It's Time to Drop These 6 Rules of Money Etiquette

By Emily Guy Birken on 19 July 2017 0 comments

Good manners are important to me. Over the years, I have made a habit of reading Miss Manners, Emily Post, Letitia Baldridge, and other etiquette experts to make sure my politeness game is on point. But as committed as I am to the many etiquette rules that help to make life more considerate, there are some rules that should be retired.

Specifically, money etiquette rules have not necessarily kept up with the changing economic times. The following six rules now cause more social awkwardness and embarrassment than they prevent — and that's why it's time to drop them. (See also: 8 Rules of Etiquette We Wish Were Still Around Today)

1. The man pays for the first date

The standard of a man paying for a first date is based on the assumption that he's the higher earner. But that's hardly the case in the modern world. Today's romantic pairings very likely include women who far outearn their dates — not to mention the fact that this old-timey rule excludes same-sex couples.

A better rule, and one that Miss Manners has always promoted, is for the person who issues the invitation to pay for the outing. That being said, the invitee should always be prepared to pay for him or herself, just in case.

2. Salary discussions are always off limits

While it will never be considered polite to straight-up ask someone how much they make, the limitation on salary discussions does need to be lifted. For one thing, not discussing compensation has helped to entrench the gender wage gap. You might recall Jennifer Lawrence's essay on Lenny Letter about how shocked she was to discover that her male co-stars in the movie American Hustle made significantly more than she did. The only reason she was aware of the pay discrepancy was because of the Sony email hack.

But there is more at stake than just the gender wage gap. When you don't know what other people with commensurate skills and experience are paid, then your employer always has the upper hand in salary negotiations. This is called "information asymmetry," wherein one party in a transaction has more information than the other. The only way to tilt hiring and salary negotiations in your favor is to talk openly about salary with your colleagues and friends.

That being said, it's still a tough topic to bring up. The best way to go about it is to ask a trusted colleague if you can talk about money, and be willing to take no for answer.

3. The bride's family pays for the wedding and the groom's family pays for the rehearsal dinner

This rule is a holdover from when financially dependent brides went directly from their parents' home to their new married life, and the tradition has even older and more offensive roots. Back in the day, a bride's family would pay a dowry to the groom in order to compensate him for taking over financial responsibility for their daughter.

While the origins of the tradition that the groom's family will pay for the rehearsal dinner are not as clear, the upshot of this rule was that it gave the new husband's parents an opportunity to host a portion of the wedding celebration.

For both of these rules, the assumption was that the parents of the bride and groom — rather than the new couple themselves — are hosting the wedding.

A better rule would be for couples to plan on paying for their own nuptials rather than assuming their parents will cover the costs. This way, any parental offers of money to go toward the wedding can be treated as a gift rather than an obligation. This will prevent any unpleasant surprises if the couple's expectations don't match their parents' financial abilities (and vice versa), and can ensure that the couple gets the wedding they want.

4. Parents pay for family dinners out

When adult children go out to dinner with their parents, there's an expectation that the parents will pick up the check. This etiquette rule seems to reflect habit rather than true politeness, and it's a habit you should grow out of as your parents age. Adult children in the thick of their careers are likely to have more disposable income than retired parents on fixed incomes, and you should keep this in mind rather than simply assuming that your parents will always pay.

However, changing this dynamic can be a little tough, even if you make it clear ahead of time that you're inviting your parents out to eat and that it will be your treat. A good way to make sure there's no scuffle over the bill is to let your waiter know ahead of time that you're paying. You can get up just before dessert and hand over your credit card so the meal is truly your treat.

5. Tip waiters 15 percent for normal service, 20 percent for exceptional service

The 15 percent tip was the gold standard for dining out through much of my childhood and young adulthood. I was taught to calculate my tip as 15 percent of the pretax amount of my food. This rule most definitely needs to change because the federal minimum wage for tipped employees has been stuck at $2.13 per hour since 1991.

While your server's hourly wage may be higher depending on where you live, since different states have different minimum wage regulations, the bottom line is that wait staff depend upon tips to make a living. Continuing to tip 15 percent on your pretax bill could make a big, negative difference on your server's finances.

These days, tipping 20 percent on your whole bill (after tax) for normal service is a better rule of thumb. You can always up your tip to 25 percent or more if the service is extraordinary.

6. Don't mention gifts on an invitation

One of the diciest etiquette land mines has to do with the expectation of gifts for weddings and birthdays. The old rules require you to say nothing about gifts, other than profuse thanks for any that are given. According to these rules, guests can ask about what the birthday child or bridal couple or expectant parents would like when they RSVP for the event.

Miss Manners has expressed her horror at both the proliferation of gift registries and the inclusion of the words "no gifts, please" on an invitation. According to her, a gift should be an expression of affection from the giver to the recipient, and any mention of gifts on an invitation sullies the joy of gift-giving.

While disdain for clear gift-grabs is absolutely warranted — no one wants to feel like they have only been invited to a party to increase the number of presents — the hard-and-fast rule of no mentions of gifts on invitations has become outdated.

In general, most wedding guests want to have some idea of what the bride and groom would like or need, and most parents of birthday-party-aged children would like to turn off the onslaught of stuff that accompanies a modern childhood. Bridal (and baby) registries make life much easier for friends and family who would not otherwise know what to give. Spelling out these expectations helps diminish confusion, resentment, and waste at gift-giving occasions.

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