Money

The definitive guide on splitting the check

Keegan-Michael Key and Ty Burrell star in popular sitcom Modern Family
Ron Tom | Getty Images
Keegan-Michael Key and Ty Burrell star in popular sitcom Modern Family

There are plenty of times friends and family need to share the cost for something, and miscommunication can lead to dented wallets and damaged relationships. Whether you're planning a big trip or just heading out for a group dinner, splitting the check can quickly turn into splitting hairs. Here's a handy guide to divvying up the bill in a variety of of scenarios.

Vacations

Traveling with your loved ones? Remember that "every family is completely different," said Sally Black, owner of the travel agencies VacationKids and VIP Group Events.

The key is appointing a group leader to assess everyone's budget and then go from there, Black said. Be flexible. If someone wants to go to an expensive spa, but someone else wants to lie on the beach, schedule in some downtime for separate activities that have different price points.

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For trips connected to milestones, Black said individual family members might pick up the entire tab or pay for one portion of the bill, such as hotel fare. If it's someone's birthday, the rest of the family might chip in to cover their expenses.

Black recommends using a travel agent to scope out group deals and discounts before your heart is set on a destination. Travel agents can take off some of the pressure because they're responsible for making sure everyone pays their fair share.

When it comes to lodging and airfare, many sites require a single credit card to book the reservation. But each site has its own rules, so it's important to check before you book.

Hotels.com, for example, allows you to split the price among multiple cards for reservations longer than one night.

On Airbnb, guests can invite other people to view the reservation, but you can't split the payment. But money-sharing apps like Venmo and PayPal make it easy to pay people back quickly and seamlessly.

Most airlines only allow one card per transaction, so if everyone is paying for their own flight, they'll most likely have to book their own ticket.

This can all be a lot to keep track of, but there's an app for that: Gruptrip can help you record and divvy up all these expenses. The app also has a currency converter, photo sharing and an itinerary.

Group events

Gone are the days of holding on to receipts and doing painful math after a big group outing.

Group events, like a birthday party or a day on the lake, can benefit from having one person coordinate the budget. For something casual like a picnic, people often will contribute food or drinks, instead of cash.

For party supplies like snacks and decorations, there are tons of tools that make make keeping track of contributions a whole lot easier. Apps like Splitwise and Kittysplit keep track of everyone's spending. Once you enter all the expenses, the app magically divides everything up and tells you what you owe (and to whom).

To get there and back, ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft let you split the cost with other riders when you request a ride.

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Helen H. Richardson | Getty Images

Dining out

Millennials eat out five times a week on average, so splitting the cost of dinner comes up a lot. Most restaurants can accommodate customers asking to split the check, but not for large parties.

If you don't have cash on hand, Sarah Berger, Millennial money blogger at Bankrate.com, recommends having one person pick up the entire check. They can maximize their card's rewards points, and everyone else can pay them back using an app like Venmo.

If you're using Venmo, be sure to turn off the social syncing function because people or companies can use that to track your spending, Berger said.

If someone forgets to pay, you can give them a digital nudge with Venmo's 'reminder' feature.

To split or not to split?

Splitting everything down the middle might not always work for those who are consciously trying to limit their spending.

"It's the most efficient way to split evenly, but there's always that one person who's like, 'I only had one mozzarella stick, I'm only paying for one mozzarella stick,'" said Crystal Bailey, director of the Etiquette Institute of Washington.

Bailey said it's OK to pay for just your portion if you skipped the pricey entree and cocktails, but it's best to ask at the start of the meal for separate checks if that's the case.

College students are more likely to calculate the costs of their own meal, but among adults it's much more acceptable to split the bill evenly, Bailey said.

What if it's a special occasion? For birthdays or bachelorette parties, Bailey said it's safe to assume guests should pitch in for the person of honor — even if that person is throwing their own shindig.

For millennials, most rules about who should pay for dinner seem outdated, but Berger said there are some scenarios where picking up the tab is still appropriate.

"Let's say you're an intern and you're trying to network with someone. You should offer to pay for their coffee," Berger said. "Chance are they won't let you, but it's a nice gesture." Generally speaking, whoever does the inviting should foot the bill.

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This article originally appeared on USA Today.