When we work with clients in person to sort out their papers and create systems for them, we always run into the issue of keeping receipts.
For purposes of this article, we’re speaking about personal receipts for managing your household. Businesses should keep all receipts and should definitely use financial management software like QuickBooks or Peachtree to track and report on the information.
Most personal expenses, however, are routine and irrelevant, and keeping all receipts would be a waste of time and energy. Do you really need a receipt to prove that you bought some gum along with your gasoline?
There are essentially 6 reasons that people should keep receipts:
1. Proof of purchase for warranties: Receipts for any major purchase such as appliances, electronics, or jewelry should be filed in your warranty files and retained as long as you own the item. We usually make files with the major heading “Warranties & Instructions” and then have folders for subcategories of Major Appliances, Small Appliances, Electronics, Computers & Peripherals, etc. depending on the person’s buying habits.
2. Proof of major expenses: Receipts for any major expense for your car should be kept in a file for that vehicle, as long as you own it. Major home improvement expenses should be kept in a file for “Home Improvements & Repairs” and then kept with your tax records after you have sold the home.
3. Merchandise returns or exchanges: If you possibly could return an item (or if you gave it as a gift), you may want to hold onto the receipt for 30 days or as long as the store’s return policy applies (some are only 14 days). After that point, you can either throw away the receipts or file them if you need them for warranty reasons. We recommend having a spot for these kinds of pending receipts, such as a slot in a letter sorter or a “waiting” folder, and cleaning it out periodically when full.
4. Expense reimbursements: You may need to be reimbursed for work expenses made with personal funds. First, find out if your company can give you a credit card to use for these items in the future to keep things simpler. You also might enjoy using NeatReceipts, a scanner/software combination made just for this purpose.
5. Budgeting and reconciling: You may be trying to make sense of how much you spend in certain categories. With online banking providing more and more data, do you really need to track everything? Sometimes we talk with our clients about what I call “Quicken Guilt,” the feeling of inadequacy of not entering every receipt into financial software and reconciling everything to the penny. If you feel you must keep receipts for this reason, we recommend having a simple January-December expandable accordion file to quickly and easily put them away.
6. Tax deductions: If you are going to tell the IRS something, you need to be ready to back it up. We recommend having an income tax file for each year. Always have at least one year’s tax folder made up in advance so you’ll be ready when the paper arrives. When you do have a receipt that will be tax deductible, you can jot a quick note on it first and then drop it in your tax file. Tax organization needs can vary widely depending on your situation, but most households don’t have that much and one folder will do.
Other than these reasons, you generally do not need to keep receipts, so liberate yourself and throw some away today!
Lorie Marrero is a Professional Organizer and creator of The Clutter Diet, an innovative, affordable online program for home organization. Lorie’s site helps members lose “Clutter-Pounds” from their home by providing online access to her team of organizers. Lorie writes something useful, funny, interesting, and/or insanely practical every few days or so in her Clutter Diet Blog. She lives in Austin, TX, where her company has provided hands-on organizing services to clients since 2000.