This is a guest post from Penny Bryant Catterall, a Professional Organizer in the Washington DC area. I read her describe her receipt workflow on a NAPO mailing list, and begged her to share it with you.
As a paperless devotee, business owner, and office organizer, I have clients who want to know what I do with all those bits of paper that seem to flow in endlessly and drive us crazy – otherwise known as receipts. Yet many of these receipts need to be kept in some kind of organized format if you are running your own business and need them for IRS back up. So here is what I do.
First, I shred all my personal receipts for groceries, dry cleaning, gas, movie tickets, meals, and other consumables. I often decline getting a receipt in the first place if given the option by the sales clerk, or have it sent to me by email if possible. I figure I most likely am not going to return any of these kinds of items and certainly don’t need this information for tax reasons. And if I ever do have to return groceries, the stores have never given me a hard time about bringing something back without a receipt.
For personal receipts for items that I may want to return (clothing, household goods, etc.), I have a Post-It Wall Pocket right over my desk that I pop receipts into, so I can easily access them if I need to. After a month or so, if I haven’t returned the item and know I am going to keep it, I shred the receipt. Receipts for big ticket items such as furniture, artwork, electronics, and household goods get scanned with my trusty Fujitsu ScanSnap and put into a folder on my Dropbox account called Receipts, with subcategory folders for each type of receipt. This way, the receipts stay intact (have you noticed how receipts fade so quickly?) and can be found easily in case of insurance, warranty or other needs.
For my business, I scan all my receipts with my Fujitsu ScanSnap once a week on my admin day and put them in a Dropbox folder called Business Expenses (by year). Within each yearly folder I have category folders for all my expenses according to how the IRS labels them, including Advertising, Supplies, Meals & Entertainment, Communications, etc. I make sure to name each receipt with the name of the store and the date of the purchase (e.g. ContainerStore7.13.13) so I can save it to the appropriate category folder and find it quickly if I need to. I then immediately shred the receipts for items I know I can’t or won’t be returning, such as meals or other consumables, as the IRS is perfectly willing to accept scanned images as backup. I put the other receipts in another Post-It Wall Pocket for a month or so and then shred them (remember, they’ve already been scanned into the appropriate Dropbox folder) after I’m sure the products won’t be returned. If I get a receipt sent to me by email for online purchases, I save it as a PDF directly into the appropriate folder, rather than printing and then scanning it.
I also use a great online program called Outright.com in conjunction with my Dropbox scans to keep track of my business income and expenses. Outright links securely to my business credit card and bank accounts, automatically downloads any business transactions I make, and then categorizes them for tax purposes. It now also has a great feature allowing you to attach a scanned receipt directly to the appropriate transaction, making it even easier to find.
Receipts don’t have to run your life. Just show them who’s boss by not letting them in the door in the first place, or scanning them and filing them electronically!
Thanks Penny! This is great. I like those wall pockets. I also like the concept of having a set day to do scanning/processing. That’s an awesome tip. If you have any questions for Penny and her workflow, reach out to her or leave a comment here and I’ll make sure it gets answered.