Maintaining Relationships without Being a Credit Card Tramp
by Steve Sildon
We’ve all been there. You’re at the restaurant with your friends and then the bill comes. Three out of the four people sitting at the table pull out their credit cards or cash and one friend excuses himself to head to the bathroom which seems to happen every time you go out with this particular person. What do you do? Many people, in an effort to avoid confrontation, will just add on the freeloader’s portion to their bill. Truth be told, many of these freeloading offenders will take advantage of your fear of confrontation. But what if you don’t really have the money to pay their way and cover their portion of the bill, but you knowingly charge it on your credit card anyway? Are you a credit card tramp?
If this situation sounds familiar, you need to take steps immediately to nip it in the bud. If it bothers you and you do not act on it, the situation can turn ugly and could result in a falling out and the loss of an important relationship.
While it can be an uncomfortable situation — you don’t want to offend your family member or lose a friend over a dinner bill — you also can’t afford to keep picking up their tab. Use these five tactics to deal with your mooching friend or family member, and keep yourself out of debt at the same time.
- Set the Expectation Upfront: There are times when you want to treat your family to a nice dinner out or some of your friends to do some entertaining. Then there are times when you just can’t afford it. Set the expectations upfront by saying, “Tonight, it’s my treat,” or “It’s your turn to pay.” This is an appropriate, non-confrontational way to let them know who will be footing the bill. You can also drop a hint by saying something like, “I don’t have enough cash to cover my portion, so I’m going to have to use my credit card. Do you need to stop by the ATM or are you going to use your credit card too?” This is more of a subtle approach to letting them know that you are not their personal ATM.
- Ask for Separate Checks. When placing your order at dinner, let the waiter know upfront who should be included on each check. Point out who is on your bill and who is on the other bill or bills. This politely lets the waiter know he needs to split the bills, and it also alerts the other people at the table that they’re responsible for paying their own part of the bill. On those rare occasions where restaurants say they can’t split the check when you place your order, refer to tip number four on how to deal with this situation.
- Try Getting the Money First. This tactic might seem a bit awkward, but talk with your mooching family member or friend and find out if they are having money problems that are prohibiting them from being able to afford eating out. This doesn’t have to be an abrupt conversation with screaming and yelling. If you’re planning on going to see a movie or maybe even a concert, let that person know that you don’t have the money to pay for both of you. Find out how they plan to pay for their tickets and get the payment upfront before you purchase them.
- Stand Your Ground. Like it or not, if this type of behavior has become a regular routine, you’re going to have to step up to the plate and put your foot down on it. The bottom line is you’ve got to speak up for yourself and stand your ground. Again, this doesn’t have to be a screaming match in a public place. Maintaining a matter-of-fact attitude that allows you to simply state the facts is ideal. For example, you might say something like “Your half of the bill is $50. Which credit card are you planning on using?” This will send a very clear signal that they will have to carry their own weight and pay their portion. Period.
- Tell Them How You Feel. While some mooching friends and family do it knowingly, others may not realize what they’re doing unless you tell them. Perhaps you always pick the restaurant and the restaurant that you choose just happens to go above and beyond their means. They might be too embarrassed to let you know they can’t afford it so they just go along with your choice. Sit down one-on-one and explain how you feel. Calmly tell them that it bothers you to always pick up the tab in it’s entirely when you’re out at restaurants, on vacation, or whatever the case may be. It’s helpful to point out specific incidents. Explain that you yourself can’t always afford to carry the financial load when you’re eating out together or entertaining, so he either needs to start paying his own way or you can choose restaurants or outings that are more affordable to him so he can comfortably pay his own way.
Using these five tactics can help you move away from being that dreaded credit card tramp who always seems to pick up the tab and lets the offending party off the hook. You can do it politely, with honor, grace and dignity though. More importantly, you can do it and still maintain a relationship with those friends or family members who always seem to be the ones helping you run up your credit card bill. Most people will understand where you are coming from. Of course, there might be some people that don’t understand, but you have to take action to curb the situation if you hope to maintain some kind of a relationship with them.
How they react to you taking charge of the situation is beyond your control. More importantly, how they respond to it, favorably or not, is simply not your problem. It’s their problem now.