How to Split Group Grocery Bills

By Kitty Bean Yancey

Who could imagine that a loaf of bread or gallon of milk could pour out sour feelings on vacation?

Splitting Bills with Friends on Vacation

It can if a group renting a home feels that one, or more, aren’t paying their fair share of the food bills or can’t agree on how to divide the cost of filling the refrigerator.

Here are some options for covering grocery costs, keeping in mind that deciding on a system before checking in makes for a more enjoyable stay:

Put everyone into the pool. Every time someone makes a food run, he or she drops a receipt in a container such as a jar or box (deducting purely personal items such as special baby formula or gluten-free snacks). At the end of the rental stay, everyone in the group divides the total. Someone good at math figures out who owes what to whom. Children obviously don’t pay. Parents can cover their child’s share of the bill, or the group can generously leave them out of the equation or count a child as half an adult for accounting purposes.

Pony up the same amount. At the start of your stay, have everyone put the same amount of cash into a pot. That money is then used when anyone shops for groceries for the group. (Specialty items should be paid for individually.) Whatever is left over at the end of your stay can be divided up and given back to each person.

To each his or her own. Using the method you may have employed with roommates, each individual or family is responsible for personal food costs. They pay for the drinks, meals and snacks they like, without having to worry about dividing the bills. This method works well if many meals are eaten out and few are shared at home. But it can get tricky if everyone is having a cookout or dinner in. In these cases, costs can be shared. Also, disagreements can arise if someone dips their hands into someone else’s cookie stash (it might help to have separate shelves in the fridge or cabinets). And you must decide who pays for paper towels, dish soap and other shared items. Common sense says the cost of items used by all should be split.

Chip in on basics and rotate meal costs. Everyone shares in stocking the house with breakfast foods and necessities such as condiments, plastic wrap, soft drinks, sandwich makings and snacks. Kids’ portions can be covered by parents. Then each adult member of the group takes responsibility for preparing and paying for specific meals. However, you may have to make adjustments if the meals range from lobster night to a burger cookout.

Blessed are they who cook and wash up. If you’re in a group where a few will be preparing more meals than others either because they want to or because some can’t (or some are allergic to clean-up chores), arrangements should reflect that. Kitchen klutz Barb may be more than willing to stock the fridge if she’s let out of meal making and washing up. Gourmet cook Joe might be compensated by having everyone else chip in to buy ingredients for his super steak au poivre. Members of the group on a tighter budget can do extra kitchen prep duty instead of paying their full share of the groceries. All this should be worked out before the stay to avoid conflict.

The give-and-take option. People who don’t care to itemize might share in one initial shopping trip and then buy items as needed without counting the cost, figuring it all works out in the end. Or family elders might take care of most costs, with others pitching in as they see fit. This only works if there’s a fairy godmother or godfather, or a group that works well as a team — with no one who will silently seethe.

Check out these options for your vacation rental stay with friends and family alike!

Kitty Bean Yancey is a Washington, D.C.-based award-winning former USA TODAY travel writer. She freelances for publications including AARP Magazine and AAA publications.