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