Fair, Not Cheap

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

What’s a fair way to deal with money sharing in a reasonably large
group? I served on a committee at the temple for about a year. We
had many many meetings. Frequently I brought snacks, as did a few
of the other people. Nothing fancy, but the kind of nibble that makes a
meeting that lasts too close to dinnertime go a little faster. We had
two potlucks, and everyone brought food. When our service was over
we went to a restaurant to celebrate. It was not a cheap place, so I
and several of the other people ordered sparingly, everything from just
a salad to a couple appetizers. Other members had full course meals.
About half the people had wine. Not one but two bottles! I didn’t drink.
At the end the committee chair said, “Why don’t we just split the bill
equally?” I was sitting next to her and said quietly, “Why don’t people
kick in their share, with the drinkers paying for the wine.” She ignored
me. I heard one of the other people say, not quietly, “That’s the most
expensive salad I ever ate,” as she plunked in her $35. I didn’t want to
seem cheap so I did the same. It’s over and done, but I still feel
uncomfortable. Is it too late to say anything? Should I have done
something differently then?

Fair, Not Cheap

Dear Fair:

It’s always best to establish rules about money upfront. After the
event is far too late to say or do anything, because no one is going to
redress imbalances measured in fives and tens.

In the future I would suggest the following: Before people order, ask
the chair, in front of everyone else, Is the temple paying for this or are
we? Assuming the answer is that members will pay, and then ask up
front, Are we going to pay our own way or just split the check? That’s
the time to say, for example, I have a dollar limit, or I don’t want to
drink any alcohol, or something that creates an understanding among
others that you don’t expect to be a free rider and hope they do not
also. My guess is that some people on your committee have lots more
money than others. Those that do sometimes forget that those with
less watch their money more carefully and have different priorities for
how they spend it. A reminder never hurts, but the timing matters, a