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by Abigail Van Buren

Freeloading College Chums Flunk Course on Manners

DEAR ABBY: I have a college friend who visits annually with her family. They've been coming in November, but we live in a small town and find it difficult to entertain them in the fall. So last November we suggested that, since there is a campground with a beautiful lake nearby, they camp here during the summer. They came this July, but were tired of camping after a two-week vacation, so they asked if they could stay at our home.

There are six people in my family. My husband is a schoolteacher and I am unemployed. My friend has a family of four. Both she and her husband have good jobs, and their annual income must be roughly twice what ours is.

They don't offer to help pay for groceries, even though we always run out of milk or bread while they're here and they often go to the grocery store with us. We have gone out to eat with them, just so we won't have to buy groceries for them. They always pay for their own meals, but never offer to treat us.

Last month, my family stayed with my sister for four days. We bought $50 worth of groceries, treated their family to pizza, bought them a videotape and gave them $15 in cash. We weren't being generous; we just felt we were being fair.

Would it be wrong, the next time these friends tell us they are coming, to bill them $10 per day for meals? We've dropped so many hints we're almost rude, but we feel, after 15 years, it's time they stopped taking advantage of us. We've stopped enjoying their visits and are afraid, now that they've come in the summer, they'll begin visiting us twice a year. I'd like to tell them how I feel but have never had the nerve. Am I being petty? -- USED IN THE NORTHWEST

DEAR USED: Petty? You have been tolerant beyond belief to have allowed these freeloaders to take advantage of you for 15 years. It should be clear to you by now that if you don't put your foot down, they will continue to take advantage of you.

The next time your college chum calls to arrange a visit, tell her that you'll be charging them $60 a day, to cover the costs of feeding them, and the additional water, electricity and telephone charges you have assumed during their past visits.

Something tells me that once you stand up for yourself, your problem -- and your annual houseguests -- will vanish.