Talking about money is always tough, but
dealing with money in a social situation can be especially complicated. As we get older, we have more and more financial responsibilities. We're paying off student loan debt, we're trying to save up for a house or seven servings of avocado toast (they cost the same, I've heard). And then there are other people's life events. I've spent so much money on people's weddings, baby showers, and some big birthdays. And this year — when a lot of my friends are hitting 30 — they want to go big, so the birthday dinners are adding up. So what's the deal? Can you pay separately?
The truth is, we need to stop letting social situations dictate our finances. "We are expected to split things evenly in social settings, but everyone is in a different place in life,"
Maggie Germano, certified financial education instructor and financial coach for women, tells Bustle. "You don't have to try to keep up with people who are either earning or spending more than you are. Keep in mind that 'keeping up with the Jones'' is often what puts people into debt. Focus on what is right for you, not what might be expected of you."
But are birthdays an exception? If you're trying to treat your friend, is it worth it? What if you end up at a crazy expensive restaurant where all you had is salad and water (and eight portions of french fries)? It's the story of my life.
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Well, everybody's different. Here's how 11 millennial women said they handle the birthday party meals, because some people are ready to give and some people are ready to save.
1 Zoe, 30
"I tend to suggest we divide the check between everyone besides the birthday-er. So if it's just a birthday dinner with two of us, that means I'm footing the whole bill. But normally it's a group, so the cost is spread throughout— although because we split it into equal sections one person normally overpays. It's usually me, I'm not really a big eater, but I'm happy to do it rather than make things hella weird at birthday dinner. I lose money, but it's less awkward than counting it all out and ruining the vibe. I never really do dinner for my birthday, I prefer just more casual stuff, so it doesn't come up on my end."
2 Helen, 31
"I don't usually expect to be treated to dinner if I'm going for a big birthday meal with friends. I feel that now we're a little older and birthdays don't seem like such a big deal, being paid for seems a little weird. That being said, if everyone's chipping in for someone else on their birthday I'm happy to as well."
3 Sarah, 27
"Nobody should pay on their birthday. Me or anyone else. It's never been an issue."
4 Clemie, 29
"I’m a firm believer in everyone present paying for what they owe, birthday boy / girl included. Unless of course, it’s a couple, and one of them wants to treat the other to a special dinner, as part of a birthday gift.
I’ve been told I sound cheap, and I should just relax, but I’ve never felt comfortable in splitting bills. When I was younger and permanently cash-strapped, I resented going without — missing out on starters, drinks and dessert — and then paying a larger amount than I owed; and nowadays I’d feel guilty if others were subsidizing my decadence. Living in a city with such great income disparity, I think it’s important to make things as accessible for everyone in the social group as possible — more get-togethers, less expensive, more frequently, and more quality time with the people you care about."
5 Eliza, 30
"On one level I think the wedding logic holds: it's your choice to have the birthday dinner, and to have it at X place, so you should pay for it. Culturally I know some people see themselves as the host at a birthday dinner, responsible for everyone having a good time — which includes bearing the cost! — and I really admire this way of doing it. I think it is my favorite, but I understand it's not for everyone: It can be a significant cost to bear and so it also seems fair for people to pay their way (I.e. Split it) — just a different way of looking at it. I'm sure you would agree though that the birthdayee can still act out the host role in trying to lubricate potential financial difficulties e.g. Arranging a set meal so people know what they are paying; making provision for vegetarians and people who aren't drinking so they aren't left to have the awkward 'I didn't actually have any alcohol' at the end."
6 Jane, 28
"I think sorting money for birthday dinners is getting easier now we’re a bit older and everyone’s earning better money than we were when we were just out of university, and most people are happy to split the bill evenly between everyone except the birthday person — so we all treat them. I think it’s a nice thing to do! At the end of the day, everyone’s out to celebrate with the birthday boy/girl and we want to have as much fun that evening as possible, and not dampen it by haggling over the bill for ages — like you may sometimes do at a non-birthday dinner."
7 Poppy, 29
"The birthday boy/girl shouldn't pay and shouldn't have to calculate. Drinkers should split the cost of booze on top of the food bill and everybody else should split. If you are organizing, maybe letting people know in advance is the best way to go about things — unless it's a group that has a good system down. The worst thing is the bill moment when some people are passive and don't help, people with bad maths contribute conflicting ways to deal with it, and the person whose birthday it is wishes they had better friends."
8 Michelle, 30
"I'm a vegetarian who doesn't drink that much (or at least as much as my friends!) so when I eat out, I usually end up just paying for my portion or not paying the tip, while everyone else splits evenly. Luckily, my friends always realize I didn't order as much and bring it up before I do, so it's rarely awkward. But when it comes to friends' birthdays, I always go in planning to split the bill evenly (minus the b-day person since we'll pay for them), so I'll make a point to order as much as everyone else so I don't feel like I'm getting ripped off!"
9 Carol, 31
"Oooh this is a tricky one. The most common thing I see is for the guests to collectively treat the birthday person. It's a nice sentiment, but I feel like it has a strong downside — a lot of times it means that the guests will just divide up the check equally, which sucks for someone with a tighter budget who was purposefully ordering cheaper options (been there). Also, as somebody who has organized birthday dinners for her own birthday, it feels super weird to ask people to come out to dinner with you, then have them also feel like they have to pay for you. It's like asking them for a double favor at once. Feels icky. My preference would be for it to just be treated as a normal group dinner, and for everyone to divide up in the way that's normal for that friend group (my personal preference: use
this app to figure out exactly how much everyone owes, have one person pay, and everyone Venmo that person their share... so Millennial I know)" 10 Sarah, 21
"When you have a big group, its pretty much impossible to split the check by what each person ordered, so it leads to some people paying more than they spent. Also, there's the added question of whether or not you're going to pay for the person whose birthday it is. I've been at birthday dinners where I don't know the person very well and, all of a sudden, I'm forced into covering their meal, when I've usually already gotten them a gift as well. It's usually a happy time, these are just a few of the issues that can arise."
11 Becky, 27
"I'd almost prefer to go to places with prixe fixed menus (like brunches) so I know what I'm getting to myself into. If I'm not super close with the person and strapped for cash, I'll just meet up with them afterward instead of dealing with an expensive bill when I hardly ordered anything."
As you can see, there's really no set "rule" for birthday dinners. If you're nervous about splitting the bill, try telling some friends you'd love to celebrate but are strapped for cash and see how they were thinking of handling the bill. Sure, bringing up money can be awkward but in the end you (and your bank account) will be so happy you did.