“Just because I earn more than you doesn’t mean I should be getting the bill,” was what I was thinking – but I paid without a peep.
You might take me for an unkind person, but I put it to you that I live within my means – not someone else’s – and would never dream of clocking up expenses that I could not afford. Plus, I take issue with the assumption that I have cash to blow – I don’t. Every dirham has a job in my world, and paying this bill isn’t one of them.
This incident involved someone who chose not to go down any structured or corporate career, opting instead for the arts. He is super at what he does, bringing much joy to those who are fortunate enough to experience his work. But his earnings are ad hoc and from what I gather, don’t stretch very far – or maybe he does earn well, but spends it. The point is, he comes across as not financially comfortable.
We were due a catch-up chat. He chose the venue – a trendy place – for a coffee. I very rarely eat out, opting instead to take my home-cooked food with me daily – allergies plus the need to graze pretty much constantly mean that carrying my food works best. Plus, let’s not be shy, I save a fortune in time and money by doing this. There are better things for me to do with both finite commodities, thank you very much.
The coffee became lunch, which went on to include a few more drinks.
And at the end of it, I felt an immense obligation to pay. Why? Obviously I’ve been conditioned to put my hand in my pocket, even if I can’t afford it. That’s one issue. Another is that there’s an assumption that I’m OK Jack and of course should be forking out – with no knowledge of my financial situation, obligations, aspirations.
I don’t like it.
Why are we unable to split bills without a hint of discomfort or guilt? If he couldn’t afford to have what he had consumed, why did he order it? Was it with the expectation that I would foot the bill?
It reminded me of financial awakenings I experienced when I was much younger. As a new university student, I had an overwhelming sense of obligation to pay for others. Group eating came to mean Nima paying, which in reality was my parents paying because I was living off their money.
It couldn’t be any other way. I just had to put my hand in my pocket and not sully myself or the occasion with splitting bills. I now realise that there was an underlying assumption that reciprocity would kick in, or perhaps someone else putting their hand up to share the cost. But it never happened. My fellow undergraduates probably thought I was a pushover or as rich as Croesus – which I most certainly was not. Yes there were cultural and social issues at play. And yes, I drifted away from that group of people eventually.
The worst thing was the feeling I’d been taken for a financial ride. And I realise that this is the thing that grated when I paid for lunch that day. I felt I’d been set up.
Of course I invite people, pay on various occasions and share the fruits of my labour. I choose when, who and where.
I don’t see why people who have saved or kept money they earn should end up bailing out or spending on others who choose to live differently. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t help each other out when in need – but come on, eating out at a restaurant doesn’t fall into this category.
This person is extremely clever. He could have made many a career choice and done well. But it’s not what he wanted for himself. He loves his life and wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m happy for him, but I’m not happy being his ATM.
Next time you’re faced with a similar situation, instead of feeling bad about paying for someone else’s life choices, deal with it head-on and in a matter-of-fact way. You might suffer momentary embarrassment, but you will have long-term peace and liberation. That’s what I’m going to be doing from now on.
Nima Abu Wardeh is the founder of the personal finance website cashy.me. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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