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A lesson in party hosting and guesting etiquette, and why no one wants to pay for your birthday gathering




A fan is seen with a beer and barbequed sausages during the Northern Football League Grand Final match between Heidelberg and Greensborough at Preston City Oval on September 20, 2014 in Melbourne, Australia.
A fan is seen with a beer and barbequed sausages during the Northern Football League Grand Final match between Heidelberg and Greensborough at Preston City Oval on September 20, 2014 in Melbourne, Australia.
Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

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The unspoken rules of being a host, or even a guest, can be difficult to navigate, largely because the rules are unspoken.

By definition, a host is someone who receives and entertains guests, either at home or elsewhere. It’s typically good manners to show up to a party with an offering of some sort – say, a bottle of wine for a dinner gathering or maybe some chips and dip for a big sporting event. But what do you do when the host of the party you’re attending casually suggests that you and the other guests help cover the cost?

Washington Post personal finance columnist Michelle Singletary gets at this idea in her latest column, “Stop charging me to attend your celebrations — #guestsdontpay.” In it, she pushes back on the idea that guests should have to pay to go to someone else’s party.

Let’s say it’s a friend’s birthday and he or she wants to get a big group of people to meet at a restaurant for dinner. When the check comes, however, attendees discover that not only do they have to pay their own way, but it's implied that the guest of honor's tab will also get picked up by one or more of the attendees. Singletary says she doesn’t attend parties where she’s expected to pay anymore, and that she’ll ask in advance if the organizer isn’t clear about whether guests will need to cover their costs. She says the idea that people expect their friends to pay up so they can have the party they want on their special day “smacks of a sense of entitlement” and is evidence of a culture that encourages us to do things we can’t afford.

What is your expectation as a guest at someone else’s party or as a host of your own? And what about when they’re the host? Do you go potluck style and ask everyone to bring something to pitch in? Do you just foot the bill for everyone like a host generally should? Or do you ask guests in advance to pay their way? What’s the best way you’ve found to handle this?

With guest host Libby Denkmann.

Guest:

Michelle Singletary, writer of the Washington Post’s personal finance column, “The Color of Money”; she wrote the article, “Stop charging me to attend your celebrations — #guestsdontpay”; she tweets @SingletaryM