Editorial Policy

5 money tips for organizing group excursions

Allie Johnson

June 4, 2014

A few months ago, my husband, Joe, told me that tickets were going on sale for the Phish Summer 2014 tour. He floated an idea: Invite a few friends to go to the concert in Orange Beach, Ala., then, spend the next day by the ocean.

Before I knew it, I was agreeing to Joe buying seven tickets on our credit card, even though we were carrying 0-percent interest credit card debt, and I really didn’t want to use our credit cards until that was paid off. “Please? Everyone will pay us back right away,” he said sweetly.

So, Joe bought the tickets. Weeks went by, then over a month. I started to wonder about the Phish tickets, and I asked Joe about it. “Oh, could you draft up an email to ask people to pay us back?” he requested. A money argument ensued.

Within the next two weeks, one of our friends backed out of the trip and the rest paid us back — two via PayPal, two with cash and one with a check. Then — you guessed it — the check and the cash sat on the bookshelf in our front hall for another two weeks. (Also, someone might have swiped a bit of the cash to buy lunch.)

When it came time to reserve the vacation rental, and to pay the required deposit by credit card, I told Joe someone else in the group would have to use their plastic. Luckily, one of our friends volunteered.

Planning a summer trip with friends or family? Group vacations can be a fun bonding experience, but coordinating the money can cause hassles and even credit card debt with interest.

If you’re planning a group trip, here are five tips for dealing with the finances to avoid the inconvenience and added expense:

  • Keep it small. CreditKarma.com recommends keeping group trips to three or four people to reduce headaches. With a smaller group, the expenses are, presumably, less of a burden for one person to put on a credit card.
  • Set a budget in the planning stages. Maybe you’re sitting around at a happy hour with friends and, before you know it, someone has proposed a trip and you’ve agreed to go without knowing how much it will cost. Instead, do the reverse: Set a budget first and get input from everyone in the party before making any reservations, recommends travel blogger Heather Yamada-Hosley, writing for Lifehacker.
  • Think carefully before volunteering your credit card. If you have credit card debt or a history of iffy money management, it’s probably not the best idea to volunteer your card to pay a large group expense — even if you will get reimbursed. As you can see from our checks-and-cash-in-the-front-hall example, it can take some time and wrangling to collect money owed, deposit it, wait for the deposit to post, then pay your credit card bill. On the other hand, if you have a rewards card with no balance on it — and plenty of money in the bank just in case — you might decide getting the points or miles for the group expense looks pretty good, and that you’re willing to take the chance someone could flake out.
  • Create a kitty for small expenses. If you’ll be taking taxis or grabbing group lunches or ice cream on the fly, get everyone to kick some cash in to create a group fund, Lifehacker recommends.
  • Consider a travel-planning tool. The online travel planning tool Travefy allows you to plan group trips and handle the splitting of expenses. One caveat: Travefy charges a 1.5 percent fee for collecting and distributing funds, plus the sender has to pay a fee of 2.5 percent plus 30 cents for using a debit or credit card. But you might decide it’s worth it to simplify group payments.

And finally: Communicate with your fellow travelers, from the planning stages through the journey home, Yamada-Hosley writes. I agree — and next time Joe proposes a group trip, I plan to talk it through fully before either of us pulls out the credit card.