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If you are taking a vacation with several other families, some with kids and some without, how do share the costs for lodging and food?

In my situation we are renting a house were we will all stay. There will be 2 groups going: our family of four (2 adults, a 5 year old and a 2 year old) and another couple with no kids. What would be the most fair way to divide the costs for the house? Are there some general rules that people use?

Also, the food will be bought for the house, so how should we divide the cost of food?

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  • Most hotels don't charge additional for a 5 year old and a 2 year old, so I don't know why it'd be different otherwise.... – Swati Sep 15 '11 at 2:13
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    This has nothing to do with money and everything to do with family dynamics and relations. – DJClayworth Sep 15 '11 at 13:49
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    Vacations are often a major family expenditure. Understanding how to fairly share the costs of one is a money question, IMHO. And yes, family dynamics and relations may play into it, too. – Chris W. Rea Sep 15 '11 at 15:37
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As you are traveling with friends, whatever you share is more of friendship and how you are offering and how the other person is responding. There are various ways to share this;

  • Split half, the logic being there are 2 families and 2 paying members.
  • Split as 4/6 as you have 4 members and there are total 6.
  • Split as 3/5, you are counting 2 kids as equal to one adult.

My suggesting would be to offer 4/6 split to your friend. If he is generous, he will refuse and say it should be 1/2. Try to settle for 3/5.

If you settle for 1/2 split, ensure that the food & items you buy for kids [chocolates, specific cereals, diapers and other items] have them billed separately and pay separately.

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We had a similar situation. Rented a 3br house, 3 of us (wife, daughter, me), and the other person was my sister in law. Since she had 1 BR, and we had 2, it was fair to have her pay 1/3. The car had to go on a ferry, which we paid for as it would have gone either way.

In your case, are there 3 bedrooms or two? This would have the couple pay either 1/2 or 1/3 depending. Do the kids eat? At 5, my daughter ate like an adult (minus the alcohol, of course) but most kids at that age are getting the $5 kids meal in a restaurant that might be $20-$25/plate for adults. For restaurants, splitting the bill and you pick up the TIP might work out fine. I'd rather overpay a bit than get separate checks or create a 'calculator moment' at the end of every meal.

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It's actually impossible to come out completely fair in this kind of situation, because there are so many definitions of "fair." Some factors you might not have considered are:

  • marginal cost. I've paid the entire lodging for both families before, simply because it didn't cost me any extra than a vacation with just my own family.
  • financial need. One family might be better able to afford costs than the other.
  • transportation costs. A family of four pays twice as much for airfare, for example.
  • peer pressure. One family might usually do much less expensive vacations or meals, but compromised upward in order to accommodate the group.
  • circumstantial unfairness. For example, we have to rent wheelchair-accessible vehicles when we travel, which cost about 4-5 times more to rent than a normal car.

We took a vacation with extended family this past summer and the person planning it quoted a total budget target that barely covered 2/3 of just our travel expenses. It's just really difficult to know the other person's circumstances well enough to make an unbiased judgment.

It's usually easiest to decide what's fair "on the scene." If you're grocery shopping and one person is trying to keep costs down and the other is unwilling to compromise on quality, it's usually pretty easy to decide then and there for the latter party to pick up the extra costs, but that's very difficult to predict ahead of time.

Likewise for lodging. Start at 50/50 and adjust as you feel appropriate when you get there. Maybe one family used more sleeping space, but hardly spent any time at all in the house compared to the other family. It's just easier to judge when you get there.

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Do the lodging the same way an airline would... If you occupy a seat you pay the fare... In the case of lodging, the 'fare' is the cost of the week's lodging rental, so if 1 wk is $1,100, divide that by #of bed occupants (5) = $183 each [Note: 2yo not a factor in lodging cost b/c... 2yo wasn't charged for airfare (ie on Southwest Airlines 0-2yo fly free]

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I think it makes more sense to do it by the number of bedrooms occupied. If you were traveling together and staying at a hotel, each party would be paying for a room, regardless of whether it's occupied by one or two people.

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