Who treats whom when family comes to visit?


When DH’s parents (who are comfortably middle class with excess income that they funnel into 6 grandkids) come to visit, we’ve settled into a habit of mostly going places where we order at the counter and buy our own stuff, they pick up a meal or two that’s sit-down or take-out, and we pick up a meal or two especially if we go someplace expensive.  It used to be that they paid for everything.  For a while it was awkward with DH having to be aggressive about taking the check (and me having to remind him to be aggressive because he didn’t think about money), but we’re now at a place where the money is trivial for all of us so it’s no big deal who pays.

With my parents, we just buy everything because by myself I make 2x what my mom makes.  My mom occasionally treats for coffee or hot chocolate.  Again, it used to be that she’d pay or we’d take turns.

My sister and I tend to take turns treating (with 1 time for her for every 3-4 times for us), or we’ll buy her dinner and she’ll buy coffee or ice cream after.  She makes about my salary.

I just noticed a weird gendered thing– with DH’s family DH is the one who needs to whip out the credit card.  With my family it doesn’t matter if it is me or DH.  Generally I let DH pay for everything because I’m lazy but I feel especially awkward whipping out my card for DH’s parents.  When DH doesn’t get his card out quickly enough, I’m happy to get mine out.  (Our finances are 100% joint, so it doesn’t actually matter who gets the card out.)


Usually whoever has more money pays.  So my partner will take us all out to dinner if it’s me and my siblings and my mom.  My dad will take us all out to dinner if he’s with us/my siblings.

I usually won’t let my mom pay for dinner. I will occasionally let my sis & her husband pay for ONE of my meals, or infinite coffee, but I won’t let them pay for all of my meals.  Usually I might pay for them or we might all pitch in.  Sometimes one of us would pay for everyone’s lunch and the other would pay for everyone’s dinner.

What about you?  Who pays and why?

28 Responses to “Who treats whom when family comes to visit?”

  1. Catwoman73 Says:

    With parents, it depends who has more money. I always pay for my mom, because she makes about one quarter of what I make alone. But with my dad and stepmom, our incomes are similar, so we probably treat as often as they do. Hubby’s parents are a bit different- I think they would consider themselves terrible parents if they didn’t pay for everything (even though their youngest child- my husband- is 49 years old and completely independent!), so we let them… but most of the time, hubby’s mother prefers to have us over for meals rather than going out, so it typically isn’t an issue.

  2. Leigh Says:

    With my parents, it’s usually whoever gets the credit card out first / we usually alternate. I think that combined, BF and I make more than my parents do, but they’ve made reasonable amounts for several decades versus us for only half a decade. With his parents, we usually prefer to pay, but they are really insistent on paying, which ends up being a bit awkward because even one of us makes more than them. With siblings, if someone is staying with someone, the visitors seems to pay for the first meal and if no one is staying with anyone, we just pay at the couple level.

  3. omdg Says:

    When they visit us, we pay. When we visit them, they pay. It used to be they always paid, but for the past 5-10 years or so it’s been the new way.

  4. Katherine Says:

    Usually my parents or my husband’s parents pay. If we’re staying with them for more than one night, we usually try to pay for one not too expensive meal. We also don’t eat out a ton – especially when they stay with us, we try to cook a nice meal at home. We will probably try to pay more often now that we’re not grad students anymore. My dad and his wife will probably always have a LOT more money than we do, but it’s important for us to be real adults and show them we’re not moochers so we make sure to pay for something when we visit them.

  5. Ana Says:

    My parents always pay. For MIL, we always pay (even when she DID have a job). With sister/BIL we take turns. If we visit them, we try to treat them for something, and they do the same when they visit us, but lately we just hang out at home so its not an issue.

  6. chacha1 Says:

    On the rare occasions my husband and I are in company with my parents (3000 miles away), they nearly always pay. With his family, he always pays. With my sisters, we take turns fighting over the check. We have more disposable income so we tend to let them get the little things and we’ll get the big things. But again we don’t see them very often (3000 miles away) so a get-together tends to have been planned and budgeted far in advance.

  7. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    With my family, I pay for everything. Obviously, since I make all the money. I’m almost always the one who pulls out card but it’s not like it matters since we have joint money. With his, it’s an almost exhausting fight every time. It’s gotten to the point of sneakiness and it’s so ridiculous that I refuse to participate in the fights over the bill. All of his family make good money so it’s just a point of pride. In general they claim that the rule is that the out of towners get treated but it’s never really observed.

  8. Leah Says:

    I really wish my families would just let us all split the check. Nothing drives me more crazy than going out and doing the check dance. Can we just all pay for ourselves?

    It’s a jockeying match where my parents typically pay and my husband’s parents typically take turns paying with us. But then it turns into a “should we go out or not?” and everyone is wondering who is going to pay.

    I really am much more of a fan of going dutch, both with friends and with family.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I really like the “pay at the counter” places with DH’s family. It just makes it so easy. Everybody gets what they want and pays for it themselves.

      • Leah Says:

        yes! And then there’s none of the “should I get this fancy thing because I think they’ll pay for it?” sort of deliberations. There are unfortunately not a lot of places like that around here that aren’t fast food, tho one yummy place did just open up.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        “should I get this fancy thing because I think they’ll pay for it?”

        is the worst, because I want the fancy fresh squeezed lemonade, but only if I’m paying for it

      • Leah Says:

        exactly! I went out to lunch with a friend the other day before we went to the ballet. I had bought the tickets, so she paid for my lunch and then wrote me a check to cover the rest. She wrote over the amount! I was all, well, thanks for paying for my fancy cocktail at lunch, but it really was okay to just pay what you owed me.

        I think some people don’t want to feel like they owe something to anyone. I can totally understand that! I think it mostly evens out in the end (sort of? depends?), but the tension in the middle can be frustrating.

        When I spring for the fancy cocktail, I’m totally okay paying the $7 myself.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I definitely hate feeling like I owe something to someone. But now that we’re well off, I no longer feel bad about letting someone who is also well off just foot the bill (like DH’s parents), whereas before I was much more careful and stressed about making sure we were even before when we were making less money (even though DH’s family was making more). I think it’s because now I realize that that $4 lemonade or whatever really just isn’t a big deal when I’m paying for it for someone so I don’t feel as much like it’s a big deal when someone else pays. So much less stress!

        We still are hitting this problem with Christmas gifts for DH’s family (other than his parents). We make SO much more money that we want to be able to just buy them whatever seems right without stressing about the cost and we’d rather they just not buy us anything at all (or something small). We don’t want to have it become a thing where they feel like they have to spend what we spend on them. Because honestly, $50 for the perfect gift (that is, the gift that makes us able to stop looking for gifts) isn’t such a big deal for us, but it is for people who have monetary concerns.

        And I feel a little guilty about not keeping track about what we’re/they’re spending because honestly the amount we spend is unimportant to us. (Also shopping for DH’s family is DH’s job and he doesn’t worry his pretty little head about money.) I feel like maybe we’ll need to start including notes like, “we got a really good deal on this.”

  9. Debbie M Says:

    This changes somewhat depending on who’s employed and how fully employed they are. The default is that my parents still pay for their kids. And whoever is getting visited pays for the visitor (because the visitor paid to get there). But the richer people can always try to jump in. And if the richer people especially want to invite everyone to join them in something expensive, then they will always pay.

    Like Leah, I prefer going dutch. But it’s not about just me. My parents enjoy being generous and also feel weird being subsidized by their kids.

    In my family, ever since Grandma Miller died, I have been the wealthiest in spite of making a lower salary than most everyone else. Fortunately, my family focuses on salary more than wealth, so I don’t have the problems that, say, lottery winners have.

    With my boyfriend, he really enjoys cooking for people–as both a guest and a host. So this leads to fewer restaurant visits.

    However, when we do go out with his family, his uncles and even brother-in-law have gotten into ever more ridiculous races to get the check. One uncle will give his credit card number when he makes the reservation. The brother-in-law has been caught paying while claiming he had to go to the bathroom (which he also did). I am too poor to want to pay for large groups at expensive restaurants, though I am happy to pay for myself. So I just thank them profusely.

  10. First Gen American Says:

    We usually pay for everything but we will let my MIL pay every once in a while for her pride’s sake.

  11. Shannon Says:

    We generally speaking split or alternate when we go out with any relatives, with one exception – my brother and sister-in-law. While we’re all pretty comfortable, they are probably in the top .1%. And they don’t like to scale it down – particularly with respect to wine, as they will only drink certain kinds. None of the rest of of are really wine snobs, so the rest of us tend to pick a step up from the cheapest on the list, but they will only pick the REALLY expensive wines. This makes is really awkward – we can’t split as it seems unfair to pay for their super expensive wine, so typically, they’ll pick up which stinks because it makes me feel like a moocher. Usually in that situation I will offer to pay the tip – and even though I don’t usually carry cash, I make it a point to get some before we go out to dinner, just so I can do that.

    This spills over to other areas of our lives with them too – they own several vacation homes and will rent houses in different places – places we don’t necessarily want to go to. Then they’ll invite us, thinking they are doing us a favor, and our parents want us to come for family time and to have the grand kids together. But we’re starting to resent it, as we have a limited vacation budget and don’t want to spend good chunks of it going to places where we have no voice.

    I know this it totally #firstworldproblems but there can be really challenging dynamics in a family where different parts have vastly different income levels and expectations.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      If it helps put things in perspective, almost 100% of our vacation time is spent in the rural midwest at DH’s parents’ place. That’s not because of money, but because of the difficulties of getting family together.

      Re: the dinner, I’d just let them pay and stop feeling like a moocher (though the tip thing works too and was something I was brought up to do, though I don’t anymore). If they’re like we are (and we’re not 1% yet, but very comfortable), they don’t even really think about it. We did think about it when we made less than we do now, but now it doesn’t really matter. There’s just no reason to fight over the tab anymore.

    • Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

      We have similar dynamics. Though they don’t actually have that kind of money, some family just like to look and live like they do. We have had to speak up and say that, for example, Exotic Locale for Major Holiday, while we’d love to go there, is simply unrealistic for everyone when it requires everyone to travel during high season and the price tags are 3-5x more expensive. It’s like saying, hey, Napa is pretty expensive but how about let’s go there in the highest of high seasons? That should be extra fancy fun! Or yes, let’s go to dinner! Great, let’s have all of the appetizers and three of the fanciest wines. But only 2-4 of the party drink wine.

      In interactions with them, my idea of fun transmogrifies into curling up around my dragon hoard to protect it from overspenders dragging us down with them.

  12. Jay Says:

    When my father was alive, my parents paid for everything. My mother would pay for the groceries if she came to the store with me (which I didn’t like, but it was impossible to win the argument so I didn’t even try.) My parents were very well off and enjoyed treating us and mostly we sat back and enjoyed it. My in-laws didn’t do restaurants (seriously – my husband had been to an actual restaurant precisely once before he went to college, and he grew up solidly middle-class) and it would never in a million years have occurred to them to pay for us; we paid because we were the ones who wanted to go out to eat.

    With sibs (his or mine) we usually split the bill. If we are staying at their house or they are staying at ours, the visitor often treats the host to a meal, since the hosts are providing food at home. We’re all at about the same income level, as far as I know.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I’ve also been taught that if you’re staying at a person’s house, you need to take them out for at least one meal. In thanks for their hospitality, even if there aren’t any meals at home.

  13. Rosa Says:

    it’s really complicated with our families – one set of grandparents almost always insists on treating but then occasionally asks us for money after the fact, and I can’t figure out what makes some occasions different. I kind of think it’s that they aren’t on the same page and one is asking for money without consulting the other, but that might not be true. That’s the side of the family where some people in my generation have a lot more money than others and also where one sib is a dependent spouse with a pretty lavish lifestyle but no control over finances. The other side we typically split checks and, if it’s a visit where we’re eating at their house a lot we pick up some groceries.

  14. Rosa Says:

    Paying/not paying is also complicated because other people will cook & host at their homes for us more than we will for them. We mostly just don’t host in return, because our cooking style & preferences are a LOT different from our families of origin and, while we go to their houses and eat what is offered and do not complain, they do not do that. (To be fair, some of the “picky eaters” have serious allergies, which I can work around but it explains why they like to have control over the food and won’t try new-to-them things) There are also a few people who need to talk about how fat they are and all the things they don’t eat because they’re fat, which I don’t allow at my dinner table, but if we go to a restaurant they can usually just get something diet friendly, or drink a diet soda and quietly not eat. Oh and I can’t get them to stop “helping” in unhelpful ways in the kitchen. So we try to treat at restaurants when we’re “hosting” instead of cooking at home for people.

    Last time my brother was in town, I made a meal my mom had specifically planned, of all his childhood favorites, and he said “You have gotten to be such a good cook! Last time I was here you made all weird food!” and then later in the visit said “no wonder Americans are fat all you eat is food that is bad for you”. That really validated my “no just making recipes I am good at and proud of and inviting my family to share” feelings.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Relatives from SoCal? It’s hard not to do the I’m so fat thing–it’s like not talking about the weather in the Midwest. But more annoying.

      My DH’s family is polite but they have way more limited palates than we do. I used to cajole my mil into trying new things at restaurants but she had a bad experience with a ban Mi so I stopped. Now we stick to new American or Italian mostly. I’m a much better hostess than I used to be. Happily she’s started eating correctly for diabetes, which is also the way to eat for PCOS, so my whole grain stuff isn’t so weird.

      • Rosa Says:

        All Midwesterners! It turns out the people who raised us “Shut up and eat it and be grateful” will only eat the things they like and bitch and moan if we don’t cater to that, but the intersection of “I don’t do new foods” “I am so fat I cannot/should not eat that” “diet fad of the day” and “bland Midwestern food” is a very narrow channel to navigate. And then things like shellfish allergies, nut allergies, other even rarer allergies, diabetics, people who can’t have salt, people who can’t eat greens or whole grains because of kidney problems, people who must/cannot have alcohol… (blended families, man – we don’t even have the same allergies/digestive issues because we’re not actually genetically related!) and sensory issues – there are a LOT of texture issues for various people.

        Right here was a really too long rant about politeness that i just deleted, but I decided several years ago, when we were training kiddo that the only polite responses to being offered food were “Yes, please” or “No, thank you”, with no option for “EW GROSS” or “that’s weird” or “You’re digging your grave with your fork!” that I would not cook for people who couldn’t follow that basic rule, which ruled out an awful lot of adults.

        So, anyway: we often suggest eating out and, knowing this places budgetary strain on some family members, when that’s why we’re at a restaurant, we treat.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Yes, when you have the money to get out of hassle, it is so worth just spending it. Part of why we eat out with DH’s family so much. Not that they complain, mind you, but it is still pretty clear when they don’t like something.

        So much easier.

      • Rosa Says:

        Having enough money to throw at problems is wonderful. And yeah, last big family gathering that was in our city, we ended up way out past the highway loop for dinner. Applebees, PF Chang, Outback Steakhouse – there’s a “normal food” restaurant list for each side of our familiy, and I have finally deciphered them. It’s just that none of them exist in our urban neighborhood!

    • Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

      Oh goodness. I have happily hosted people with the most delicate systems and food allergies and enjoyed every minute of the challenge because they were lovely about it: communicative, generally happy that I was willing to try to accommodate, and not jerks at all about it.

      I would immediately adopt your stance when (not if) anyone decides to give me grief over the food I cook (generally healthy but tasty). And “I’m so fat” is not allowed in my home, either, nope.

      • Rosa Says:

        family! Where the cultural norms of “my house, my rules” and “deferring to the older generation” collide uncontrollably.

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