How Do You Split the Cost of a Group Trip?

Are there apps/programs that help people figure out how to distribute expenses? I’m thinking specifically of Short Reckonings, which I was just introduced to after a road trip, so that everyone who attended could list out how much they spent on groceries, gas etc., and we could all reimburse each other accordingly.

Personally, I was sort of horrified at the concept when it was introduced — I bet it’s useful for apartment expenses, etc. — but do all of my social interactions now need to have a mercenary quality, just because apps exist to ensure we’re all each paying exactly what we owe, for each and every activity we engage in? I thought a road trip would be was just a fun thing to do, not a transaction/massive exchange of goods and services!

I truly don’t care about having spent $15 more than others on trail mix, but I DO care about having to waste my time filling out the Short Reckonings spreadsheet, and the fact that I feel like a procrastinating jerk for avoiding this activity, since if I’d had my druthers I would have just been fine with paying a bit more and avoiding the audit at weekends’ end. I understand why, if you’re sharing a $1,000/week cabin, or spending $100 on a special rib roast or whatever for a holiday, you might insist on parity (although I personally always think it’s tacky to ask people to reimburse you for food you serve them!), but in lesser denominations isn’t there a diminishing return to this sort of penny-pinching? — Help Me

I have been on a few group trips with shared expenses, and when it comes to splitting the costs, it always seemed pretty straight-forward. During my fall trip to the Poconos for example, one person rented the cabin we stayed in (we split the cost and paid him back), one person rented the van (we split the cost of the rental and gas and paid him back), and one person bought all of the groceries (that was me, and again, we split the cost and everyone paid me back). We used Paypal to pay each other back and it was pretty painless (though I hear Venmo is another option). The only thing we needed was a calculator.

It sounds like the main problem here was that there was more than one person buying groceries and other things, making it more difficult to figure out who owed whom what. On our second grocery run in the Poconos, one of my friends said, “I’ll get this one since you got the other one,” and I said, “No, I’ll get this one too—trust me, it’ll be easier later.” It was true: Designating one person for specific costs did make it easier to split our shared expenses later.

On our final night, our group went out to dinner, and when the bill came, we just split the check evenly among everyone as well—we figured the dollars saved by figuring out what each person owed for every item she ordered was not worth the headache.

So! In sum, it’s less about which shared expense apps are out there to use, and more about designating specific costs to specific individuals.

Does anyone else have tips about how to deal with group trips and shared expenses?

P.S. The friend who paid for the cabin did so on his credit card and benefited by getting the airline miles. He paid the balance off after we gave him our money. Extra perk for him!


Photo: William Warby


21 Comments / Post A Comment

TaffetaDarling (#5,031)

Sound advice. What’s the fun in spending time with friends if it turns into a cost-calculating exercise? I love the one-person-pays-for-one-thing idea.

There is an app called TripSplitter that I have used with great success – you designate people, who pays for what and who splits what. (So if you’re on a trip with five people and two of you go golfing, you can add that expense in and just split it between the two people who golfed instead of all five.) At the end of the trip, you hit a button and it calculates the fewest number of payments to even everyone up. It’s a little more exact than I would ordinarily be, but the last time I used it, we were $8 off, and we agreed that he would buy me a drink at the airport rather than give me the money. Part of how it all works out is how particular the people on the trip are.

Tatiana (#194)

^ Kate’s suggestions are great! Also, I LOOOOVVVEEE this app called Billr. It’s a couple bucks and is mostly helpful with splitting bills at restaurants, but I use it EVERY TIME I go out with groups of people.

Also, when I go on trips with friends, we usually have what we call a “kitty fund,” where everyone contributes, say $50 and we use that for groceries, gas, shared expenses like sunblock, train fare, whatevs. And if there’s money leftover, we split it.

When we don’t have a kitty fund, one of my friends is an accountant so she’ll save all of our receipts and put together a spreadsheet that gives us an idea of what each of us owes whom.

CaddyFdot (#2,686)

@Tatiana Yep, Billr is GREAT for large, complicated restaurant bills (and could be used for other expenses too, I suppose). I used it with seven coworkers at Red Lobster and it totally was easier than everyone guessing and throwing in. I don’t use it with smaller groups of friends, since we are pretty good about always putting in enough without serious calculations.

For a recent vacation with two other friends, I created an Excel spreadsheet (I know there are sites/apps for this, but <3 u Excelie) to balance things out. We did sort of what Mike suggested, in that I paid condo and one activity, the other people each paid for particular other things, and then we paid out whatever the remainders were at the end. We entered our own expenses, marked who “used” that expense, and Excel did the calcs to total how much each person had already paid, how much they “spent”, and then what the difference was. It worked well once we got the lagging friend to actually input his expenses.

Lily Rowan (#70)

@CaddyFdot Yeah, I have an annual trip with friends, and we just use a spreadsheet. Maybe an app would be easier! (But also, no, a person would not include their $15 trail mix in the calculations, just the big stuff.)

burdock (#771)

I hear you with the frustration over splitting up minor expenses. I feel like this is the sort of issue that is slowly dissipating in my group of friends as we age into our thirties. We still split big expenses like cabin rentals, but have moved into the assumption that food/drinks will all even out eventually and people either take turns covering tabs or split bills evenly. Of course it helps to trust that none of your friends are taking advantage, but we seem to make it work.

A-M (#4,317)

I’ve used Splitwise, which is great for apartment-type things, but even more useful is Plates! That is the ultimate went-to-dinner-with-friends and how do we split the bill plus the tip app. It is excellent and I highly recommend it.

la_di_da (#1,425)

@A-M SPLITWISE! I used it on an international trip with my friend and it worked really really well. My only frustration is that I couldn’t put in different currencies (I know, I know, it sounds ridiculous).

cmcm (#267)

My experience with group trips is that at the beginning, everyone agrees it should probably cost, say, $200, and then there are a few people who decide that we must have lobster and caviar and hot tubs with gold flakes and at the end, someone sends an email going, “Okay, everybody owes me $600!” and it is very frustrating being the poor friend.

muggles (#1,525)

@cmcm I still have nightmares about my roommate’s “fun night in” split-expense homemade taco dinner— which cost each of us something like 25-30 bucks, ’cause she charged us all for the fancy olives she liked, the fancy peppers she liked, etc. etc. etc…

ThatJenn (#916)

I wrote and deleted a whole comment, three times. This is a sore spot for me in the particular group of friends I have locally and I hate the entire thing.

ThatJenn (#916)

In seriousness, having one person pick up lodging, one person pick up gas, etc. etc. and doing the math at the end to see who owes whom how much really does work out fine most of the time, as long as everyone can cover those costs ’til the end of the trip. After nickeling and diming each other about grocery costs, though (I brought stuff from my kitchen, you got a grocery run mid-week, I got the main grocery run, etc.), we finally just decided to split up responsibility for individual meals in our last trip (one family got dinner each night, my family got all lunches), it actually came out about even for everyone and there was no bickering of “well I wouldn’t have gotten such expensive produce…”, which was nice. Note that this only worked because everyone was willing to cook/plan for the food restrictions of everyone in the group, though.

“(although I personally always think it’s tacky to ask people to reimburse you for food you serve them!)”

Calling things ‘tacky’ and using phrases like “we’re adults, we split evently” always rubs me the wrong way. SOMETIMES PEOPLE DO NOT HAVE MONEY AND STILL WANT TO SEE THEIR FRIENDS.

I hate to use this particular word-combo, but it really is sort of poor-shaming your friends to assume that since you have enough and can do for them, if they can’t, they are ‘tacky.’

And yes, if you can’t tell, I’m the ‘poor friend’ among my friends, because I’m single and work at a non-profit. I guess I should just not go out with them if I can’t split everyone’s apps and drinks. Cool.

boogers mcgee (#4,474)

@Jake Reinhardt I work for a nonprofit as well. While I don’t think my friends have any idea how much (little) I make, I’m confident that I am on the low end of the friend group earning scale. It does suck having to be more particular about expenses, and I really do wish I didn’t have to be That Girl who does care about that $15.

It’s also kind of awkward to be the consistent recipient of this generosity! This is a stupid thing to complain about, I’m aware (boo hoo, my friends are too nice), but it gets kind of awkward being pressured to accept an expensive drink on my friends’ dimes. I am not a big drinker, and I’m totally fine drinking a Coke while at bars. But many friends feel weird about that and pressure me into letting them buy me drinks. I always feel like I should reciprocate, even though I never really wanted that drink in the first place and made that clear via multiple protests. It does get to the point where it’s weirder to not accept the drink than to just go with it.

sheistolerable (#2,382)

@Jake Reinhardt I think that comment was about inviting people over for a party and demanding payment later because “you spent so much money.” Hospitality is possible at any budget level. I’d rather be invited over for spaghetti (or tea, or host someone myself) than charged for rib roast by a friend. If I wanted to spend $ for someone else to cook for me I’d go to a restaurant.

tussock (#1,296)

@Jake Reinhardt I got that vibe from this question, too, and at the moment I’m generally on the higher-income side of my friend groups.

“I thought a road trip would be was just a fun thing to do, not a transaction/massive exchange of goods and services!” Well, it’s both of those things! Something being fun and friendly doesn’t mean it doesn’t also require spending resources, and that should be done in a way that reflects the relationship. Of course below a certain threshold it’s not worth the time to figure out relative contributions (I wouldn’t count how many tea bags I’ve served a friend at my house) but if the activity is above that threshold for even one member of the group, some intentional cost-sharing is appropriate.

LizJordan (#5,731)

I did a 10 person group trip where all the big stuff was easily figured out – house rental, van rentals, pre-ordered peapod groceries) and then the rest was estimated incidentals (gas, beer, etc) like $150pp.

So we had everyone pay up front. It worked really well because we paid everything from a giant wad of cash, no one had to calculate anything. And it we didnt feel kicked in the stomach after a big purchase because it was ‘prepaid’

One trick was that we over estimated – so in the end everyone got a few bucks back. It’d have been a bit uglier if we underestimated.

We also all split bills at restaurants and paid our own way at sites so people with more money could have a fancier trip if they wanted. And and we were close enough to say “i dont want to do that, thanks” or “i cant afford that”.

(but seriously, prepaid grocery delivery – cant advocate that enough. who wants to go to a grocery store on vacation?)

j a y (#3,935)

I think in a group of friends everyone has to be a bit sensitive to the financial situation of each other… Then almost any bill splitting strategy will work.

It’s not even always money based… If we’re going to a restaurant where the food isn’t suitable for everyone, some people might just get a drink or a dessert… They’re just along for company.

When my friends and I travel, we usually have the same roles over and over, and it works really well every time! One person (usually the same girl every time) is designated the “treasurer” and handles all major expenses/purchases. This means she books the accommodations, travel, vehicles, etc. on her card. She then divides these up and we all pay her — easy! Usually the other roles deal with planning, logistics, etc — whatever works for our personal strengths.
When we did this on a recent girls trip to Europe, it worked out wonderfully. I handled planning/logistics, and my friend handled the money. With all major items pre-paid and out of the way, it was much easier to then just take turns picking up the tab for dinner/drinks/snacks. Since we all had similar eating and drinking habits, it wasn’t a big deal to split hairs over the dinner bill or a round of beers…at least in a small group.

One of the best things we did, which I will always do for future road trips over a lengthy period of time, is to designate a certain amount that we all “pay in” for gas, tolls, etc. When the trip is over, we just divvy up whatever is leftover. That way there’s no splitting hairs over how much of a “tank” each person paid for upon filling up.

When we plan our annual 12-person camping trip, again, we have one treasurer who books and pays for everything, and everyone pays her back. We have a second “meal person” who sets the menu for the week, and then divvies up items for each person to bring — it all ends up pretty even, and then individually we are on our own for certain meals, booze, gas money, etc.!

I’ve worked off the same system for many years with the same group of friends, and I have to say, it’s super easy and relatively stress-free! And it works out well for the treasurer, who takes on the money-stress, to get her airline miles.

Allison (#4,509)

Just got back from New Zealand, and we definitely broke out the details like “accomodation/car rental/domestic plane flights (friend bought them for me because airline in her country)/big expensive activities” but otherwise it was “I got this meal, you get the next one” to the point of racing to grab the check.

I do need to double check with a different friend about the car rental in Christchurch though. That was picked up before I arrived, but I paid for gas? so I’m not sure how it balanced out.

Jasmine (#6,937)

The new app in this personal finance category is SpotMe Payments. It’s geared toward groups of people that you may share expenses with on a regular basis, such as roommates, family, co-workers, and close friends.

Roadworthy Glen Waverley

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