Who Pays for Dinner with In-Laws?

by TTMK on March 15, 2012 · 9 comments

Respectful deference, neutrality, or expected payback? This pretty much characterizes the issue at hand when it comes to dealing with some situations involving money and in-laws.  Some people seem to think they are there to take care of elders, while others see the role of in-laws (or parents) differently. When it comes to who pays for dinner, it can be interesting how different people handle it.

Let’s say you’re going out to dinner with in-laws or parents.  You enjoy a nice dinner, and then the check comes. How do you handle who pays?

Here are 5 ways to handle paying for dinner with in-laws or parents, along with my thoughts.

  1. You pay for in-laws as a rule.  If this is a rule, based on purely on respect for them as elders, then I think it’s ridiculous. Don’t get me wrong – I totally believe in respecting elders, but don’t see how it’s fair for someone to expect their adult kids to continually bankroll them just because there’s some expectation.  I actually know of one situation where parents expect to be treated every time, which seems unnatural to me. We’ve discussed helping parents with money, but this aspect of paying for all meals “just because” seems unfair.
  2. You split the bill.  This way, however you handle the split, you end up essentially paying for what you order. To me, this seems fair – with in-laws, parents, or really anybody in any relationship. Who’s to argue with individual responsibility? One exception: paying for the first date.
  3. You take turns.  This seems fair too, just like above.
  4. Whoever is “better off” buys.  If there’s a big disparity in wealth – or perceived wealth, anyway – between people, should the person better off pay?  I’m not sure about this one. I have a friend who was telling about his in-laws, saying that they never let him treat them for any dinners, and always insist on at least splitting the check. This, despite them having much more modest means than him. I can respect that.
  5. In-laws pay as a rule.  Generally, I don’t think this needs to be the case. However, I think this is different than #1 above, in the sense that one party wants to pay rather than expecting to be pampered.  My father, actually, really prefers to pay the bill if we’re out to dinner. He’s not better off than me, and is retired. However, it makes him feel really good to do so.  Therefore, while I think splitting a bill or taking turns is the fairest way to do it, I can understand and respect a person’s pride in this way. Admittedly, I would feel less patient if in-laws wanted that rather than my own parents. 

My Questions for You 

  • How do you handle dinner with in-laws (or parents)?
  • Do you believe there is one best way to handle such situations, or alternatively – worst way to handle them?

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Bryan at Pinch that Penny! March 15, 2012 at 3:46 pm

My family, in general, has often footed the bill for me wife and me. However, over the last few years, we’ve started pitching in for our own food (particularly since my wife and I make a good deal more than my parents do).


TTMK March 24, 2012 at 4:10 pm

Bryan – I think that’s a natural progression in a lot of cases, where people do more and more as they get older. When we get older and our parents really get older, that seems to make sense that we do more.


Daisy March 16, 2012 at 8:27 am

I think right now, because I’m a student, my family ALWAYS pays the bill. My boyfriend’s family refuses to leave the house, so it’s a non-issue with them. But I would love to start footing the bill more when I graduate and don’t have tuition to pay; my parents work hard for their money!


TTMK March 24, 2012 at 4:11 pm

Daisy – sounds like a very respectful approach and goal!


Emily @ evolvingPF March 16, 2012 at 1:50 pm

I remember a single instance where my family split a meal bill while on vacation – notably, my father was not present. My father always insists on paying for dinner, as does my MIL. I’m not sure yet if this is a “parents always pay” rule or a “better off” rule – I guess we’ll find out when our income passes theirs!


TTMK March 24, 2012 at 4:12 pm

Emily – yes, I suppose it might be different later when income grows. Or, then again, maybe it won’t. Sometimes adult parents have a hard time with letting kids pay for them, rightly or wrongly.


Emma December 12, 2013 at 1:10 pm

It probably works out to 50/50 with my parents-in-law. I realize I end up feeling a little resentful at this though because they have a much more comfortable lifestyle then us. Plus, the mom is “over” cooking, though the dad does on occasion, and so they have a nice sit-down dinner nearly every night. On the other hand, with two-little kids in preschool and one income, we can’t afford to eat out very often, and when we do eat out we have to pay for a babysitter besides. So when they come visit and want to eat out with us, I feel like they should treat.


eva May 7, 2014 at 9:54 pm

My mil and sil visit about 10 times a year for 2 to 3 nights.they come at the same time and separately.they fly to see us.mainly to see our 2 yr old daughter.they make a point of saying thats why they come.thats ok but they never bring anything, help, or offer to buy any meals.they expect alone time with our daughter.i dont usually make plans fir a restaurant or cosy outing as i know they both expect us to foot the bill.they invite themselves mostly and the flight costs are inexpensive.we have to pay if the mil is coming to babysit for us.i get anxious a out thier visits and believe i would be less so if they contributed.i have asked the sil to do so but she ignored this.mil brought some groceries at christmas time at the prompting by my husband. But it stopped again.they drink but have never brought a bottle of wine.we are expected to supply it.there was only one bottle last time my sil visited so she asked my husba d to go and buy her some.what should i do? I only work partime and their visits are costly.im also anxious because of the rudeness i feel with this.they bring gifts for my daughter which is lovely but havnt as much as wished me a happy birthday in 8 yrs.my husband asked me re ently what i wanted but i feel asking them to contribute is embarrassing and should just happen.the sil also invites friends over and i offer meals as thats how i am and the sil does t even offer to make them a cup of tea!my husband asked sil to make everyone a cup of coffee a d she flatly refused.help!


Carlos July 18, 2016 at 10:17 am

Good article. I recently married and I haven’t been prepared to deal with this. My parents-in-laws and my parents will start to go out for dinner regularly (I hope). We (my wife and I) live far from them, so they will gather on their own. My parents-in-law tend to go with their young son and his older son who is already married with a baby and lives apart from them. My parents go with my only brother. Thus, at the beginning, everything was like I invite then they invite but the bill is not proportinate for the number of family members. This situations also created a feeling of obligation. SO I adviced my parents next time to continue splitting the bill in a half (my father thinks this too) , but, in my humble opinion, I think this is not fair. My brother-in-law is starting to feel that he should pay for his part (wife, baby and him). How can we manage this diplomatically? Both parent are very pride of their responsability.


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