Reasoning About Receipts
I have a question. What do you do with receipts? How do you organize them in your purse, out of your purse, and at home? When do you chuck them? Where do you store them? I have so many and I think your brilliant organizational mind will be able to help me. ~K
Let’s talk about receipts. They are ever present in our lives and prove to be superbly important to us when we can’t find them. The typical American household returns only a small percentage of their purchases to the stores. But when it comes time to do a return, having a receipt makes the process so much easier. In addition, warranties on larger purchases are easier to claim with the adjacent receipt.
On the other hand, many of the receipts we receive are almost worthless to us past the front door of the store. This is especially true when we buy and consume groceries, we buy small sundries we won’t be returning because of the hassle, and/or we buy treats for ourselves we have eaten before the receipt ink is dry.
To answer your questions, let’s categorize receipts into four kinds: 1) receipts for insignificant items we know from the outset we will not need to keep, 2) receipts for less-expensive items, 3) receipts for larger or expensive purchases, and 4) receipts for business purposes.
Right on the spot, crumple up and put in the wastebasket and/or your pocket receipts you know will have no further use. For example, when I buy a cold soda in Walgreens, the receipt is crumpled and discarded as soon as possible.
Put all other receipts in your wallet right at the store so they don’t get lost in the bags with your purchases. This keeps them safe until you can return home.
If the purchase is important enough and it is listed on the receipt with other smaller purchases, notate at the top of the receipt the name of this important item. For example, I purchased an appliance along with several other sundies at Kohl’s during at 30% off sale. I wrote at the top of that receipt, right at the cash register, MIXER, to remind me this was a special receipt.
Complications come when you return several items from one receipt and now have a return receipt plus the original receipt. This becomes more confusing when you do an exchange and end up with that receipt, too. In this case, keep all receipts for the same shopping trip together, stapling if necessary to keep them in chronological order. I often ask the sales clerk to do the stapling for me when the receipts begin to multiple.
I’m not a heavy shopper so I sort through all my receipts once a week when I go the weekly budget. Some of my friends have to sort through their receipts more frequently to free up room in their handbags and wallets.
In all cases, put #2 (smaller purchase) receipts in a container where they will stay for one calendar year (plus the weeks into the next year until you do your taxes). This container might be a folder in your kitchen desk drawer or a oversize ceramic jar in a kitchen cupboard. The rule here is to have one place for #2 receipts with the intent to keep them for one year.
Go through and throw away the unneeded receipts from this container when you do taxes for that calendar year. This means that all my 2011 #2 (smaller purchases) receipts will be kept in the same place until I do my taxes early in 2012. If I still don’t need the receipts then, I’ll discard them.
Paper clip the week’s receipts together for convenience in finding a batch that is chronologically close, but don’t worry too much about organizing past keeping them all in the same place. If you have a lot of receipts, consider using the method for Receipts Rule #4 to make them easier to find.
I’ve found that if I need a #2 (small purchase) receipt, I’ll take the time to sort through the many that I have, which seems easier then spending a lot of time mini-organizing them at the beginning of this process.
If you have a #3 (larger purchase) receipt, immediately staple this receipt to the warranty documentation that often comes with these larger purchases. Then put all the documentation (which is often multiple papers in various sizes) in a one-gallon ziploc bag for easy containment. Label the ziploc bag and file it away with your other warranties and instructions.
This keeps the receipt with the documentation so you can easily find it when the item breaks down or fails you months or even years down the line.
If you have receipts for business purchases or are dealing with a larger number of receipts, these need to be kept organized from the beginning. It is useful to circle the place, date, and total on the receipt as soon as you receive it. This makes it easier to find that information when its time to ask for reimbursement and/or enter the information in your business’s accounting program.
These receipts can be stored chronologically in labeled January-December folders. Alternatively, they can be stapled to 8.5” x 11” sheets of paper, the paper punched and then stored in a binder. These practices have the advantage of easier finding but present more work at the front end.
Remember, there are generally four categories of receipts. Choose your own effective method for handling each kind of receipt. Be consistent to follow your system from start to end, each time with each receipt. By doing this, you will find that receipts become your friends, easy to find when you need them, and easier to discard with relief when their usefulness is done.
Photos from sxc.hu. Uused with permission.
Consider purchasing the Organized Receipts Filing System.