In the world of business expense reporting, I've seen a few very high-tech solutions designed to make receipt collection and submission quick, easy, and nearly fool-proof. But what if your company doesn't use these apps and services?
I'm in this very same boat. The system I use for recording my expenses now may surprise you because it's so low-tech. But I'm about to embark on a long and harried business trip to CES this week, during which time I'm going to try out a new, more high-tech solution.
Logging Business Travel Expenses the Low-Tech Way
The way I currently keep track of my business travel expenses while on the road is decidedly low-tech. Here's what I do:
- The first receipt is usually a taxi or car service. I put it in my wallet, along with any other receipts for the first day, such as food, with the exception of airline receipts, because they're big.
- If I'm traveling by plane, I save the checked bag receipt and boarding pass tucked against my laptop where I know it will stay flat because it's too big to fit in my wallet.
- By the time I check into the hotel, I've accumulated a few receipts already . I find the hotel stationery, grab an envelope, and tuck the receipts inside in chronological order. No envelopes? Fold a piece of paper into a pouch. Good enough.
- On the outside of the envelope, I write the date and the expenses I've accumulated so far.
- For all days of travel, I repeat this process: log expenses on the outside of the envelope with the date written at the start of each new day, and tuck the receipts into the envelope.
- If there is no receipt, I just write the expense on the envelope and snap a photo of the expense if available (e.g., the gas station filling display) with my smartphone.
- When I'm packing up at the hotel to return home, I tuck the envelope against my laptop to keep it flat and safe. I also know that if I take out my laptop at the airport, I'll remember to add any last-minute expenses for the day.
- Back at the office, when I transfer my expenses into a spreadsheet to submit them, I have an opportunity to double-check my expenses against both the receipts and my list. The receipts should be in order, so checking them and logging them is decidedly simply.
- Before I scan all my receipts to submit electronically, I tape them to a standard sheet of paper, organized by date. I usually have three of four sheets. It's easiest to scan receipts in bulk when they're taped to paper.
- I combine my receipts and digitally signed expense report into one PDF and submit it.
This method works for me because I am consistent about recording my expenses on the envelope as they incur. I also like having the double-check step because I almost always catch an expense that I would have otherwise missed when I review the trip from start to finish.
My Hacked Solution for Mobile Expense-Reporting
For my next trip (which will actually start the day this article appears), I've devised a more high-tech and mobile solution: log expenses directly into the final spreadsheet as they accrue using my smartphone.
PCMag does not use Concur, a popular expense-reporting tool, but, if it did, I would instead use the mobile apps supported by Concur that let you snap photos of your receipts and upload them automatically to an online account, where they're sorted and totaled for you. It's an excellent, quick, and efficient way to record expenses so long as you're diligent about the process.