As I wrote in my last Money Manners post, things can sometimes get awkward when it comes to splitting the bill, whether it’s a first date or an unexpected expense you have to share with your roommates. This is especially true when those involved have different spending habits or financial means. In this post, I’ll dive into some tips for navigating these waters on a group getaway.
Minding your money manners when traveling with others is essential to making your vacation relaxing and fun, which is the whole point of a vacation, right? Unfortunately I’ve learned this the hard way. I love to travel with friends. My mantra is the more the merrier. But even with my besties it’s not always easy managing our various personalities and budgets on the road. As much as we like spending time together, we don’t always agree on how we want to spend our time and money. Sometimes it comes down to seemingly trivial things, like do we take public transit versus an Uber when it’s surging 3x.
The reality is, we’re all going to have different priorities from time to time when we travel together. And that’s okay as long as you have a game plan going in. Follow these tips to make sure your next group trip is more fun than friction.
1. Set clear expectations.
The best way to avoid any conflicts or confusion later is to set clear expectations up front about how you want to spend your time and money on the trip. Decide on a budget range everyone is comfortable with and use it to set parameters for shared expenses. If you define the budget up front, it’ll also make it easier when searching for and deciding on accommodations, restaurants, and activities.
The more planning you do ahead of time, the fewer decisions you’ll have to make in real-time. Although that doesn’t mean you have to hard code your trip — leave yourself open to spontaneous adventures knowing that you’re all on the same page about your budget.
Earlier this year, I traveled to Colombia with a group of friends and we were pretty clear about costs up front. My boyfriend and I hosted a planning get together where we did research and shared ideas on how to spend the week. This face-to-face time was a fun way to get excited about our trip together while making sure we all felt comfortable about planning an adventure within our means.
2. Create a group expense fund.
Who wants the job of being the accountant while you’re on vacation? Unless you’re one of those people who actually enjoys using excel, one way to avoid the headache is to create a group fund for any expense that will be split evenly such as taxi rides or food. For this, you’ll still need one person to manage the stash. Have them collect the same amount from everyone and put it in a single “fund”. This can be in their own bank account, a cash collection, or whatever works depending on your trip. At the start, have everyone contribute the same amount. If someone is in charge of shared meals, he or she can easily charge one card to make transactions smoother. When the fund is empty, everyone refills it evenly. Repeat this until the trip is over, and anything left over can be equally distributed.
3. Create a shared system.
I’ve often found that the person who takes the role of keeping track of every expense, every bill, every agenda item is likely the one who needs a vacation the most. Give that person a break. (And if this is you, delegate!) Create a shared system where everyone inputs what they’ve purchased and how much people owe them. When someone on your trip covers a group expense, be sure they add it to the tracking system right away. It’s easy to forget that tip your friend paid in cash by the time the trip is over. In some cases the group might consider squaring up right away to make the final accounting a little less painful or lopsided. Whatever you decide, make sure it’s clear you’re all held accountable.
4. Use apps to manage expenses.
The simplest way to track expenses is with a basic spreadsheet. My friends and I have used Google docs to keep a list of expenses with just a few key pieces of info for each item — date, description, amount, who paid, and who owes (i.e. who should it be split with). Recently I’ve been loving the app Splitwise. Get everyone on the trip to download the app and entering expenses is easy to do on the go in real time. I also use apps like Venmo or Square Cash for paying people back once we settle the tab. Sharing expenses is even more convenient when you and your friends bank with Chime because you can send each other money instantly with Pay Friends using the Chime app. It’s a great way to settle up without having to wait a couple of days for the money to clear like you do with Venmo.
5. Don’t pinch pennies.
When you travel as a group, a big part of what you’re paying for is the experience of being together, not just the list of items on each individual bill. If you’re silently accounting for every dollar spent by each person on the trip, you’ll soon realize that your vacation is no vacation at all. Plan ahead for what you’re okay spending, give yourself some cushion so you aren’t stressing about every meal or bar tab, and be open about what you can afford. After all, these are your friends and they don’t want to strain your finances any more than you do!
Tip 1: Have a group vacation coming up? Use Chime’s automated savings feature to save up for the big trip!
Tip 2: Planning a group trip to a National Park? Use your Chime Visa Debit card to purchase an National Parks Annual Pass and you’ll save $10 when you purchase the $80 pass by 8/31. Learn more about our #ChimeIn for the National Park Service campaign and how you can save here.