I recently wrote about how to travel with friends without wanting to kill each other. Traveling is great, of course, and so are your friends, but sometimes mixing the two for extended periods of time can lead to disaster. However, if you can maintain neutrality and are able to compromise, it easily can be way better than traveling alone.
Unfortunately, money management and splitting costs evenly are some of the easiest ways to have disharmony among friends traveling together. This post deals specifically with how to best construct what’s called a shared wallet, a powerful tool to all but stave off any discord resulting from finances among the group.
What is a Shared Wallet?
A shared wallet is money pooled by participants to use for common expenses. Often, it is collected before a trip begins, but it can also be implemented after the fact. These expenses can include flights, accommodations, meals, excursions, rental cars, and other items. A shared wallet is most helpful in situations where multiple people are splitting a bill at the same time, especially when the amount each owes may vary.
Who Controls the Shared Wallet?
To successfully implement the shared wallet idea, ideally one person must be in charge of making payments and keeping tabs of who owes what. We’ll call this individual the “banker.” The banker must keep tabs of both the money they are holding as well as the individual amounts of each friend who is utilizing the shared wallet (if not splitting costs evenly).
Which Expenses to Include?
There are several expenses where using a shared wallet is recommended. Below are the common uses for these pooled funds, along with a few easy methods of implementation.
If you’re only gonna use a shared wallet for one kind of expense on your next group trip, let it be in restaurants at meals eaten together. There is nothing worse than eating with 5 other friends and then divvying it up when the check comes. It’s a hassle for the waitstaff, and it can have at least one or two members of the group leaving the establishment disgruntled.
There are two common ways to implement a shared wallet at a restaurant:
Method 1: Each their own. Have one member hold on to the form of payment prior to walking into the restaurant. When it comes time to pay, the person with the bill can pay the whole bill with tip (if appropriate). The bill can then be properly calculated either while waiting for the change/receipt or at a later time; this eases the headache for the waiter/waitress, the banker, and your group. In short, the banker pays the tab, and everyone pays the banker (back).
Method 2: Divvy up the costs right down the middle (evenly among all members of the group). This is much easier for everyone, since one cost can be remembered for when time comes to total it up, rather than several different numbers. However superior this method might be, it must be agreed to before ordering; otherwise, the person that ordered the least expensive dish may get offended if their equal portion comes to way over their share.
Hotels are another expense that is divided up easier when using a shared wallet, and, thankfully, it is usually much simpler than at a restaurant. The reason for its simplicity is due to the fact that, most often, expenses at accommodations are just split evenly. It gets infinitesimally trickier if one person perhaps snuck in an adult flick or a mini bottle from the bar, but not to an extent that would aggravate anyone.
I’ve heard of some friends sharing even their costs of flights together, though the only feasible way this can work is if each member of the trip party already agrees to pay an equal amount.
One cool instance was this story I read somewhere (I wish I could remember where I read it so I could properly credit the source) about a group of girls who lived all around the United States but remained close friends from back in school. Each year, they would plan one trip together, but the costs would vary wildly when it came time to pay for flights to the destination they chose. They decided that they would buy all tickets at once, and split the costs right down the middle, and do so each year to even it out for everyone. This way, each girl would pay the same amount and not have to worry about a hefty sum in case a destination was well out of the way for one of them.
Cash or Credit? Pre- or Post-Trip?
Cash or credit depends on the banker’s convenience, but also if the banker will collect an estimated amount from each person prior to the start of the trip, or just collect each person’s due at travel’s end. I believe that the best way to go about it is for the banker to collect an estimated sum from each person of what the expenditures for each will likely be. As this shared wallet idea is there to make life easier, make sure to not throw a wrench in the works by collecting different sums from each. Gather the same amount from each person; at the end of the trip, the banker will collect any extra amounts owed or refund any overpayment.
You might find other expenses suitable for implementing the shared wallet on, and it all comes down to what everyone feels comfortable with. There is no right way to building the perfect shared wallet. Tweaking and adjustments will be necessary for each and every scenario, sometimes several times per trip. Keep in mind that the friendship is what needs to survive the travels, not the pooled funds.