We’ve all been there. Whether it’s a money question at the wrong time, wondering how much to tip, or a tiff over splitting the check, money etiquette affects everyone.
Examples of money etiquette can include how to split costs with someone else, how to appropriately reward exceptional work, how to discuss salary, and how to borrow or lend money.
Most of us probably believe we know how to behave, but all of us are capable of making money mistakes as well.
Let’s talk about what money etiquette is and examples of money manners to follow. Your relationships will be much better for it!
What is money etiquette?
Etiquette is defined by Merriam-Webster as “the conduct or procedure required by good breeding or prescribed by authority to be observed in social or official life.” This means that money etiquette is a set of generally accepted norms regarding money in society.
Of course, social and cultural norms differ in various parts of the world, but in the U.S., there are usually a few money rules to follow. Think of the examples of money etiquette you find in your daily life.
- What do you do when your friend asks to borrow money?
- How do you decide when and how much to tip for service?
- What do you do if you don't agree with a family member’s money choices?
- Should you share your salary information with others?
- What financial details should you share with your partner?
You can probably think of a dozen other examples of money manners. Although people grow up with different philosophies around money, you can benefit yourself and your loved ones by following these tips for good money etiquette.
1. Money etiquette tips when splitting the bill
Splitting the check can make you want to stay home every night if you and your companions aren’t on the same page. Here are some ideas of smart money etiquette when sharing expenses with other people, whether on a daily basis or for special occasions.
Although splitting bills with a partner may be pretty straightforward, what you expect isn’t always what others expect. So for any cost-sharing situation, communication is essential.
Discuss how to split the check for meals (ahead of time)
One of the stickiest situations we encounter socially is having to split the check. If you go out for dinner with a group of half a dozen friends, for example, how do you share the costs?
Even though many restaurants give everyone separate checks, some still put all orders on the same bill. This can leave you to sort out who pays for what on your own.
The key here is to communicate early (before the bill arrives) about what you’d prefer to do.
Don’t assume that others feel the same way you do, whether it’s to pay equal shares or pay for what you order. The check splitting needs to work for everyone.
Paying for meals equally
Splitting the bill equally can work very well if it's just a few people going out to dinner who have similar budgets.
If you have some idea of what the cost of the meal will be and think you will all be spending similar amounts, splitting the cost equally is fine.
The reason for how you prefer to divide costs isn’t so much the issue as the timing. You need to set healthy boundaries for your finances. So remember to talk to your friends before you order about splitting the bill evenly.
Paying for meals based on what you ate
If you prefer that everyone pay for only their own food and drink, that’s fine! Just be sure to mention it up-front in case, not all your friends view it this way.
Let the server and your buddies know you’d like to pay only your portion of the bill. (Warning: some friends may be annoyed, but they don’t have much of an argument if you’re ordering much cheaper items than they are.)
Apps like Venmo and PayPal are useful tools that let you pay back individuals digitally. This way, one person might pay the full bill to get the credit card rewards but have the others in the group send over their portion of the cost.
It can be awkward initially to have these conversations, especially among people who don’t know your financial story or simply make more money than you. But don’t avoid them! Talking briefly before your meal or shared activity can clear things up.
Agree on how to divide the costs for a group trip
The same money etiquette applies when you’re traveling with a group. If you have a girls’ trip planned for overnight or longer, it’s essential to discuss the cost ahead of time.
Be honest with your friends or family members if you’re planning a trip together.
Try airport hacks to save money on your flight, but what about the cost of shared hotel rooms? Does one friend want to order room service and share all the charges for it? Maybe others prefer to buy their own groceries on vacation to save money.
Just like with a night out on the town, for any extended time together, you’ve got to talk with your traveling companions about the money.
Maybe it’s a multi-family gathering at the beach and one family wants to pay the way for everyone—that’s a great gift, but it has to be agreed on by everyone.
You want to avoid any ugly surprises. Don’t expect that your elderly mother will foot the bill for your entire family of five on vacation, or assume all bridesmaids can afford the travel expenses for a bachelorette trip.
Use good money manners and talk about the money early on. If you’re lucky, it’ll be as simple as saying, “Everyone will pay their own way.”
2. When and how much to tip for service
Deciding when to tip for service can be confusing. Though some guidelines are pretty well established, in certain industries you might not know what’s expected. Take a look at these money manners rules for tipping.
Tipping guidelines for sit-down dining
Etiquette experts typically agree that tipping at sit-down restaurants is expected. Leaving an additional 15-20% above the cost of a meal is fairly standard.
This tip is to reward your server for the work they do in taking your order, bringing your food and drinks, and checking in from time to time. Since restaurant workers don’t always make even minimum wage, the tip is a part of their pay.
For larger parties, some restaurants will add an automatic gratuity (likely to prevent the server from losing out on a large portion due to one group).
Even if your budget is stretched thin, you shouldn’t ever skimp on tips for servers. If you can’t afford to tip, you can’t afford to eat out.
Tipping for counter service
The next question about tipping is a fairly recent one. With the addition of Square use in many coffee shops and fast-food places, you’ve probably been asked to add a tip.
What’s the money etiquette about tipping in a food or drink establishment where no server is bringing your order?
It might seem odd to be asked to tip when there’s no “extra” work being done.
But the social pressure of seeing “Leave an optional tip?” on your touchscreen is effective. I’ve forked over an extra dollar quite a few times at my local coffee shop, especially if the server is watching me.
The reason for extra tipping at quick-dining restaurants and cafes isn’t as strong as in places where you sit to dine. Many of these workers are being paid a hefty minimum wage and don’t rely on tips.
According to Real Simple, tipping at coffee shops isn’t necessary, but rounding up to the nearest dollar is a nice gesture. You might also tip 20% or so if the barista was especially helpful.
Tipping for other services
I’ll confess: I had no idea you were supposed to tip your hairstylist until I was in college. I wasn’t trying to be rude; I just had never considered it as a requirement.
Several other industries commonly accept tips from customers. Check out these guidelines for good money manners from the Emily Post Institute:
- Add about 15-20% for your hairstylist, manicurist, and other beauty professionals
- Add 15-20% for taxi drivers
- Leave $2-$5 per day for hotel housekeepers
- Tip $1 per coat for coat check
- Tip 10-15% for food delivery (separate from the delivery fee)
- Give $2-$5 to a valet driver after your car is returned
Whether or not you fully agree with how much services may cost, it’s good manners (and good karma) to reward those people for their work.
3. Money etiquette relating to salary
Salary is something that people don't always know how to discuss. Here are some guidelines.
Don’t ask how much a new friend or romantic acquaintance earns right away
Salary can be a dicey topic for many. It’s likely why so many people gravitate towards those who work in the same industry they do—their incomes may be similar.
An example of money etiquette to follow is to hold off on asking new friends about their salary. If you’re starting to date someone or getting to know a new friend, don’t ask “How much do you make?” on the first date or hangout.
It’s best to wait until a relationship is somewhat established before getting into issues like money. This doesn’t mean you can’t pay attention to clues, though.
When you go on a date, take note of where the person wants to go and how they talk about money. That’ll give you some idea of whether they spend similarly to you and even possibly of how much they make (if you’re curious).
Of course, before becoming serious with a romantic partner, you should know a good amount about their money personality.
Just don’t start off on day one asking how much debt they have or how much they make. You’ll get there eventually (these money questions to ask your partner are a great start).
Salary transparency is good with others in your industry
On the professional side, it’s good to practice openness about salary. Jump on LinkedIn or other industry-specific professional websites and you may be hearing about salary transparency.
Money etiquette no longer dictates that you should never discuss salary. It’s actually an essential tool in salary negotiations.
Before going into a job interview, you should know what the general rate of your work is and how others in similar or identical roles are being paid.
The U.S. Department of Labor actually states that “you have the right to inquire about, discuss, or disclose your own pay or that of other employees or applicants.” You can’t face harassment, discrimination, or be fired over these discussions.
Don’t go to every employee at your company and bluntly ask how much they make.
But you can make an effort to engage in those conversations with people at your own company and within your industry so you know what your work is worth. You might even ask for a raise based on this information.
4. Money etiquette when asking for money
If you need to borrow money from someone, be sure to follow money etiquette guidelines.
Be discreet when asking for money
Be polite if you need to ask a family member for money. You shouldn’t bring this up in front of the entire family or another group, as this could put extra pressure on them.
Your money manners could help you get what you need without appearing pushy.
Asking for money is a sensitive thing, and if you are truly in need, don’t feel ashamed. But be sure to have a plan for repayment before asking for what is essentially a personal loan.
Be careful of whom you ask to borrow money from
As we all learned from Gilmore Girls, borrowing money from family can be a really risky move. Lorelai Gilmore hated asking her wealthy mother for money because that money always came with strings attached.
But when asking for money from your own friends or family, keep in mind what that will do to your relationship. It could make things awkward. They might question every spending move you make, or hold that debt over your head unfairly.
If you must borrow money this way, choose the person carefully. Be sure they care about you and will accept your repayment terms. There are likely some strings attached to borrowing money, so be sure both sides are okay with the arrangement.
Keep in mind, if asking someone you know for money isn’t ideal, in some cases a personal loan may be a better option.
5. Money manners when loaning (or giving) money to friends and family
The flip side of #4 is if you decide to loan money to family or friends. Follow these money etiquette tips when loaning money to loved ones.
Sometimes it’s best to just give the money outright
In some situations, you may be better off simply making it a gift instead of a loan. The reason for this: you remove the pressure to repay, which may help you to be more at ease with the person.
This isn’t always going to work. If it’s an especially large amount of money, a gift may be too much for them to accept. Unless you’re extremely well-off and can afford it, giving huge chunks of money could cause problems.
If the person insists on repaying you even after offering it as a gift, be gracious and allow them to do so. Talk with them about terms they’d accept.
Don’t loan more than you can afford to lose
This is the same rule you should follow when investing in something speculative like a new cryptocurrency. Don’t loan more than you can afford to lose.
This rule of money etiquette protects you. No matter how generous you’d like to be, you can’t give away money you don’t have.
So don’t be pressured into loaning or giving more than you are comfortable with. As Dolly Parton said, “You can give what you’ve got, but don’t give it all away.”
In case your family member is unable to repay you or decides not to repay you, you’ll only lose what you had decided was acceptable.
Money etiquette dictates being discreet when asking for repayment
If you’ve made a loan agreement, figure out a kind way to ask for repayment. Ideally, set up terms in writing from the start, so they know where and how to send repayment.
But if the borrower hasn’t paid you back on time, you need to find a way to ask for your money. Rather than yelling at them during the next family dinner, take them aside privately to talk about the loan.
You can also try to use technology to ease the process. Send a reminder via app so they can direct the payment straight to your bank account, avoiding a face-to-face confrontation.
6. Communicating with those who have different money philosophies
Next, how you feel about money can be a tough money etiquette issue. You probably feel strongly about financial issues and want others to behave the same way. What’s the money etiquette about differing money philosophies?
Don’t force your money philosophy on others
Here’s a general guideline for money manners: don’t force your beliefs about money on other people. It’s not easy to do!
Personal finance is so important, we can get caught up in our own money philosophy and speak rudely to our friends and family.
As someone who loves to talk about money, I’ve learned when to hold back and when to speak up with people I know. I never want friends to feel like I’m attacking them for their money choices or circumstances.
A bit of humility is necessary. If you struggle with watching a loved one “waste” money or do something you don’t agree with financially, remember that you’re not perfect.
Don't make judgments
When it doesn’t affect you personally, you need to hold back on sharing your opinions at times. For issues that you really want people to understand, use non-judgmental language.
Here are a few phrases that might work more effectively than judgment:
- “I just learned about ___ (fill in the blank with a financial tool or strategy).”
- “Have you heard of the debt snowball?”
- “I love X podcast because it really breaks down financial topics clearly.”
Don’t shame friends for having debt
This piggybacks off of the previous tip, but it’s worth mentioning again. Taking on debt is a big financial decision, and if you’ve worked hard to avoid debt or pay it off, good for you.
But unfortunately, some of us may take that amazing debt-free feeling and turn it into unkindness toward others.
A piece of money etiquette we all need to follow is to avoid criticizing others for their debt. When someone is drowning in debt, the last thing they need is a lecture from a friend or relative.
There are ways to diplomatically bring up the subject of debt with a friend. You might frame the conversation around your own debt journey.
7. Guidelines for money etiquette in serious relationships
We’ve touched on this briefly already: money etiquette in serious romantic relationships is so important. Following wise relationship advice can protect your money and your relationship.
Be honest with romantic partners about money
First and foremost, honesty is key in a relationship. Although this doesn’t mean to share everything on a first date, it means that you need financial transparency in a serious relationship.
Communication problems can cause distrust and resentment in a relationship. Once it’s clear your relationship is moving forward and you may be sharing a lot of your life together, talk about the big stuff.
Partners and spouses should know key financial details such as how much debt the other has, how they feel about spending money, and what their big financial goals are.
Questions to ask your partner or spouse about money
Consider these financial questions to address:
- Do you have student loan debt or other debts?
- How much money do you make?
- Are you planning to continue in your current job or career?
- Do we plan to have children?
- What do you value most in life?
Although it might be scary to share something you’re not proud of, you need to go into relationships honestly. Then, you can tackle financial problems together.
Agree on financial plans with your spouse or partner
Once you’ve gotten honest with your partner about your money circumstances and beliefs, you can plan how to move forward. You can’t make a shared budget without knowing the other’s salary and expenses, of course.
Budgeting as a couple may include monthly budget meetings to agree on your upcoming spending. Talk about your income, your necessary expenses, and any fun money you may have.
Share your money goals
Personal finance as a couple requires you to think about your financial and life goals. If you’re hoping to be a stay-at-home parent in a few years, for example, that’s something your partner needs to know so you can plan the financial aspects of that.
Buying a house, traveling, and other expenses should be considered in your long-term goals.
Following money etiquette means that in a relationship, you share your money. Whether you keep some aspects of finances separate or combine them entirely, you have to agree on the plan. Secrets won’t do either of you any good.
Money etiquette can improve your life (and others too)!
Of course, there are plenty of other situations where money etiquette is important to know and follow. In general, you can make things better by being honest and communicating about money with the people who matter most.