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 Tabitha (From Single to Married) on

    I just want to add that the worst is when they give you the receipt along with your change so that you have twice the issue to deal with. Drives my husband crazy. 🙂

  2. posted by Jill on

    I track my spending in MS Money, so I keep every receipt until it is entered. I try to enter purchases every day, every couple days, or at most once a week. Receipts for cash purchases then get thrown straight into the recycling bin, and receipts for credit card purchases get filed in an envelope in a holder with my outstanding bills. Business purchases that are cash purchases get immediately filed in a hanging folder for that year. Business purchases on credit cards (I have a credit card I use exclusively for business purchases) get stapled to the credit card statement. The system works for me, and my accountant loves it too.

  3. posted by Loren on

    I don’t take photos with my phone but once I get to my car I usually write the amount in a small txt file on my cell phone, it has the totals and everything is filed under the type of purchase with the date next to it. I was thinking of getting a Quicken application to add to my Palm Centro. But I’ve been wondering if anyone else has success with these types of programs.

  4. posted by Ann on

    What works for me: I carry a long woman’s style wallet, the type that originally was designed so that one can slip in a checkbook. However, I do not carry checks with me any longer. The little flap area that would have held the checks is now the area where I stash all receipts.

    It’s a quick open and stuff, most rcpts fit without folding, or only require one quick fold (because the space is long), it doesn’t prevent me from zipping my wallet closed and all of my rcpts are in one place until I clear out my wallet (about once a week, or at the end of an errand-heavy day).

    At home I am lucky enough to have the perfect desk, with a small drawer into which I can stuff rcpts that I need to keep until my monthly statements come in and I can compare everything. Once it’s reconciled, unless it’s business or warranty related, the rcpts get tossed/shredded.

    As an added advantage, I have a place in my wallet to keep rcpts when I have to return something to the store.

    I will be the first to admit that this method is a tad bit more involved than a more zealous unclutterer might prefer, HOWEVER it requires minimal brain power — everything has a holding place and an expiration/toss date of sorts.

  5. posted by Lynn on

    I keep a #10 envelope in my purse. I take it out as I’m about to pay (whether it’s a human cashier or a self checkout). When the receipt is handed to me or spewed out (as the case may be), I put it into the envelope. Then, when I record and reconcile my finances once a month, I deal with the receipts according to how I handle that particular purchase. As you say, if the receipt is of no consequence, I throw it away immediately.

  6. posted by Amanda on

    Although it might take a little more time, I don’t let the cashier or people in line rush me. I wait until I’ve received the receipt, and put it in my wallet then I pick up my bags.

  7. posted by Bill Ruhsam on

    I’m with Jill. We make all of our daily purchases with a credit card (Delta Miles Yay?) and then pay off the balance from our cash accounts. This has led me to registering every transaction so I may balance accounts at the end of the month and avoid fraud.

    I keep all the receipts in a coffee can until it fills up then I transfer them to a manila envelope marked with the begin-end dates of the coffee can. Yes, I’m accumulating clutter, but it is confined to some specific spots, and I can cram almost an entire year worth of receipts into a manila envelope. I dispose of these at uneven intervals, usually after three years.

    I don’t often have to go digging for an old receipt, so this system works fine for me. I also keep *important* receipts in their own files, having to do with the purchase.

  8. posted by Tim at Home Document Manager on

    Scan them in 🙂

    Business items and big ticket items can be scanned in seperately and organized, little receipts that you don’t really care about, but don’t want to throw out – stick multiple receipts on the flatbed scanner and scan them in.

    They’ll be OCR’d and turned into PDFs, so you’ll always be able to find them by searching later.

  9. posted by allen on

    I always ask for them to be put into the bag, and then go over the recipt before i leave the building. Just this week, that practice saved me $10 at ONE store. *sigh*.

    I keep all of my reciepts, not just to check them over, but to keep track of where my money is going. once they’re entered into my $-system, then they can go away…. at least, that’s the theory! I haven’t actually set up a $ system yet… that’s an April project, as this month is all about my new floors. 😀

  10. posted by wendy on

    I enjoy using the iPhone app XpenseTracker. I empty my purse whenever I am waiting around and record the purchase as well as taking a photo of any important receipts, then I bin most of the receipts and just save the business/large purchases.
    With this app I know which credit/debit card I have used for later reconciling. Since I started to use this app I have never had more than 24 hours worth of receipts in my purse – and for someone who used to carry upwards of 3 months worth, this is a major step and has kept me on track with my weekly/monthly budgets, and kept my purse neat!

  11. posted by phoneill on

    One suggestion I would like to make is regarding the “useless” category: re-use those as scratch paper. They are just the size for grocery lists, a menu for the week, a plan for the morning for me and my tyke, etc.

  12. posted by amber on

    Two things. One, receipt paper is often not recyclable (I’m thinking the thermal style), so it should just go into the trash. If it feels like “regular” paper then it’s probably fine. Secondly, do scanned receipts work if you want to return an item or take advantage of warranty, etc.? Or what about a tax audit; are scans okay? Erin’s category of originals to save seemed much narrower than the list of things that could possibly require a receipt down the road. Just wondering how paperless one can go.

  13. posted by Taylor at Household Management 101 on

    Dealing with receipts that are handed to you at check out can be a pain, especially if you also have small children in tow. I have been trying to be more purposeful about my receipts, and place them folded in my wallet after receipt. I have just made the decision to slow down, and make the time. To keep from inconveniencing the next person in line I try to move forward just slightly and finish what I am doing and then move along. Then, once a week I take the receipts out of my wallet and file them where needed (or toss if they are useless).

  14. posted by Rue on

    I have a side pocket in my purse that I stash receipts into. I also have a long wallet (meant for a checkbook) and sometimes I lay them flat inside that. When I get home, I throw all the receipts into a basket on my landing strip. Once I’ve entered them into my checkbook program (I use AceMoney Lite instead of keeping a “traditional” checkbook register), I toss all the receipts except for anything I think I may want/need to return. I put the “keep” receipts into a file box until I’ve tried out the item(s) in question, then toss them. If it’s a receipt that’s needed for a warranty, I put it in my file box with owner’s manuals.

  15. posted by Todd on

    I use a scansnap scanner attached to my mac. I scan the receipts and use neat receipts to organize them. And YES, the IRS does accept scanned receipts.

  16. posted by KC Caldwell, CPA on

    Actually, I advise my clients (for business purposes) to use checks, debit and credit cards for everything. Don’t worry about saving the actual receipts, but save the bank statements and credit card statements. You can use that information to justify your expenses.

    Meals can be a little tricky so use the debit/credit card. You will also want to track your appointments in a calender such as outlook, blackberry, or even paper planners like the Franklin planners, or day timers. Make sure you save the information.

    If you get audited, you will have to spend some time matching the calender to your staements, but you will have good evidence to substantiate your deduction. If the auditor reuires the actual receipt, then start calling the bank and credit card copanies for the microfiche copies.

  17. posted by CF on

    Doesn’t really answer the original question, but for storing receipts, I have a hanging file with 3 folders:

    – January-June
    – July-December
    – Large purchases

    When January comes, I shred the contents from the previous Jan-Jun and so forth. This way you keep receipts a minimum of 6 months. It takes very little time or space, but if I ever need a receipt, I have it.

    Like Erin, I trash useless receipts on the spot – I only keep those that may be needed for returns etc. Also pay by credit card whenever possible.

  18. posted by Rene on

    I can’t believe no one has mentioned

    It’s a pretty sweet site for tracking receipts. You can upload your scans or pictures or mail them and they’ll do it for a price. You can also email electronic receipts there.

  19. posted by June Soto on

    The current economy is a mess everybody knows it. What is amazing is how some people continue their daily life as if nothing changed and one such behavior is their attitude to credit cards. The first step Americans need to do is get rid of their credit card debt as it is the best symbol for how Americans lived above their means for so many years getting all of us to this big economy mess. First step is education. Here is a good resource to read about credit cards start with understanding and then please stop loading your cards with too many charges.

  20. posted by Celeste on

    I’m with Taylor–I put them in my purse and deal with them about once a week. The only ones that matter are gift receipts or when something has to be returned. There have been a couple of times I returned something from the grocery store, but generally you would know within a week if something had to go back. Restaurant and gas receipts are instant trash. Whenever possible I take the “no receipt” option at either of these places when I use my debit, since we do online or phone reconciliation.

    Most receipts are worthless as scrap paper because they have a finish that repels ink or they’re just too small or flimsy.

  21. posted by Erin on

    This has been my 2009 project. My husband keeps every single receipt and he cannot ever commit to throwing them away even when confronted. I spent the end of 2008 researching the best way for me to get rid of his piles and piles of receipts, and I came up with the same thing as Todd – I scan them with my ScanSnap on to my Mac and use Neat Receipts to read and organize them. I do not scan things everyday, so in our one filing cabinet drawer there are 4 hanging files “Receipts to Scan,” “Documents to Scan,” “Business Cards to Scan,” and “Airline Tix to Scan.” (To make sure we get our miles). I also have a file for Receipts to Keep – but that is usually a pretty skinny file. That is for things I’m still deciding if I’m going to keep and may be returning soon. And just to echo Todd, the IRS does take scanned receipts. It is nice mailing the accountant a CD of pdf’s instead of lots of envelopes of receipts.

  22. posted by Erin Doland on

    @June — Not everyone uses a credit card to rack up debt. Your assumption is that people buy things on credit and then don’t pay off the bills. Most everyone I know pays off their cards in full every month. Or, they have credit cards that immediately withdraw money from their bank accounts to cover the expenses at the time of purchase. Just because someone has and uses a credit card doesn’t mean that he or she is irresponsible. Your judgment and condemnation are wholly unnecessary.

  23. posted by prairiegal on

    I want to take as little time with receipts as possible.

    I have twelve monthly files and almost all my receipts go into the current month file whenever I empty out wherever they have piled up. I don’t bother to sorting out the “useless” ones because that takes time. If I have to reconcile my banking, it’s right there in this month or last month’s file. If I ever need to return or exchange something, I’ll have to receipt for a year. I can usually find the receipt pretty quickly even if I have to look in one or two files.

    Receipts for business go strait into the business file and I also have files for car, house, electronics (computer, ipod, phone etc).


  24. posted by Rebecca on

    @Erin – thank you for the response to June, I whole-heartedly concur!

    In my daily routine, I use the small, stylish check-book cover from Vera Bradley as my receipt collector. I put a small piece of folded cardstock in each side to allow for some sturdiness, along the same lines as the larger wallet, but with a little more free-form use as there are no zippers or clasps. It makes it easy to collect and keep them in my purse in case I do need to return an item at a later time and dont need to hunt through a mess of crumpled or waded receipts at the bottom of my bag. Once a week or so, I then clean them out into a small, tastefully decorated photo box from Ikea that sits on our console table, with the exception of any receipts that will be needed for a return. I have several differently sized boxes on that table (the “landing strip”) for different purposes but they all match and each has a lid, which reduces junk and visual clutter. On Sunday, I reconsile the receipts both my husband and I accumulate into their necessary categories. After tax time or once the large-ticket item is no longer ours, we no longer have the receipts. I have to be very diligent to be sure the receipts stay neat and clean, in the acid-free box so that they remain legible and valuable for future needs.
    Because we run a business out of our home and have a lot of dual-use expenditures, we need to keep nearly every receipt, even for some consumables (such as gas). This requires that I sort through them fairly regularly so as not to allow them to pile up or become unmanagable. We’ve also learned the hard way that there are some very key times when the orginal is the ONLY version that matters, so we play it safe.
    And one good benefit from being so diligent with receipts was the ability to write of a very large portion of sales tax we paid this year on every type of purchase, large or small. It made a nice impact on our tax return and was a little bit of validation for my receipt-keeping ways.
    Thanks again for such a wonderful post in Ask Unclutterer! This has become my favorite segment.

  25. posted by Sheryl on

    The way I handle receipts is pretty much a combination of what several other people have mentioned.

    I take the few seconds I need after a transaction to fold them in half and stick them in my wallet (I have one of those long checkbook wallets too.) I don’t put them in the bag because, more than once, I’ve had to “go fishing” in the trash for them afterward.

    When I get home I dump them on the computer desk and my husband or I then enter them in Quicken (we use our debit card for almost everything.)

    After that they get filed in the current month’s folder.

  26. posted by Anca on

    Seems like a lot of fuss and effort over some bits of paper. I keep them together in my wallet till it gets full, then toss them after I’ve checked it against my credit card bill or file it away if it’s an important/returnable item.

  27. posted by Zora on

    I put all the receipts in my wallet and then enter them in Quicken. Daily if I can, weekly for sure. The cash receipts can usually be thrown away after they’re entered. The big ticket receipts go into my hanging files, purchase info. The rest of the credit and debit receipts go into plastic tubs sitting right under my desk, newest on top. If there’s any problem with my account, I have the most recent receipts at hand. When the tub starts to fill, I throw out the receipts on the bottom. I’ve never had reason to regret this. If there are going to be problems, they’ll appear soon after the purchase is made, not years afterward.

    I reconcile my cash account weekly. Like dealing with petty cash in a business. There’s usually some cash for which I can’t account, handled as an adjustment, but it seems better to me to know where 95% of my cash goes than to know nothing about how I’m spending it.

  28. posted by tammy on

    i can’t imagine scanning receipts or taking pics of them, etc. That seems so complicated – the opposite of the simple life that i like.

    i use a debit card for everything. when i get home i write the amount of the purchase in my check register. as soon as it clears the bank (online banking – no monthly statement to reconcile – i keep it reconciled every time i log in)i shred the receipt. the few things that are important for tax purposes go in a file for the year.

    that’s it. i try to buy very little, and i try not to keep lots of digital records. digital clutter bothers me almost as much as physical clutter.

  29. posted by Alison on

    I agree with tammy about the online banking with no monthly statement, but I’m just making personal purchases, nothing related to business. No monthly process, I just log on once or twice a week.

    And I agree about using credit for everyday purchases, especially since my bank account, for students, costs only $4/month if I keep my transactions down 🙂

  30. posted by Sara on

    They go in the bag, and when I get home they go out of the bag and into a little zippered pouch not unlike a pencil case. Periodically I thumb through and toss anything no longer eligible to be returned. That’s for receipts I keep in the first place, which is only large purchases and things I might want to return, like clothes or gifts. Most receipts I just toss. I check my credit card online several times a week so if anything’s off I catch it right away (like the rental car company that randomly overcharged me by $50 last month!)

  31. posted by Kirsten on

    I make sure to put all debit card receipts in my wallet – I won’t let the cashier rush me or put the receipt in the bag (unless I paid cash, which is rare). I use Quicken to keep my accounts, but I hang on to the receipts until I reconcile my accounts against the bank statements, since I’ve been known to make data entry errors. After that, if it’s something I need to keep for tax or warranty reasons, the receipt gets transferred to the appropriate folder, and for big ticket items I keep the receipt with the manual, so all that stuff stays together.

  32. posted by Sonya on

    I was extremely excited to see this question!! Don’t have much useful to add but loving most suggestions, definitely going to look into the whole checkbook style holder to store them in!!

  33. posted by Dream Mom on

    I have to agree with Tammy. I try to keep things very simple.

    I pay cash or use my debit card for everything. Once I make a purchase, I check the receipt for errors before leaving the store. If it’s a cash purchase, I toss the receipt. All other purchases are usually a debit card, which includes big ticket items. I write the amount in my checkbook, take the receipt at the checkout and just stick it in my checkbook after leaving the store (I don’t write checks anymore, but do have the checkbook on me for receipts.)When I get home, I fold it and put it into the checkbook.

    Once a month, I balance my checkbook, I put the receipt for big ticket item in my warranty book, file any business receipts in a current year file (I’ve already recorded them.)and the rest are shredded.

    I don’t think it matters what kind of system you have, just that you have a system that works for you.

  34. posted by Karen on

    One quick hint about receipts for tax purposes:

    Once you add a group of receipts together, staple them together with a piece of paper with the total and date on top. So, for example, I would add all the gas receipts for February together, write the total and date on a piece of paper, staple it on top and save the bundle for any pesky IRS agent who would like to look at it. Keeps everything together in a neat little package and keeps me from totaling receipts more than once.

  35. posted by Lisa on

    As a small business owner, I think I’m pretty good with receipts. You didn’t even mention the bank deposit receipts, or the 940/941 tax deposit receipts for corporations!

    I don’t carry a purse, just a small wallet. I do fold every receipt and stuff it in my wallet, but due to its size, I have to go through every piece of paper in there at least every two weeks. I try to do it once per week.

    Everything goes in there, even the garbage receipts, because if I am too quick to toss one, then I may miss a deduction.

    Bank deposit receipts and ATM receipts are kept until they are reconciled, binder clipped by month. Credit card receipts are either recorded in Quickbooks and filed in the “2009 receipts” envelope or shredded. Tax deposits are saved in the “2009 tax deposits” envelope.

    Every tax season, all business receipts are moved to several manila envelopes marked “2009 business receipts” and saved along with the tax filings. I keep records for 10 years, instead of 8 – I don’t know why, but I have the space in the drawer.

    All personal bills are kept for either 1 or 2 years, depending. I like to see how much my gas bill has gone up over the last two years, but that’s just personal geekiness.

  36. posted by Jasi on

    I keep everything in a small coupon clutch in my file box organized by month.

  37. posted by Gail on

    I carry a small accordian file that I have labeled with a section for home receipts (anything not business related), one section for business expenses and a few sections for my clients when I purchase items for them. I clean it out about once a week. I found this accordian file at Office Depot where they keep 3X5 index cards. It is by Mead and it is called “Index Keeper”. It has 6 pockets and comes with 25 index cards. I take out the cards and use them for lists! I pull out the accordian file and open it while I get out my wallet. It takes just one second to file it in the right section and put it away.

  38. posted by Thom on

    @Loren: I have been using SplashMoney (from SplashData) on my Palm for several years now. (Previously I tried PocketMoney, but I didn’t like it nearly so much – admittedly that was a long time ago, it may have improved.) SpMoney is fantastic – I practically live in it. It will sync with a desktop version of SpMoney if you wish, or you can export standard files for use in programs like Quicken. Or it will work as a standalone tool if that’s all you require. Highly recommended. For those with iPhones or iPod touch, SpMoney has been released for that platform also.

    I keep all receipts offered to me (including small purchases/snacks) until I’ve entered them in SpMoney, usually the same day. As in some previous comments, I have a long “cheque-book” style wallet. This has a full-length pocket that I use only for receipts.

    The reality of the matter is, if you’re going to be offered a receipt it will usually be when you have your wallet in open in your hand. So it makes sense to find a way to put receipts in your wallet until the end of the day. The alternative is when the receipt is placed in the bag. I tend not to ask for that, but don’t mind if this is the what the shop assistant does or offers.

    On a related matter. Here in Australia we’ve pretty much abandoned the old practice of counting back change until the original total is reached. (e.g. I hand over $40 for a $22 item. Shop assistant counts back with “$23, $25, $30, $40” as s/he gives me $1, $2, $5 and $10.) It’s not the counting I miss so much as the fact that this practice results in the coins going in my hand first, with the notes on top – which is much easier to transfer to my wallet: coins are hugged in the palm of my hand while my fingers place the notes, then I can drop the coins into the coin section. Nowadays, the assistants have a total change amount from the cash register and they assemble that from largest chunk to smallest and hand it to you like that – so notes first. You’re thus left with a precarious pile of coins sliding about on top of the notes and which you can’t really grab to dispense with because the notes are in the way. Very annoying.

  39. posted by JR on

    It drives me CRAZY when cashiers give me the change on top of the bills. When I worked as a cashier I always made sure to give people their change first, and then their bills … I just don’t understand how that isn’t common sense.

  40. posted by Karyn on

    @JR: I hear ya, albeit from the other side of the register. 😉 It drives me absolutely bonkers when CUSTOMERS perch the coins precariously atop the bills as they hand them to me, especially if the coins go bouncing down in the cracks between the scale and the register belt. Do you think we could raise public awareness of how not to dump change all over the place during a cash transaction? Maybe a gold and green ribbon for Common Cents?

  41. posted by Karyn on

    On the subject of receipts: First, my income’s low enough that I just take standard deduction, so I rarely have receipts to keep for tax purposes. I just need to keep mine until, A. I’ve reconciled the monthly statement and it matches my receipts, and/or B., I know that I’m not possibly going to have to return anything that was sold with that receipt.

    (As a retail worker, I can tell you that one of the most frustrating things we hear is, “Uh, no, I don’t have the receipt,” when a customer wants to return a product. Sometimes we can offer store credit. Sometimes, e.g., when it’s a high-ticket item prone to theft for “return” and cash, we have to say sorry, we can’t do the return. So it’s a good idea to keep the originals around for at least a little while, until you know you won’t need them.)

    I have a modular storage cabinet with a drawer that I use for financial and household-management paperwork. In the drawer I have several long, skinny baskets, about the size used to store flatware. One basket is labeled “checking,” one is labeled “Visa,” and one is labeled “cash.” Upon receiving the checking and Visa statements, I go through, reconcile the statements, and shred/toss the receipts. I also go through the cash receipts every month or so to weed out the ones I know I no longer need. Long-term “keepers,” for warranty-type purchases, go in an empty check box labeled, cleverly enough, “Receipts to Keep.”

    If you do your banking online I guess you could do the reconciling process every few days, but I like to make sure my printed statements reconcile with my own records before tossing the receipts. It really doesn’t take that long, either way.

  42. posted by Charlotte K on

    Please do not throw “useless” receipts in the trash. Throw them in the paper recycling!

  43. posted by jenny on

    I have a small plastic accordian style file (the type marketed for coupons) and in the front I keep all of my reciepts. I empty the reciepts out of my wallet every night into the file, and then when I recieve my credit card bill I go through the file, only keeping the ones for warranty purposes in another slot. I also keep reciepts for gifts for a couple months incase there is an issue. In the other slots of this filer I also keep gift cards and coupons.

  44. posted by Lori Paximadis on

    After a transaction, receipts go in the side pocket of my purse, from which they get cleared out every couple of days. Once removed, they are separated by payment type (debit, business credit, personal credit, HSA, cash, check). All are entered into Quicken. Anything tax-related gets a note at the top. Cash & check receipts are tossed into recycling, unless they are business or otherwise tax-related. All others are put into separate envelopes for each card to be reconciled with the statement. Once reconciled, business, tax-related, and big-ticket receipts are filed (one big folder for each year for each business and for each tax category, and one master folder for big-ticket items). I also keep any receipts for things I might need to return, like the electric teakettle that just went kablooey after two months of service; these go in an envelope in date order, and I shred the oldest when they start piling up. Everything else gets shredded once reconciled.

    I’m not sure that scanning receipts would add any value to my life. Once I’m finished with the year’s taxes, I gather up all the necessary paperwork and receipts and seal them all in a big manila envelope marked with the year. These go into a file box at the back of a closet in case they are ever needed. But they are out of the way and don’t really take up all that much room.

  45. posted by Tim Carlson on

    I put all my (smallish) receipts on a spike in the office. When it gets full, I shred the bottom half. This has saved me a few times when I needed to return something, and since it is in chronological order, the receipt I need is always near the top.

    I do not reconcile any of my purchases, though. After the receipt goes on the spike, I almost never look at it again. I check my credit card account online every few days to monitor the status.

    I guess I don’t understand how someone could make so many purchases after only a few days that they might miss a potentially fraudulent charge on their account. I have caught several suspicious charges before and I have never had a problem noticing what was out of place. There is a cost for your time, too, and hours and hours spent reconciling may be worth giving up for a few dollars lost to fraud. Any larger amount and you’d likely notice.

    If you have a joint account, I suppose it may help to look it over with your partner.

    I think receipts in many different folders are clutter; they should be kept in only one place (digitally or physically) except for big ticket items or business expenses.

    That’s just my system, though.

  46. posted by Michael Kirkham on

    “The worst thing about receipts is that they’re always handed to you at the most inconvenient time.”

    As someone who tracks everything (including cash expenses, so I know how I’m spending my money and whether or not I’m being honest in my budgeting and such), I find the “worst” thing about receipts is when you don’t get them for those small cash purchases that others think should be thrown in the trash right away or refused. It’s surprising how often you don’t get a receipt once you start paying attention to all of your expenses. Cash expense tracking can be off by as much as $100 – $200/month just from not getting receipts.

    I don’t care if my receipt goes in the bag or is handed to me–either way it goes into a “to record” folder in my tickler file, processed about once/week. My wallet has one section for cash and one section I use for receipts, and I similarly empty my wallet of receipts once/week (to the “to record” folder), so I do have a slight preference for receipts being handed to me. Once I record them, they’re tossed in the shred bin (and similarly I shred papers in the bin about once/week).

    Whether handed to me or in the bag I don’t tend to care; I do care when I don’t get a receipt, and I find it slightly more annoying when the cashier piles bills-then-receipt-then-coins in my hand (instead of coins-bills-receipt) so I have to deal with unstacking (sometimes dropping change) to put things in their place.

  47. posted by Catherine Cantieri, Sorted on

    I’m fascinated by how many different systems people have for receipts — and how most of them seem to work for the people using them!

    I put all business receipts in a small accordion folder organized by month. Once a week, I update my accounting records. I’m not sure I’ll ever have a huge receipt volume, but if I do, I’ll probably try scanning them in with Neat Receipts or something like that.

  48. posted by Debbie on

    Judge Judy taught me years ago to not throw away receipts–even for little things. I bought a small accordion-type check file and file all my receipts in the letter sections by the store name. At the end of the year, I take them all out, bundle them in order, and store them with the previous years’ receipts. It works so well when you need to go back and find something. I ripped the flap off the top of the check file because it was a nuisance.

    Of course all receipts are filed AFTER they have made a quick run through my Fujitsu ScanSnap! This was THE best thing I have purchased in years!

  49. posted by Michele on

    Boy, you people do a lot of shopping! LOL I don’t think I have to handle nearly as many receipts per month as the commenters here.

    And one piece of advice I don’t think I’ve seen so far for how to reduce receipt clutter: reduce your number of purchases to begin with. For example, you won’t have any “useless”-category receipts if you bring your own coffee and lunch from home every day. 🙂

    Also: I’m a person who uses my credit card almost all the time. This is because it’s a rewards card, and points are deposited as cash into my daughter’s college fund. So I echo Erin’s comment that it’s important not to make assumptions about the credit-card users ahead of you in line! Maybe they’re banking up on frequent-flyer miles, or it’s a debit card that rounds up the total and deposits the overage into a savings account. You never know!

  50. posted by Michele on

    After looking again at the original question, I’m reminded of what I do when I’m handed my change and a receipt. To tell the truth, I jam it all back into my wallet. Then, usually once a day but maybe every third day at the most, I find 15 seconds of down-time to open my wallet, re-arrange my cash by denomination (and all facing the same way) so that I can keep in mind how much I’m carrying, and decide what to do with receipts.

    Then I deal with them much the way described in the answer to the original question: recycle, put in the to-be-filed pile, or keep to reconcile with my credit card statement.

    Hope I didn’t come across as a skinflint zealot in my previous post. I meant the comment to be light-hearted and joking!

  51. 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.

  52. 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.

    — 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.

    — 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.

  53. 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.

  54. 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.

  55. 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.

  56. 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 If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at [email protected].

  57. 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.

  58. 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!

  59. posted by David Hacker on

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

  60. 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.

  61. 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 […]

  62. posted by Aeryn on

    I post them to 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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