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Reality Check: Who's Paying?

Q. I have a friend who never pays her daughter's way when I take our kids out. Shouldn't she at least offer?

Yes, but in the imperfect world we live in, even nice people can be oblivious, inconsiderate, and, dare I say it, cheap. They can also assume things that aren't true.

I had a friend who took advantage of my generosity with her children because she thought I could afford more than she could. When I told her I couldn't and that even if I had a money tree in the backyard she should still have offered to share some costs, she asked me why I didn't just tell her to ante up a long time ago. She had a point: Sponging was her problem; letting it continue was mine.

This is one issue, however, in which hashing out your feelings may not be the best idea. Disagreements over money spent on children can be hard to get over. If you can, wipe your mental debt slate clean and start fresh: The next time you invite the child to accompany yours to a movie, say, ask her mom to chip in.

Mary, a mom friend of mine whose daughter plays with my Ellie, did this recently in a way I thought was very graceful. "We want to invite Ellie to come with us to the fair," she said, "and we're happy to pay her admission, but we'd love you to help pay for the rides ticket." I was going to offer to pay Ellie's way anyhow, but I appreciated her directness.

Of course, there are times when, as the host parent, you should expect to pay, and you can make this clear by saying it's your treat. Naturally, this includes anything related to a birthday, but I think you should pick up the tab when you take your child's friend to a restaurant as well. After all, you could feed the child at home; it's your preference to take her out.

But when money factors into a playdate, ask and you should receive. If you don't, then start sticking to the library or playground, or just let the kids play at home. There's nothing like good, cheap fun.