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Group Travel How-To: Bill Splitting

Simple & Effective Bill Splitting 💰

When you have group activities for an extended period of time (group traveling, for example), you need Bill Splitting. You will go together to restaurants, bars, rent things, etc., so you need a way to track and split costs that the group racks up properly. It’s important for the system to be simple and easy to use so that not too much time and effort are required. Two things are important:

  • An application for bill splitting
  • A strategy for bill splitting

Splitwise

My choice is the Splitwise application. It’s free, available for iOS, Android, and in-browser, simple and with excellent features.

After you install the mobile app and sign up, the first thing is to create a group, configure it, and invite people:

Create the group
Configure the group
Add members
Activate "simplify group debts"

You can see that Vanja created the group “Peru Trip”, invited Patron and Petreski to the group, and turned on the “Simplify group debts” option. What does that mean? Imagine that Vanja owes $10 to Patron, and Patron owes $10 to Petreski. If we want to settle – Vanja would have to pay $10 to Patron and Patron $10 to Petreski. With simplify group debts on, the app is smart and knows that it’s enough if only Vanja pays $10 to Petreski. This way we avoid complicated and multiple settles. Now, the application looks like this – Vanja can see his friends, the group, for now without entries, and all activities within the group (very important):

Group status view
Empty group bill view
Recent group activity view

Vanja, Patron, and Petreski went out for some beers. The bill was $30, and Vanja paid. Now, it’s time to add this bill to the app. Either Vanja can add the bill, or anyone else in the group can. It’s important to select who paid – in this case, Vanja. Let’s see how to do that and what different types of bill splitting Splitwise offers.

Description and amount. Make sure you select the correct group. Add a photo of the receipt. Clicking on “equally” will open different options to adjust
Description and amount

Split equally. You can deselect persons not involved.
Split equally

Split by exact amounts. You can specify exactly how much each person has to pay.
Split by exact amounts

Split by %
Split by percentages

Split by shares. This is very similar to %. In this case, Vanja would pay 2 shares (50% in this case) and others 1 share (25%) each.
Split by shares

Split by adjustment. If you add an adjustment to somebody, that means that he will pay that amount additionally in comparison to people without any addition. In this example, Petreski doesn’t have an addition, so Vanja will pay 3 more than 7 and Patron 6 more than 7.
Split by adjustment

Now we can see who owes how much money to whom, that the transaction is in the group, and details about the transaction:

Group debts view
Group expense entries
Group expense details

Later that day, only Vanja and Petreski went out for dinner. The bill was $150. Petreski paid and added an exact amount split – Vanja $97 and Petreski $53. Patron was not involved:

You will receive notifications for each new activity!
Group expense entries

A new activity in the list.
A new activity in the list

Simplified billing in action! You see how Splitwise now smartly recalculated so that only Vanja owes money to Petreski. Patron is not involved anymore from Vanja’s point of view.
Simplified billing in action

A new transaction in the list.
A new transaction in the list

Details about the new transaction.
Details about the new transaction

It’s time to settle up and clear the debts because the trip is coming to an end. Once debts are paid, put them in the app:

Enter settlement payment amount
All settled up
Group expense overview with settled notification

Strategy

That was all about the app, but the most important thing is to have a strategy defined within the group, how to actually use it and how to solve some common problems, so let’s start:

  • Make sure that everybody has Splitwise installed, the knowledge how to use it, the rules (strategy) for the group, the group configured, and that all members are invited to the group. Do this at the very beginning of the trip.
  • If a new member joins the crew – add him immediately to Splitwise.
  • Make sure that simplified debt and the correct currency are set.
  • Every bill is paid by one person.
  • We cycle the person who pays each time (I will call him Payer from now on). So once, Vanja will pay, the next time, Patron will pay and the next time, Petreski will. Then we cycle. That’s how we keep things in balance.
  • Payer has to enter the bill in the app AS SOON AS IT HAPPENS. Even if without an internet connection. The app will cache it and sync the data once connected. Choose an equal split (even if it is not), so that the waiter doesn’t wait for your math, and attach a picture of the receipt (extremely important) where ALL the details can be seen. Make sure that you include/exclude people involved/not involved. This complete step is the most important!
  • Payer is responsible for his entry, so he has to make sure that all numbers for that transaction are correct!
  • If everybody feels that it actually was an equal split, then all is good.
  • Otherwise – each participant in the bill can add a comment for that transaction in the app “I had 2 Corona beers and chicken”, etc. That’s how Payer will be able to switch to the "by exact value" bill split and adjust accordingly (remember that we have a photo of the receipt). Set a one-day maximum to correct the transaction. So remember – each participant has to comment on his details and Payer has to adjust after that.
  • If some participants share something, let’s say Petreski and Patron shared one bottle of wine, but Vanja had only one beer – that’s easy to calculate by looking at the picture of the receipt and just share value of the bottle between Petreski and Patron. Yes, some manual math is necessary, but not rocket science. 😛
  • If somebody requests settlement in any moment – settle immediately – that person wants his money back.
  • If some participant is about to leave the group, HE has to make sure to settle with everybody, even if he only owes. 😉
  • At the very end of the trip, everybody should settle onsite.
  • If you share a living space – make a list of groceries and other things you share, and split them equally. For everything else – each person buys for themselves (food, drinks, etc.). Then you can put your stuff in one bag, label it, and leave it in the fridge.
  • If you notice any irregularity – complain immediately, people usually don’t want to rebel, but they should – let’s use the Kanban principle – stop the track so that we don’t have to stop the track. Fix all problems as they appear.

Conclusion

There is some work to be done and principles to apply, but I think it’s simple, very logical, and bullet-proof. If you don’t want to bother with this, then you would have to settle onsite as soon as the bill comes. But that’s always troublesome – the waiter has to wait, we lose time at the place, it's not that pleasant, etc.

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