I’ve been trying hard to become more electronic in my daily interactions and transactions, but at the end of the day I still seem to have loads of paper in my pockets and wallet. I’ve tried to set up some experiments to analyze what I actually collect on a daily basis, but I found it too annoying. I usually end up throwing out, or filing, the scraps long before I do any analysis.
As a small business owner, I must now dutifully collect and manage most paper receipts for my taxes. I know from experience that if I don’t make something easy for myself, the chances of it getting done are pretty slim, especially if the task is tedious. Over the last 4 years I’ve refined my process for dealing with paper (and electronic) receipts. My system is not fancy, but it’s fast and easy, increasing the chances of me actually doing it.
After years of keeping a pen in my mailbox to instantly label mail “return to sender”, I decided to replicate this practice (rule 3 below). Here are 3 quick and easy rules I created.
- I dedicate places to collect and store paper receipts when I’m on the go. Typically I designate the inside pocket of whatever jacket or purse I have with me, or a special spot in my wallet. I have multiple spots so I always have an option regardless of what I’m wearing or doing. This is especially useful when I’m traveling.
- I dedicate places in my home to store the paper receipts. Again, I have multiple spots to ensure I always have a quick access spot to dump my collected receipts. I have one bowl near the front door, a common spot to unload my wallet. I have another box in my office, which is the “official” holding spot for the receipts until they get entered as expenses.
- I prepare the dedicated places with the tools I need (e.g. pen, stapler, labels, envelopes, post-it notes, etc.). For example, I like to staple the original receipt to the credit card slip. Then I use a pen to write the amount and a short description directly onto the receipt, in case the receipt ink fades. Each box contains a stapler and a pen because this makes it easy for me to prepare receipts instantly.
This process saves me hours of time in searching each year.