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Me and my boyfriend have two friends (a couple), whom we hang out once a week. The guy will usually pick his girlfriend up from work and then come over to our place to hang out until after midnight. Because the girl is understandably hungry after working long hours, and because they will be staying until after midnight, they almost always order food. It's usually nothing extremely expensive, a couple of pizzas and sodas or kebabs with fries and sodas.

However, I am on a really tight budget at the moment and I can't afford to order food too often. There are times when I might have ordered something the day/night before and I can't afford to order again the next day. I don't want to keep getting carried away.

What I/we have told our friends:

If there is enough cooked food for everyone:

Would you like to try some of our...?

If there isn't enough for everyone (which is more often the case):

We made....and we should probably eat that or it won't be as good tomorrow

or

You guys mind if we don't join you tonight? We're just going to eat the food we just made, maybe next time.

The couple always declines our offer. These are some of their responses:

No worries. It's on us.

(I actually do worry it's on them because the guy has also lent my boyfriend money he hasn't got back yet)

or

Come on you guys. You'll treat us next time.

(Of course this is rarely the case. At best we have split the bill)

What ends up happening is them treating us 70% of the time when they visit us and 100% of the time when we visit them. I am grateful, don't get me wrong, but at the same time I feel extremely embarrassed. I don't know how my boyfriend feels about this but I've been increasingly feeling more and more obligated towards my friends.

Question

  • How can I politely tell my friends I can't afford to order food or decline being treated even when my friends insist on paying for me and my boyfriend without ruining the mood of the evening, and without sounding miserable? (I worry that our friends will eventually stop visiting if we don't order food with them or fail to reciprocate).
25

Your friends, because they are your friends, have probably understood your personal economic situation. Accept their offers to treat you out, I'm sure if the shoe was on the other foot you would do the same. However, always thank them, and next time invite them for dinner at home.

Friends: Don't worry. We've got this covered.
OP: Really, I wish you wouldn't. But we really appreciate it.

End of meal

OP: How about coming round [date/day] I can make us all some pasta with (add choice of sauce). Would you like that?

Pasta is dead cheap to buy or make. If you want to make the meal that bit "special", make it yourself at home. Pasta's very easy to make, once you've mastered it, and added bonus, it is filling. Mix white flour with wholemeal and you have a trendy meal.

Homemade spinach pasta is delicious but time-consuming, (I've only made it twice in my lifetime, it can go horribly wrong) so practice making it beforehand.

The great thing about homemade pasta is that you can make it in advance and then freeze it. You can also freeze homemade meat sauce, or plain tomato sauce if you are vegetarian.

Buy a couple of beers, make a fruit dessert, dinner is served.

  • 1
    Thanks for your answer. Perhaps it's a good idea to tell them in advance that they are invited for dinner. Of course, there will still be those times when they will want to order food but again perhaps I could just "dodge" this by inviting them for dinner more often? – Tycho's Nose Sep 15 '17 at 18:27
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    @Tycho'sNose whatever makes you feel more comfortable. You're not obliged to always accept an invite, sometimes you can say "Bob and I just need a quiet night in." and skip a week. – user3114 Sep 15 '17 at 18:30
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    Wish I could have cut the UV to 0.5 because you talked about freezing pasta... shame on you :)) but good point about the friends who probably understood. – OldPadawan Sep 15 '17 at 18:33
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    I like this advise! Since they know your situation, @Tycho'sNose, the quid pro quo could even go beyond food stuff. It's not like you are offering them nothing in return, when they order food for you, too, since you are hosting them for quite some time. Perhaps there are other things (that cost no or not much money, but rather time/effort) you could suggest in return? – Anne Daunted Sep 16 '17 at 6:05
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    @AnneDaunted I didn't think about it this way. I have given them heirloom seeds I brought from the US and I have told the girl I can make her some homemade beauty products. Thank you! – Tycho's Nose Sep 16 '17 at 11:18
5

Tricky, but I think that your best bet centers around providing alternative foods (which I know you've already done), explaining why you would prefer not to order food, and explaining that you don't feel comfortable being treated all the time. Basically, exactly what you've expressed here. This breaks down along some fairly clear lines for me.

  1. You are up against a hard constraint regarding these meals.

These meals may or may not be expensive in absolute terms, but ordering prepared food from a restaurant is one of the most expensive ways to eat. Even if you can make your budget work to include such meals, it may still be an undesirable way to spend your money. I think that most people can understand this, and it sounds like your issue with your friends is that they don't understand that this is an ongoing situation for you.

It's not that you would have a hard time with the cost of pizza this week (prompting the "our treat, you'll get us next time" argument), it's that the pizza is too expensive in general. This seems like the key point your friends are not acknowledging-- alternating who pays for food doesn't change what you spend, it just distributes your spending differently over time.

For this one, I only see a couple of choices. You can specifically budget for the takeout with your friends (which would mean scrupulously not ordering food at other times if your budget doesn't allow for that), if that is affordable and desirable. Otherwise, telling your friends clearly that you can't afford such frequent takeout. That leads to number two:

  1. Your friends are more comfortable treating you than you are being regularly treated.

Based on what you wrote, it seems that your friends enjoy your company and don't really mind paying for your meals in order to have the specific meals they want. It's not clear to me if this pattern is well understood on their end-- are they explicitly OK paying for your meals most of the time?

If not, this weekly contention may be hiding that pattern and cause ill will down the line. Even if they don't mind it, it seems that you do, in which case they should be respectful of your wishes. But that also means that the takeout will be off the table, so to speak, when you spend time together. Of course, takeout isn't the only food available, which brings us to three:

  1. Your friends consistently decline other food options, seemingly regardless of circumstance.

Your friends appear to have a preference for takeout. Some people do; when I spend time with friends, it is often easier and "more fun" to order food. I'm not opposed to cooking, but may not want to go to the trouble. I also don't want to mooch off of others' cooking without contributing myself, so I'm stuck cooking or pushing for takeout. Your case may be similar. In the same way that you don't want to be paid for all the time, they may not want to cook, or not cook and then eat what you've provided all the time.

Whatever the reason, their preferences on alternative meals is forcing you into either paying more than you're comfortable with, or forcing everyone to go hungry for the night. If these are your friends, I doubt that either of these is what they want to happen. I don't know them or their minds, but what seems most likely to me by far is that they don't fully appreciate the situation they are putting you in. They might be more open to alternatives if the did have all the information.


I think that this is less an issue of being polite than of being clear and direct. Efforts at politeness have produced individual, discrete instances where they address your polite cover rather than your actual situation. If they knew that you can't order food weekly (or are just not comfortable with doing so) rather than over a string of "just this one time"s, they might press you less on ordering. They are much more likely to understand your situation if you just tell them, something like "I'm trying to be extra careful with my money for now, and it's a real challenge to do this every week. I'm not sure I can keep it up".

Even that has a fair amount of hedging in it. If you are really concerned about telling them flat-out, a more proactive message may work. If, for example, the weekly hangout incorporated everyone making a meal together you could avoid the cost of the takeout (and maybe save even more by buying sale items in large quantities!). Some of my friends and I do this, though irregularly. But I have to assume that they prefer your company to takeout food, and would be willing to do things differently if they really understand that this is a significant hardship for you.

  • Thanks for your answer. My friends do know the situation. And I've told them I can't be ordering food and that "I'm trying to be extra careful with my money..." and so on and they still say they don't mind. It's like a no win situation for me, haha. – Tycho's Nose Sep 15 '17 at 18:32
  • @Tycho's Nose That sounds difficult. Have you tried the last thing, mentioning that you aren't comfortable always being paid for, even if they don't mind paying? At that point it's about what you want, not about their generosity, so their not minding won't carry much weight. If they refuse to honor even that, maybe you could try behaving like the famous Tycho Brahe and drive them away. – Upper_Case Sep 15 '17 at 18:39
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    Or we might have to settle our differences some other way ;) – Tycho's Nose Sep 15 '17 at 18:43
4

And just why do your friends order takeout so often? Because they obviously (to me, anyway) have more money than time. You have more time than money.

Reciprocation in this case would not consist of spending an equal amount of money, but rather providing an equal number of meals. So let them know in advance that dinner's on you that night, and have it 90% prepared by the time they arrive. Since they like pizza/kebabs/soda/fries, stick with that, at least in the beginning. Later on, you can get more creative.

One advantage to takeout is that when the store answers the phone, they ask what you want, and you tell them. No surprises. So get to know what they want, and be flexible. (With pizza, you could always make pieces with different toppings, and give them first choice of what to have. Choose the toppings so you and your BF can eat what they won't.)

This all reminds me of the Friends episode where the monied ones always want to celebrate by going out to a restaurant, "someplace nice", and the other three are worried that they will have to chew on cardboard for meals the next three days.

4

This sounds like a lovely and treasured friendship. They are enjoying your hospitality; maybe they feel it's an equal exchange. I noted you saying your boyfriend owes the other man money, and you're uncomfortable. Make this a priority to begin paying it back -even in small amounts. If the other man protests, make a joke like "I may want to borrow it again!" or some such that moves the conversation forward. You'll all feel better.

2

Humans love this thing called reciprocality. If we feel like we're giving away too much to our friends, we feel like we're being used. But if we feel like our friends are giving us too much, we feel guilty. It's a fine line to walk, since usually both things don't happen at the same time.

Ultimately, the problem here isn't really that you can't afford to go out for dinner with your friends - it's that you have a hard time accepting handouts from them. You know that they've been very generous in the past, and you worry that if you continue to accept their donations, they will start feeling like you never give anything back. "Why are we feeding these people? Can't they buy food of their own?"

So my suggestion to you would be to find something that you can give back - no matter what that is. It doesn't even have to be the same value, it only has to be of a similar emotional value. Say you're out walking with your friends or something, and you spot a small corner kiosk. You want to go in and buy a Coke, so you ask your generous friends "Hey, you guys want something? Ice cream? A Coke?", and then you buy it for them. If that's not something that comes up naturally, why not invite them over for a home-cooked dinner and a movie? You could say that "You guys have been so generous these past few weeks, but I was thinking we could try something else - a nice and calm dinner together, just the four of us. I'll make your favorite Spagetti Carbonara!" or something like that.

Find small moments of generosity with your time and effort. You're good at writing, so if you guys are still in school, why not offer to proof read one of their essays for them? Or call one of them with a really personal question that you're struggling with, even if this isn't something you would normally do. "Hey, I've ... I've got this thing I'm dealing with, and I haven't talked to a lot of people about it, but ... I just ... I think you're the kind of person who could really set me straight on this, like .. like, offer the right kind of advice, you know?" - Having another person express vulnerability and feeling as if you've helped them is so much more rewarding than being treated to dinner. Give your friends the opportunity to feel that for you.

And don't sweat the small stuff. It's just dinner with friends. Worst case scenario? Just tell them that "Sorry, I can't afford it until after next salary, I had thisdentist bill/parking fine/back taxes/bribe/ransom/credit card bill/robbery/onion soup/something else that I wasn't expecting... " or something like that. You'll be fine.

1

Can you suggest that they eat on their way to your place and you eat at home? Because meal can be quick (for all of you) and separated, and you can still have a lot of fun.

If you don't want to make it clear it's the price, you can say something like:

Could we arrange to meet a bit later, after dinner, let's say at 8pm [or whatever time it's for you]? I'd prefer to finish what I cooked the other day and clean up a bit.

If you don't mind making it clear, just do so:

I'm not much a fan of take-away/delivery food as it gets quite pricey and I've been really tight on budged recently. Would it be too inconvenient for you to come only after dinner?

This way, you leave some space for negotiation. I know groups of friends who are pretty fine eating at home what someone of them cooked, and they share the expenses (which are much lower for home-made meal anyway). They gather together near the kitchen desk, someone cooks and everyone chats, and it's just perfect.

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