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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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    Last Updated on November 18, 2020

    15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It)

    15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It)

    It’s okay, you can finally admit it. It’s been two months since you’ve seen the inside of the gym. Getting sick, family crisis, overtime at work and school papers that needed to get finished all kept you for exercising. Now, the question is: how do you start again?
    Once you have an exercise habit, it becomes automatic. You just go to the gym, there is no force involved. But after a month, two months or possibly a year off, it can be hard to get started again. Here are some tips to climb back on that treadmill after you’ve fallen off.

    1. Don’t Break the Habit – The easiest way to keep things going is simply not to stop. Avoid long breaks in exercising or rebuilding the habit will take some effort. This may be advice a little too late for some people. But if you have an exercise habit going, don’t drop it at the first sign of trouble.
    2. Reward Showing Up – Woody Allen once said that, “Half of life is showing up.” I’d argue that 90% of making a habit is just making the effort to get there. You can worry about your weight, amount of laps you run or the amount you can bench press later.
    3. Commit for Thirty Days – Make a commitment to go every day (even just for 20 minutes) for one month. This will solidify the exercise habit. By making a commitment you also take pressure off yourself in the first weeks back of deciding whether to go.
    4. Make it Fun – If you don’t enjoy yourself at the gym, it is going to be hard to keep it a habit. There are thousands of ways you can move your body and exercise, so don’t give up if you’ve decided lifting weights or doing crunches isn’t for you. Many large fitness centers will offer a range of programs that can suit your tastes.
    5. Schedule During Quiet Hours – Don’t put exercise time in a place where it will easily be pushed aside by something more important. Right after work or first thing in the morning are often good places to put it. Lunch-hour workouts might be too easy to skip if work demands start mounting.
    6. Get a Buddy – Grab a friend to join you. Having a social aspect to exercising can boost your commitment to the exercise habit.
    7. X Your Calendar – One person I know has the habit of drawing a red “X” through any day on the calendar he goes to the gym. The benefit of this is it quickly shows how long it has been since you’ve gone to the gym. Keeping a steady amount of X’s on your calendar is an easy way to motivate yourself.
    8. Enjoyment Before Effort – After you finish any work out, ask yourself what parts you enjoyed and what parts you did not. As a rule, the enjoyable aspects of your workout will get done and the rest will be avoided. By focusing on how you can make workouts more enjoyable, you can make sure you want to keep going to the gym.
    9. Create a Ritual – Your workout routine should become so ingrained that it becomes a ritual. This means that the time of day, place or cue automatically starts you towards grabbing your bag and heading out. If your workout times are completely random, it will be harder to benefit from the momentum of a ritual.
    10. Stress Relief – What do you do when your stressed? Chances are it isn’t running. But exercise can be a great way to relieve stress, releasing endorphin which will improve your mood. The next time you feel stressed or tired, try doing an exercise you enjoy. When stress relief is linked to exercise, it is easy to regain the habit even after a leave of absence.
    11. Measure Fitness – Weight isn’t always the best number to track. Increase in muscle can offset decreases in fat so the scale doesn’t change even if your body is. But fitness improvements are a great way to stay motivated. Recording simple numbers such as the number of push-ups, sit-ups or speed you can run can help you see that the exercise is making you stronger and faster.
    12. Habits First, Equipment Later – Fancy equipment doesn’t create a habit for exercise. Despite this, some people still believe that buying a thousand dollar machine will make up for their inactivity. It won’t. Start building the exercise habit first, only afterwards should you worry about having a personal gym.
    13. Isolate Your Weakness – If falling off the exercise wagon is a common occurrence for you, find out why. Do you not enjoy exercising? Is it a lack of time? Is it feeling self-conscious at the gym? Is it a lack of fitness know-how? As soon as you can isolate your weakness, you can make steps to improve the situation.
    14. Start Small – Trying to run fifteen miles your first workout isn’t a good way to build a habit. Work below your capacity for the first few weeks to build the habit. Otherwise you might scare yourself off after a brutal workout.
    15. Go for Yourself, Not to Impress – Going to the gym with the only goal of looking great is like starting a business with only the goal to make money. The effort can’t justify the results. But if you go to the gym to push yourself, gain energy and have a good time, then you can keep going even when results are slow.

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