By Dan Moren
February 28, 2019 1:58 PM PT
Applications Folder: Splitwise
Way back in college, my friends and I set out to create a debt board. Pretty much every household has a need for it: you buy groceries or movie tickets, people owe you money. (Otherwise people don’t pay each other back, people get resentful, people stop speaking to each other…)
Version 1.0 of our debt board was basically a big whiteboard with a grid on it, but it proved cumbersome to manage all the balances. The problem seemed ripe for for a little technology magic: you could make it automatically cancel out people who owed each other and be left only with the balance. I actually started in trying to create a web app (hey, it was the early 2000s), but it proved to be more time-consuming than I thought, and the project was eventually abandoned.
Fast forward to the present day, and there are more than a few apps that handle this: the one I use is Splitwise for iOS. It’s exactly that Debt Board we posited, but with a few extra bells and whistles. You can create groups to share expenses among, or just track your balance on a friend-by-friend basis. I have a couple friends who I use it with when traveling, and my girlfriend and I also log expenses that aren’t paid out of our shared account. You can view a feed of your own activity, edit previous expenses, and add comments on them if necessary.
Logging expenses lets you write a quick description, choose how you want to split the amount, and optionally add a memo or photo. One nice touch: if it’s a common expense category, Splitwise automatically assigns a little icon (a car for car rental, planes for plane fare, a house for lodgings, etc.) so it’s easy to tell at a glance what the payment was for. When you want to settle up, Splitwise integrates support for PayPal and Venmo, as well as just recording payments made via other methods. (No Apple Pay Cash or Square here, alas.)
Could you do all this manually? Sure, but if I learned anything from that whiteboard, there’s a lot of room for error: people fall down on logging expenses, or get annoyed by having to do math to figure out how the latest expenses affect the current balance. An app like Splitwise just makes things so much easier, not to mention avoiding that situation where you realize like two months later that you paid for that Airbnb and never got reimbursed.
Splitwise isn’t the flashiest app, but it carries out its task with aplomb, and with a minimum of annoyance. There are no pop-up ads or subscription fees, and you get control over which notifications show up on your phone or via email. And while the app does encourage you to invite friends, there isn’t any real social networking element, à la Venmo. It’s just a straightforward app that solves a simple purpose: making sure you and your friends are all settled up.
[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Twitter at @dmoren or reach him by email at email@example.com. The latest novel in his Galactic Cold War series of sci-fi space adventures, The Nova Incident, is available now.]