Bill Splitting Doesn’t Need to Be Awkward

Picture this: A friend’s birthday is nearing, and through a group text, your other friends decide to host a swanky dinner, give a generous group gift  and evenly split the cost – but you’re late to the chat and can’t afford the gift, especially amid inflation. Do you cave to pressure or speak up and risk judgment or embarrassment? 

Myka Meier
Etiquette expert Myka Meier.

Etiquette expert  Myka Meier—an American-British entrepreneur and author who founded Beaumont Etiquette and co-founded the Plaza Hotel's Finishing Program—has experienced, observed, and advised about sticky cost-sharing situations involving everything from carpooling neighborhood kids to buying coffee for colleagues. Her techniques for frankly, but politely, discussing these topics help avoid awkward exchanges and create opportunities to share experiences, assets, or resources as people increasingly seek to bond and budget.

“People are afraid they’re going to sound cheap or ungenerous when talking about splitting the bill, but talking about money can be a normal thing," Myka said, noting that digital tools like PayPal make it easy, quick, and secure to follow through on discussions by politely requesting or sending payments.

As summer heats up, people are looking to reconnect with each other—whether it’s through potluck parties with friends or family, concerts and festivals, travel, or backyard gatherings with neighbors. But higher costs on everything from gas and food to household products mean many need to be more mindful  about spending. In groups, this requires careful conversations that Myka’s tips  and scripts below can help guide. 


General tips for splitting costs

Myka Meier
Etiquette expert Myka Meier.

Setting expectations by communicating before expenses incur can help dodge common conflicts.  Don’t assume what others will or won’t pay. Ask first, leave room for negotiation, and don’t take “no” personally. Remember, “you're asking because you want to know if they are comfortable with this,” Myka said. Those who aren’t should speak up. Detailed explanations aren’t required. “That’s just not in my budget right now” should suffice, Myka said.

If someone who’s agreed to contribute is ghosting you because they’re shamelessly freeloading or too embarrassed to say they lack funds, contact them individually to avoid group awkwardness. No response? Email or text the group to ask, “Has everyone sent me money yet?” It’ll be apparent when all but one person responds. 

Whatever scenario, it’s ideal if everyone downloads an app like PayPal from the start to split costs with others through easy and secure peer-to-peer payments. It’s best practice to send payment immediately when you know what you owe and flag any delays if you’re short on funds.

How to talk about splitting costs

When discussing cost-sharing, “don’t make it a big deal” or overthink, Myka said. Raise it or respond casually. Among her most useful scripts:  

  • “When we go to dinner, I'll pick up the bill. Can you send me the money after? And are you okay splitting costs evenly?”
  • “Everything is so expensive these days, I'm sure you’ve found the same. Can you send me the money ahead of time before I purchase X?”
  • “Hey, I know we all want to go to this concert. I’m happy buying the tickets for everyone. I’d need to get the money back ASAP, though, so is everyone okay to send it through PayPal?” 
  • “Hey, I haven’t gotten my paycheck yet. Do you mind if I send you money through PayPal by X date?”  

Not confident asking for money on your own? “That's what the app is for,” said Myka, who notes PayPal is good for requesting payment before making a group purchase and for sending subtle requests or payment reminders that “take away the guilt” and discomfort some feel about asking for money. 

Scenarios where you can save by splitting costs

Some situations require more planning or dialogue, Myka said. 

While it's acceptable to share expenses for a summer block party or backyard barbecue you’ve invited neighbors to, it’s a no-no to request contributions only after you realize you’ve blown your food and drink budget. Make clear in invitations  if you expect people to contribute or split costs, which allows them to decline.

If you want to suggest jointly buying a home maintenance tool with a neighbor, such as a lawnmower, prepare a list explaining how everyone could benefit and share costs. “It's important not to have any surprises,” including any unaccounted taxes, fees or logistics, said Myka.    

To explore lowering childcare-related costs, approach neighbors or other friends about sharing a nanny or splitting gas costs by carpooling. List thought-starters about how it could work.  

Remember that everyone’s financial situation is unique. Planning, communication, and convenient tools like PayPal ease cost-sharing. “It makes it much easier for people to budget without surprises and to reconnect ,” said Myka.  

Find out more about splitting costs with PayPal here

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