Ask Unclutterer: What to do with receipts?

Reader Kate submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

When I buy something, should I put my receipt in the bag or in my purse/wallet? I think I would prefer in my purse, so that I can empty them all out onto my banker’s spike at once, but I am often rushed thru the checkout line, so it tends to get stuffed in, rather than filed in my wallet.

The worst thing about receipts is that they’re always handed to you at the most inconvenient time. You’ve just started grabbing your bags of purchases and the store clerk reaches out her hand with your receipt. You hastily grab the receipt and either stuff it in a bag or cram it into your pocket or push it to the bottom of your purse. The process itself is flawed from the very beginning.

In these hasty situations, I always tell the clerk to put it in the bag. When it goes into the bag, I’ll be forced to deal with it when I get home and have more time to think about how to handle it. If I put it in my pocket or purse, it runs a greater risk of being forgotten or mishandled.

Receipts fall into one of four categories and should be dealt with based on their type:

  1. Useless. These are receipts for consumable purchases you paid for with cash, things like coffee and food. Once you eat or drink the item, you’re certainly not going to return the product. The receipt has no identifying information on it since you used cash and should be tossed into the trash immediately. In fact, if you can refuse the receipt, do it. Let the store deal with the trash.
  2. Business. These are receipts for business-related expenses. You have to keep these no matter what, and most accountants require that you still keep the original receipt. I keep a zip top bag in my purse with the month and year written on it with a Sharpie. I’ll jot a note about the expense on the back of the receipt and then slip it into the zip top bag. At the end of the month, I reconcile the receipts against my credit card statement and then toss the whole bag of receipts into an expandable file at the back of my filing cabinet. At the end of the financial quarter, I pass the receipts and my bank statements on to my accountant.
  3. Large ticket items. These are receipts for items like cars and furniture. For some reason, these receipts are usually physically large, and therefore don’t get lost or crammed into purses or pockets. I’ll scan these when I get home and put a copy of the digital file into my monthly to-do file on my computer. When the bank statement arrives, I reconcile the purchase and move the digital receipt to a receipts file in my documents folder. The original receipt immediately goes into a “Large Purchases” file in the filing cabinet and remains there until we get rid of the item. Since these large purchases are rare, most people don’t have difficulty processing them.
  4. Everything else. These are receipts for all of the other purchases in life. For most everything, I pull receipts out of my purse or pockets when I walk in my front door and immediately snap a picture of the receipt with my cell phone. Then, I’ll drop them in the shredder right there. Whenever I charge my phone, I sync the images off my phone and transfer them to my monthly to-do file on my computer. When my bank statement comes, I reconcile the amounts and move the digital receipts to a receipts file in my documents folder. I don’t shred receipts for clothing or grocery store food until after I’ve worn the clothes once or eaten the food on the receipt. I just clip these together with a binder clip and shred them whenever the binder clip gets full.

I’m not sure I 100 percent answered your question, so I would love it if our readers could add even more ideas into the comments on this topic. I’m always looking for better ways to handle receipts. I sincerely can’t stand them.

Thank you, Kate, for submitting such a great question for our Ask Unclutterer column.

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62 Comments for “Ask Unclutterer: What to do with receipts?”

  1. posted by Carrie on

    Don’t forget that saving receipts can come in handy for insurance purposes in case of a flood or fire. Far better then having the original burned in a fire would be to have a scanned copy in a home inventory file with pictures of your homes contents stored off site at a trusted family members home, safe deposit box, or online storage site. Everything from clothes and furniture down to toothbrushes can be replaced by insurance if you have record of them.

  2. posted by kristof on

    I keep receipts in my wallet as I receive them and then scan when I get home — NO MORE ENVELOPES or hunting for receipts at tax time.

    Here’s my amazing, time-saving helpers:

    ScanSnap S300M portable scanner (Mac and PC versions) Fast and takes up very little space.

    RecieptWallet
    – ScanSnap scans receipts into PDF format directly into RW which will OCR the info, anything it misses you can fill in. You can view by Name, price, how paid, etc. Great app.

    YEP
    – For larger documents, ScanSnap will scan directly into YEP. Same as above, you can tag, arrange and view at will.

    With those three things, I’m getting closer and closer to being completely paperless.

  3. posted by timgray on

    I scan them. Neat-receipts works great and is zero effort. all receipts are automatically named the date they were scanned (you can change the name and date to match the receipt) and then I can throw them away.

    Receipts from today will be unreadable next march for tax time. so Scanning them is very important. Works great and takes so little time.

    Honestly you want to get rid of clutter in the office, scanning them and ALL invoices to get rid of the piles of paper is a big one.

  4. posted by Sue on

    I also use my credit card for a lot of mundane purchases, because it gives me cash back. I get a higher percentage at gas stations, drug stores and grocery stores so I use it often for those purchases. Before I got this particular card I paid for those types of purchases with cash.

    I have a spot in my wallet where I put the receipts. I have to put the card back in my wallet anyway, so it’s not much more time to stuff the receipt in there as well. I’ve found that putting the receipt in the bag leads to a much higher chance that I’ll misplace it.

    Every week or so, I clean out receipts from the wallet. I have a small accordian file labeled by month and I stuff the receipts in there as I clean out the wallet.

    When I go to pay the credit card bill (which I pay in full each month – so please don’t judge me just because I’m still using my card), I pull out the receipts and log each and every purchase into Microsoft Money. If I don’t need to keep the receipt for warranty, tax, or other purposes, it gets recycled.

    I can then have Microsoft Money track how I’m spending my money each month. I’ve set up my own set of expense categories because the default ones just didn’t cut it.

    I’m currently remodeling my kitchen and putting a lot of those expenses on the card. I’ve already received several hundred dollars in bonus cash from the card, and I carry no balance and pay no interest or late fees. Free money for me.

  5. posted by Frank on

    I had the unfortunate surprise of being audited by the IRS for business expenses in 2003 and 2004. I went to my file cabinet and pulled all my receipts only to find that many of the receipts were so faded as to be unreadable. I found that after 2 years most of the heat activated receipts that come from the Post office, staples, office depot, etc fade and are basically slick empty pages. Fortunately, most of my purchases were on my cash card or credit card so I spend the next 2 months getting old credit card statements and bank statements to justify my expenses. The credit card companies and the bank all charged a fee for pulling statements from 5 years ago.

  6. posted by Jenn on

    NeatReceipts and NeatDesk are two tools that help individuals and small businesses manage, track and organize receipts (in addition to business cards and documents). Full disclosure: I’m an employee of The Neat Company.

    Both products are scanner and software bundles (NeatReceipts is bundled with a portable scanner and NeatDesk is bundled with an automatic document feed scanner) that enable you to scan and manage receipts. The software reads and auto-populates key data from receipts such as vendor, category, date and amount. This makes it easy to track expenses and maintain records without keeping the paper.

    Additionally, one of top reasons someone is selected for an audit is due to careless errors on tax returns. The best way to avoid the dreaded audit is to maintain accurate records. You can assign a tax category to each receipt and generate tax reports which provide totals by IRS category. You can also export tax data directly to TurboTax. The IRS accepts digital images of receipts as proof, so this means less clutter in your office or house, not to mention the peace of mind provided because receipts fade and digital images don’t.

    PC and Mac versions are available (and the Mac software is compatible with third party scanners, such as the popular Fujitsu ScanSnap).

    You can learn more at http://www.neatco.com. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at jchoi@neatco.com.

  7. posted by gypsy packer on

    I may shop for several people at any given time, so all receipts go into the back–least used–compartment of my purse, to be given out when I deliver the merchandise.
    Deductible receipts are scanned. Since many stores will not accept a return with a scanned copy of a receipt, I save all warranty-item receipts for the warranty period.
    A small trick I learned while living in a pickup truck and sharing space with a laptop and printer: police never believe that a vehicle-dweller owns anything acquired honestly. I laminate receipts for computer equipment and iPod. If you don’t, the ink fades and you no longer have evidence for the Square Trade three-year warranty or for proof of legitimate ownership.

  8. posted by Shaye on

    I use a CD cover for receipts. The kind that has two side openings, is made of paper. On one side it says “life” on the other “work”. I enjoy a moment at the end of my purchase to chat with the cashier- or use the counter for a moment before cloing up shop and heading out!

  9. posted by David Hacker on

    I use ProOnGo (www.ProOnGo.com) to track receipts. It has software that lets you use your phone’s camera to organize\store\track receipts.

  10. posted by Jessica on

    First of all, I do not leave the receipt in the bag in case it is stolen. Just a precaution I’ve always used.
    To keep track of all my receipts I have a soft plastic seven compartment mini filer (usually used for coupons, recipes, etc.). It has separate sections for each of my credit cards, bank deposits/withdrawals, coupons, and returns. When I have a minute or two to spare in my car I empty my purse/wallet of receipts and file them away. This method keeps them managed and out of my way until I’m ready to reconcile them to my statements–which I highly recommend as someone that has experienced fraudulent charges.

  11. posted by What are those receipts doing in your drawer? Throw them away with ProOnGo Expense with Receipt Reader. « ProOnGo Blog on

    [...] with ProOnGo Expense with Receipt Reader. The Unclutterer siterecently had a great blog about when to save receipts. However, with ProOnGo, you can now always lose your [...]

  12. posted by Aeryn on

    I post them to MyThings.com which helps me store the digital copy online without me worrying about losing the file (something I’m quite prone to doing).

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