Handling Ungrateful Houseguests
by Gary Foreman
The Art of Hospitality
I have been reading with mixed emotions the stories of houseguests and solutions! I have a houseguest who will be in my home for three weeks and has not pitched in (unless asked) with cooking, cleaning, shopping for food and liquor, or gas for the car. How can I ask for reimbursement for a joint party we hosted without ruining the friendship?
Wow! What a friend! Dianna has come up against a problem that we all face sometime in our life. What to do with someone who's happy spending our money. Whether that person is an out-of-town guest, an officemate at work or a distant spendthrift cousin, it's often a tough situation to handle. Largely because it has to do with how we view ourselves and how we relate to money. Both issues are deeply ingrained in us and often involve very complicated emotions.
I doubt that even the best psychoanalyst could help you answer both questions in one column, so we won't try to do that. What we will try to do is to pose some questions that will help Dianna get closer to an answer.
Let's begin with how you view yourself. The first question to ask is do you generally see yourself as a giver? Or as a taker? How aggressive are you about getting what you feel belongs to you? Do you hold on to things loosely or tightly?
The second question is how do you feel about how you see yourself? Whether you're a giver or a taker or somewhere in between, are you comfortable with that picture? If you're not happy with what you see, do you feel that you want to make a change? Or is it easier to stay with existing patterns rather than try to change your future?
How Dianna views herself and how comfortable she is with that view will make a big difference in how she relates to her friend. It allows her to put the situation into a proper perspective.
The next question for Dianna to answer is how she views money in her life. For some folks, money is a cruel master. They see themselves struggling to get enough to pay for life's necessities. Money is very valuable to them and must be tightly controlled.
At the other extreme are people who view money as "fun tickets" to be used to increase life's pleasures. Money has little importance to them (unless they run out of it!).
Somewhere in the middle are people who consider money to be a tool. Like most tools, it can be used properly or improperly (with appropriate results). They see money as having value, but attempt to keep it in a proper perspective.
Now that Dianna has a frame of reference, she's in a better position to decide what response is consistent with the person she wants to be. Let's look at what options she has.
Dianna could do nothing. Just continue to spend extra money on her visitor and not ask for help or reimbursement. While her friend would probably be fine with this choice, Dianna might not be. After all, unless there's some other reason that we want to maintain the relationship, at some point we begin to lose respect for ourselves if we let someone take advantage of us. Of course, if there is a good reason, then Dianna can be a generous hostess and forget about the cost.
Dianna could also gently ask for some help and reimbursement. The method is really quite easy. Next time you fill up your car, make sure the visitor is in it and mention that you paid for the last tank and could she pay for this one. A similar strategy works for the groceries or even cleaning the toilets.
She probably won't get a 50/50 split of work and expenses this way. But the friend has gently been put on notice that Dianna won't be taken advantage of. Don't be surprised if she cuts her visit short. If she was merely there to take what she could, she'll leave when she realizes that's ending. It may have a sad ending, but you'll quickly find out how good a friend she really is.
If Dianna really feels put out, she could be a little more forceful about asking for help. One way to do that would be to list the expenses, making it clear when they're presented that the assumption is that the visitor would want to pay her half.
On the other hand, Dianna may look at herself and her friend and decide that being repaid really isn't that important. It could be that the relationship goes back for years and is more valuable than the money involved. Or it could be that the visitor is a family member and family harmony is the main consideration.
Dianna may decide that she needs to take actions that aren't very comfortable. If so, she shouldn't postpone taking action. That'll only make it worse. She can stay strong knowing that she arrived at the decision in a calm, intelligent manner and the end results are for her benefit.
In any case, she's made a decision with her best interest in mind. She has considered her self-worth, the friendship and money. Each has been given proper importance and her decision reflects that. Whatever choice she makes, Dianna has put herself in position to achieve the best possible outcome.
Debt is preventing me from taking a vacation this year or the vacation I'd like to take this year! Tell us: Yes, debt is affecting my vacation plans! or No, we're going exactly where we want to go but we'd love to learn make our trip as inexpensive as possible!
Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who founded The Dollar Stretcher.com website and newsletters in 1996. He's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report, US News Money and CreditCards.com. Gary shares his philosophy of money here. You can follow Gary on Twitter or visit Gary Foreman on Google+. Gary is also available for audio, video or print interviews. For more info see his media page.
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