An online tool developed by three Carnegie Mellon University graduate students could replace notes on the refrigerator door or faulty memories as a way for friends and roommates to keep track of shared expenses.
Called Buxfer, the free, Web-based service enables users to quickly note expenses shared among a group or between members of a group. In addition to providing a common site where all members of a group can see who owes whom, Buxfer also keeps a running balance for each member's credit or debits.
Launched in late September and publicized primarily through university bulletin boards, www.buxfer.com now has about 1,500 users and is tracking transactions totaling more than $450,000.
Three friends — Ashwin Bharambe, Amit Manjhi and Shashank Pandit — created the software program that was to become Buxfer about three years ago.
"We used to go out for lunch, dinner, movies and it was just a hassle to keep track of who paid for what," recalled Bharambe, who, like the others, is a graduate student in Carnegie Mellon's Computer Science Department.
So they put together a small program for their own use and soon realized that the software not only helped them track their shared expenses, but also changed the nature of their transactions. "We found we didn't have to exchange physical money as much," Bharambe said. If Manjhi bought dinner for Pandit and Pandit bought movie tickets for Bharambe, for instance, a lunch purchased by Bharambe for Manjhi might effectively cancel all of the debts.
Soon friends and acquaintances were asking for copies of the software. Its popularity eventually convinced the trio to move the software online and created Buxfer — a combination of "bucks" and "transfer."
For students, many of whom routinely check email throughout the day, going online to make a quick note about who paid the electric bill or picked up the tab at dinner is almost second nature. "Once you get online (with Buxfer) and get your friends online too, it just all falls in line and it becomes easier," Pandit said.
Thus far, about 60 percent of Buxfer users are U.S. college students, about 300 of them at Carnegie Mellon alone. The remainder log on from around the globe, from Australia to Spain.
"The response has been pretty positive," Manjhi said, noting that some employee lunch groups at businesses are beginning to use Buxfer as well.
"I think the hard part was getting the usability right," Bharambe said. Entering new transactions "just happens naturally. You don't have to enter 15 clicks to get it in there."