Would You Blow Your Budget to Leave a Tip?

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Would You Blow Your Budget to Leave a Tip?

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Would You Blow Your Budget to Leave a Tip?When my wife and I really started tracking our expenses, we found that by far restaurant dining made up the largest sum of our weekly spending. 

Now that we have a better command of our spending, eating out is much less common; but, when we do eat out, we set a budget for each meal. 

We often look at menus online prior to leaving the house and decide what we're going to order to get an idea as to how much our bill will be.  This also helps determine if a particular restaurant fits within our budget.

My family and I went through this exact routine before selecting a restaurant to have dinner on a Saturday evening.  With items pre-selected, the bill pre-calculated (including tip), we piled into the van and drove off for a relaxing dinner out.

The food was good, as was the service.  When the bill arrived the amount was more than what I expected.  I checked the numbers over several times. Each individual amount was right, but the total conflicted with my calculation.  I slowly realized that I had somehow made an error at home, and our bill was indeed higher than I had calculated.

At this point, I had two choices: 

1.) Pay the bill and leave no tip, even though the service was good

2.) Break my budget, leave an appropriate tip, and adjust another expenditure in the budget

I waffled back and forth between these two choices about a billion times in the ten seconds I was staring at the check.

On one hand, we were talking about the neighborhood of $8.  Surely I could find something in the budget to reduce to make up for the overage.  The servers depend upon tips for their income, as they're typically paid peanuts for an hourly wage. 

Plus, the service was good, and it was my error that got me into this mess.

On the other hand, every dollar adds up.  Plus, why should I have to reduce something in my budget, or cut out something I want just to pay someone's wage when a tip is supposed to be optional?

I grabbed the pen tightly, wrote the tip amount, added it up, and signed my name.  I exited the booth wondering if I had made the right choice.

Budget broken.

In order to make up for the overage, I successfully modified the planned meals for the next week to reduce our grocery spending.  But I mentally beat myself up during the entire subsequent grocery shopping trip.

I'm not sure if I'd make the same decision should the same situation present itself again.

What would you have done?

Related Links:

My Tipping Point

Eating Out on a Budget

Dining on a Dime

Travis PizelTravis Pizel

Travis is a contributing writer for the My Journey out of Debt blog and is a very active member of the CareOne community forums. Travis is currently enrolled in a CareOne Debt Management Plan (DMP). Travis very candidly shares his personal journey to pay off his debt and the tips he's learned along the way. As a father and husband he provides a unique perspective on balancing debt, finances, and family. You can also follow along with Travis on his personal blog, Our Journey to Zero. Compensated Blogger for CareOne Debt Relief Services.

Follow Travis on Twitter @DebtChronicles


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  • I would have done the same thing as you. I leave a tip even if the service is bad; I just leave less of a tip. I can't help it. It's my conscience.

  • Personally I would put "eating out" into an entertainment budget category, separate from bread-and-butter groceries.  Once I realized my entertainment budget was running over, I still would have left the tip, but I would have adjusted the entertainment budget for this or the next budget cycle.  However, given that you budget restaurants and groceries together, I applaud you for paying the tip and adjusting grocery spending to absorb the overrun.

  • is this even a real question? If you don't budget in the cost of a tip then you can't afford to eat out, sorry, that's a part of the cost. If you can't afford to tip and want to eat out stick to fast food. I love how you think "budgeting" somehow gives you an excuse to be a cheapskate and cheat someone out of a tip.

  • Hi Jana, thanks for stopping by!  Sounds like you will give some tip no matter what....although I can count on one hand the amount of times I've done this, there are times when the service was SO bad that they got a big fat goose egg.

  • Hi Kristi, thanks for your comment!  I actually do split out entertainment and groceries...but in this particular case, I was able to cut a few bucks off the grocery budget pretty easy - A week without Chips and Salsa, or something similar won't kill me.  :)  I could have made an equally easy cut out of entertainment too...just the choice I made at the time.

  • Hi Susie, I  completely agree with you that the tip should be included in the budgeted price of the meal.

    However,  I invite you to read the article again as I think you missed a key point of the post.  Let me summarize for you:

    We had carefully looked at prices online, figured out what we were going to order, and determined to the best of our ability what the check (with tip included!) would end up being.  However, I was put into the situation because I made a calculation error at home, and the bill ended up being more than expected.

    So, the question then became, do I go over the budgeted amount for the meal, or don't I?

  • I think you made the right choice.  The server shouldn't have to pay for your calculation error.

    BTW, I really enjoy your blog posts, though I rarely comment.

  • Thanks Tara, your line of thinking was what pushed me in the direction I went.  Thanks for the kind words....keep reading, and don't be afraid to comment - us bloggers LOVE comments.  :)

  • Hey Travis! I think you did the right thing in this situation. I'm sure the next week was hard as you cut corners at the grocery store, but if the service was great I think you would have felt terrible stiffing the waitstaff.

    I didn't used to be the best tipper until my sister-in-law explained to me how little waitstaff makes per hour. It's literally a pittance. They depend on their tips to make up something like 80-90% of their total pay.

    Ever since I learned this, I've been much more conscious about leaving a 20% or higher tip when dining out.

  • Hi Jenny - I still struggle with the weighing of cutting my budget vs giving a tip which is supposed to be optional.  A tip is supposed to be "extra."  It's not supposed to be the server's main source of their salary.  In the end, I think the thing that tipped the scales is as I mentioned in the article, and you mentioned again, it is not really optional.  It's a huge part of their pay, whether I like it or not.  And as another commenter put it, they shouldn't have to pay for my mistake.

  • If you make a math error in your checkbook, does the bank say, oh, you thought you had the money , we understand, we'll get rid of that overdraft fee? Of course not. And in that same sense, I think you made the right decision. It is not the server's fault that you made a mistake in your multiplication back at home. You make the error, you pay for it. To me its that simple.

    But as someone who has been on a really tight budget, I can see the temptation to go the other way. You had a budgeted amount. You didn't really have more than the budgeted amount (I mean, what if you'd only brought cash...), so it seems tempting to say the budget means more. Somewhere else, it was asked, what's the difference between being cheap and being frugal. This situation is one that answers that. The cheap person sticks to the budget, regardless. The frugal person looks at the situation and says- my error. I'll make this up elsewhere.

    And whether you meant to or not, I think you taught your kids a good lesson here. And that is, other people shouldn't have to pay for your mistakes. When you make a mistake, you own up to it and deal with the consequences.

  • As someone who has been a server in the past, I commend you on your decision. :)  Servers really are paid peanuts, far less than minimum wage in many states (I forget if that's the case in MN), and if the service was good, he/she earned that tip.  And as broke as you might feel, you're probably rich compared to that server.

  • Shanendoah - hey there Summer team 4 partner!  I really like your thoughts on how this demonstrates the difference between cheap and frugal, as well as how it could be used as a lesson to teach my kids.  I appreciate your comment!

  • Hey Fonk, the "server is paid very little" is a reoccurring theme here - as I expected it would be.  You bring up a fresh perspective, however - whether the tips is viewed as "optional" or not, you're right, the server did indeed earn the tip - thus it should be included in the price of the meal as NOT optional.  Similar to going to the store to get something you need (not that eating out was a need, only that at this point the meal was eaten and had to be paid for), and finding out the price was higher.  You fork out the extra money, and cut something else from the budget.  

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts!

  • Leave the tip.  If you are cutting expenses so close to the vest that you can't afford to reward good service, then you should stay home.

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