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4 Ways to Get Your Receipts Out of the Shoebox

4 Ways to Get Your Receipts Out of the Shoebox

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    I find receipts in the craziest places: not only do I find them in wallets and purses but it’s not uncommon to fish them out of the filing cabinet or out from behind the couch. After all, those tiny slips of paper can slide away the moment your back is turned. The only way to keep them in line is to have a simple organizational system. For years, the classic approach has been a shoebox stuffed full of receipts. It’s a great way to ensure that all of our bits of paper are in one place, but it still leaves something to be desired. Come tax season, we get the choice between handing that box to an accountant or sorting through them ourselves.

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    There are other plans that can make more sense: we can eliminate a lot of the work that goes along with tracking expenses with a little technology. The options below can simplify the situation and make for a smoother tax season.

    1. Stick to plastic

    If you can make all of your purchases with a credit or debit card, you may be able to eliminate your receipt collection. Most bookkeeping software packages can retrieve your account information for your accounts — and interpret it to a certain extent. There are certain drawbacks to relying entirely on your card statements, though. Most don’t specifically identify just what you’ve purchased and it can be hard to remember whether a particular payment to the bookstore last year was an education expense. Cash payments can also through a big wrench in the system — there are plenty of opportunities for expenses that you need to keep track of that will be cash only (think splitting a meal with a client). There are other specific issues that go along with whether you decide to use a debit card or a credit card.

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    You can annotate your expenses in most bookkeeping programs, though, so as long as you keep up with your receipts, you can avoid organizing and categorizing your receipts beyond once a month. It’s not a perfect solution, but it won’t make your accountant cringe the way that shoebox of receipts does.

    2. Pick a service

    For a fee, services like Shoeboxed will take your receipts and scan them in. They use a system that not only recognizes the text and puts it in a format you can use but it can also automatically categorize your receipts. Because Shoeboxed and other services typically operate on a monthly basis, the number of receipts you can get scanned between now and April 15th may come up short. However, you can do a brief triage on your receipts and eliminate all those that don’t actually affect your taxes: groceries, movies and what not may not need to be scanned, unless you’re working on getting all of your expenses and your budget under control.

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    Pricing can vary on such services. Shoeboxed has plans that go from $9.95 a month up to $49.95 — I consider that a deal. It’s significantly cheaper than paying someone to scan in your receipts for you.

    3. Scan in your receipts yourself

    At first glance, it might seem that scanning in your own receipts is a step backwards from paying a service to do it for you. But with the right equipment, you can pretty much automate the process at home. In this case, the right equipment is a scanner meant specifically for receipts: I’ve been using the NeatReceipts system and actually find it easier than packaging up my receipts and sending them off. I sit down in front of a television show or movie and feed my receipts into the scanner. Its optical character recognition is very good — for the majority of receipts, the scanner extracts all of the pertinent information and puts it in a format that I can dump it into my bookkeeping software (as well as saving it as a PDF).

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    Whether the price tag that goes along with purchasing a scanner just for your receipts is worth it can depend on how many receipts you plan to process: depending on where you pick up the scanner, the price can be more than the cost of a year’s basic plan at Shoeboxed — but less than a mid-level plan. Use it for more than a year, or scan more receipts with it than a service allows for, and it’s not actually all that expensive. And, as long as you’ve got the receipt, you may be able to write off the scanner on your taxes.

    4. Going Old School

    If you’d rather not spend the money on tools or services to take care of your receipts for you, there’s always the old school approach. You can enter your receipts into Excel or another bookkeeping option by hand. But it’s worth noting that such an approach isn’t just expensive in terms of time: it requires more discipline than most people are willing to devote to managing receipts. If you get even a little behind, it can seem absolutely impossible to catch up.

    Other Services and Tools

    I mentioned tools and services that I’ve actually had the chance to use and found reliable. But I know there are many other options out there — if you’ve used a service or tool to organize your receipts that you’ve particularly liked, please share a link in the comments.

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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