How do you ask a freeloading carpooler to pay up?

Dear Moneyologist,

A neighbor here in the city heard I was driving to D.C. for the weekend and asked if he could ride with me. As much as I enjoy listening to podcasts during my long rides, I considered how his joining me for this four-hour ride could help offset the cost of gas. I was then very surprised and disappointed when (after the ride to D.C. and back) he didn’t offer me any money. What should I have done once realizing this?

Michael in New York

Dear Michael,

Low gas prices don’t mean that carpoolers should lie low when you’re refilling the tank.

You had me right up until “…and back.” If no one had brought up the fact that it costs money to drive a car before the trip, you had an opportunity in D.C. to make it right before the final leg. Did your friend sit in the car staring at the stars while you filled the tank or post artistic photos of the pumps on his Instagram account? Here’s how you could have approached it in D.C.: “It cost X amount of gas to get to D.C., that was great value.” Pause. If there’s no answer, you take the proverbial gear stick and run with it: “So if you pay me that, I’ll pay for the return leg.”

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Of course, the ideal scenario for all financial arrangements with friends — not just carpooling — is to have the conversation before you set off on your trip, and to make sure that you both know that a road trip doesn’t mean a free ride. If someone invites you out to an event, for instance, the first thing you should ask is, “How much are the tickets?” They will either tell you they got the tickets for free, so there’s no charge, or tell you the amount. Then there’s no anxiety. (The only time you have the conversation after the fact would involve a dinner check.)

Read: When frugal friends are holding you back

Studies suggest people don’t like to carpool. Only 6% of workers carpool (another 84% drive alone) and the rest either get to work by other means or work from home, a 2014 study by Towers Watson found. And when people do ride with a friend, they overwhelmingly do it to save money. Some 41% of people carpool to save money, 20% to save time, 15% to save the planet by cutting carbon emissions, 12% to relax and just 7% to have company, according to a survey last November by (Another 5% carpooled for indeterminate reasons.)

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For future reference, your conversation with your freeloading neighbor — or any friend — should go something like this: “You want a lift? Great, it will be much cheaper than getting a bus or a train.” Then give an approximate cost. In this case, your friend saved upward of $86 each way for a train ticket and $20 each way on a bus ticket. There are even websites like that estimate the cost of gas when driving. If he looks shocked, use humor: “I’m not Aladdin. I don’t have a magic carpet.”

If your neighbor asks for another ride, say you’re listening to an audiobook of James Joyce’s “Ulysses.”

Read: 5 ways commuting ruins your life

Do you have questions about inheritance, tipping, weddings, regifting, or any tricky money issues relating to family and friends? Send them to MarketWatch’s Moneyologist.

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