I like to vacation with friends, but working out how to split the costs can get tricky. When it’s just two couples, we often use the you-paid-last-time-so-I’ll-pay-this-time method. But we both have a tendency to try to pay a little too often. Nobody wants to look like a cheapskate. When more people are involved, it gets trickier.
I recall going out to lunch with co-workers when I was in my 20s. Pre-split bills were less common back then, and we’d each figure out what we owed and toss money into the pot. It almost always came up short. I never knew whether people were bad at adding taxes and tips or if someone was deliberately cheating. In later years, though, we had a different problem; we’d end up with too much money in the pot. This is better than coming up short, but it’s still a problem to be solved.
With more than two couples traveling together, there is a tendency for more than one person to try to pay for each expense. To try to pay my fair share, I’ve even resorted to wandering off late in a restaurant meal, finding the server, and paying the bill before it ever gets to our table.
One possible solution to all this is for everyone to pay their own way at every stage. But that would mean splitting up grocery bills for multiple card payments, and everyone lining up to pay for their own round of golf. It’s so much easier for one person to pay and to sort it out later.
I’m trying out a process of entering all items in a spreadsheet. So far this system has worked well. We don’t worry about getting things correct down to the penny; it’s just about making sure we end up close enough. At any given moment, we can see who has paid too much and who too little. That makes it easy to decide who should pay the next bill.
This has led to another interesting effect. Nobody wants to be the person who hasn’t paid enough. We all want to get out ahead. Of course, that isn’t possible. If one person has paid too much, someone else has paid too little; it all has to add up to zero.
I’ve been mulling ways to put people at ease. One possibility is to have the last line of the spreadsheet just say who should pay next instead of showing positive and negative dollar amounts. Another possibility is to add $500 to each total and say that it only goes negative if you fall behind too much.
In any case, I’d rather deal with this minor problem instead of having everyone contribute the same number of quarters every time we go over a toll bridge. There are worse things in the world than having friends who care about paying their fair share.