Must I Pick Up the Tab for Poorer Friends?
MONEY's ethicists take on the morals of splitting the check and stealing ideas from cold-callers
By Jeanne Fleming, Ph.D., and Leonard Schwarz

(MONEY Magazine) – Q. For the past several years, my wife and I have been going out to dinner regularly with another couple. Until recently, we all had staff jobs at the local state college, but six months ago I quit to work in the private sector. The problem: Now that I'm making a lot more money, our friends always seem to expect us to pick up the check.

These friends are not struggling financially. They own their own home, take nice vacations, get great employee benefits--in short, they can well afford to pay for their share of the meal.

Do I have a right to be angry? Or, since I do earn much more, should I pick up the check without complaint?

A. We understand this happens to Bill Gates whenever he goes out to dinner with Steve Jobs, and no doubt it's getting pretty old for him too. In all seriousness, though, your friends have apparently decided that they know exactly how altruistic your new level of income requires you to be. And while they probably wouldn't phrase it quite this way, their philosophy seems to be that the highly successful should subsidize the quite comfortable, at least when the quite comfortable means them.

Now don't get us wrong. Generosity is a great virtue, and treating your friends to dinner occasionally would certainly be a nice thing for you to do (and for them to reciprocate from time to time). But the virtues of generosity notwithstanding, your friends are indeed out of line to assume that your now heftier paycheck entitles them to a free meal whenever the four of you go out to eat together.

So unless you and your wife have insisted on frequenting pricier restaurants since you landed your new job or have suddenly developed a taste for more expensive wine--unless, in short, the two of you are responsible for a substantial increase in the cost of the dinners--you may with a clear conscience ask your friends to split the check.

Q. A stockbroker I've never met from a firm I've never heard of recently cold-called me and asked if he could send me some of his "ideas." I said okay. After looking over the information he sent, I used a discount broker to buy one of the stocks he recommended. Was I wrong not to give that business to the broker who first sent me the recommendation?

A. If you solicit a broker's advice, you owe him or her a commission if you act on it. But if a broker with whom you have no existing relationship sends you advice in the process of soliciting your business, you are under no such obligation.

Since the cold-calling broker undoubtedly did not need any coaxing from you to send you his marketing package--indeed, the goal of his call was to get your approval to do just that--you did nothing wrong in choosing not to place the trade through him. Of course, if you think that broker has good ideas, the only way to keep those suggestions coming is to give him some of your business.