Why It’s OK To Be The Frugal Friend & How To Avoid Awkward Money Situation

I've been there, and you’ve probably been there, too. There's a group dinner, and everyone wants to split the bill evenly, but you only ate a $10 salad, so why do you have to contribute $50 like everyone else?!  After all, perhaps some of your friends have big wig (read: big income) jobs, so shelling out $50 is nothing to them. But if you're barely making above minimum wage, of course $50 will hurt your wallet more than theirs. Or, maybe you just don't want to pay $40 extra for food and drinks you didn't have. Whatever the reason may be, it's OK.

"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, tells me. "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."

That said, here's why it's OK to be the frugal friend, and tips with dealing with it so any awkwardness can be avoided when it comes to splitting the bill.

1 - Speak Up

Just because you cannot spend as much for dinner as your friends can, they can't — or shouldn't — get mad if they're truly your friends. And, chances are, they've been in your shoes, like when they were in law school, before they passed the bar exam and became a legit lawyer. They get it. Or will. But right now, they've forgotten about their pre-lawyer days. So, oftentimes, they probably don't know that shelling out $50 for your $10 salad is really messing with your budget and financesThat's a week's worth of groceries from Trader Joe's, you may be thinking. And you don't want to eat ramen all week, damnit! (Nothing against ramen, of course!) Or you can put that remaining $40 in your savings account! But they don't know that. 

The solution? Speak up! "If your friends don't know what your financial issues are, they won't understand why you feel uncomfortable spending more money," Germano says. "Instead of phrasing things as you 'not being able to afford it,' frame it as part of your broader financial goals."

2) Only Pay For What *You* Eat And Drink

Yes, like it or not, you and your friends probably budget differently. I ~love~ Suze Orman, and she has great financial advice on her blog about spending and how to split bills. For instance, let's say you and your significant other move in together and the total rent is $2,000. Many people assume they should split that rent 50/50. However, Orman believes the rent should be based on percentages, depending on what each person makes. I agree. When you think about it, it makes perfect sense. 

On her blog, Orman gives an example of household expenses being $3,000. If one person makes $7,000 a month and the other makes $3,000, she suggests a 70/30 split. Not 50/50. So, if you translate this to a group dinner, I know the bill won't be divided up based on percentages — hello, awkward! — but you can insist ~in advance~ on everyone paying only for what they eat and drink. In addition, as suggested above, you can privately tell the organizer you cannot afford to split the bill evenly and would appreciate if everyone pays their own way. Again, I feel any empathetic friend will get this — they've probably been in your situation before, but didn't say anything! You can also confide in another friend and both of you can approach the dinner organizer, so to speak. Power in numbers, right? 

"Remember that it's brave to take steps to improve your financial situation," Germano says. "Good friends will understand and support you. Plus, maybe talking about it openly will inspire your friends to do the same for themselves."

3 - Suggest Happy Hours

Maybe one person in your friend group always tends to pick where you'll go eat. But why don't you think of some cheaper alternatives? Plus, happy hour should really be your BFF. If you think happy hours are only in the late afternoon, think again. Many places now have late-night happy hours, even until midnight or closing time, if you look around enough. And, chances are, other friends of yours will appreciate the cheaper meals and drinks, too. "If someone chooses an expensive restaurant for dinner, tell them that you're on a tight budget for the month, so you'd prefer to go somewhere more affordable," says Germano. "Be proactive and have those conversations early. Rather than being defensive and embarrassed, you can own your current situation."

4 - Use Coupon Sites

There is nothing wrong with using an electronic coupon! In fact, I feel people like to boast about getting such-and-such a deal via Groupon or another e-commerce marketplace. For instance, with Gilt City, you can find deals on everything from restaurants to wine tastings. With Restaurant.com, you'll get great bargains at great places. And, once again, if you and your friends all get the same deal, you all save, so it's a win-win for everybody. Some of the coupons and deals are also two-for-one, so that's an added bonus, as well.

5 - Only Carry Cash

I love this idea and am going to start using it STAT. "One way around getting stuck paying more than what you actually spent is to carry cash when you're going out," says Germano. "If you set yourself a spending limit for the evening and only bring that much with you, you can't actually overspend. Pay attention to how much your order costs, and pitch in that amount (including tax and tip, of course) in cash when the bill comes." 

Of course, in advance, you may want to make sure there's no equal-group-splitting going on. Then again, maybe those in favor of equal group splitting will learn their lesson once you shell out the only cash you have. Hmm.

As you can see, it is completely fine to be the frugal friend. There are plenty of ways to still have fun with your friends while saving money in the process, too. And, with the latter, you can save up for many different things, from a European vacation to your future retirement fund. And no one can blame you for that!