Eating With Friends On A Budget: How To Politely And Fairly Split The Bill

Hummus Plate $12
Artisanal Cheese Plate $13.5

Continues after Advertisement

Shiitake Spring Rolls $8
BBQ Chicken Pizza $15
King Salmon $23
Wasabi Burger $14
Drinks 11*$4
Iced Tea $2
TOTAL: $131.50

Divided by 4 = 32.17

The above is a bill I was faced with at the end of an otherwise enjoyable meal out with new friends. I was on a stricter than strict budget. Care to take a guess at which expense was mine? Hint: It was the single digit priced food item. I also passed up a cocktail in favor of the less spendy glass of iced tea.

Tips for splitting the bill with friendsWhen the bill arrived, I pulled out my 20 dollar bill, expecting to engage in the usual price divvying and scuffling for change. My meal, pre-tax and tip should have added up to 10 dollars. But somehow, somewhere along the way, it was casually agreed that the bill should be split — and that the birthday girl shouldn’t have to pay. That meant a total of $131.50 would be split 4 ways. In an instant, I went from relaxed and carefree to fixated and frustrated. My careful attempts to reduce my food spending would be for naught.

Thirty-nine dollars — including tax and tip — was the damage to my bank account. For what? An appetizer and an iced tea. I should have spoken up, but I was embarrassed and uncomfortable when put on the spot to do so. Instead of voicing my concern, I paid the assigned amount (grudgingly), and then went home to seethe for the next several days (and evenings) while eating peanut butter sandwiches and sitting in a dark apartment. Needless to say, I never wanted to repeat that experience.

Going out to eat is fun but having to face the awkward moment when it’s time to split the bill is… not so fun. Barring those occasions when one person treats the whole table, I’ve rarely encountered a dining experience that didn’t involve a little dip in energy as soon as the bill was dropped at the table. But as with many so many other things, having a plan of attack can help you avoid feeling helpless if you’re dining out on a budget.

Here are a few tips to help you avoid getting stuck overpaying:

Be Your Own ATM

This one will impress all your friends – show up to the restaurant with cash in pocket. And even better, show up with cash in small bills. If you’re aiming to pay for your expense independently, then having the ability to put down your share – exactly, without having to make change – is just about the easiest way to do it. Tax and tip should be factored in and included into your share, of course. But having the small bills will give you the option to pay with precision.

State Your Intentions – The Earlier The Better

If you’re on a budget, it’s important to be upfront about your expectation to pay for your meal at cost, rather than splitting equally among the table. As soon as you’ve made your menu choice, let others know that you plan to pay for your order. Letting others know your intentions doesn’t have to interrupt the flow of the conversation, but make sure you’re clear. If you’re OK sharing your budget, mention that you’re nearing your spending limit for the month. If you’re uncomfortable sharing that information, let people know that you’ll be sticking to smaller ticket items.

Don’t Assume That People Know You’re “Price Picking”

Many people begin to blur the line of pricing when they feel properly cushioned by extra spending cash. A 15 dollar meal doesn’t seem much more than a 10 dollar meal. And 20 might not seem too far off from that. But when you’re watching your spending, those numbers most likely hold more weight. Don’t take it as insensitivity when people default to splitting the bill. In a perfect world, it is the easiest tactic to default to when eating out, but it usually results in someone paying a little (or a lot) more or less.

Point Fingers… At The Bill

If the person in charge of divvying the costs quotes a price that seems way too high, politely ask to see the bill, and point out the cost of your entree. Maybe they thought you shared the appetizer, or ordered a drink when all you did was eat out of the communal bread basket while munching on a house salad. It’s not about proving, or defending, it’s simply a numbers thing. The bill will back you up.

Take Responsibility For Splitting The Bill Up (With A Little Help From Technology)

Unless you’re a math whiz, the idea of splitting up a bill, accounting for tip and tax, is a headache. I’m getting brain throbs just thinking about it. If you do want to figure it out in a more organized and streamlined way – there are apps for that. A few to check out to help you divide (fairly) and conquer the bill:

Of course, phone apps aren’t necessary, but they’ll make the math a little bit more streamlined than a pad of paper and a pencil:

Ask For Separate Bills

What happens when you order food, but everyone else decides to order drinks as well? Especially at more expensive restaurants, a single glass of wine can cost just as much as an entree. It is absolutely OK to ask those who order ‘extras’ to offer up more cash. You weren’t invited to pay for their purchases, and they likely don’t expect you to.

To make the process smooth as possible (and give the server a break), you can request separate checks at the beginning of the meal. Some restaurants have a limit on the number of times a bill can be split. If that’s the case, ask to have drinks and food separated into two bills. It’s easier for people to contribute their fair share if they know what they’re paying for. Drinks tab, and food tab can be an easy way, though it will entail people go through two separate transactions.

For me, it took paying for a 39 dollar appetizer to find the courage to speak out come bill divvying time. But communicating your spending choices doesn’t mean deviating from social tact. Hopefully the tips in this article will help you navigate such situation and avoid having to learn this lesson the hard way like I did. And if you don’t think your friends will be open to splitting the bill, it might be a good idea to look for free fun things to do instead of eating out.

Last Edited: 10th September 2013

Related Posts


    Share Your Thoughts:

    • Claire says

      Hi Joshua,

      Yes – it can be SO pricey to eat out when you’re covering other’s expenses! Glad you found the tips helpful :)

    • Claire says


      I completely agree!! I staunchly believe that the people who judge split bills as ‘cheap’ are the people who have A LOT of real or perceived expendable income. I think most people would actually heave a sigh of relief if split bills were the norm rather than a social taboo. At least that’s what I tell myself when I ask for the bill to be split ;)

      Thanks for the comment!

  1. says

    Of course when you’re splitting the bill, there’s always the one person who leaves early, but doesn’t leave enough to cover his or her bill – or enough for the bill but no tip. Gotta love that.

    I just always try to make sure to ask for separate checks when we arrive, and barring that I volunteer to figure out who owes what.

  2. says

    I’m always shocked at the idea of splitting things evenly. As teens you pay for exactly what you order because, uh, you’re broke. And maybe it’s because I hung out with people who didn’t have a ton of expendable money, but I’ve never been put in a situation where I’m expected to cover something I didn’t eat.

    I think a tactful way to bring up the subject is, when people ask what you’re ordering, just say, “Oh, I think I’m just going to have iced tea, I’m trying to watch my budget.” It’s clear but not really aggressive. But maybe some people would find that statement uncomfortable?

  3. Shell says

    I really think some people try to scam you with this thing. It happened with me. Someone in the group conveniently forgot their wallet and never paid it back. Now I always say, “We need separate checks because some of us are no good at math.” If they can be blunt enough to steal money from me,(which,face it, is what it is) , then I can be blunt enough to say something.

  4. says

    Expectations are everything! We recently treated my wife’s mother for a birthday dinner. She had a coupon for the restaurant and so did we. My wife’s sister and husband joined in the dinner, did not have any coupons, and ordered drinks, and appetisers nobody really wanted but ate anyway.

    When the bill came my brother-in-law assumed that all the coupons came off the top of the bill, and the remainder would be split between the two sisters. I was expecting our $50 coupon to be treated the same as if it were cash. Tempers flared.

    • Bridget says

      I just think it is plain rude for someone to suggest to split the bill evenly, when people don’t order the same price items/drinks. I want to give people the benefit of the doubt that they don’t realize they are actually mooching off of the people who were on a budget. But I cannot believe people would be that blind. You would have to be a close friend to know I would be okay just splitting a bill (which I am not).

      So many people have dishonest characters. I no longer even allow people to buy me something small, as I feel the next time we are eating, etc. they will expect me to pick up the tab. I was in Italy and met this girl from Poland at the hostel. We decided to head out for the day and explore together. We stopped to get an espresso and she kept trying to say she was buying it. I kept declining and she kept insisting. I just went up to the counter and paid my own. She may have just had nice intentions but I have been burned so many times that now I pay for my own stuff only. It’s sad when you have to have your defenses up all of the time.

      I have been burned on the let’s split everything deal.

      I was burned on the time my “friend” decided she wanted to go to the local restaurant with her two kids and wanted me to tag along. After she ordered a bunch of food, then she conveniently forgot her money. Well, I didn’t let that one go. I reminded her till she coughed up.

      I have been burned with a neighbor I had met and asked if he could borrow money till next Friday so we could eat lunch (we were already out and about). Well, he made sure to order more than I did and wouldn’t answer his door every time I demanded my money.

      Then there was the other girl I traveled with in Spain. She was running out of money on the last leg of the trip. We met in school overseas. Instead of her being frugal the last couple of days she was throwing a fit when I said I would front her $50 but you need to pay me back right when we go back to Madrid, as I will be leaving for the USA….and I don’t even have a job when I get back. Well, I noticed she had enough money to eat Gelato everyday. When dinner time came I offered to buy a pizza. She kept hinting that the large was only a few dollars more. I wouldn’t give in because she didn’t want to take me up on offer to front the money. Then the next morning I order something and ask her what she wants. She of course doesn’t ask me how much she can spend, just gets what she wants. Then at the next stop she is eyeing the snacks and mentioning how they are not expensive. I didn’t give in. So, we finally get back to Spain, and I have to catch a bus in 8 hrs. to the airport. Instead of asking her roommate to front her some money to pay me back, she pulls out a couple of Euros that she just supposedly discovered and kept following me around town saying…..”don’t you need to eat, don’t you need to eat”? I tried to ignore her but then we saw a mutual friend, so I hung around. He bought a round of drinks that came with free tapas, and so did I. She had already spent hers, so he and I bought another. It really burned me up because I just wanted to say I am buying around for me and the guy, and exclude her. Now, I am remembering when she was picking bites of off my plate. I know all this may sound really petty, but her daddy was funding her trip and was about to refill her bank account. I was on a tight budget for this trip, and this girl was half my size. Why is she eating off my plate, yet not willing to allow me to front her money? Because she wanted to mooch whatever she could.

      My sibling burned me for five grand when the deal was that we would split the attorney fees to fight for insurance proceeds after my father passed. I went ahead and paid the attorney and told him his share of the balance. He said “you shouldn’t have paid the attorney directly. That’s your fault. I don’t owe you any money now.” Even the attorney had asked me if I was sure my brother would pay me back. And I said “Of course, he is my brother.” Well, never happened. Needless to say we have no relationship and will most likely never run into each other again.

      I could go on and on about all the times I have been burned my roommates, etc. when it comes to money.

      Sorry this was sooo long, but how people behave about money really shows their true character.

Previous Post:
Next Post: