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Receipts: Which to Keep and Which to Pitch

Receipts: Which to Keep and Which to Pitch

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    A shoebox full of receipts seem to be the norm for most of us, whether or not we manage our money online. Every time we make a purchase, we shove receipts in wallets, pockets or purses. We bring them home, sometimes sort them and drop them into a shoebox. From there, we ignore them until tax time — often even longer. But we don’t actually need most receipts. While some we may need to hold on to for taxes or records, the grand majority can be out of your house within a week.

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    Short-Term Keepers

    Receipts tend to fall into two categories: those you need to keep at least long enough to double check them against your purchases when you get home and those you need to hold on to for a bit longer. The short-term keepers can be thrown away as soon as you’ve taken care of checking them — I tend to shred these sorts of receipts, but many don’t have any sort of information you really need to worry about.

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    • Cash Receipts: If you keep track of where you spend your cash (as opposed to using a debit or credit card), you may need to note any receipts for cash spending on your money management software. After that, you can get rid of it.
    • Clothing Receipts: Once you’ve put on an outfit and taken off the tags, you can generally get rid of the receipt.
    • Restaurant Receipts: It’s generally worth keeping receipts from restaurants at least long enough to check them against your card statement if you left a tip on your card. There is a chance that the tip can be altered or misread, and you’ll need your receipt to dispute it. If everything checks out, and your meal wasn’t a business expense, you can trash the receipt.

    There is a school of thought that you should keep a receipt until you get rid off whatever you purchased — for instance, you should hold on to a receipt from the grocery store until you finish off your gallon of milk. That’s because you can get reimbursements in many situations (like recalls) or may need to take the item back. It comes down to your personal choice just how long you want to keep receipts for things like groceries and gas, but generally, less than a month seems like a good choice. Otherwise, though, most personal expenses aren’t even short-term keepers. Your grocery receipt may not even need to make it out of the store’s door with you.

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    Long-Term Keepers

    There are some receipts you may need to hold on to significantly longer than the month it takes for your card statement to arrive. Receipts can be used as proof of a whole list of different things, from tax deductions to warranties, so you’ll need to hold on to a few receipts. I know many people that scan these important receipts to make sure that they have them handy. The IRS does accept scanned receipts, but if you’re trying to work with a credit card company or insurer, you may need to hang on to the original.

    • Business Expenses: If you own your own business, most expenses are tax deductible. Hold on to those receipts, though — in the event of an audit, they come in handy. That includes some receipts you might otherwise get rid of, like gas or meals, as long as they are business expenses.
    • Job Search Expenses: You can deduct many of the expenses associated with a job search, so hold on to those receipts.
    • Employer Reimbursement: With most companies, you’ll need the receipt for any expense you’re reimbursed for. It’s generally worth making a copy to hold on to until you actually get a check — you’ll likely have to turn the original over to your employer.
    • Medical Expenses: Between tax deductions and insurance, holding on to any receipts for medication, doctors’ visits and procedures is a must.
    • Big Purchases: Hold on to the receipts for big purchases, like appliances and electronics. Defining how big can be tricky, but consider how you paid for it — if you used a credit card, you may have a warranty beyond what the store offered you, as long as you have the original receipt. You may also need receipts for big ticket items in order to make an insurance claim.
    • Warranties: If you purchase any product with a warranty, you’ll want to keep the receipt — you may need it to claim the warranty or even prove that you have it. When possible, it makes sense to keep warranty receipts together with the product that they came with. Taping them inside owners’ manuals can be an easy way to keep track of them.
    • Donations: It often takes an extra step to get a receipt for a donation — but it’s worth it. You’ll need it if you want to write your donation off on your taxes.

    Just how long you need to keep receipts for depends on just who might ask to see them. A good rule of thumb is that anything related to insurance or warranties can be thrown away once you get rid of the item in question — if you replace your stove, for instance, you’ll want to keep the new receipt, but you can throw away the receipt for the old appliance. For the IRS, how long you need to keep receipts can vary significantly: the very longest you might need a set of receipts is seven years.

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    Last Updated on September 10, 2019

    How to Master the Art of Prioritization

    How to Master the Art of Prioritization

    Do you know that prioritization is an art? It is an art that will lead you to success in whatever area that matters to you.

    By prioritization, I’m not talking so much about assigning tasks, but deciding which will take chronological priority in your day—figuring out which tasks you’ll do first, and which you’ll leave to last.

    Effective Prioritization

    There are two approaches to “prioritizing” the tasks in your to-do list that I see fairly often:

    Approach #1 Tackling the Biggest Tasks First and Getting Them out of the Way

    The idea is that by tackling them first, you deal with the pressure and anxiety that builds up and prevents you from getting anything done—whether we’re talking about big or small tasks. Leo Babauta is a proponent of this Big Rocks method.[1]

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    Approach #2 Tackling the Tasks You Can Get Done Quickly and Easily, with Minimal Effort

    Proponents of this method believe that by tackling the small fries first, you’ll have less noise distracting you from the periphery of your consciousness.

    If you believe in getting your email read and responded to, making phone calls and getting Google Reader zeroed before you dive into the high-yield work, you’re a proponent of this method. I suppose you could say Getting Things Done (GTD) encourages this sort of method, since the methodology advises followers to tackle tasks that can be completed within two minutes, right there and then.

    Figure out Your Approach for Prioritization

    My own approach is perhaps a mixture of the two.

    I’ll write out my daily task list and draw little priority stars next to the three items I need to get done that day. They don’t need to be big tasks, but nine times out of ten, they are.

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    Smaller tasks are rarely important enough to warrant a star in the first place; I can always get away without even checking my inbox until the next day if I’m swamped, and the people who need to get in touch with me super quickly know how.

    But I’m not recommending my system of prioritization to you. I’m also not saying that mine is better than Leo’s Big Rocks method, and I’m not saying it’s better than the “if it can be done quickly, do it first” method either.

    The thing with prioritization is that knowing when to do what relies very much on you and the way you work. Some people need to get some small work done to find a sense of accomplishment and clarity that allows them to focus on and tackle bigger items. Others need to deal with the big tasks or they’ll get caught up in the busywork of the day and never move on, especially when that Google Reader count just refuses to get zeroed (personally, I recommend the Mark All As Read button—I use it most days!).

    I’m in between, because my own patterns can be all over the place. Some days I will be ready to rip into massive projects at 7AM. Other times I’ll feel the need to zero every inbox I have and clean up the papers on my desk before I can focus on anything serious. I also know that my peak, efficient working time doesn’t come at 11AM or 3PM or some specific time like it does for many people, but I have several peaks divided by a few troughs. I can feel what’s coming on when and try to keep my schedule liquid enough that I can adapt.

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    That’s why I use a starred task list system rather than a scheduled task list. It allows me to trust myself (something that I suppose takes a certain amount of discipline) and achieve peak efficiency by blowing with the winds. If I fight the peaks and troughs, I’ll get less done; but if I do certain kinds of work in each period of the day as they come, I’ll get more done than most others in a similar line of work.

    You may not be able to trust yourself to that extent without falling into the busywork trap. You may not be able to tackle big tasks first thing in the morning without feeling like you’re pushing against an invisible brick wall that won’t budge. You might not be able to deal with small tasks before the big tasks without feeling pangs of guilt and urgency.

    My point is:

    The prioritization systems themselves don’t matter. They’re all pretty good for a group of people, not least of all to the people who espouse them because they use them and find them effective.

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    What matters is that you don’t fall for one set of dogma (and I’m not saying Leo Babauta or David Allen preach these things as dogma, but sometimes their proponents do) until you’ve tried the systems extensively, and found which method of chronological prioritization works for you.

    And if the system you already use works great, then there’s no need to bother trying others—in the world of personal productivity, it’s too easy to mess with something that works and find yourself unable to get back into your former groove.

    “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

    In truth, this principle applies to all sorts of personal productivity issues, though it’s important to know which issues it applies to.

    If you thought multitasking worked well for you each day and I’d have to contend that you are wrong—multitasking is a universal myth in my books! But if you find yourself prioritizing tasks that never get done, you might need to reconsider which of the above approaches you’re using and change to a system that is more personally effective.

    More About Prioritization & Time Management

    Featured photo credit: Sabri Tuzcu via unsplash.com

    Reference

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