How I Used Expensify To Manage Receipts On The Road

How I Used Expensify To Manage Receipts On The Road

Envelope full of receiptsOn the weekend, I returned from Macworld|iWorld. Usually when I go on these sorts of trips, two things happen afterwards:

  1. I end up with a stack of receipts that sit around until I get around to/am forced to scan, organize, and categorize them
  2. I end up with a stack of business cards that I get too lazy to deal with, so they sit around until I get around to scanning and organizing them.

This time, I vowed things would be different, and that I would try to handle these things on a more pro-active basis while on the trip itself, so I don’t get hit with a stack of paper afterwards.

Today’s post is about how I dealt with receipts, and a later post will be about business cards.

The Goal

My goal, which I more or less kept to, was to process receipts as I received them. If I could do it while I was still at the restaurant, great. If not, at least that night in the hotel was the goal.

I could have taken a mobile scanner on the trip with me, like the Fujitsu ScanSnap S1100 or the Doxie Go, but I decided to stick with my iPhone and the free app from Expensify.


I need to start out by saying that this is not a comprehensive review of Expensify by any means. The service has much more functionality than what I will be touching on, such as submitting expense reports for approval, receiving reimbursements, tracking mileage, linking up with credit cards, and more.

I don’t cover any of that because I don’t do any of it. I will be focusing on using the mobile app to capture and organize receipts, and the web service to download a categorized report.

There are two components to Expensify: the mobile app for iOS, Android, Blackberry, or Palm, and the website.

The mobile apps are free, and the Expensify service itself is free for the basic plan. If you need more features (you can see the plans here) there are more options.

If you want to use “SmartScan” (I will get to that in a minute), you get 10 free scans a month, and then it is .20/scan after that.

Capturing Receipts

Whenever I received a receipt, I would use the Expensify app to take a picture of it. Most of the time, I did it right there at the table.

Expensify Starbucks App
Expensify Starbucks App

If you have the feature enabled, the app will upload your receipt to their site, and apply “SmartScan”, which means they will extract the text from the receipt and then attempt to categorize it.

Expensify SmartScan
Expensify SmartScan

It takes about 10 minutes to complete a receipt. So, what I did was snap the receipt, to capture it, and then later on I went back in to check it out whenever I was hanging out waiting for something.

Organizing Receipts

Once SmartScan is done, you will see a list of scanned expenses on the Expenses tab. You can then tap a receipt to edit the details.

I have been extremely impressed with the quality of the text extraction. I haven’t had any problems with wrong amounts, and the Merchant is right most of the time.

Expensify Edit Receipt
Expensify Edit Receipt

If you have worked at a company and have done any travelling, you will be familiar with the concept of expense reports. That is how Expensify works too. You create a Report, and then attach your expenses to that report.

You can do all this on the mobile app, or on their website because everything is all synced up.[1]

Expensify Mobile Expense Report
Expensify Mobile Expense Report

When you are back at your computer, you can log into the website and attach and process any additional receipts. Here I am using the website to SmartScan a cocktail that I had charged to my room in the hotel bar.[2]

Expensify Web OCR
Expensify Web OCR

Exporting Your Expense Report

When I returned home, all my expenses were already categorized and scanned. I could Submit the report (to… myself), and print a really nice PDF that includes all the categorized expenses, as well as all the receipt images.

Depending on the plan that you have, you can export billable expenses to FreshBooks, export your report to Evernote, export to QuickBooks, and a bunch more.

I found the whole Expensify process very easy. How about you, what do you do for receipts when you are on the road?

(Photo by Random McRandomhead)

  1. As you can tell, I travel pretty luxuriously when I am by myself and paying for it.  ↩

  2. I had to choose between going to talk to a bunch of well-known Mac writers or entertaining a very drunk and lonely Minnesotan at the bar. I’ll let you guess which way I went.  ↩

About the Author

Brooks Duncan helps individuals and small businesses go paperless. He's been an accountant, a software developer, a manager in a very large corporation, and has run DocumentSnap since 2008. You can find Brooks on Twitter at @documentsnap or @brooksduncan. Thanks for stopping by.

Leave a Reply 2 comments

Pete - December 6, 2014 Reply

I am a self-employed musician based in the UK. I am trying to find a free way of scanning my receipts with OCR and organising them so I can send them to my accountant at the end of the year. I’m using Expensify at the moment, but the photos it takes of receipts can’t be cropped. Can you suggest a solution?

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