Do you make an estimate of trip expenses before going on a trip? How do you keep track of who-paid-what? In this post I share the next tab of the "Best Trip Planning Spreadsheet Ever": the Budget! I'll explain how it can be used to estimate trip costs, log transactions during the trip, and keep all travelers happy and content by keeping costs low, transparent, and well documented. Here in the Netherlands, it's a cultural norm to split costs equally (e.g. "going Dutch") and keep track, sometimes to the cent, via easy bank transfers and payment request apps. I hear this is also catching on in the US, so hopefully this precise approach won't alienate any of you readers!
As a bonus, I also share the ways that I keep my travel costs low!
Why should I use this budget sheet? There are plenty of apps for this!
- When you won't have reliable phone service and/or regular opportunities to charge your phone. In these cases, I print out the sheet and fill it in by hand - entering it into the digital version at the end of the trip.
- When your travel buddy doesn't have a smartphone. This comes up often amongst my travel companions - maybe it's an outdoorsy/minimalist person thing :)
- It's nice for estimating future trip costs (see section below), and it's a simple step to convert an estimated cost to a paid cost.
- I enjoy having a record of the total cost of a trip. It's harder to glean this information from apps or credit card statements, especially when multiple travelers are splitting costs and paying by various mean.
The spreadsheet is not set up to (easily) deal with multiple currencies at the same time. In these instances I usually choose one dominant currency and convert everything to that.
Let's calculate! Steps to estimate and track your trip budget:
That brings us to the Trip Planning Spreadsheet! Below are instructions for how to use the Budget tab. Hopefully it's mostly self explanatory, but these instructions are there to clear up anything unclear. Each step below is also labeled in the spreadsheet. The spreadsheet has a color key to make it obvious which cells you should change (green), and which cells are calculated and should not be changed (grey). The results (who owes/is owed how much) is shown in yellow.
Step 0: Traveler names
Add names of each traveler. You only enter names once - the rest of the names in the sheet populate automatically. The example at the bottom of this page shows spots for four travelers. However, the sheet works for up to 8 travelers. You just need to un-hide the columns between F and K, and between O and T, and (optional) between X and AC. You can do this by clicking on the little arrows on the cell headers.
Step 1: Description of cost
Add a brief description of what was paid (e.g. Airbnb in Barcelona, groceries in San Sebastian...). You can optionally add the date paid, though I am often too lazy to do this. It is not necessary for the sheet to function, but helps if you want to look it up in your records later.
Who paid? If one person paid, enter the full amount below that person's name. If more than one person paid, enter the amounts they each paid under their names.
Step 3: What % should each person have paid?
What % should each person have paid? This is often 50% for two travelers, 33.33% for three travelers, 25% for four travelers, etc. This step is completely independent from who paid for the cost (Step 2). The total % should, obviously, add up to 100%. I've added a check column on the right which will turn red if the total is not 100%.
Step 4: Settling the debt
You can see the balance in yellow at any time. A negative number below your name means you owe that much money to other traveler(s). A positive value means you paid that much more than you should have. When one person pays another person back, add that amount in the row above as a positive number for the person who paid, and a negative number for the person who was paid. Since this can be a bit confusing, I've provided an example:
Example: In the screenshot below, we can see that Emily paid the most during the trip (Total actually paid: 823). She should have paid 668 (Total should have paid), so she paid too much (823-668 = 155). We see in Step 4 that Brian has already paid Emily back 78 euros (as shown by adding 78 below his name and -78 below Emily's name). This results in him owing 0 (in yellow). Nena, on the other hand, only paid 533 euros, while she should have paid 610. The yellow results show that she still owes someone 77 euros. We can also see that Emily is still owed 77 euros. Therefore, Nena pays Emily 77 euros (result shown in second screenshot), and everyone is paid up! See second photo below for how that is done.
At some point I may set up a separate little form to keep track of Step 4 more easily. If that's something that would be useful to you, let me know in the comments! I'll deliver :)
Note: for simplicity, I've rounded all numbers to the nearest 1 dollar/euro/other currency. If you want more detail, you can always show the decimals
How to estimate future trip costs
- In one of the "Name" columns (Step 0), write "Estimate"
- Put each estimated cost as a separate row (Step 1), with person "Estimate" paying the full price (Step 2).
- Enter what % every *real* person would be responsible for (Step 3, Estimate = 0%)
- The results will tell you how much the trip would cost for each person.
- (optional) When someone actually pays one of the expenses, move the paid value (Step 2) from the Estimate column to the person who actually paid.
Bonus: How I keep travel costs low
- Start planning early. While people may tell you they find last-minute deals, I've found that planning a last-minute trip is almost always more expensive than starting early. If you start early you have plenty of time to think about the best routes, modes of transportation, and types of activities that will make the trip the most enjoyable and affordable. Plus, you get to daydream more about your future trip!
- Do outdoor, self-organized + catered activities. Chose activities that also happen to be transportation, like walking, boating, or biking. Moving between campsites/huts by foot/boat is, in my opinion, more fun, rewarding, and cheaper in terms of lodging, transportation, and probably food than taking trains between hostels! It's about the journey, not the destination! Obviously it helps that hiking/biking/kayaking/camping are some of my favorite activities. This is not a tip I'd give to someone who hates being outside :) but they wouldn't be reading this blog anyway...
Track airline prices. According to gmail, I've been using kayak.com price alerts since 2008 (woah!). I'd like to think it's saved me some money. On quite a few occasions, I've gotten an alert about a big price drop (a few 100 dollars/euros), dropped everything I was doing, and bought my tickets. I usually start tracking a year to 6-months ahead of time. That's my approach, but literally everyone has their own opinions about when/how to save money on flights! I'm not really into saving via credit card schemes/loyalty programs, etc.
Carshare. I've had some experience sharing rides on blablacar.com, and it was a nice way to cover the cost of gas (and more). It doesn't work for all destinations, but for city trips you can usually find rider(s). We once drove 2 passengers back and forth between Brussels and Strasbourg and made ~120 euros. We were going that way anyway!
- Book Airbnbs early. Unlike flights, Airbnbs only seem to go up in price the longer I wait. The highly rated but cheap places disappear first. I have read that some drop their prices at the last minute, but since we're all into awesome trip planning, we'll be long booked by then, right? ;) Speaking of which, I have some Airbnbs to book for Greece...
Track car rental prices. I've used autoslash.com a few times in the past and liked it - they email you every time they find a cheaper rental car. I saved a bit of money on some European car rentals this way.
- Avoid eating out too much. I mostly shop at local grocery stores/markets (so fun!) and cook at the Airbnb or over a campstove. This might bother some people, because I know many are culinary enthusiasts and love to try all the local specialties. I'm not super rigid in this habit, and I'm certainly open to eating out if it seems like we'll try something new that we can't make ourselves. I'm just often disappointed by eating out, and really enjoy making a meal together with other travelers using local ingredients. It's the simple things :) This is coming from the perspective of pretty expensive restaurants in the Netherlands/Belgium/parts of Europe. However, if local prices are cheaper (and the food more flavorful) I'd be more open to eating out!
That list got a lot longer than I was expecting! I guess it could have been its own post... but this is not a financial blog...