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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 August 20, 2019

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard. Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

Curiosity

Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

Patience

Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

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When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

A Feeling for Connectedness

This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

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1. Research

Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

Learning the Basics

Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

Hitting the Books

Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

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Long-Term Reference

While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

2. Practice

Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

3. Network

One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

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These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

4. Schedule

For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

Final Thoughts

In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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