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Question: We often eat out with another couple, always dividing the check 50/50. Since Pam and I are economizing these days, we no longer order drinks in restaurants. Our friends do, though, and they don’t seem to notice that splitting the check has become an awfully good deal for them. I think they should offer to pay for their booze, but Pam thinks our long-standing 50/50 arrangement is fine. Who’s right?

Answer: No wonder your friends aren’t cutting back on the cocktails in order to economize. They’ve got you to pick up half their bar tab. Count your blessings they’re not drinking more, now that their libations come with a 50% discount.

While we sympathize with Pam’s desire to avoid unsettling the friendship, this boat needs rocking. Presumably you’ve been splitting checks with your friends, not only because it’s gracious and easy, but because over time things have more or less been evening out. But unless the stimulus package includes some cocktail tokens for you, that’s no longer true -- which means it’s time to change the deal.

Our advice? Stop wishing your friends would offer to pay for their drinks and tell them nicely but directly that, since you’re no longer ordering alcohol in restaurants, you’d like them to ask for a separate bar tab. Of course, you might want to first fortify yourselves with a stiff one at home.

Cheers -- and good luck.

Questions? Email Money Magazine’s ethicists – authors of “Isn’t It Their Turn to Pick Up the Check?” (Free Press) – at