Stop Paying More Than Your Share of the Dinner Bill

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Some nights out are great fun — right up until the bill arrives.

Why is it that the ones who say “Let’s just split it four ways” tend to be the nightclubbing pals who pounded down expensive drinks (and plenty of them) all evening, or the fellow diners who ordered appetizers, surf ’n’ turf, wine and molten chocolate cake?

That leaves on-a-budget you with two choices:

  • Split the bill four ways — even if you drank club soda with lime all evening, or nibbled at a stir-fry while everyone else chowed down. (Hint: You are being exploited.)
  • Do the who-ordered-what math, person by person, until eyes are rolling out of everyone’s heads.

Here’s a third choice: Stand up for yourself, but forget the calculators. There’s an app for that.

Apps like Tip n Split and Receipt Ninja take the math out of the equation, so to speak – but they also make sure things are fair. Some will divide up other shared expenses such as rent, utilities, vacations and groceries. Or they’ll keep tabs on who paid last time so that you don’t end up arguing over whose turn it is to buy.

(Unless otherwise noted, all apps mentioned in this article are free and available both for iOS and Android even though article links may be for just one or the other.)

Bills don’t necessarily have to be parsed down to the half-cent, incidentally. For example, an app called Plates lets specific items like bottles of wine or Copper River red salmon get charged to whoever consumed them, and then shares the rest of the bill equally among diners.

“People just want to be told roughly how much to chip in,” says Jon Bittner, whose company released the app in the summer of 2013. It’s currently available just for iOS but an Android version is in the works.

Let the app do the talking

Another of Bittner’s programs, Splitwise, is designed for expenses you share regularly, especially with roommates. “When you’re ready to pay up, a simple PayPal transfer is all it takes to settle your debts,” says Emily Nickerson of The Daily Muse.

So rather than having to nag your flatmate for her share of the utilities or that last Costco run, you let the app do the talking. Sweet!

Or maybe you’re the social organizer for your group, the kind of guy who puts down the deposit on the party bus or the ski-weekend condo. How often do you find yourself paying more than your share because you’re too embarrassed to nag the holdouts who conveniently “forgot” to chip in?

An app called Settle Up! costs $1.99 but is definitely “worth two dollars,” says Shelley Elmblad, financial software writer for About.com.

Among her favorite features: Settle Up! will send snapshots of bills to all users, summarize outstanding debt and how much each person has paid already, and provide support for multiple currencies (useful for those group vacations).

The SpotMe app for iOS uses Facebook optimization and free group messaging to track balances for bills you split (restaurants, rent, whatever) to make sure you get reimbursed. Daily and weekly summary reports mean that no one can “forget” to pay; you can also add photos, descriptions and notes.

More apps for you

Some other useful let’s-do-this-fairly programs:

  • BillPin will email your friends their shares of the bill. It lets you charge some people less and others more, depending on need or prior agreement.
  • Divvy. Install this on your iPhone for 99 cents, then snap a picture of the receipt, drag each item to the person who ate it and you’re done. The tax and the right amount of tip gets added, too.
  • Billr. “If you have an iPhone and love to eat out with friends, you need this 99-cent app,” Nickerson says. It will calculate entrees separately – “you know you don’t want to pay for someone else’s lobster when you enjoyed a salad” – and divide up the costs of shared items like a bottle of wine or that bloomin’ onion. It will also text or email a copy of the bill to all of the diners. (A similar app called Advanced Bill Splitter is available free for Android.)

These apps let you protect your budget without seeming like a buzz killer. No one has to get super picky (“Karen’s appetizer cost $2 more than mine! And both she and Stacy had dessert!”) but no one gets stuck paying way more than his share. Ain’t technology wonderful?

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Comments & discussion

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  • MoreGoodies

    Great ideas..it really shouldn’t be hard, should it? Everyone pays his way. I don’t understand the resistance to splitting it correctly. We went out with a couple and their kids, and in the end the waiter gave us two checks, which was a simple but underused solution. That might not work with a larger group, but with two people or two families paying, it is definitely an easy solution. However, I do get the feeling that some people would almost feel offended if you suggested separate checks- I wonder why that is?

    • Cameron Westphal Gillham

      My husband was always overpaying our share and we would fight about it later since we were always trying to save money. Now I’m in charge of the food budget and I have NO problem asking for seperate checks!

    • dis666

      They are offended because they see you as a cheap-skate. Not saying you are, but that’s how they see you, nit-picking the bill.

  • dis666

    It’s interesting to me that restaurants refuse to split separate checks, but if your party of four split into two couples at separate tables, they sure wouldn’t think anything of a check per table. If the two couples are at one table, the restaurant has the advantage of an empty table for more customers. Surely they can’t use some odd-ball reasoning to refuse separate checks.

    Hey, how come my first comment got erased as I logged in? This website has a severe glitch.