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6 Reasons to Keep Receipts…Or Not!

6 Reasons to Keep Receipts…Or Not!

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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Last Updated on April 8, 2019

22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

Unless you’re infinitely rich or prepared to rack up major debt, you need to budget your income. Setting limits on how much you are willing to spend helps control expenses. But what about your time? Do you budget your time or spend it carelessly?

Deadlines are the chronological equivalent of a budget. By setting aside a portion of time to complete a task, goal or project in advance you avoid over-spending. Deadlines can be helpful but they can also be a source of frustration if set improperly. Here are some tips for making deadlines work:

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  1. Use Parkinson’s Law – Parkinson’s Law states that tasks expand to fill the time given to them. By setting a strict deadline in advance you can cut off this expansion and focus on what is most important.
  2. Timebox – Set small deadlines of 60-90 minutes to work on a specific task. After the time is up you finish. This cuts procrastinating and forces you to use your time wisely.
  3. 80/20 – The Pareto Principle suggests that 80% of the value is contained in 20% of the input. Apply this rule to projects to focus on that critical 20% first and fill out the other 80% if you still have time.
  4. Project VS Deadline – The more flexible your project, the stricter your deadline. If a task has relatively little flexibility in completion a softer deadline will keep you sane. If the task can grow easily, keep a tight deadline to prevent waste.
  5. Break it Down – Any deadline over one day should be broken down into smaller units. Long deadlines fail to motivate if they aren’t applied to manageable units.
  6. Hofstadter’s Law – Basically this law states that it always takes longer than you think. A rule I’ve heard in software development is to double the time you think you need. Then add six months. Be patient and give yourself ample time for complex projects.
  7. Backwards Planning – Set the deadline first and then decide how you will achieve it. This approach is great when choices are abundant and projects could go on indefinitely.
  8. Prototype – If you are attempting something new, test out smaller versions of a project to help you decide on a final deadline. Write a 10 page e-book before your 300 page novel or try to increase your income by 10% before aiming to double it.
  9. Find the Weak Link – Figure out what could ruin your plans and accomplish it first. Knowing the unknown can help you format your deadlines.
  10. No Robot Deadlines – Robots can work without sleep, relaxation or distractions. You aren’t a robot. Don’t schedule your deadline with the expectation you can work sixteen hour days to complete it. Deathmarches aren’t healthy.
  11. Get Feedback – Get a realistic picture from people working with you. Giving impossible deadlines to contractors or employees will only build resentment.
  12. Continuous Planning – If you use a backwards planning model, you need to constantly be updating plans to fit your deadline. This means making cuts, additions or refinements so the project will fit into the expected timeframe.
  13. Mark Excess Baggage – Identify areas of a task or project that will be ignored if time grows short. What e-mails will you have to delete if it takes too long to empty your inbox? What features will your product lack if you need a rapid finish?
  14. Review – For deadlines over a month long take a weekly review to track your progress. This will help you identify methods you can use to speed up work and help you plan more efficiently for the future.
  15. Find Shortcuts – Almost any task or project has shortcuts you can use to save time. Is there a premade library you can use instead of building your own functions? An autoresponder to answer similar e-mails? An expert you can call to help solve a problem?
  16. Churn then Polish – Set a strict deadline for basic completion and then set a more comfortable deadline to enhance and polish afterwards. Often churning out the basics of a task quickly will require no more polishing afterwards than doing it slowly.
  17. Reminders – Post reminders of your deadlines everywhere. Creating a sense of urgency with your deadlines is necessary to keep them from getting pushed aside by distractions.
  18. Forward Planning – Not mutually exclusive with backwards planning, this involves planning the details of a project out before setting a deadline. Great for achieving clarity about what you are trying to accomplish before making arbitrary time limits.
  19. Set a Timer – Get one that beeps. Somehow the countdown of a timer appears more realistic for a ninety minute timebox than just glancing at your clock.
  20. Write them Down – Any deadline over a few hours needs to be written down. Otherwise it is an inclination not a goal. Having written deadlines makes them more tangible than internal decisions alone.
  21. Cheap/Fast/Good – Ben Casnocha in My Start Up Life mentions that you can have only have two of the three. Pick two of the cheap/fast/good dimensions before starting a project to help you prioritize.
  22. Be Patient – Using a deadline may seem to be the complete opposite of patience. But being patient with inflexible tasks is necessary to focus on their completion. The paradox is that the more patient you are, the more you can focus. The more you can focus the quicker the results will come!

Featured photo credit: Estée Janssens via unsplash.com

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