Traveling with friends. Should I offer to help with money?
April 19, 2018 3:24 PM   Subscribe

We’re three college friends living in three different states, going on a weekend trip to see each other after a few years apart. Two of us have good jobs and a spouse with an income, one of us is a stay-at-home parent of two whose spouse works for a non-profit. Help me navigate the money stuff so we can make this fun for all three.

I don’t know for sure how much money either of my friends have, but given the household situations I described above, I’m going on the assumption that one of us has a (probably much) smaller budget.

This is not a luxury vacation, just a weekend trip to spend time together. It’s a day and a half, so all we’ve planned is a free concert in the park, and the museum ($18 entry fee). We want lots of free time to talk.

That said, we did discuss doing two pricier things: dinner on saturday night (nothing fancy, just an inside joke about shitty lasagna), and a $60 per person diy class.

We don’t have to do either and would be happy to hang out at our airbnb. But it would be super fun!

What’s the best way to navigate this, given that all three of us would love this specific class, and that acting on our lasagna inside joke would be a sweet memory for the future, but considering that our friend’s budget could already be strecthed thin? (Other than not doing the dinner & class at all.)
posted by myrtle to Human Relations (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you have the means and think doing one of those fancier things would be fun for everyone, you could cover the cost of the class or dinner.

If your less well off friend protests because they want to contribute too, you could suggest they cover something a bit lower key, like coffees in the morning or a round of drinks or something.
posted by chatongriffes at 3:31 PM on April 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

I would cover the class and also be really eager to whip out your wallet whenever possible (coffee, postcards, etc.). If your friend protests, reply with "what are friends for?!!!" or similar.
posted by 8603 at 3:36 PM on April 19, 2018

Best answer: I am often Friend 3 in this scenario, as the lowest earner among my friends. I save and plan ahead for these kinds of things, and try really hard not to ever agree to anything that I can't actually afford, so you may be over-thinking it--but it's very considerate of you to be thinking of it, not all friends do!

My strategy would be to conspire with Friend 2 to have one of you cover the class for all 3, and one of you cover dinner out. Then, Friend 3 will mostly likely cover something like the previously mentioned round of drinks/coffee shop tab/whatever, but it would take care of the financial burden of those bigger-ticket experiences.
posted by assenav at 3:38 PM on April 19, 2018 [5 favorites]

I agree with the above posters. Do make sure, however, that if you and Friend 2 each end up covering one of the big ticket things, that it doesn't make Friend 3 feel like they need to pick up the entirety of something comparable, like the AirBnB, god forbid.
posted by merriment at 3:54 PM on April 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

It's very nice of you to consider picking up the tab for the class. Consider this though. Let's say you pay for the whole class -- you save your friend $60. So she gets a lower ticket item of, say, drinks or lunch for all three of you. That could be what -- $45? So while you indeed are paying $180 to her $45, in fact she might only be paying 30 less than she would have without all the scurrying around (60 + 15 for her own drink or lunch = 75, vs 45 for buying lunch for you all, just to estimate.) I don't know. If I were the friend, I wouldn't care so much about 30$ that I'd want to feel the differences in who-picked-what so overtly. Her mileage may vary.
(Of course, if you add the dinner in too, it saves her more. Just important to weigh the difference between what she would've spent *on herself* vs. a tab for three, which can add up.)
posted by velveeta underground at 5:14 PM on April 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I've been the poor friend and the richer friend. Let the poor friend pay their own way, but do less obvious things like ordering a bottle of wine or appetizer and putting it on your bill, or pick up breakfast, etc. That way its not so obvious and feels more like picking up "extras" than subsidizing your friend.
posted by gatorae at 5:36 PM on April 19, 2018 [8 favorites]

Pre-pay for the class. Then offer to buy shitty lasagna dinner. Split the cost for both with other more wealthy friend, let friend 3 pitch in if they want. I tend to overspend in situations like this, so I feel you, but a little graciousness goes a long way and you three seem to be good enough friends to muddle through this.
posted by vrakatar at 5:37 PM on April 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

I often travel with friends who have uneven incomes.

The ones with a lot more money tend to just pick up one or two entire tabs each, for a couple of the more expensive parts of the trip- either the hotel room, the car rental, or dinner for all 4 of us... so basically, if something costs more than $50/person for all, one person might cover the whole thing for all.

The people with less money, or the ones who had to fly into town, might just pick up a group tab for a coffee & treats run, totalling like $40, so they also feel like they're contributing.

It feels fair, lessens the burdens on the broke pals, and is really nice.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 5:47 PM on April 19, 2018 [4 favorites]

I’ve been poor friend, and I was so desperate to pick up whatever little bills I could to make up for rich friend’s generosity, I think I ended up paying more than rich friend. (And it was actually rich family member who got reimbursed by uncle because she paid for big stuff, so I ended up paying way more.) Anyway, be careful.
posted by FencingGal at 7:27 PM on April 19, 2018 [4 favorites]

I would be careful that picking up everyone's bills will cause your other affluent friend to pick up a round of bills and then the SAHM non-profit spouse friend will feel obligated and end up either overspending or spending as much as they would have anyway. Only do this if you talk to other friend.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 7:52 PM on April 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You could make actual shitty frozen lasagna in your airbnb oven, maybe?

Nthing to think about how much you're actually saving your friend. A much higher-earning boyfriend bought us plane tickets and said I could pay for meals on our vacation. It wound up being the same cost (although he later realized this and tried to pick up some tabs, I wouldn't let him because we had an agreement / I hate being the poor friend). Having a friend pick up something once in a while as a one off feels okay, but I reciprocate enough that I'm not saving money by it. Your friend may vary.

Also, I would feel shitty if I found out my two richer friends were conspiring to pay for me / splitting bills behind my back. Oh, so not only do I have less money, I have so much less that what I can afford isn't fun for you and you decided to handle this by excluding me from decisions?
posted by momus_window at 8:32 PM on April 19, 2018 [5 favorites]

I've been both the more affluent friend and the broke friend. I think a lot will depend on your relationship. Some broke friends are so hypersensitive about being perceived as less well-off that even discussing offering to cover some of their expenses morphs into excluding them from decisions somehow. Others are like, "yeah, we all know you make three times what I do, but it's just capitalism, not a comment on anyone's worth as a person; this Fancy Thing would be fun to do together, so if it's worth it to you to spend the time with me, sure, you can pay." (Of course, there are more and less tactful affluent friends. Being casual about it and careful not to act as if paying gives you the right to make decisions is important.) If your friend is in the first category, you're just going to have to do the inexpensive Things (and hope to God that doesn't morph into "ohhhh, you're doing the inexpensive Things just to humor me, you'd rather be doing the Fancy Thing, wouldn't you, you didn't even ask me to do the Fancy Thing, you just assumed I couldn't afford it," etc.). But if the person is a good friend, then surely the Inexpensive Things will be fine.

I don't know where our culture lost its grip on the idea that, when fortunes are unequal, a friend's enjoyable presence can be contribution enough, and now everyone has to be desperate to reciprocate financially, but I think it was a loss. When I was the more affluent friend in a very stressful and time-consuming job, even a couple of hundred bucks more in an evening meant relatively little to me, and I would gladly have traded it for quality time with an actual human being I liked and trusted. As the more broke friend, I figured that if they said they wanted to pay for me, then why should I object?
posted by praemunire at 9:24 PM on April 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

I've been the broke friend, and the rich friend. When I'm the rich friend, I always try to pay for everything (small things like drinks, to big things like flight tickets). And so, when I'm the broke friend, I expect my rich friends to help me out. I always come prepared to pay (even if it means just eating a side dish and water, for example), but I do expect my rich friends to help out. Maybe I'm a bit of a socialist, but I think you're seriously overthinking it. Pay for whatever you feel comfortable (I think the DIY class and dinner would be good to cover for her), and refuse to let your poorer friend pay for anything big. Offer to let her spoil you guys in return one day when the tables turn.
posted by hasna at 10:00 PM on April 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Did something come up during the discussions to suggest that the dinner and the class might be a burden? We've only got your brief description to go by, but jumping from non-profit and kids to broke and needs help seems like a stretch to me. As long as you guys are discussing things in advance so no one's hit by any surprise expenses, I'd start by operating under the assumption that your friends are grown-ass adults who can manage their own budgets and speak up if something doesn't work for them.

That's not to say you can't also speak up and say, hey I really want to do this with y'all so if it's stretching your budget, I would love to treat you guys. But in your friend's place, I would find it insultingly condescending if you tried to sneak-subsidize me when you don't actually know anything about my finances.
posted by yeahlikethat at 10:04 PM on April 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

Best answer: If I was the broke friend, I would appreciate being given choices as opposed to someone else covering my purchases. For example, being given three options of varying price points:

1) Option 1, $ 60 per person diy class
2) Option 2, $ 30 per person activity
3) Option 3, hit up cool hipster coffee places in town.

It gives me the option of weighing up my budget, my interest in all the options, and also politely declining something.

What I dislike about someone paying for me is that I feel obligated to pay them back in the future. I know some people are really okay about other people picking up the tab, but that is not me, the stereotypical duty-bound responsible eldest sibling with a strong independence streak and pride in self-sufficiency. I am not some helpless little girl. Unless I really, really, really did not care about Option 1, there is no way I want you to pay for me. I would be okay, however, on small subsidies, like extra bottles of wine at night, or covering gas (if the person gave a good face-saving excuse, like, oh, we had extra bottles in the house, etc).

But, I am not your friend, so YMMV.
posted by moiraine at 4:00 AM on April 20, 2018 [5 favorites]

I like moiraine's approach. I'm glad you're being thoughtful.

I've been Broke Friend more often than not, and I think just being in on the decision would be enough. Broke people are usually really good financial planners, and the problems only arise when they weren't able to make the plan - as in the meals vs. airfare story above, or having people make a plan for you in secret so that you end up sweating it all anyway until they're like "ta-da, we're paying!" It's the unforeseen changes that are problematic, not the known ones.

If you know the price tag of the events now, and she agrees to cover them, there's no real need to subsidize. She's got it worked into her budget and you've all got an interest in keeping costs down, so just make that your shared goal.

In your position, what I would do is stock the hell out of that AirBnB. Just say to them "don't worry about coffee and basic snacks and stuff - I've got a bunch of things and I'll bring them." Then load up at the grocery store with coffee, tea, fruit, hummus, crackers, chocolate, whatever you guys like. If you drink, also bring a good supply of beer, wine, or spirits. Having a bunch of good stuff at hand free to help yourself to will feel like a real luxury, and it will go a long way to reducing the costs of those unpredicted incidentals that make travel harder for broke folks. IF Broke Friend says "gee, you bought a lot of stuff, let me reimburse you for my share," just say a small amount would be fine, 20 bucks or whatever. You can say you had a lot of it around the house already or whatever.
posted by Miko at 9:43 AM on April 20, 2018 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Did something come up during the discussions to suggest that the dinner and the class might be a burden? We've only got your brief description to go by, but jumping from non-profit and kids to broke and needs help seems like a stretch to me. As long as you guys are discussing things in advance so no one's hit by any surprise expenses, I'd start by operating under the assumption that your friends are grown-ass adults who can manage their own budgets and speak up if something doesn't work for them.

Nothing came up in our discussions about the class and dinner—in fact, our friend has been quiet, hasn’t said yes or no. If family/job situation is clue #1, that’s clue #2. Clue #3 is that friend suggested this specific weekend because it was the best deal to for a mileage-only ticket.
posted by myrtle at 12:48 AM on April 21, 2018

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