How to Keep Track of Your Receipts, Bills & Other tax stuff.
Day 5 of 5 days of organizing!

I’m gonna be honest with you here right from the get-go.

I had two options yesterday. Write this awful, awful post on how to organize your receipts, bills and other tax stuff OR fix my clogged toilet.

I went with the toilet.

Yes, actual crap is more fun than tax crap.

I’ve been self employed for the past 12 years or so. That means I’ve had to keep track of every single bill, receipt, and invoice. When I was in television I could write off my clothing, make-up, home office … that sort of thing. Now that I’m a blogger I can write off even more and I have to really keep track of all of my bills and receipts.

It’s a pain and I hate it. But I have figured out a few things to make it a little less gross.

Welcome to the final day, Day 5 of the 5 days of organizing!

 

friday

 

Whether you organize your papers for tax purposes or just so you can easily check how much you spent on haircuts or hydro in a year I have one piece of advice.

make-it-easy
I have a system for keeping track of all my bills and receipts.  I even have a drawer all separated by file folders categorized by 12 or so different categories I write off.   All I have to do is put my bill or receipt in the appropriate file.

It’s too hard.

It’s upstairs, in a desk drawer, out of the way.  Plus I have to open the drawer.  No joke, that makes it too much of a pain.

So this year, before it’s too late, before I feel like I’m overwhelmed with bills and receipts I’m making a plan.  A PLAN I SAY! One that starts from the moment the receipt hits your  hand to the moment you start doing your taxes.

If you struggle with this sort of thing  the plan should work for you too.

1.  Keep an envelope in your car or purse.

The second you get a receipt from something don’t throw it willy nilly into your purse like some sort of animal.  Put it in an envelope.  At least that way you’re halfway to being organized.  When you want to file your receipts or look for a bill to return something, they’re all in one place.  Not smashed at the bottom of your purse with  pieces of chewed gun squished between them.

2.  Categorize your bills.

Only you know how to categorize your bills according to your needs, business or whatever.  As a blogger who uses her whole house for work and also does writing and video work on the side, these are my categories for tax purposes.

tax-categories

 

3.  Create an ATTRACTIVE and easy to use file system.

That means putting somewhere it’s easy to get to and use.  For me, that’s either going to be the mudroom where I go in and out from my house every day, or my kitchen.  Because I’m in a kitchen disaster at the moment I have to wait until the kitchen is completed to implement it, but these are a few ideas I’m using for inspiration.

They will inspire you too.

 

Cheap and easy.

If you don’t have a lot of things to keep track of,

you could modify this clothespin idea from Etsy.

pins

 

 

You can get little wire wall baskets like these at the Dollar Store, Ikea or Staples.

These are great because they’re SO easy to use. No need to open a drawer or take the lid off of a box.

Just throw the appropriate receipt inside!

For tax purposes I’d try to find smaller wall bins and use more of them.

One for each receipt category.

wire-files

Toast!

Just the other day I was looking at an antique toast rack

at an antique storethinking …

I LOVE toast racks!  Too bad I only make one piece of toast at a time.

BUT, I could still use one for keeping track of utility bills.

One slot for every category.

When it comes time to add everything up during tax season, everything’s right there.

Plus you can celebrate with a nice piece of toast.

toast-rack

I found this storage idea for craft paper and shelf liner, but

if you used bright coloured paper like this and rolled it into bigger tubes,

you could label each tube and use them as containers

to put your receipts in.   You could probably fit 4 large,

colourful tubes into each shelf.

Cute, really easy to use and cheap!

To modify this idea if you have a wood box, like a butter box or old crate

you could place the tubes in the box and use it that way on the floor, shelf or desk.

mac-tac

So those are our low tech options for organizing receipts.

HERE is the high tech …

Neat Receipts is a little scanner with software bundle.  You just insert your receipt into the device and it loads it into the Neat Receipt software in your computer keeping track of everything.   I really have no idea how it works.  What I do know IS I WANT ONE.

Neat Receipts – the fancy version

 

fancy-scanner

Neat Receipts – the other version

cheaper-scanner

 

This concludes the 5 days of organizing.  I hope you enjoyed it.  Or at least tolerated it.

At the very least I hope it was more enjoyable than a backed up toilet.

Have a good weekend!

Have your own tips? Tricks? Let everyone know.

Want more STUFF like this?

Get my posts emailed to you daily.

 

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47 Comments

  1. Mary Werner says:

    LOVE the car envelope idea – this will actually work. I will probably stuff it then get a bigger envelope BEFORE I even think about filing. Is there a site to buy large envelopes say – about 2 feet square and 1 foot wide? Never mind that would be too much like filing and we know where that would lead. But still it is a really great idea.

    • Emily says:

      I use the envelope idea for my coupons that I want to use. I found a plastic zipper type envelope at Staples for a couple of bucks and its always in my car. SO maybe I will have the coupon when I am at that store…50% of the time instead of 0%. LOL

  2. Cynna says:

    I am not going to read anything you write until you quit with the organizing/cleaning topics!
    🙂

  3. Debbie says:

    We used to keep a box for all of our receipts and every few months, um, six months, I would separate the receipts by date. How nuts is that? That’s what I thought. Now we keep a 12 pocket accordion folder (Staples) in the office. We are always in the office. Every day my husband puts his receipts under the correct month in the holder. Me, well, when the compartment in my purse for receipts is full, I divide them by month (great to do when waiting for an appointment) and put them in the accordion folder. Slap a year on the outside of the accordion folder and we are good to go. This saves me enough time to clean and polish the banisters and dust the top of every doorway. Kidding! Not.

  4. Amie Mason says:

    I’ve been self employed for nearly 10 years now. I have a box where everything is placed when its paid for; every month I sit down and enter all the details into my accounting system (I have just moved to the cloud with Xero.com which means I can edit on the fly), then file it all away into the allocated sections in my leaver arch file. I actually really like entering in all my invoices and receipts…. I don’t know why, its a quirk. I also like filling out census forms…. weird right?

    • Karen says:

      I’ve been looking into Xero myself but can’t bring myself to pay a fee, lol. I feel like I have an INSANE amount of small fees each month! Which is probably because I do. Looks like a great program/system/software bundle tho! ~ karen

  5. Maria says:

    In addition to the wall hangers, I found one with magnets from the office supply store (they are made to stick on the outside of a filing cabinet for in use files) but I have one side of my fridge exposed so stuck it there with some file folders – easy to drop in coming in from the garage.

    My organized friend who works from home (meaning has a full real office at home) goes straight in there and scans them, then when the info gets entered into Quicken (weekly) the paper is tossed. She only keeps hard copies of things that require an original signature. I dream of being that organized.

  6. Mary says:

    The binder system works for me. It’s portable, takes up very little space and there’s no hanging of anything on the wall. All you need is a 3″ binder with dividers (with index) and a 3 hole punch. I’ve just started my 2014 binder. What works for me is that I deal with everything as it comes in. Bank statements? – punch them and put them in the binder. Rogers bill? Pay it, punch it and put it in the binder. Get a plastic sleeve for all those loose receipts. Need to reference something from 2013? It’s all in one place – just flip the pages. After years of hanging files, I feel like I’ve died and gone to organizational heaven.

    • Beinda Elizondo says:

      The binder system has worked well for me also with my mother’s medical papers, bills and financial statements. It was very handy to find information needed to complete medicaid financial history. Now that she was approved, paperwork has gone way down and is now kept in an accordion file by month.

  7. Amy says:

    I have the smaller Fujitsu Scansnap (not the Neatdesk) and love it. My favorite thing is that it doesn’t require a separate power source so it’s easy to take anywhere (and I do). I’ve been using it for almost a year and it has made a big difference in the amount of paper floating around and in my ability to locate something quickly. I highly recommend the scanning option!

  8. viveka says:

    Brilliant post … I already use a couple of toast stands for important papers – works brilliantly. And wooden square bins for all my wrapping paper. Thanks for this.

  9. jainegayer says:

    I’m with Cynna. Can we make something next week, Karen? Something with stuff from the Dollar Store.
    I’m tired of organizing. (I’m still working on my closet).
    Please, pretty please!

    • Karen says:

      I told you to exactly what was coming and told you to train for this last weekend, didn’t I? I think you skipped training. You did, didn’t you? ~ karen

      • jainegayer says:

        I did skip training 🙁
        I have decided to just torch the closet.
        I will listen better next time.

        • Sera says:

          Ha! But what will you wear??
          I skipped training too.
          And also, no photos of the closet. I can’t get any angles that will work. I have a door and a turn and then a dark nook. But I promise to finish. Without a blow torch.

  10. Miriam says:

    When will you be writing the column on how to stop procrastinating and get organizing? This morning I tripped over the door of the dog cage, a rocking chair and a box in the 20 feet from my bedroom to the laundry room. I know that my lazy genes are overwhelming my organizing genes and the poor dears just don’t have enough in them to fight back.

  11. Randi says:

    Chewing guns is potentially very dangerous! Don’t do it!

  12. Janet says:

    We have a “Neat Receipts — the other version.” It works great, and it’s very easy to retrieve a copy of a receipt. No more envelopes/boxes/files of receipts taking up space.

  13. I’m the organizing queen when it comes to paperwork. Or should be. I have filing cabinets, bankers boxes, multiple trays and envelopes, file folders, accordian files, hanging files and four tier plastic cabinets. My papers have to be divided into personal, my store (which creates enough paper to sink a small boat – the word “dailies” means just that), the amateur horseracing project that I manage, village business because I’m on the council and invoices for jewelry supplies. So I wish I could show you a picture of my kitchen table. The good news is that I live alone because there is no room for more than one person to eat at a time. All the organizing tools in the world aren’t going to help me. Is there an anonymous club for people like me?
    I did a blog on my organizing or lack thereof http://www.susannaoriginals.blogspot.ca/2010/01/this-could-be-embarassing.html and the best part was the T-shirt someone had made that said “Organized People Are Just Too Lazy To Look For Things!” Words to live by.

  14. Suzan says:

    I am now scanning all my receipts with Scanner Pro on my iPhone. Love the program and so much easier than trying to keep track of all those little receipts. I just snap a pic of every receipt and they are magically stored away.

  15. Debby says:

    Great week full of tips!
    Another option to keep receipts in your purse, briefcase, or office is a sliding zipper baggie- cheap, sturdy, and easy to label.
    http://www.streamlinedsolutions.ca/2013/11/organize-your-expense-receipts/

  16. nicole d says:

    My husband has a system that works fairly well.

    He can write off his gas and some of his food for taxes.
    He keeps all of his (write-off-able) gas receipts in the little compartment on his car door. That way when he gets the receipt, he just shoves it in there as soon as he gets back into his car. The Food ones go on the passenger side. When the compartment starts getting full, he pulls them all out, and puts them in their separate files in his office, to be tallied at tax time.

    Otherwise, we have a small file cabinet in our spare room, that has all of our other paperwork in it.

    The top drawer has files for each letter of the alphabet. This is where we keep all of our manuals, warranties, etc. Everything gets filed by the company name. (eg. our Food Processor warranty and manual is filed under C, because its from Cuisinart).

    The manuals were getting to the point of getting crunched at the back of every drawer and shoved onto the top of the cabinets… we needed a system, and this one it working well so far. 🙂

    The bottom drawer has files like “car”, “insurance”, “paystubs”, and my favourite: “misc things to hold on to” (which includes our marriage certificate, old passports, etc.)

    Thanks again, Karen, for your organizational inspiration.

  17. kate-v says:

    ugh! paperwork and organization there-of is a nightmare – – I’m glad I’m not alone. getting chills now …

  18. AngieC says:

    I am so glad today isn’t Organize Your Pantry day because A) My pantry is a disaster and B) yesterday I moved funny and an old back injury flared up so I’m going to sit on the couch and watch Justified. I did receipts back in December.

    I’d also recommend getting a paper shredder. Not only are they good for getting rid of paper with personal information but you can do it during the commercials and say you were busy but really you were just watching tv.

    It took me three (lazy) days of finding and organizing and shredding but I convinced Husband to get rid of the paperwork for buying a house that he sold in 2001. We aren’t self employed so we don’t have to keep track of as many receipts, mostly just charitable donation slips, but we submit medical expenses to his insurance electronically so we have to keep them for a year. I found receipts from five years ago. And bills from 2007. It feels pretty good to get rid of stuff. This week I found gift bags that Husband and I received wedding gifts in. In 2003. Not only have I been keeping them for over 10 years but I moved them to a new house!? Guess I’m not as good a chucker as I thought I was.

  19. Bols says:

    What I REALLY want is to have hands like the hand model in the scanner photos. Man, those are long slender fingers!

  20. Patti says:

    Well, Karen, yet again, you are the guru of all things home and health! haha!

    I didn’t get to my closets, but you did inspire me to completely re-organize my pantry (that was a lot of work!), my china cabinet (*ahem* bar *ahem*) and my junk drawer. I also finally recycled all the plastic bags which somehow found their way into my house. So thanks for that, Karen.

    Next up: my bathroom cabinets. I have far too much gunk.

  21. NikiDee says:

    I have a small business so receipts are very important. Which is why most of them were little crumbled basketballs by the time I got to them. Until I decided to use the cute Coach coin purse that someone gave me years ago. I’m more a cash girl than coins (pesky things) so I never used that coin purse until a few months ago. It’s a perfect size for my purse and strangely the receipts don’t end up like little basketballs now. Then I pop the freshly crisp receipts into my ancient creepy brown plastic file case. Sadly it works perfectly and I just can’t give it up. Maybe if I think “Karen-like” I’ll come up with a fix for the ugly file case. Does Coach make file covers? 🙂

  22. Debbie says:

    I am just happy to know what a toast stand was…..

  23. mia pratt says:

    Toast holder? TOAST HOLDER? How come I never knew about this? I need one of those immediately for toast. I can’t actually eat toast, carbs and fat and all – so I LOVE to make toast for others. Pretty toast with yellowy surfaces where the butter sinks into toasty-crisp crags, brown with little black crisps at the edge. White, brown, nutty grain – it’s all beautiful edible art to me. With a toast holder I could display this toast on the center of the table when my friends eat here (which is often). And as for taxes? Giant drawer of gum-covered receipts from the bottom of my giant purse. I’m going out immediately and look for toast holders and tax baskets. I really needed a cleaning project this week after a row of very cold weather that bored me out of my mind and left piles of blankets and pajamas littered around every room from living in survival mode! Thanks for another crumb and receipt of inspiration, Karen…<:}

  24. Barbie says:

    I want one of those “neat receipt” thingys !!!! I HATE tax time! NEVER am I EVER ready or organized. It’s a nightmare.

  25. Patti says:

    Instead of an envelope in my purse I have one of those leather money bag holders with a zipper. It’s a little bit bigger than a legal size envelope and sturdy so it can withstand the chaos of my purse. I keep receipts and bills in there…really anything I have to deal with goes in there. Then when I’m ready to deal with it all it’s at my fingertips. My problem is where do I keep warranty manuals, insurance policies, etc. They all seem to be 100 pages thick!

  26. Sera says:

    I have that exact drawer filing system and I agree, it is too hard. So then I added one of those three tiered file folder sized things for the top of the desk. Still too hard. So I just bought another three tiered box for my incoming mail so I stop the dumping ground that is my dining table… Well, I still haven’t cleaned off the table but the incoming mail looks better. Sigh.
    Oh god. Taxes.

  27. Nancy Blue Moon says:

    These are some good ideas..I like that Neat Receipts scanner too..great for keeping track of lots of stuff!

  28. beth says:

    I want a Gold Star…Pantry done, Dresser 1 and 2 done, garage with new cabinets for christmas done. Armoire done…all clothing taken to its new homes. Christmas lights down ready to go in closet (his job:) Ugly room closet- done, all the serving dishes live here and vases etc. I could use another month to finish all that hasn’t been finished!
    I started the envelope system two years ago, I keep seven or so envelopes, one for every store or type of store I frequent, in the middle part of my bigger work bag. Only the envelopes and checkbooks are allowed in that pocket. Most of the time receipts go in main wallet pocket then when I have a second they get sorted into the seven envelopes and when taxes come around every thing is right there. I am in love with the toast holders and think it would be great for incoming mail/kitchen counter bills etc. What does anyone do with those little pieces of paper that have a note or address that you just can’t throw out??? Thanks again Karen for the inspiration. Hope your toilet is flowing again!

  29. Donna says:

    Have a Neat Receipt. It only lasts a year, then the paper feed stops working. 2 machines in 2 years, and they’re not cheap!

  30. Susan says:

    I’ve tried lots of things over the years, including the wall baskets, something like a toaster holder, file folders in a file cabinet. What I ultimately landed on is this: Everything possible, like all monthly and annual expenses like utilities, insurance, house payments, etc. is paid with my debit card or on autopay through the bank, same account. Anything purchased from the store, I save the receipt into a receipt box. When I import the monthly account transactions from the bank into my accounting software, I put them into whatever category they need to go into…with categories for items that are tax deductible. If I can’t remember what something is for, I’ve got the receipt in the box and look it up. So everything gets categorized within a few days of the month ending. If I’m going somewhere to pick up medication and some things for the house, I’ll pay for each separately instead of paying for them all together, just to make it easier to track expenses. If I can’t do that for some reason, that receipt doesn’t go into the box, it gets set in front of my computer where I can split the transaction by category and make a note of that on my bank’s site, then put the receipt in the box. Anything I can avoid getting in the mail, I do, so most of the statements come through email or are received online where I can download them as an image if I need them. If something is tax-related, that gets printed out and stuck in a box next to my chair. Anything that comes through snail mail gets put into a box next to my chair. After I close out the month categorizing the banking transactions, all those store receipts get filed into a folder. While I’m watching TV, I’ll pull out a handful of the things received in the regular mail, sort them by bank statements, utilities, insurance, etc., and stick them into the file cabinet also next to my chair, in their respective folders. When it comes time to do my taxes, it’s all done from reports I print out from my accounting software. It’s all been categorized already, so I just have to print the reports and plunk the numbers into the tax software where they belong. Tax time is stress-free, can be done as soon as I get the 1099’s and interest reports from various entities, and taxes can be done in about an hour. 2013 is already wrapped up, I’m just waiting for things from other places to be able to finish my taxes and file them with the 3 states I have to file in.

  31. Pure GENIUS!! I am putting an envelope in my purse right now. Gas receipts always seem to go missing.

  32. This is the post that I’ve been waiting for all week. I am not self-employed, and I have a decent filing system. But all of my mail and receipts sit in a pile on top of the filing cabinet. It’s a disaster. Paperwork was on my to-do list for this weekend, and I think this post may just be the extra push I need to actually cross it off. Thanks!

  33. Trisha says:

    I LOVE the neat scanner! It’s so easy to organize our house and business items – it’s smart feature is the best for reading receipts. You are smart to want one! When we first started the business, things were everywhere and we were so disorganized. I remembered when I started my old job I was horrified to see how things were (not-so-well) filed and I had to put on my big-girl pants and finally treat this home business as a real job. It only took an afternoon to make things work and to create a system that allowed for the laziness and craziness (at home with two kids) that comes with being self-employed. I think the best system works with who you really are and not how you wish to be because you will revert to who you are a month after your new system is in place and it will be redundant and contribute to just not wanting to even start to deal with things. KNOW THYSELF!

  34. Toronto Boy says:

    The Neat portable scanners are are nifty item however they are quite a pricey device. They sell the product line at Staples. I suppose one could justify the price point if you could use it for business applications. Otherwise an all-in-one printer/scanner will do just fine.

  35. Kelly says:

    The one thing you’d want to check into with the scanned receipts is whether CRA would actually accept a scan as evidence in case of an audit. I believe that if you pay for something on visa, for example, they want the little slip of paper – you can’t justify the deduction showing the entry on your VISA statement. The problem with the little slip of paper is that many of those are the kind of paper that fades with time/heat. But even if you have an invisible slip, it beats the visible entry on your visa bill. with logic like that, who knows about scans? I would only take me about 12 years to do all ours digitally but sure would be nice to get rid of the beast of a file cabinet downstairs.

  36. Shauna says:

    I use outright.com. Unfortunately, they were bought by GoDaddy. Fortunately, they haven’t (as yet) changed any of the cool features. I add my accounts, credit cards, etc. that I use for business – everything I spend or earn automatically gets uploaded. Like Quicken, you just need to set categories a few times then it pretty much learns. At the end of the year or quarterly, I go in to make sure everything is categorizing properly. If you have a receipt that wasn’t purchased using one of your cards that are already loaded, or you paid cash (?) you can easily manually add it. Then I just put all my receipts in one redweld. At the end of the year, I click a button called taxes and it summarizes everything and then I click a button for the tax form and it automatically inputs it all into the right lines. It’s brilliant. It’s not free, but it’s not expensive either.

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