Friday, June 20, 2008

How to Handle the Receipts: One Person's Answer

restaurant receipt

I've gone through home offices overflowing with receipts, most of them pretty useless. If you struggle with receipts, you might want to follow Scott Crawford's very sensible system. (Posted to the Getting Things Done Yahoo group, and quoted by permission.)

If you're stuck on the idea of paper receipts because of returns, you may want to consider a variation of how I deal with that issue.

When I enter a receipt in Quicken, if it's for a consumable like groceries or gasoline I toss it immediately into my "to shred" bucket. If it's something that I think could possibly need to be returned, I put the receipt in a manila envelope I keep in my desk drawer. In fact, I have 3 manila envelopes:
- This Month,
- Last Month, and
- The Month Before That.

Around the first of every month, I take the oldest envelope and dump it into my "to shred" bucket. (If I haven't needed to dig up the receipt in 90 days, I don't need to keep it.) That envelope becomes the new "This Month" and the other two envelopes shift back one slot.

That way, I always keep a rotating set of 90 days worth of receipts, with a very minimal time investment. (Of course, any receipts that I need to keep for tax reasons are scanned and/or filed immediately and don't fall into the 90-day waiting-for-the-shred-bucket queue.)

I find that only a couple of times per year do I need to dig through a month's receipt folder to find a specific receipt. The time savings of not filing any of those receipts more than makes up for the occasional dig through the envelope.

Pretty low tech (and I tend to be a high tech kind of guy), but I'm quite certain I'm saving time in the long run.

[photo by red5standingby / simon]


Michele said...

I use a variation on this system for "might need" receipts (I use one envelope per quarter), and I like it because it minimizes the total time required, i.e. the sum of filing + retrieval time.

Anonymous said...

my problem is that I'm a little bit crazy when it comes to receipts...I don't want to get rid of any! I think it's for the assumption that I might need them to enter my expenses. But I think I'll try to start taking your advice and shredding away "useless" receipts after I've entered the info into all necessary tracking sites and things.

Anonymous said...

Great advice! Keeping receipts is a common form of paper clutter that I encounter. I would add that receipts for large items (over $500 or so) such as furniture or electronics, need an additional system, since they may be needed for insurance purposes. Then a set of binders with sheet protectors for each item will do the trick. Grocery, gas, and similar receipts are of no use once the bank statement or credit card bill has arrived.

Jeri Dansky said...

GraduatedLearning, you could start with something like a gas receipt. Once you've entered that in your tracking system (and assuming you have good back-ups for that system), why would you ever go back to the receipt?

Michele, I'm curious: How often do you pull out a receipt for something you bought more than 90 days ago? I guess you might need the receipt for something under warranty. Anything else?

New Leaf News: Great point - both tax-related and insurance-related receipts need a different system. Since fire might be one reason for needing insurance records, I'd like a system that accommodates off-site storage: scanned receipts (with an off-site computer backup), a safe deposit box for selected receipts, etc.