place start coming in. we always try to split things 50/50, but because i know he has been going through this extra rough time, lately i’ve been picking up the check. i don’t say anything. i just grab it and pay. if he makes a surprised face i say, “don’t worry about it!” and leave it there. any sort of response beyond a “Thank you” gets shut down.

        that being said, we do not do things that are outside of our means in the first place, so picking up the check isn’t a big sacrifice in the first place.

    6. my girlfriend and i are in a similar situation, except that she’s the one who makes more money than me and /always/ wants to pay for things, which i’m incredibly uncomfortable with due to family upbringing and sensitivity about “charity” etc etc

      we’re still trying to smooth the approach, but basically she pays for things that she really wants to do, i pay for stuff that i really want to do, and if it’s something that we’ve discussed between us then we go as close to 50/50 as i can afford. so if i want to take her out for ice cream, then i pay, and if she wants to see a movie then she does.

      i’m still trying to get more comfortable with the idea that sometimes i can let someone pay for something and not fuss about it (which, bonus, makes them feel really bad!), but it seems to be working so far.

    7. Very valid question, and there’s no easy answer! It sounds like you and this guy had some fundamental incompatibilities that sort of manifested themselves with the whole ‘who pays for what’ thing.

      I recently broke up with someone who was very, very bad with money – as in, lived very paycheck to paycheck, routinely shorted his friends (who owned the place where he lived) on the rent, was also very much in debt, and had some things he desperately needed like dental care and car repairs that he couldn’t pay for.

      While I understand and think what the Captain says about not policing your friends’ financial situations is valid, he would do things like buy several fancy cocktails at a nice bar….and then be unable to pay me back to the airline ticket I had put on my credit card for a trip we were taking together (a trip he could in no way afford to go on, but I didn’t know that at the time!), and eventually ended up borrowing money from me because he literally did not have enough funds to get home on the subway. Although this doesn’t sound like it’s the LW’s position, it does get very hard not to police someone’s finances when they owe you money and you see them doing things like that, or you’re footing the bill for more than you’re comfortable with. We parted very badly when under different circumstances we might have been friends, because I felt like he had been dishonest and felt taken advantage of.

      Looping back around to the whole paying for things on a date….I try to be as cheap a date as possible (no dinner, maybe 1-2 beers at a dive bar, meeting for ice cream somewhere outside, etc) but I also live in a city where food and drink is pretty expensive, and even dive bar tabs can add up! I try to adhere to the “whoever invites offers to pay” or if we’re going to something that requires tickets beforehand, I’ll buy my own and let them know I’ve done it so they’re only paying for their ticket. I also don’t like feeling like I owe someone something, especially if it’s someone I don’t know or are not really committed to seeing again.

      That being said, I have found that if I accept a date with someone (and if asked to suggest a bar I always pick a cheap one, try to get there first, and order and pay for my own first drink) and they don’t even offer to pay, I’ve found that speaks more to a stinginess of spirit than a willingness to part with $5 for a happy hour beer.

      Dating, depending on how you do it, can be expensive – and there have been times in my life where I couldn’t really afford to date, so I didn’t. Most of my dates in the last 2 years have been with hetero men, and I will say the ones who have made it obvious that they are not going to buy anyone else a cheap beer, goddammit, but still feel like they’re entitled to a second date, are not ones I want to be around…they usually have a massive chip on their shoulder already.

    8. One way to work this is to split hosting the dates 50/50. So person A chooses the date activity, and pays all the expenses – and they can plan for this ahead of time, and budget it, if necessary. And the next date, person B choose the date activity… etc.

      So A’s date might be dinner at restaurant (~$60), and B’s date might be no-fee day at the museum, maybe with coffee! (<$10), and both are equal in terms of the quality of time spent together and the potential for fun.

      This is actually key to my dating technique, since it gives everyone a chance to show off their creativity, interests, and favorite places, AND it doesn't necessarily involve letting an unknown quantity into your living space before you're ready.

      I don't… generally initiate dates, so the script is pretty easy – I let the other person treat, and say, "next time, it's on me – how about coffee at the museum on Sunday?" And most decent partners will understand the subtext without you printing out your budget.

    9. If it’s clear that the relationship is going somewhere, then I’ve initiated a “date kitty”. We both put in an amount (either relative to what we can afford or equal amounts, depending on what you both agree is fair) each month, then we spend that on dates. If we run out of money before the end of the month, we have to get creative about finding free dates until it’s time to pay into the kitty again!

      Not sure about the early dates, though. In the UK, “inviter pays” isn’t really a common thing (in my experience, at least), so mostly people split bills – which means finding places you can both afford.

      1. OMG, I love this. I do this with traveling companions – we each kick in at the beginning of a trip, and we buy food and train tickets and museum passes out of the kitty and then kick in the same amount each when it’s done (or get creative about managing our remaining budget). Makes it so stress-free because you’re not constantly calculating who owes who how much.

        1. Totally – it works in all sorts of situations and means that you know upfront how much you’re spending, so it’s so much less stressful! My ex and I called it the “Fun Fund”, and eventually it morphed into our household joint account, when it became the Not-So-Fun Fund, but still did the job…

    10. I think the best way to handle this is to be as honest as possible about what you can do and try to work out something that is comfortable to both parties, as early as possible. Figure out what rules you are comfortable with. Like any financial relationship in a couple, anything is fair as long as both parties agree. When my boyfriend and I started dating, he was out in the working world but I was in a grad program living off student loans. I offered to pay my way at all dates early on, but he declined and paid. Once we realized this was going to go beyond a few dates, he told me that since I was a student, he didn’t want me worrying about paying for dates–he had a job and made money, he could do it, and my money should go to supporting myself through school. I would still treat to small things like ice cream, or pick up our bar tab every now and again, so I didn’t feel like it was totally one-sided. Also, if there was something specific I wanted to do, like go to a nicer restaurant that was more expensive, I’d always offer to pay if we did that activity. I think its good to be prepared to pay for specific special things you want to do. It’s also good to be open to change if necessary–when unexpected things came up in his budget, we either ate out less or I paid. It just required us talking about it. I think your biggest problem with that guy is that he wouldn’t talk, and that’s no way to be in a relationship. Good on you for dumping him. 🙂

  26. LW, I am also Chinese! At home, so are my friends. I emphasise how much I love feeding people. Just come over so I can feed you!

    In regards to people feeling awkward (do I do the dishes, etc), set these boundaries during ‘let me feed you!’ – it became a tradition for my parents’ friends to ‘fight’ over who got to do the dishes, but that was established early. So, ‘let me feed you – you can help by bringing thing x/doing the dishes/bringing the wine.’

    re: budget, if it comes up: your mileage my vary but (only w Chinese friends, obvs) make jokes about being culturally stingey and just steamroller on over.

  27. I don’t cook. I love to eat out. I love to eat with friends. I love to invite friends to eat out.

    I was also raised to politely eat whatever was put in front of me and not to complain about it no matter what.

    Often it’s much easier for my anxiety to invite my friends out because then I don’t have to worry that I will have to pretend to enjoy what they make. I have been in many situations where the food my friends make is excellent, but because it contains some ingredient that I can’t tolerate, I am miserable. (For instance, I loathe onions and any kind of pepper will give me welts and make my mouth swell up. I’ve had delightful curries that cause me problems.)

    I know that those are my problems and I need to get over them, but it is so much *easier* for me to enjoy someone else’s company when I can take them out and not have to worry about what I eat while I spend time with them. There’s a limit to how often I want to challenge my boundaries by making myself miserable with my friends.

    So, LW, sometimes you should graciously accept an invitation to go out to dinner. As nice as you are, it’s not all about you and your money.

  28. Another Chinese person here. I can’t give you culture-based advice because I’ve found that Chinese culture varies greatly by class, religion, politics, region of ancestors, regions you have lived in, region you currently live in, concentration of Chinese population in the area you live in, etc.
    But in case your Chinese friends are of different sub-groups, I’d like to note that in the Chinese culture I’ve experienced, there is a cultural imperative to display maximum generosity to friends. For example, on multiple occasions acquaintances, relatives, or friends I am visiting will insist on driving me to my next destination, which is hours away, even though:
    –I definitely have enough money for public transportation
    –my taking public transportation is better for the environment
    –in some cases, due to traffic, my taking public transportation would be faster
    –since they have to drive to my destination and back home, they’ve wasted most of their day, not to mention a lot of gas.
    So if your friends are of sub-groups similar to mine, their offering to pay your food is not because they think you are poor, but because it is what they do for their friends.
    Now for some non-culture-specific advice:
    1) Is budget the only thing keeping you from going to the restaurants that your friends are inviting you to? If you had more money, would you go to those restaurants?
    If yes, then allow your friends to take you out to those expensive places. Your friends want to make you happy and to allow you to do things you enjoy.
    If no, you have other reasons disliking going to expensive restaurants, tell your friends those reasons. Sample script: “Friend, I find it a hassle to have to make myself up in order to go to a formal restaurant. Can we keep our dinner outings casual?”
    If yes, the budget is the only thing keeping you from going to expensive restaurants, but you absolutely cannot allow your friends to pay for you, then tell them that. Sample script: “Friend, I appreciate your generously offering to pay for me. But I really cannot allow my friends to pay for me for personal reasons. Can we do something that I can afford?”
    2) Do you have a general idea of what your eating-out budget is? If so, tell your friends out right, “I will only go out to a restaurant X times a [time period], and the food must cost less than or equal to $Y.” Do this once, and hopefully your friends will only invite you to places you can afford, allowing you to avoid the awkward dance of “oh geez how much does the place cost?” with every restaurant invitation. (Also, if I were your friend, I would get annoyed if invitation became a financial discussion.) I say this as a person who plans my restaurant invitations by the price tiers each of my friends prefers.
    3) How are you selling the whole brunch idea? Your friends may be more likely to come if you sell the brunch idea as something that is fun on its own as opposed to the cheaper alternative to the more desired activity of eating out. I enjoy having people at my house, but I am very lazy about cooking and not very good at it. So I ask my friends if they would like to cook anything at my house, and I will purchase all the ingredients and do all the cleaning. It may seem odd to ask your guests to cook for you, but this works in my case because I have a car and a large kitchen in the suburbs whereas my friends all live in tiny apartments in the city, so I offer my friends the opportunity to cook a complicated meal without the hassle of planning, carrying stuff, and cramped quarters. Considering you seem to like cooking, you might be able to sell coming over to eat at your house as, “I am trying to perfect [dishes friend likes]. Would you like to come and taste test?” or if your friend also enjoys cooking, “Would you like me to teach you how to make X?” or “Let’s make a complicated dish together!”
    I agree with attica that your friends’ budgets are not your business. You have prioritized saving for a family and potential healthcare costs. Your friends may, like me, have prioritized eating fancy food. Whatever makes one happy.

  29. I generally make it a point to avoid going unless I can cover all checks involved, as I’ve had the treating friend get her pocket picked in the restroom, which turned into a re-enactment of Weird Al Yankovic’s “Trapped in the Drive-Thru”— not an experience I care to repeat, through my poor friend had a MUCH worse night!

  30. Is there any possibility that you could make your friendship a little less about food?

    I guess that with my allergies (no eating food other people make, no restaurant food ever under any circumstance, very, very little processed food) I equate “friendship=feeding” with “NO SOCIAL LIFE FOR YOU, WORTHLESS SUBHUMAN”, but geez: can’t you find other things to do?

    1. The LW asked specifically about how to handle invitations to dine out that they don’t want to pay for/be treated to.

  31. I don’t know where you live, but I would second other commenters and look for activities that are free or inexpensive that you can share. Examples: trivia nights at bars (eat beforehand or grab a snack to bring in, just have a drink or two), flea markets/food festivals where everyone can pay as they go, free nights at museums (these are often Friday nights to boot) Obviously finding these takes a little legwork but think of it as investing your time instead of your money. I know that many cities have weekly listing emails that make it easier to find these fun things to do.

  32. I’m thinking, as long as it’s all reasonably reciprocal, an arangement in your group of friends where people take turns treating each other is not in any way lesser, less fair etc. than “everybody pays for their own meal”. Then, when your turn comes, you can treat everyone to, say, a picnic in the park with home-made sandwiches, or “dinner at mine, then go out for drinks only”. (I can give you my pitta bread recipe if you like)

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