Sunday, November 04, 2007

How Should a Single and a Couple Share an Expense?

Here's a question from a reader that I thought was worth sharing in its own post:

I attended a long weekend event in which friends (a couple) and I split a rental car. When it came time to pay, the friends split the bill in two then paid their half. Other people told me the fair thing would have been to split the bill three ways (similar to when you go out to eat with a couple, you don't pay for half the meal but a third.) What do you think--should I have said something?

My personal opinion is that the couple should have paid 2/3 of the cost. If everyone had taken the train or a plane to the event, the cost would have been per person. I suppose you could argue that if the couple had rented a car it would have cost them X dollars, or .5X per person. If the reader asking the question had rented a car, he/she also would have paid X dollars, or X per person. So the cost of sharing should be half the individual cost: .25X for each member of the couple and .5X for the questioner. But "sharing" doesn't necessarily mean "paying half," it means paying one's share, however much that is, and in this case, I think each person in the car should have paid an equal share. What do you think?

As for whether the questioner should have said something... I guess it depends how much money was involved, and how important the friendship is. Is it worth making a fuss, or would you just be prepared the next time to quickly volunteer to pay only 1/3 of the shared expense, rather than half? When singles and couples socialize, you can't always account for everything equally-- what if the single person invites the couple over for dinner sometimes, and they reciprocate with an equal number of invitations? The single person is still providing twice as much food, but does that mean the couple should invite the single over twice as much? As discussed in my Alone/Together post, singles can get hit with a lot of costs that couples can often split, but couples, at least those who are planning to have children, might often view their single friends as having more disposable income and not needing to pinch pennies as much.

I guess what bothers me about this story is that the couple seemed to view themselves as a unit equivalent to a single person. Scary! Have a little independence, people! Don't be that annoying pair that does everything together, wears matching clothes and finishes each other's sentences all the time! But perhaps I'm projecting a bit ...

18 comments:

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

I think you are right about the 1/3, 2/3 split of the rental car...

It might have been a good idea to discuss this before the trip, or -- at least before the rental contract was signed.

It is probably also the case that the single person didn't get to drive the car, as that would have been an additional driver charge -- although most rental companies see a married couple (I'm assuming the married part) as one person, so either of them can drive without extra charge.

So, it is probably the case that the single person either got stuck with ALL the driving, or was not able to drive the car at all -- and paid more than their share.

mapgirl said...

Three people. Three ways. Period. Presumptuous of the couple to split it like that. The person should have presented the bill divided 1/3 and 2/3 and see if their friends had the gall to argue the split.

Chief Family Officer said...

I totally agree with you, it definitely should have been split three ways. When my husband and I go out for dinner with other people and the bill is just evenly divided, of course we pay for two - I wonder if this couple wouldn't!

Mrs. Micah said...

I understand the couples' logic--they would have only rented one car, not too (unlike with meals, where they actually ate 2/3). With car rentals it makes some sense but only if it's discussed and agreed upon beforehand so everyone feels comfortable.

I would have felt stiffed, had I been the reader. But if we discussed it beforehand, I might have been willing to agree with them that it should be split 50/50--I'd just want to have a discussion. For example, they might point out that there was no extra cost to having the two of them come along (I'd be particularly receptive if one wasn't employed full-time).

It'd probably go along well with the whole "now who's going to drive" discussion. On the whole, it's always best to discuss beforehand how you're going to split any shared bill--car, food, gas, everything. Saves everyone from unpleasant surprises.

frugal zeitgeist said...

There's frugal and then there's being a cheap-ass. Three ways would have been fair.

Strange Bird said...

Yeah, that wasn't very nice of them. 50/50 only would have made sense for them to do without discussion if there were a pair of couples. They stiffed you, and they probably knew it. It was kind of rude. If they would have gone alone, they would have had to pay the whole thing (1/2 each). Having a third person along doesn't replace one of their shares.

Andrew Stevens said...

Had my wife and I been the couple, I would have picked up 2/3 of the expense, but part of the reason why I live frugally is so that I can afford to be generous. (I am the bank of last resort for my mother, my wife's father, and my wife's brother's family, for example.)

I do want to take issue with this: "I guess what bothers me about this story is that the couple seemed to view themselves as a unit equivalent to a single person. Scary! Have a little independence, people! Don't be that annoying pair that does everything together, wears matching clothes and finishes each other's sentences all the time! But perhaps I'm projecting a bit ..."

I don't want to sound accusatory here (except perhaps to the extent that you were toward the other side), but I must take issue with the sort of reflexive individualism expressed here. The inability to make deep connections with another person is not a strength and shouldn't be mistaken for one. I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with single people, or that there aren't some people who are happier and better off remaining single (I know several), but this sort of judgmental attitude toward loving and devoted couples is not particularly helpful.

My wife and I don't usually finish each other's sentences (though we probably could) and we certainly don't wear matching clothes, but there is not much either of us does for fun which we don't do together. And I wouldn't have it any other way. I don't know whether this makes me "dependent." I think it's safe to say that it would never occur to anybody who knows me to describe me that way.

Anyway, I'm not really criticizing you, Madame X. I have noticed an increasing hostility to happy marriages (for one thing, denying they exist) in the culture at large over the course of my lifetime and I personally don't believe it's a healthy trend nor a particularly well examined one.

Susy said...

My DH and I would probably annoy you because we are together all the time (by choice). We've been married 10 year and still can't bear to be apart. But I wouldn't go back to being single for anything.

We're still individually independent people, we just choose to do everything together. Being a team makes us better than we would be individually. We run a business together and if we tried to do it separately we wouldn't be as successful.

We would never "stiff" one of our single friends, usually we pick up the tab for all, especially our single friends.

Oh yeah, and we don't wear matching clothes.

Madame X said...

I was mostly joking about the couple thing-- I think there are people who go to extremes and seem a bit too dependent, but for the most part, I think it is great when couples can share a lot of the same interests and do a lot of things together. Having some degree of independence is good too-- I think the more love and devotion there is in a relationship, the more secure each person can feel in doing things on their own sometimes, in addition to doing things together.
But the matching clothes thing is still a big no-no as far as I'm concerned!

Tired of being broke said...

That couple was being cheap skates. Three people, the bill gets split three ways. Couple or no couple. It is only fair.

LOL @ the matching outfits. I actually saw that recently...hilarious!!

SavingDiva said...

This type of behavior drives me insane! I am the only hold out in my group of friends...the single girl...I usually feel left out already, but I try to avoid situations like this. For example, I had a friend who wanted to split a room with me (50/50)...I thought it sounded okay...until she said her husband was coming. I ended up booking a room with a single king size bed, so it didn't work out.

change is a good thing said...

I completely agree with you. I just got home from vacation with my brother, his wife and their 2 kids. We split everything up. We divided the hotel, rental car, and gas by 4 (3 adults and the 2 kids counted as one) I only paid 25%, but when they gave me my total, I think they shrunk it down even more, I babysit for them alot and I think they decided to be generous to me. But I would have to agree, 3 adults, split it 3 ways.

Jonathan said...

2/3rds sounds fair to me.

If you're going to be anal about it, the two people weighed down the car twice as much as the single person did, so they increased the gas expense. You gotta turn up the air conditioner more as well because more heat is being emitted by 2 vs. 1.

Okay, I gotta stop now.

Even when we split a cabin and only use one room, we take into account that we are two people...

Anonymous said...

Boy do I know this scenario. In my experience, it depends on the couple. My sister and her husband always treat me to dinner but on the rare occasion when the three of us divide expenses, it's always as three people, not two people as one unit.

On the other hand, my friend and her other half count themselves as one unit. When we go out for drinks the tab is split 50/50, and they suck at tipping so I usually end up padding that, too. It's royally annoying and I resent it but I make a lot more than either of them and own my own apartment (I also live in NYC) so I feel like making a stink about it would just put me in a really cheap light. But, the one thing that probably pisses me off more than anything about them is when the two of them go out, my friend ends up paying most of the time. Yes, she's dating a dead beat. UGH.

Fecundity said...

Whether the couple counts as 1/2 or 2/3s depends on the circumstances. If you're paying for dinner or drinks, the couple definitely should pay 2/3rds. If you're splitting a cab, I'd call it 1/2 since the couple is being delivered to the same house along the way, though I'd probably offer to pay 2/3rds anyway. We once split the cost of having our shared driveway plowed with the single guy next door. He only wanted to pay 1/3rd of the cost despite owning half of the driveway. Yeah. Right.

The rental car would have been most fair at 2/3rds, though hashing it out beforehand would have made sense.

Devon said...

OMG!! I can't believe I found this blog! I actually did a search for this type of conversation because it bugs me so bad!! Well, I am single and every friend I have are "couples"! And EVERY single time I do something with couples, I get stuck with half the bill! It's soooo annoying! I even cancelled a trip because they would not split the hotel with me 3 ways! Can you believe it? My new couple friends just stuck me with half of the FOOD bill! Are you kidding me? I didn't say anything since the friendship is still pretty new, I didn't want to sound like a cheap ass but COME ON!! Give me a break!! I just want to stop going out with everyone all together because I keep getting stiffed! So, the funny part is, every couple I've ever randomly asked about this, they said that with the hotel, I should have had to pay HALF...I dont' understand that...it makes no sense to me, any way you put it, there are 3 people, that's it. Period. The End! When will the insanity STOP!?! UGH!

Anonymous said...

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Thanks for the post! I'd like to see more like it.

-Pete

Anonymous said...

my wife and I traveled with two single friends. We split things 2, 3 or 4 ways depending on the circumstances. I have a different perspective that others on the rental car issue. My wife and the other 2 singles are friends from high school. hotel, food, drink, gas, parking were all split as you all recommended. I came along and did all of the driving for the trip. I didn't feel like a chauffer, but it was a significant responsibility at times. I felt like 3 ways on the car was fair. What do you all think?