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‘How to travel for free’: I spent $500 hosting my friend for a week. Should I have paid for food and utilities?

By Quentin Fottrell

“He binged on food, mostly junk food, and I had to pay the cost”

Dear Quentin,

My close friend of over 20 years recently lost a son in tragic circumstances, and he has fallen on hard times in recent years. He announced that he was coming to visit us, and since he hasn’t visited us in years, she was excited. My friend is 20 years older than me. He stayed a week and I paid everything. I guess it could be summed up as “how to ride for free and make your friends foot the bill”.

He binged on food, mostly junk food, and I had to pay the cost. She gave me $10 the entire time she kept and continued to promise to refund me. It was my son’s birthday and he had a lot of appointments. She was getting bossy and I started ignoring her. She announced, without consulting me first, that another friend would take her back home. I literally had a few hours to prepare for her departure and I missed my son’s birthday.

I spent probably $500 the entire time she was here, including gas and food, plus the additional cost of utilities. She didn’t even give me the gift she bought for my son, which I insisted was not necessary. The friend she met seemed upset to have her back, but I was glad to be done with this problem. Now I feel guilty for missing my son’s birthday and I feel stupid because an old friend took advantage of me.

Should I tell him? She mentioned that a friend paid for the two of them on an expensive trip and that she “paid her back in other ways, like doing chores.” She was very helpful around my house, but she threw out family memorabilia without my knowledge and raided my pantries. Should I cut ties with this friend for causing all this trouble? Should I mention that I don’t agree with this? Part of me feels like I’m trying to get blood out of a turnip.

What would you do?

feel used

dear feeling,

Normally, helping out with the grocery bills and having him eat at least once would be a good way. But it seems her friend can’t afford the latter, so she leaves room on her laundry list for her to miss out on some expensive items. And no, you don’t charge a friend for extra gas or electricity while they stay at your house. Ten cents to boil your kettle? I also wouldn’t charge them for air conditioning if they were visiting in the height of summer! You are hosting a friend, not running a pension.

Your world has been turned upside down and inside out. She has buried a child. It doesn’t mean she shouldn’t have been a better guest and it doesn’t give your friend a free pass to act in a way that leaves hurt feelings and unpaid bills in her wake, but it does give you a chance to give her a free pass, and point it to the experience. Whatever point you want to make and whatever anger you need to express is not worth $500. But there are other actions you can take.

The other part of this story, which is missing from your letter, is your own role or lack thereof in setting limits and expectations during your visit. That includes taking sole responsibility for missing your child’s birthday. That was his job, and his alone, and no one else should foot the bill for it. Similarly, responding with silence and ignoring your friend is a decision, whether you like it or not, not to speak up, and she clearly got the message.

So where do you go from here? Set the money aside. Have you always had a good relationship? Was this out of line? If you were hoping to see her on this trip, it would suggest that there was warmth, affection and history in this friendship. Given what your friend has been through, she may need old friends more than ever. Sorry, she didn’t contribute more than $10. I’m also sorry that both of you have allowed bad feelings to fester.

Respect is important in a friendship, and the way people treat each other, and how money is handled, is a reflection of that respect. But something else was lost here besides $500. It may be that the friendship has run its course, but don’t leave this friendship with a question mark. Money, and how we handle it, can affect friendships. In fact, some research has even shown that more than a third of friendships break up over different lifestyles and money.

Pick up the phone. At least be willing to make amends for your part. Ask him how she got back to her, and felt like things didn’t go as he planned, and see if you both can shed light on that week. Each one lives in their own movie, with their own writer and director. We all see and record things differently. A “360 degree review” of your friendship and communication breakdown is worth $500. But making this all about unpaid bills is not the best way to approach it.

Readers write to me with all sorts of dilemmas.

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More from Quentin Fottrell:

‘He’s content to live paycheck to paycheck’: My husband doesn’t want to work or get a driver’s license. Now things have gotten even worse

My wife wants us to spend $5,000 to attend her cousin’s destination wedding. I don’t want to go. Am I being selfish?

‘I feel used’: My partner stays with me 5 nights a week, even though he owns his house. Do you have to pay for utilities and food?

-Quentin Fottrell

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06-01-23 1835ET

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