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How Do You Keep Track of Receipts?

Written by Nickel - 35 Comments

The past few years have seen more and more stores move to less customer-friendly return policies. Thus, it’s more important than ever to keep track of your receipts. But do you know what? I’m really bad at this. No matter what I try, I just can’t seem to consistently save receipts in an organized way that allows me to actually find a certain one when I need it. In short, my current “system” goes something like this:

(1) Make purchase

(2a) Stick receipt in my pocket, or
(2b) Stick receipt in my wallet, or
(2c) Stick receipt on the front seat of my car

(3a) Move receipt to a basket of mail and paperwork to be filed on the kitchen counter, or
(3b) Lose track of it entirely

(4) Never really get around to filing it, and eventually lose track of it or throw it away

(5) Curse myself for not having done something better with it when I need it

(6) Find it again (sometimes) after it’s too late

Obviously, this isn’t very efficient. I’ve tried keeping an accordion folder up in the office, sorted by store, but there are some problems with this. The first is self-discipline, and making sure that receipts actually make it into the folder. The second is that they eventually build up to a point where I have to go through and purge them out. I’d much prefer to deal with them en masse.

Here’s an alternative that I was recently thinking about… Keep an envelope labelled with the current month on the kitchen counter and stuff all receipts into that when I come home. At the end of the month, put the envelope in a box and then start a new one. That way I could find things when I need them, but would also be able to pitch them out entire envelopes after a safe period of time has passed (say, a few years). There are still some weaknesses here (like making sure that the receipts get from the car or my pocket to the envelope in the kitchen), but this seems like a step in the right direction.

So… How do you keep track of your receipts?

Published on May 3rd, 2007 - 35 Comments
Filed under: Miscellany

About the author: is the founder and editor-in-chief of this site. He's a thirty-something family man who has been writing about personal finance since 2005, and guess what? He's on Twitter!

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35 Responses to “How Do You Keep Track of Receipts?”

  1. 1
    Avlor Says:

    Well, since most of my receipts are from credit card purchases, I have to track them (and the card has to be paid off EVERY MONTH) or we don’t get to use the credit card anymore. (Serious!)

    I had to start a new system this year, because I had pile(s) of 9 months worth of stuff from last year I wasn’t filing. I waded through it and vowed not to have to do that again.

    Here’s our system:

    - We put the receipt directly in to our wallets when we get it at the store.
    - If we want to get the receipts out of our wallets it HAS to go in the finances box. (Box is stuck by magnets to the fridge. Fridge is in convenient spot not far from door.)
    - When I do the finances, I collect the receipts from the box and wallets.
    - As I do the finances for the week, I file the receipts as I go. (If I don’t file as I go it won’t get done.) I stuff them into just a few files – important (by year), Christmas gifts, and stuff to shred in the next month or so. (If it’s not simple I won’t do it.)

    So far it works pretty well. Not many things have to be returned in over a month. I can find things in about 5 minutes.

    Once or twice a year we have a receipt we can’t find that’s on our statement and we KNOW we made the purchase, but that ends up coming out of our fun $. (Stinging reminders help sometimes.)

    I think it’s been the threat of not being able to use the credit cards (which have nice rewards) or our fun $ that works for us.

  2. 2
    elise Says:

    I have a very fool-proof method…my husband keeps track.

    Well actually there is a system. We charge everything, I mean everything, on one of our rewards credit cards. All credit card receipts are stored in a file by card (like your envelope idea). When the bills come one of us sorts through the receipts in the file and reconciles the bills with the receipts(although mine are typically still in my wallet, so I have to go look for them, but at least I do this once a month). Then there are categories: 1) Ones that go to the shredder, e.g., restaurants, gas, groceries, clothes; 2) my business related expenses or others needed for taxes (put in the taxes file to be organized at a later time); 3) ones related to house repairs/improvements (put in that envelope); 4) utilities e.g., Sprint, Comcast; (kept for a few years in another file along with those on automatic bank payments); 5) ones related to rebates not yet received are kept until we get the rebate then filed accordingly; 6) ones for major purchases, e.g., dryer, T.V. For the last category, I just staple the receipt to the owner’s manual, then it’s really all together. This whole process takes about 45 minutes a month (and we have lots of receipts) as long as the search for receipts does not take too long..hence the need for a consistent place to put them.

    Seems to me you just need to get in the “habit” of doing something. The flaw I see with your envelope system idea is that not every receipt is something important to keep. The credit card bill is our cue to sort so it’s not so overwhelming. Our system is not so cumbersome, yet gets the job done. And if not organized completely at least we know where things are.

  3. 3
    Andrew Says:

    I keep 3 piles of receipts – one for short term, one for long term, and one for reimbursements.

    Things like groceries, restaurants, and other one-offs go into the short term pile, adding on by date, and then get tossed after I double check the credit card bill. If anything in the pile at that time is going to have a longer shelf life I switch it to the other pile.

    The long term pile has everything else – pretty much anything where there might be a need for a receipt in the long term – clothing, electronics, transportation, etc. This pile gets checked with the CC statement and hangs around until at tax time, when it gets double checked. Most things in here stay for several years, especially in the case of electrnics, in case there is an issue down the road.

    The last pile is just for things I need my company to reimburse. Anything business trip related, or other work related purchases. A relatively small pile that gets turned in monthly and redeemed for cash (or at least a small bump in the following paycheck).

  4. 4
    KMC Says:

    Basically, if we buy something that has a chance it might go back (e.g. clothes, auto parts, that Slip ‘n Slide I bought on sale), I try to keep the receipt in an envelope near the checkbook. If we likely won’t return it (e.g. food, medicine, that Slip ‘n Slide I bought on sale), the receipt’s gone.

  5. 5
    John Says:

    I “file” all my receipts on the dresser. The wife then periodically moves them to my underwear drawer (usually right before the house gets cleaned). I then forget about them.

  6. 6
    Patrick Szalapski Says:

    1. Receive a receipt.

    2. Always immediately discard receipts for food you’ve already eaten. If no trash nearby, crumple and put in pocket.

    3. Decide immediately if this item will ever need to be returned or if it has tax consequences.
    – If definitely no, immediately discard. If no trash nearby, crumple and put in pocket.
    – If unsure or yes, put in wallet.

    3. If you ever find a receipt laying somewhere like the front seat of your car or your kitchen table, put it in your wallet without deliberation.

    3. When arriving at home daily, put all wallet receipts in one section of a mail sorter. Put all crumpled pocket trash in trash. No thought required on this step.

    4. Every few weeks, quickly go through the receipts in the mail sorter. Decide if this item will ever need to be returned or if it has tax consequences.
    – If unsure or yes, put in front of permanent receipts file/shoebox and forget about it. Don’t think too hard, just do it.
    – If no, put it in the trash.

    This seems really efficient for me. The problem with receipts is that people spend too much time deliberating over them. Any doubt? File it away.

  7. 7
    Penny Says:

    1. Receipt goes in wallet and at the end of each shopping trip is removed and entered into an Excel spreadsheet to track spending.

    2. Receipt then goes into a cigar box for reconciliation against credit card statements. (Pretty much everything ends up on a rewards card)

    3. After receipts reconciled, those that were for more durable goods are stapled to the warranty books. Any that could potentially be used for returns are put into an envelope next to the cigar box and are discarded after 6 months to a year.

    Been doing this for over 15 years now. I know EXACTLY where every penny goes and how much it costs to live. I started doing it when I was saving to buy a house, then kept it up for retirement planning. My friends hate me. When I was married, all my husband had to do was dump his receipts in an envelope. He had no interest in the process but loved the spreadsheet I generated!

  8. 8
    shouldbeworking Says:

    John(#6), do we have the same wife?

  9. 9
    Jon Says:

    While I find keeping receipts extremely important, I’ve found that a simple approach is best to making sure you always file away those receipts.

    First of all, I only keep receipts for purchases I either might (or can) return, and purchases which might require warranty work.

    So usually I average maybe one receipt a week which fits this category. Then I just put it in a file, with the most recent receipts towards the front.

    I’ve found it to be a very simple but effective approach.

  10. 10
    Blaine Moore Says:

    Receipts go in wallet at time of purchase, and then go on my desk next to the computer where I record them in our money management software. If it has tax or business consequences, it immiediately goes into this years tax file or business file, if not it goes into a shoebox paperclipped behind everything else. Every time I receive a statement, I reconcile the money file, and then verify any discrepancies (even if it is just a few pennies) against the actual receipt. A month or two after I reconcile a receipt, it goes in the trash unless I am worried about a rebate or something, in which case it stays in the pile with the paperclip. I generally purge and shred when it gets too thick for new receipts.

  11. 11
    shawna Says:

    I have one big envelope in my kitchen. Newest stuff is on top. Works for me :)

  12. 12
    Creditnine.com Says:

    I have two compartments one for income and one for expenses.. at the end of the month I gather both up and when i get around to it I put the details into my book keeping software.. hate doing it.. and currently im 4 months behind..

  13. 13
    Q Says:

    I have a file called “2007 taxes,” and I put any apartment building related receipts in that. Obviously I try to stuff as many pertinent receipts in that folder because it lowers my tax burden. And no, I don’t cheat!

    Other receipts are stuffed in a folder called receipts.

    Yes, I’m totally organized!

  14. 14
    Chris Says:

    I use debit for mostly everything, but want to keep my receipts for 1 month. I’m not doing it yet, but I WANT to.

    Here’s what I WANT to do: get a drawer cabinet like library card cabinets you see in libraries, but smaller, and label each drawer with a category…then at the end of every day take my receipts out of my wallet and drop them directly into the category drawers. Then reconcile them to a spreadsheet at the end of every month.

  15. 15
    BillyOceansEleven Says:

    I do sort of like you are thinking about doing. I have large folders for each month that I keep in my desk and periodically I will take all of the receipts that I have accumulated on my nightstand, in the console of my truck, and randomly thrown on my desk and file them in the appropriate month. I like your idea of putting the receipts directly in the folder instead of the haphazard way I do it, but so far using this system I haven’t had any problems with lost receipts on returns, although if I ever decided to use MS Money to categorize and reconcile everything I would be in trouble.

  16. 16
    John Says:

    shouldbeworking –

    Not sure, but I don’t know what she does during the day… :-)

  17. 17
    H Lee D Says:

    Receipts go in the wallet at the time of purchase. When they come out of the wallet (whether mine or my husband’s), they go onto a specific filing shelf (there’s one for bills to be paid, one for bills already paid to be filed, and one for receipts).

    I track all of our money in and out. Once the receipt has been logged in the computer, there are usually two places for it to go: in the trash if it was paid in cash and was consumable, or in an envelope if it was credit (I check receipts against statements every month when the bill comes, then get rid of the ones that don’t fall into one of the following categories).

    If the receipt was for something that might need to be returned, the receipt goes on the bills-to-be-paid shelf, since most places won’t let a return happen after 30, 60, or 90 days. Since that shelf is cleaned out regularly, when the return period expires, the receipt goes away.

    If it is a receipt that I will need come tax time, it goes in the to-be-filed shelf and then eventually to the “tax stuff” file.

    If it is a receipt I might need for a warranty, I put it in a box with all of the instructions and warranties from everything. If I am ever looking for warranty info or directions on how to use a feature or something, I know exactly where to look. Every now and then that box gets cleaned out, but that doesn’t happen more than annually, if that often.

  18. 18
    pb Says:

    i bought something called NeatReceipts – it’s a scanner and software specially designed for this task – i think walt mossberg of the wsj wrote it up. i got sick of combing through receipts at tax time this year and bought this and now i am a SCANNING FREAK – this thing has literally changed my life. i do not work for this company, either.

  19. 19
    PC Says:

    A simple system is best; this is 2 steps :

    1) all receipts

  20. 20
    junger Says:

    Since I pay for nearly everything with my debit card, I check all of my purchases online. For the receipts I get from cash purchases, they go straight into my pocket and then written down in the budget.

  21. 21
    Average Joe Says:

    I have a pretty simple system. I have an envelope that has the year written on it. I stuff all my receipts into it. When the year is over, I store that envelope in a filing cabinet and start a new envelope for the new year.

    Simple and has worked for me so far.

  22. 22
    jos Says:

    i shove my reciepts into my wallet, its a big wallet…
    i try to remember to take them out and put them in a little basket but that doesnt happen all to often

  23. 23
    mapgirl Says:

    Easy. Put receipt into wallet. Put all receipts into envelope for the current year.

    I don’t really log my cash receipts into Quicken, which is probably why I am still really crappy at budgeting, but I keep my receipts forever, which annoys people with lifetime product guarantees. As long as I can remember when I bought it, I can find the original receipt. (If it’s still legible by then.)

    I do separate out the receipts that have tax consequences like Blaine does. Those go directly into the tax folder or medical folder and then when appropriate, I tally them up. (Say when I’m trying to figure out my remaining medical FSA balance.)

  24. 24
    Jeremy Says:

    I think the author must be reading my mind. Two weeks ago I was shredding my 2003 financial information since for most stuff we only keep 3 years. One of the worst parts of the shredding was the receipts, it required me to go through them to keep what was important and throw away what wasnt. I vowed to find an easier way.

    Two options I am looking at here:
    1) Keep doing what I am doing but every time an important receipt comes in, scan it as an attachment into Quicken’s register (just upgraded to 2007). It eliminates the step of figuring out what is important at year’s end.
    or
    2) Go through receipts once a month and toss receipts for things that can’t or will not be returned.

    Currently, I keep 3 years of receipts and with a family of 3 total, that is alot of receipts.

    I’ll probably flip a coin but I appreciate all of the suggestions so far. Keep them coming. Anything I can do to make it easier for my wife to give me a receipt is a good thing.

  25. 25
    nickel Says:

    Interesting idea to scan them and keep them on your computer. I’ve thought of doing this myself, especially when walking past the NeatReceipts kiosk in the airport! However, that adds steps to me already overly-busy life. And besides, I never need the vast majority of my receipts. Thus, I guess I’d prefer to just stash them somewhere consistently and then wade through them when I need to find one.

  26. 26
    MInTheGap Says:

    Hmm… For the most part I’ve been tracking my stuff in Quicken and then tossing the receipts unless I need them for returns. Rarely have I thought I needed something for tax purposes. Invoices I’ve kept for the most part.

    Maybe I need to re-evaluate what I’m doing!

  27. 27
    VasileB Says:

    1. I put ALL the receipts in my wallet
    2. from time to time (weekly) I get them to a box near my computer
    3. on my “month closing” day I download my statements from the banks into MS Money and check everything
    4. I toss all the unimportant receipts (groceries, gas, restaurant, etc).
    5. I staple all the receipts to be kept to the respective bank statement. For cash purchases, I staple them to a blank paper. If I ever need any of them, I just go in Money, get the date and the account, and find the receipt.
    6. I file the statements in folders, one folder for each account. When the year is over, I empty all the folders and put everything in a binder, so I have a binder for 2005, one for 2006 and so on.
    7. I have a few special folders:
    - for my tax deductions
    - for my spouse tax deductions
    - for medical expenses
    - for business expenses
    It’s easy to go to the accountant with only these files, and I can be sure I didn’t forget anything.

    After I file our tax returns, I move averything in these folders to a “tax” binder. A 1″ binder is probably enough for a few years.

    It really helps if you “align” the bank statements and major bills issuing dates (credit cards, rent, phone, internet, etc). Just ask your bank or provider to change the date.

    All my billing cycles start at the beginning of the month, so I receive all the papers until 15th of the next month. So my “month closing” is on 16th. It takes 1 hour to sort the receipts for the previous month, balance the accounts in Money and pay all the bills (which are usually due on 22th or so).

  28. 28
    Kelli girl Says:

    For many years I kept every single receipt and then diligently checked each receipt against my credit card statements. Often, quarterly, UGH!! Never in 12 years did I ever have an error on my CC statements! Now, I toss gas, grocery, restaurant receipts weekly (when purse is stuffed) into shredder, keep the Target,etc. types until the 90 day period in case need to return something and then they too are shredded. My VISA sends a year end statement (in my case a booklet!) listing every single purchase under some category making for fabulous financial tracking. Now, I quickly glance over my CC statements and file them away.

  29. 29
    Steve Says:

    What do you guys think of the approach used by #28 by Kelli girl? I am leaning this way. With the exception of a periodic detailed receipt check.

  30. 30
    s Says:

    Even though kelli girl may find it easy to do her filing that way, it could be risky. If you were to find out that even once there was a mistake, then you would wish you had the receipts. Checking a receipt against every statement is a lot of work, but the next best thing would be to at least keep the receipts. You don’t have to compare all the receipts. It does not harm in keeping them and filing (by category, restaurants, grocery stores, etc.). I am not sure of any benefit of destroying them. Also, a receipt can be used to dispute something.

  31. 31
    Kelligirl Says:

    Kelligirl here. Perhaps I need to clarify. I do keep receipts for 90 days for anything that could foreseeably need to be returned. But storage space is a premium and the visible clutter stressful. I do not know how I manage to accumulate soooo many receipts each week…. That said, remember that you only have the right to dispute a charge within a 60-90 day frame with your credit card company and most stores. Oftentimes the receipts become blank white paper over time (the ink fades) past 90 days anyway. Oh, and of course I do keep them if it is for tax or insurance purposes or to document the new roof, etc. I am, however, thinking about learning how to scan them and digitally store them…….some day.
    Hope this helps.

  32. 32
    Sam Says:

    try each time have one put it on some sort of long hook. I’d made one just using medal hangers and twisting it till it makes a long hook and made a loop on one end of it to be able to nail it to the wall. So each time you have a reciept, just poke it through and you can flip thru it.

  33. 33
    Jeanette Says:

    This is a small business nightmare! The gas pumps receipts are sometimes difficult to read the information. More information needs to go to the credit card company so these can be printed at the end of the month without all the time being spent trying to find receipts etc. This is a complete waste of resources when we require manual labor employees to keep up with their daily receipts!

  34. 34
    liz Says:

    My husband & I,since we have the androids that have email access to them(sending & recieving),created an email specifically for receipts for each specific year. We usually do the long form for income tax purposes & well,we need to keep our reciepts for all expenses. When we purchase something that needs to be filed,we take a pic of the reciept & email it to that “reciepts” email with the name of place & amount spent as the header. I created a folder for each different type of expense (meals,tools,etc.) in that email & when I have time I’ll log in from anywhere & throw each reciept into it’s folder..at the end of the year it’s pretty easy to add stuff up in each folder & well you have the backup reciept in case of an audit :) ..I hope this idea helps. You might tweak it to your individual needs but it’s a great way to store your recipts & have access from anywhere

  35. 35
    nan Says:

    i just shove them into a pile and then they get thrown away later and then i need them and they are nowhere to be found.

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