Splitwise app is great for splitting the bill, but it can’t fix human nature | Imogen West-Knights

A A friend of mine was once invited to a potluck dinner where the theme was “pink food”. He fumbled the bag from the start, deciding two hours before the party to bring some jelly, which of course wasn’t taken by the time he was due to leave, and a tub of Neapolitan ice cream, which is, it’s well known, only a third rose. But his real mistake, the reason I remember this incident 10 years later, was what happened the morning after the meal. The hosts answered the door to find my friend standing there asking if he could grab what was left of the Neapolitan ice cream.

Few would deny – and in fairness to my friend, he doesn’t deny either – that this was a huge misstep. If someone invites you over and asks you to bring a dish, you can’t grab that dish from their freezer the next day and haul it across town, quickly melting, to your own house. But in the years since the Neapolitan affair, social norms about cost-sharing among friends have both become increasingly complicated. This was before Monzo, before Revolut, and before the kingpin of shared spending administration: the Splitwise app. Now that summer has arrived and vacations with friends are finally back, Splitwise’s social policy is also back.

Splitwise is a simple concept. Let’s say six of you are going on vacation. Someone rents a car, someone else pays for gas, David and Louise share a group dinner with each other because someone forgot their card, you buy two bottles of tequila for margaritas at the Airbnb, and Zina buys six hoodies with Livin’ La Vida Mallorca 2022 on them. You plug all of those costs into the Splitwise app, and it determines exactly who owes what at the end of the trip. Without stress.

In theory. But the reality is always more complicated. David booked the restaurant and it turned out to be a tasting menu that he could happily afford, but Zina couldn’t. Louise doesn’t like margaritas and doesn’t want to pay for tequila, and you didn’t even wear those stupid hoodies because Zina didn’t ask anyone before ordering them and if she did, you you probably would have felt compelled to agree but then she messaged David behind her back and said Livin’ La Vida Majorca isn’t even a good pun and it’s 28 degrees so we don’t won’t be wearing a hoodie anyway.

It shouldn’t be like this. It would be wonderful if we lived in a world where people would just accept that sometimes they end up paying for things they don’t use and everything just falls apart and obsessing over the money goes to against the spirit of a good time with friends. We don’t live in this world, especially now when the cost of just being alive is so high. Putting €2 into Splitwise for a bottle of water you bought at the beach and other people drank sounds dirty – but where’s the limit? 5€? €10?

It would have been unthinkable before the advent of expense-sharing apps to ask each of your friends for 34p, and Splitwise-brain can turn people into those real enemies of all that’s fun and joyful in the world: accountants. But it could be that Splitwise’s cold calculation is the lesser of two evils, with the other evil being that everyone’s quietly seething because someone’s ex-boyfriend never paid them back for a flight to Napoli four years ago. Or the evils of vacation planning before the Internet. I asked a friend’s mother, Juliette, what organizing trips was like. “It was a nightmare: checks that you then lost,” she said.

The problem with Splitwise, however, is that while it may seem like a frictionless solution to splitting the expense, it ignores the inviolable truth that people are always finding new ways to be assholes. I’m two degrees apart from a woman who lost a whole group of friends because she clicked “settle” on Splitwise after a vacation but never did the wire transfer, and doubled down when she was discovered. A friend of mine who got his Neapolitan ice cream back admitted that he had simply refused to download Splitwise in cost-sharing scenarios in the past.

It works best for couples. I’ve used Splitwise with partners before, and it saves endless conversations about the latest antibacterial spray purchase and other romance-abrading trivialities. But if you’re one of the many rats in this world who feel the need to skimp on shared expenses, you always will. Does Splitwise make it easy? Undoubtedly. But that doesn’t solve a problem that has plagued humanity ever since we emerged from the primordial soup: people suck.

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