What to Do When Your Coworkers Ask for Money

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It can be tough enough to make a budget for the spending you do at home. But when expenses crop up at the office—say, a party or gift—it makes for some extra stress.

But fear not! We’ve come up with a little guide that may be just what you need to figure out how to handle the next request for funds at the workplace. Let’s punch in for the office money etiquette guide:

1. When a group goes out to eat

When the idea of lunch or maybe some ice cream is first brought up, establish right then and there how it will be paid for. Maybe your leader buys it, or maybe it’s every man/woman for himself/herself. It’s a lot more acceptable (and a lot less awkward) to make who’s paying for what clear in the first email than to sit at the table and say, “By the way, guys, everyone pays their own way.”

If it’s the boss’ treat, make sure to say thanks. If you decide to split the bill equally, it’s nice to order something inexpensive so as to not burden everyone else with costly cuisine.

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Related: 7 Money Mistakes to Avoid at Restaurants

2. When you are pooling money for a gift

Perhaps it’s someone’s birthday, a co-worker is getting married, or you’re hosting a baby shower for a mom-to-be. The office staff might be chipping in for a gift, and you want to participate. You obviously don’t have to—you may not know the person very well—and it is not an obligation, but a kind act. Establish who is buying the gift, figure out what is reasonable for your budget, and drop the cash off to a designated person.

Also, even if you can afford it, don’t give so much that you outshine your co-workers. If 20 people are giving $5 for a $100 present, don’t put down 50 bucks. It can create confusion—what to do with the extra cash, should we get a nicer gift, how much does everyone else owe now, and so on. Plus, others might think you’re showing off. If you are organizing the gift, pick a reasonable present so as to not overload anyone’s budget.

3. When the meal train comes around

If there’s been a death in a team member’s family, a serious illness, or even a new baby, you may get an evite to contribute a meal. This typically involves taking dinner to the person’s house as well, which adds to the time and money involved in shopping and prepping. But there are some easy ways to make this work if you want to help out.

First, find out if the family has any dietary restrictions, then explore cost-effective recipes with the fewest ingredients possible. If money’s the issue, you can also split a day with a co-worker. You do the salad and dessert, someone else does the main dish. If time’s your issue, send a gift card with the person before you on the meal train. That way, the family can use the meal whenever they want (they probably have tons of leftovers piling up in the fridge or freezer anyway).

4. When there is a holiday celebration or Secret Santa

It’s the holidays, baby! The office might be throwing a party one afternoon, and everyone is asked to pitch in. This works a little bit differently than pooling money for a gift because you might get funny looks if you don’t contribute money yet still participate in the party. Stick to your budget and shell out a reasonable amount.

If your budget is tight, it’s all right to find non-monetary ways to give (like baking cookies). Heck, you may even want to just take that day off.

As far as Secret Santa goes, have you ever seen that episode of The Office where everyone’s gift was modest, and Michael bought the iPod that everybody was fighting over? Yeah . . . don’t do that. It only makes things uncomfortable because the rest of the presents look dinky by comparison. Establish a cost limit for the gifts, stay within that limit, and enjoy the suspense of trying to get the right gift before anyone else gets it from you.

5. When it's for the kids

We’re sure everyone has experienced a fellow team member asking you to buy something for their child’s fundraiser at school. This might create some awkwardness for you, as turning down the offer means turning down a child.

If you have the money and the interest in whatever is being sold, it won’t hurt to buy. But if you are short of cash or can’t use the product in question, remember that it’s all right to say no and honestly say why. People get irritated when they know you’re making up a reason to not buy.

Related: 9 Ways to Teach Your Kids About Money

The Bottom Line

You are in control of your budget—at home and at work. So if these pop-up expenses keep catching you off guard, why not make a “work” envelope to cover them? Or use your gift envelope for small things like flowers and gift cards. And if your envelope’s empty for the month, be honest and help in another way. There’s nothing wrong with saying no.

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Have you run into any of these situations in the office? How did you handle it? Someone can use your tips!

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