Money·7 min read

Money Manners: A Modern Guide to Financial Etiquette

Two women sit at a table laughing together
December 5, 2023

How honest should you be with your friends about your financial situation? How should you talk with your partner about money? And do you really have to tip on takeout? Almost every money conversation feels fraught with possible faux pas. But it doesn’t have to.

This year, Bank of America asked Americans about the financial situations that leave them shrugging. So, we teamed up to answer five of the biggest financial etiquette questions their 2023 survey uncovered.

1. Deciding whether to lend someone money.

According to a recent Bank of America survey, 34% of Americans aren’t sure about the financial etiquette of lending money to friends or family. If you’re deciding whether to throw the old advice — “neither a borrower nor a lender be” — out the window, you’ll want to consider a few factors. First, take stock of your own finances. If lending isn’t in the cards right now, politely decline.

“Helping out a loved one is admirable, but no one wins if it’s at the expense of your own finances,” says Mary Hines Droesch, Head of Consumer and Small Business Products at Bank of America. She also suggests offering to help in other ways if it feels appropriate.

If you do decide to lend the money, lay out in advance — ideally in writing — the date you’d like to be paid back by. For larger amounts, setting up a mutually agreed upon repayment plan could save you from dealing with uncomfortable situations down the line. 

If you’ve already lent someone money, but you didn’t have this guide handy at the time, following up might fall somewhere around ‘going to the DMV’ on the list of things you’re (not) looking forward to. Keep things casual and non-accusatory, but be direct — because beating around the bush helps exactly no one. If you’re trying to recoup your money, that has to be clear. Work together to set a specific, realistic timeframe. And take it from us: These convos tend to go best if you chat in-person, and one-on-one. 

2. Talking to friends about splitting costs.

This can apply to anything from smaller expenses like group dinners to really big ones like group trips, and neither feels particularly fun to talk about. The key is getting ahead of it. 

For meals out, maybe you're the friend who doesn’t drink in a group that always orders cocktails. Or maybe you’re just sticking to your budget really strictly right now (go you). To get ahead of any awkwardness, bring up the bill as soon as it feels right — and definitely before you order. 

Ask how you’re planning to split the bill, or suggest separate checks if that’s what you prefer — a simple, “Hey, can we do separate checks tonight?” should get the job done. 

“There’s no need to overshare, but setting boundaries like this can help you stay on budget and avoid an uncomfortable situation when the bill arrives,” Droesch says.

But hey, we get it. If you’re dining with a group of 12, separate checks are probably off the (presumably very long) table. You can always offer to put your card down and request what your friends owe you using a peer-to-peer payment app. Just keep in mind that making sure everyone pays you back can come with its own uncomfortable conversations (ahem, see number one above). 

The same goes for a group trip. Don’t wait until you’re somewhere over the Atlantic to have the conversation. 

“To avoid spiraling, focus on what you can control,” Droesch says. “Talk about what everyone in the group is willing to spend on things like accommodation, food, and transit before booking the trip to avoid any unpleasant surprises.” 

Talk about bill-splitting ahead of time, and be specific. You don’t need to tackle each person’s individual budget, just cover off on whether you’ll be splitting everything equally, switching off who pays, or keeping the bills truly separate. 

Bill-splitting apps like Splitwise can also be a major help when it comes to keeping track of who-owes-who-what as you go. At the end of the trip, it'll tell you what each person is owed and help you settle up in the fewest transactions possible. So you can spend your precious vacation hours talking about…anything else. 

3. Talking to your partner about finances. 

Another Bank of America survey found that only 42% of Americans are comfortable talking about money with their romantic partner. And that lack of communication around finances can lead to some serious — but completely avoidable — trouble in paradise. 

Start by scheduling dedicated time with your partner. We hear you groaning, but setting up some time on the calendar now can go a long way toward keeping you sane later. Planning ahead can help keep both you and your partner from getting defensive or anxious, and facilitate a productive conversation. 

If your relationship is new, keep it casual. Get a dialogue going by sharing your money goals (like buying a house, paying off debt, raising children, or saving for retirement) and inviting them to share theirs. Keep tabs on your financial compatibility by making mental notes of where your plans do and don’t align. If you’ve been together longer, make sure you both stay up to date on your joint financial situation so everyone has context when decisions have to be made. 

4. Determining when to tip.

This one can be extra tricky — and personal — and the survey results agree…or rather, couldn’t come to a consensus.

For in-restaurant dining, 35% of survey respondents said they tip 20%, and an additional 9% said they tip 25% or more. But tips for “to-go” orders trended lower, with 24% saying they leave a 10% and 34% saying they leave no tip at all. 

When it comes to tipping, ask yourself two questions: what’s the service, and how well was it done? For dine-in experiences, 15% to 20% is always a safe bet, with more added for great service. For other services, evaluate your own experience. Did the service save you lots of time or a trip to the store? Did you and the barista really hit it off? 

Ultimately, preparing to tip should be part of your budget for any outing where a service is provided. 

5. Choosing whether to accept or decline an expensive occasion outside your budget.

So, you’ve been invited to an event for a friend’s or family member’s milestone and you’d love to celebrate with them — but a destination bachelorette party, birthday spa day, or pricey promotion dinner just isn’t in the financial cards right now. 

Start by expressing how grateful you are for being included in their plans. Then, propose a specific, alternative celebration that’s in-budget, while staying clear and direct about what won’t work. 

For example, if your childhood friend invites you to get down in your hometown, you can say something like, “Thanks so much for inviting me to your bridal shower. Unfortunately, a flight isn’t in my budget right now. I’d love to celebrate with you another time! Maybe we can go out for dessert when I’m in town for the holidays.”

“Being honest about your financial situation might seem daunting,” Droesch says. “But communicating openly allows you to set clear boundaries and protect your financial well-being.”

It might feel blunt, but just saying “no” or ghosting the host without an explanation can lead to hurt feelings, and being left off future invites. In this case, honesty is the best policy. If a gift fits better in your budget, sending something to acknowledge the occasion can be a great way to join in the celebration — without breaking the bank. And don’t forget, as Mary Hines Droesch reminded us, homemade gifts, a thoughtful gesture, or a heartfelt card can make a little (or no) budget go a reaaaally long way. 


The best way to make money talks less awkward is to make them a priority. Communicating openly and setting clear boundaries can help you feel better now and set you up for success — and less discomfort — later. And when you’ve moved on from money talks to money moves, or just need some expert advice, Bank of America has you covered. Their pros can help you take on whatever your financial future holds. Good advice, it’s like money in the bank.

Subscribe to Skimm Money

Your source for the biggest financial headlines and trends, and how they affect your wallet.