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Organization Tuesday: Receipts Redux, Managing from From No-Tech to High TechViews: 460
Dec 03, 2008 2:51 amOrganization Tuesday: Receipts Redux, Managing from From No-Tech to High Tech#

Julie Bestry

All happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

~Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina


A friend read my post from last week and commented that he hates dealing with receipts and wishes his expense reports and everything thing to do with receipts would just go away. He laughed at my geeky love for all things detailed and intoned in a voice much squeakier than my own "Hi, my name is Julie and I love to balance my checkbook and file receipts."

It made me think of that Tolstoy quote. Could it be that people who have disorganized receipts, or find dealing with receipts at all to be so annoying, are generally disorganized all the same way, whereas people who carefully organize their receipts have a variety of ways of doing so?  Or might it be the reverse?

It starts the same for all of us: we make a transaction in the store (or online), trading cash or credit for some goods or services, at the end of which we receive a receipt. At this point the two categories of humanity diverge.

For those of us who embrace organizing and the minutia of financial transactions, we carefully check the receipt for accuracy, note the exchange policy printed on the return, annoy the customers behind us with how slowly we are moving out of their way and then tuck the receipt neatly in the appropriate compartment of our wallets. Upon returning home, we put away our items immediately and place our receipts in a pre-set location, at which point we will diligently determine how long, for what purpose, and in what manner the receipts should be stored.  Eek!  We sound like drones. But organized, efficient drones.

Then, there's the rest of the world. The individually unique and creative receipt-receivers have lives far too varied and interesting to stop to think about pesky receipts.  Instead of considering the receipt as a valuable commodity, something that benefits the holders in terms of tangible proof for tax deductions, rebates, repairs, returns or exchanges, or the accuracy of a charge, the receipt recipients gives receipts all the love, care and attention one gives used chewing gum wrapped in tissue. They let the salespeople stick the receipts in their shopping bags without ever perusing them, or they crumple the receipts in their palms as they stuff their gloved hands deep into their coat pockets, or they push the wrinkled receipts to the bottom of their purses to mingle with others of their kind. Eventually, receipts likely find themselves in piles on the microwave, atop the dresser drawers, or on a side table.

Yes, Mr. Tolstoy, these folks may lead dizzying lives of excitement that distracts them from the very minutia that professional organizers love so dearly, but they are startlingly similar in their approach to receipt clutter: grab, crumple, stuff, lose, bemoan!

So, let's look at the four main ways you can organize your receipts to suit your purposes.

No-Tech, No Expense--If you lead the simple life...

If you don't have to create expense reports, are unlikely to have tax-deductible receipts and you aren't tracking your expenses to create or maintain a budget, the most common reasons to keep your receipts (even temporarily) are to make sure your bank account or credit card was charged accurately and in case you later wish to repair, exchange or return your purchase. In most cases, your receipts will outlive their utility within 30-60 days, depending on how long your statements take to arrive (assuming you're not checking accounts online) and the individual stores' return policies.

If this is your situation, make your life as simple as possible:
  1. Empty your pockets, bags, purses and wallets each evening to make sure you have all of your receipts. Set an alarm on your cell phone or computer to remind you to do this nightly until it becomes a habit.
  2. Toss out receipts for cash experiences (like fast food meals) and non-returnable tangible items--unless you are tracking all expenses for budget purposes.  (We'll talk about budgets and spending plans some other day.)
  3. Gather the day's receipts and put them on top of yesterday's receipts in the basket or clip you've designated for this purpose, preferably at or near your bill-paying center. (If you're persnickety like me, put the receipts in reverse chronological order by timestamp, too.)
  4. After the close of each month, put the receipts in a #10 envelope, write the month and year on the envelope and keep the envelope handy until you've checked your bank and credit card statements against the receipts for accuracy. Keep the envelopes in a manila folder in the FINANCIAL section of your family files.
  5. Consider keeping big-ticket (furniture, electronics) receipts in a separate file.

No-tech, Minimal Expense--If you prefer a little more style or panache...

Keep your receipts someplace a bit more charming. First, follow steps 1-3 under the no-expense method above, but stow your receipts in a container designed for the purpose, anything from a Receipt Keeper Shopping Wallet to a small poly accordion-file receipt-holder, the kind often used for coupons.

High-Tech, High Touch--If you need to carefully organize and analyze...

If you don't just save receipts, but need them for budgeting, business and expense-tracking purposes, you'll want to step things up a notch. High-tech organizing of receipts is dependent upon scanner hardware and scanning software.

You may have seen mention of the NeatReceipts software/hardware combo in magazines or online, and if you've traveled through many of our nation's airports in the past few years, you may even have seen a live demonstration of how the hand-held scanner works.

Neat Receipts® is only about the size of a three-hole punch, so it won't take up much the valuable real estate on your desktop and can even fit in your suitcase. It may be small, but for do-it-yourselfers, particularly households that don't want to invest in a huge, bulky scanner or professionals who need something flexible for use on the road, Neat Receipts® has some cool features.

Basically, the little scanner and associated software allows you to scan each bill or receipt (and even business cards) and then by the same magic that CardScan figures out which words on a business card belong in which field of a contact management program (how does it DO that?), Neat Receipts® not only scans but develops whole little categorized databases and reports. But the information doesn't need to just sit there. Once you scan and organize your statements and expenses, you can then export the information to your spreadsheets (like Excel or Google's free version), TurboTax, Quicken and QuickBooks. It's even accepted by the IRS! And, for people like me, it's especially intriguing because it's a hardware/software combo that's Mac-compatible.

So, Neat Receipts® is great if you like learning new software (though it seem easier than most, perhaps on par with learning iTunes). But what if you don't want to deal with hardware or software, and like my friend mentioned at the start of this post, you just want it all to go awayyyyyyy?

High-Tech, Low-to-Moderate-to-High Touch--You want cool software options, but know you won't read the manual...

There's a cutely-named option that's getting a lot of buzz lately. So much buzz, bloggers have called it "Netflix for receipts".  For now, though, I'm intrigued enough to consider Shoeboxed, and urge you to see if it's a good solution for you.

Shoeboxed itself is free and doesn't require you to download any software. It lets scan in your paper receipts or take digital photos and upload them, or, and this is a really cool feature, lets you set up an email address with them such that the receipts for online purchases go directly to your account! The online Shoeboxed account then organizes your receipts into "shoeboxes" (like folders, but more whimsical) to sub-categorize your purchases. Thus far, it's a lot like Neat Receipts® except for specific functions of the software and the fact that your account being online lets you access it even when you're away from your own computer.

But if you're looking for the hands-off approach, peer into Shoeboxed.com's receipt mail-in program options.  Unlike the free do-it-yourself mode, this program has a monthly charge (three, actually, depending on how many receipts and/or business cards you'd like them to scan for you, ranging from about $10-$50/month), but it's for those who really don't want to deal with this stuff on their own. It's also probably not for the light user, or the family who saves receipts for casual just-in-case use. But if you're a solopreneur or an on-the-road professional, it seems like quite the time-saver.  Once you sign up for an account, it works like this:
  • Gather up all your receipts.
  • Stuff them in a pre-paid envelope (again, along the lines used by Netflix).
  • Shoeboxed scans and processes all your receipts and mails them back to you (in case you want to stuff a pillow with them).
  • You get access to all of your categorized receipt/expense information in your account, online, ready for you to manipulate and sort as you prefer.
  • Someone else does all the work and you don't have to sort, collate or date any of the information.   
No paper cuts.  It's not for everyone, and it's certainly not for someone with as many control issues as I have, but it's a mighty cool idea.  Shoeboxed certainly isn't the only game in  town.  Pixily, for example, is enjoying its own flush of attention. Pixily is more expansive, scanning oodles more than just receipts and business cards, with five levels of plans from free to $60/month. Considering how many people out there hate scanning as well as dealing with their receipts, I imagine Shoeboxed and Pixily will have a lot more competitors by this time next year.

Whew.  Over two weeks, that's a lot to absorb regarding receipts.  Any questions?

--
Julie Bestry, Certified Professional Organizer®
Best Results Organizing
"Don't apologize. Organize!"
organize@juliebestry.com
Visit http://www.juliebestry.com to save time and money, reduce stress and increase your productivity

Private Reply to Julie Bestry

Dec 03, 2008 4:28 pmre: Organization Tuesday: Receipts Redux, Managing from From No-Tech to High Tech#

The Eagle: Motivating Champions Around The World
Great Information. Great Article. Thanks for Sharing.




Richard "The Eagle" Motivator
Live and Act Like a Champion Today!!
http://www.eagleenterprisesusa.com/
http://abhp-network.ryze.com

Private Reply to The Eagle: Motivating Champions Around The World

Dec 03, 2008 8:49 pmre: re: Organization Tuesday: Receipts Redux, Managing from From No-Tech to High Tech#

Julie Bestry
Thanks, Richard. I know this is a busy time of year for people, so even if people find the time to read, they may not make the time to comment. I really, REALLY appreciate you reading & letting me know. Have a great day!

--
Julie Bestry, Certified Professional Organizer®
Best Results Organizing
"Don't apologize. Organize!"
organize@juliebestry.com
Visit http://www.juliebestry.com to save time and money, reduce stress and increase your productivity

Private Reply to Julie Bestry

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