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Splitting the check? There's an app for that

Tired of conflict over the restaurant tab? Download an app to divide the check any way you want: Equally, separately or a combination of the two.

By Donna_Freedman Aug 6, 2013 9:58AM

Logo: Woman Paying the Bill (Fuse/Getty Images)Dinner with the gang seemed like such a great idea, and it was -- until the check showed up. Some start punching numbers into cellphone calculators while others protest, "Come on, let's just split it six ways!"

A couple of diners, too embarrassed to admit just how strapped they are, secretly pray that Team Calculator will prevail. The freeloaders among you are rooting for an equal split -- that way the rest of the group will help pay for the appetizers and expensive craft beers they had before the surf 'n' turf.

No matter how it's finally settled, the fun-with-friends vibe just evaporates.

This kind of buzz kill is so easy to prevent. Simply download an app that will split the bill the way you want -- equally, separately or a combination of the two.

To some, itemizing who ate what seems like a big hassle. Unfortunately, that leads to "dividing the bill equally instead of fairly," says Jon Bittner, whose company, Splitwise, recently released an app called Plates.


The app is a compromise between the two camps noted above. It lets you assign specific items (pricey wine, high-end entrées) to specific diners, then splits the remainder of the bill evenly.

This is a budget- and face-saver, since no one has to insist on itemizing and no one has to pay a lot more than his fair share. All the important differences are accounted for and you can skip the annoyance of calculating whose entrees cost $14.99 and whose cost $15.99.

"The split doesn't need to be down to the last penny," Bittner says. "People just want to be told roughly how much to chip in."

The app is available only for iPhone; an Android version is in the works.

Making payment easier

Not that Plates is your only option. In a post on LearnVest, tech writer J.D. Biersdorfer recommends recommends a handful of split-the-check apps:

  • Tip N Split Calculator: As simple as the name suggests, the free app merely divides the total cost plus tax and tip. "The one downside? The app doesn't offer a built-in function for splitting the check unevenly," Biersdorfer says. Available for both Apple and Android.
  • Billr: This $2 app lets you create individual tabs for up to 16 diners, and will also factor in shared expenses like wine or appetizers. At that point "you can pass the phone around the table for each person to cough up the cash -- or put the whole meal on your card, and send your pals a customized bill by text or email," the tech writer notes. A similar (and free) app, Advanced Bill Splitter, is available for Android.
  • Splitwise: From the same company that produced Plates, it lets you split bills and also tracks shared expenses such as rent, groceries and travel. You need an online account (which is easy to set up) for Splitwise and it works best if the friends have accounts as well, "which may be more effort than it's worth if you're just looking to carve up a bar bill once a month." It's available for Apple and Android.
  • Receipt Ninja: You create "events" (such as business trips or, in this case, dinners out) and then enter the costs. Receipt Ninja lets you split bills evenly or unevenly, and has a few other extras: It supports foreign currencies, lets you snap pictures of checks or bills, and allows you to share the info by email, text, or Dropbox or Google Drive cloud storage. However, "it's not the most intuitive, so expect to do a lot of tapping." Available for Apple or Android in both a free, ad-supported edition or a $2.99 upgrade (no ads).
  • Divvy: This 99-cent app uses the camera in the iPhone (or 5th-generation iPod Touch) to photograph the check. After that, its optical-character recognition software lets you drag items to each diner's icon. "If you can get the hang of the ol' snap-and-drag routine, splitting the check is quick and easy," Biersdorfer says. However, the app works only on printed restaurant tabs, and must run on an iPhone 4 or newer. A similar app for Android, Clever Bill Splitter, costs 99 cents. 

Some people prefer to split checks evenly because it's not worth haggling over who had the extra side of salsa. Carmen Wong Ulrich, the author of "The Real Cost of Living," says that when it comes to socializing, things aren't always "fair." 

"It's not just about the dollars. It's about relationships," she says. "If it bothers you that much, don't go. For me, it's not worth (complaining about) the extra $10."

For those living close to the vest, that extra $10 could be a real budget-buster. Yet an occasional meal with friends is a huge treat that helps keep them focused on frugality the rest of the time. So help a cash-strapped buddy by downloading a check-splitting app. Either that, or break out the calculator.

More on MSN Money

Nov 3, 2013 5:35PM
This just shows the real math skills of a phone geek !
May 3, 2014 1:54AM
WTF? Have we become so brain dead that we can't perform basic math? Why pay for an app to divide numbers when you can use a calculator for free (assuming you have poor math skills)? I'm growing more concerned about the lack of intelligence in our society.
Nov 4, 2013 12:47AM

Going "Dutch" with separate checks is the only way. I'm "penny pincher," I don't like getting stuck with someone's extravigant tastes.

Nov 3, 2013 11:25PM
People should have an understanding of how the bill is going to be paid before heading out.  Some may know each other real well, and know the mean split is a good way to divide the bill.  Others may feel like they are being cheated by paying for something they think is unnecessary, or disproportionate.  In those cases, each paying their own is one way to go.  Maybe you wish to treat a colleague out to lunch, so say I can spend x amount on each of us, anything beyond that you pay for.  In any case, knowing how it is going to be paid before ordering is just plain good etiquette.
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