If you work for a company then chances are that you’re going to need to travel somewhere, some day, for something. And when you do you will typically be able to claim back work-related expenses that you’ve incurred.
So often you see people getting back into the office after coming back from a meeting, with a taxi receipt in their hand and then stash the receipt somewhere in the back of their desk drawer. Then, when the accounts people start hounding everyone to submit their expense claims this same person is floundering around digging through piles of notes, junk, cables, dust and a half-eaten Vegemite sandwich from last week looking for any old and faded receipt they can find. And it’s normally a bonus if they can find all of them.
What happens then is that they take all the receipts they’ve collected, staple or tape them to sheets of paper and photocopy or scan them. Then they need to take those copies to the accounts people, or email the scans.
This is crazy!
It takes an extraordinary amount of time to do this and try to keep track of everything.
My work requires me to travel, a lot. I have to track flights purchased, taxis, meals, everything. The beautiful thing is that I never come home with a receipt. In fact, I only hold onto receipts for about 30 seconds before they’re thrown in the trash. I’d like to share with you how I manage my expenses, with Evernote.
Capturing the Receipt
Whenever I’m handed a receipt for a purchase that I need to claim as a work-related expense the first thing I do is take out my phone and open the Evernote app. Using the app I take a photo of the entire receipt. Evernote on any device will let you take a photo and save it to a note. Evernote introduced a “page snapshot” option with version 4.4 for iPhone. A “page snapshot” will save a more text-friendly photo with a much smaller file size.
After I’ve taken a photo of the receipt I title the note with what the receipt was for and the city I’m in. For example, if I’m in Melbourne and just had dinner, I’ll snap a photo of the receipt into a note and title it “Dinner in Melbourne”. There’s no need to capture the date of the receipt or the total amount since it’s all not the receipt anyway.
With the photo taken and the title entered, I close Evernote, tear the receipt in half and throw it away.
Organizing the Receipts
When I’m next at my laptop, I move any receipts from the Inbox notebook to a Receipts notebook. To do this, I select all the receipt notes in the Inbox by holding CMD (Mac), or CTRL (Win) and clicking each one. Then I add two tags: “receipt” and, “expense” and move all the receipts to the Receipts notebook at once.
All these receipts are now waiting for me to submit them as an expense.
Bundling Receipts for a Claim
There are two options now depending on how your company requires you to submit expense claims:
- Submit expenses to an online system
- Send the receipts to the accounts people
If you need to submit expenses to an online system, then the next this to do is to copy the information from each receipt into this system. To do this I click into the Receipts notebook and then hide any receipts that I’ve already claimed back. That leaves me with a nice list I can enter into the expenses system. To hide the expenses I’ve already claimed, I use the following command in the search box:
This will hide any notes with either of the tags “Done” or “Waiting”. Then it’s a matter of going through each note in the remaining list and copying the information into the online system.
The expense reporting system I need to use also needs me to submit copies of the receipts, and they must be digital copies, not paper handed to someone. So instead of attaching each photo from all the receipt notes, I combine all notes into a single note, then print that note as a PDF file. That gives me one file to send to the accounts people and makes it much easier to track later. Here’s how.
To combine, or merge the receipt notes, select them all either by using the CMD/CTRL+Click action as before, or, if you’re list only has pending receipts, you can use CMD/CTRL+A (Select All). Once the notes are selected, click the “Merge” button. That will merge all those notes into one. I then change the title of that note to something more appropriate, such as “Expenses Submitted YYYY-MM-DD”. With the receipts merged I print that note as a PDF document if possible and send it to accounts or upload it to the online expenses system.
Tip: It’s sometimes easier to print the merged note from Evernote Web – the images tend to be automatically resized to fit nicely on a page.
Alternatively, and if your accounts people are open to it, you could email the note to them, or share the note link with them so they can view the receipts online.
Tracking the Claims
With the expenses now submitted, I add the “Waiting” tag to that newly merged note. This tells me that I’m waiting on reimbursement for the receipts within that note.
When the expenses are paid, I simply replace the “Waiting” tag with the “Done” tag.
What I’m left with is a neat list of notes in my Receipts notebook where each note contains all receipts that have been claimed back based on the day the claim was submitted.
Tracking and claiming expenses is a choir that no one likes doing. It eats into productive time and provides no real value to the company. Nevertheless, it is a necessary evil. By turning paper receipts into digital ones as you get them, you can make the process of claiming back expenses quicker and easier.
So to recap the steps involved in tracking expenses with Evernote:
- Take a snapshot of each receipt as soon as you get them
- Tag receipts in bulk and move to an appropriate notebook
- Merge pending receipts to manage them easier
- Print as a PDF and send to expenses.
The next time you need to track expenses for your company, try using Evernote. Leave a comment with your experiences. What worked for you, what didn’t and what did you do differently?