Splitwise and YNAB

How do you budget for your roommate's share of groceries, or paying them back for rent? 

Enter: Splitwise.

When you’re splitting expenses with a roommate or partner, you often cover their share of purchases at first. At the same time, many of your expenses are being initially paid by the other person. If you’re using Splitwise to manage a string of transactions between the two of you, you might wonder how to enter those in YNAB.

Splitwise is a separate app for managing split expenses with others. If you're not using a bill splitting app like Splitwise, check out this advice instead.

We have two options for using Splitwise with YNAB, depending on the level of detail you'd like to see in YNAB. Both options use the same three tools in your budget:

  • A Splitting category
  • The “I Pay” transaction, which is a split transaction that represents purchases you've made on someone's behalf
  • The “Settle Up” transaction—for Option 1 it's a regular inflow/outflow, for Option 2 it's a fancy split transaction (more on this below!)

In This Article

Option 1: Keeping It Simple (and Separate)

The easiest way to handle Splitwise in YNAB is to use a "Splitting" category and enter your payments to/from your roommate or partner when you “settle up". All you need to do is figure out how much one of you owes the other (thanks to Splitwise, this is as easy as looking at the app!), and then enter the transaction into YNAB, categorized to your "Splitting" category. 

In Splitwise, you’ll enter:

  • The history of purchases you’ve made for someone else
  • The history of purchases they’ve made for you

In YNAB, you'll enter:

  • Transactions you've made. If you buy groceries to share with your roommate, you'll enter a Split Transaction and categorize their portion to your "Splitting" category. 
  • The transaction when you "Settle Up," and one of you pays the other back. You'll still use the "Splitting" category for this payment, even if they're paying you. If you don't need the money in that category any longer, you can then Move Money to any other category.

So where do you assign money for the purchases they're making on your behalf? If your roommate pays your share of the rent, utilities, and Netflix, you can budget for those expenses directly in the Splitting category, rather than in the specific categories in your own budget. The specific numbers of how much you’ve contributed for rent, utilities and Netflix are found in Splitwise. 

This strategy is the easiest way to combine Splitwise and YNAB. If this works for you, then you’re ready to go forth and settle up! If you’d like to have more detail in YNAB, keep reading. 

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Option 2: Splitwise in Your Register

Perhaps you'd like to have accurate records of your own spending, even when your roommate initially pays. We have a strategy for that, too. 

If you’re using Splitwise to manage a string of transactions between yourself and a roommate, it can be tricky to see how much money you’re spending in certain categories. You might want your reports in YNAB to accurately reflect how much you spend on groceries or dining out - even when you’re actually only spending the money at the moment you reimburse someone else. Some folks like to have this data in their budget so they can determine how much their life costs overall, or if they can afford to make a life change - like moving into their own place. 

YNAB is where you assign your dollars to jobs based on your own needs and spending. If someone else is making those initial purchases for you, how can you represent them accurately in YNAB? Allow us to introduce the “Settle Up” Transaction.

Before we unveil it, let’s set Two Ground Rules:

The Ground Rules

  1. Every transaction you enter in your register needs to reflect a transaction that happened in real life.
  2. Your "Splitting" category should never be negative. This is true even if you’re using a credit card. This is true even if you’ll get paid back before the month ends. Letting a category go negative makes your budget unreliable.
    1. Letting the "Splitting" category go negative can cause some ripple effects with your credit card or your budget calculations. Play it safe and keep money in the category.
    2. Letting the "Splitting" category go negative will make your budget unreliable. Use Rule 3 to move money to the category if it ever goes short.

Two Types of Transactions

Every transaction that is entered in Splitwise will also be entered into YNAB. Anything that is purchased by you or for you will be represented by a real transaction in your YNAB register. 

Three example split transactions, each with a line item categorized to Splitting in the True Expenses category group.

  1. “I Pay” Transaction: When you’re buying, and your roommate will pay you back, that’s an “I Pay” transaction. As in the three examples above, you’ll enter a split transaction, with your roommate’s portion categorized to “Splitting.” Enter an “I Pay” transaction every time you pay for something on your roommate’s behalf. That’s all you need to do until it is time to settle up.
  2. “Settle up” Transaction: The “Settle Up” transaction is a fancy split that will...
    1. Assign purchases made on your behalf into your own categories.
    2. Include the amount you’ve fronted your roommate (in the form of “I Pay” transactions), so you can settle up accurately.
    3. Represent an actual transaction for the correct amount. This is the number you see when you tap “Settle Up” in Splitwise. 

The Anatomy of a "Settle Up" Transaction

Transaction with roommate as the payee split between outflow transactions and an inflow budgeted to the splitting category.The top line: The top line of the transaction is the actual amount of money that will change hands when you settle up. If your roommate is paying you, it will be an inflow to your budget. If you’re paying them, it's an outflow

The Middle lines: The middle line(s) will show the real category in your budget that the money needs to come from. In Splitwise, you'll see these amounts in red when you're settling up. You'll enter each in its own line, so it can be assigned to the right category. If you have too many lines in the split transaction, it is difficult to trust your budget in between “Settling Up.” If your split transaction is getting pretty long, that’s a sign that you need to settle up more frequently. 

The bottom line: This is really important, but might be counterintuitive at first. You’ll enter an inflow. This is the total of all of the purchases you already made before settling up. This is the money you’ve already contributed to the situation. You won’t enter each purchase on its own line, because this amount does not impact your categories. You already entered and categorized these purchases using an “I Pay” transaction.  

This inflow line serves two purposes:

  • Your “Splitting” category will be refilled, because you’re settling up the purchases you’d previously covered.
  • The Split Transaction will be accurate, because what you’ve paid (green) and what you owe (red) are both represented.

After you Settle Up, check your "Splitting" category: You never want it to go below zero, because then you cannot trust your budget. Once you settle up, though, you might have MORE money there than you want. You can leave it there to cover future purchases you'll make for your roommate, or you can move money elsewhere. 

With Option 2, you’ll be ready to record every purchase made by you - or for you - in YNAB. It’s like we always say, “Never settle for less than settled up.”*

*Nobody says that. 

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