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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 July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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