I shared a glimpse into my book-keeping system in this post about my tax planner and this post about the simple spreadsheets I use to keep track of business income and expenses for tax time, but didn’t go into too much detail about my system for filing receipts, so let’s change that at in this post!
I file receipts digitally and I also keep the paper copy (just in case!)
Choose your categories
Before you file anything, determine what categories you need (this way you’ll know how many tabs and folders you need). Think of all the things you buy. When I was first setting up my budget binder, I placed each category on a separate sticky note and laid them out in front of my, then took receipts and placed them in a stack under each sticky note.
My main categories are:
- Graphic design resources
- Necessities (e.g. hosting fees for my online store, Etsy fees)
It’s up to you how detailed you want to be with sub-categories of your main categories. But keep in mind if you’re filing using the paper method (more on that below), that it’s easier to use no more than 10 tabs in a binder (that way you can see them all at once). If you have receipts that can be stored in a sub-category, use a rubber band, butterfly clip (you can get them in different colors which is helpful for color coding) or colored envelopes and then keep them all in the same plastic sleeve or folder with the main category, within the binder.
If you want to set up your own receipts folders, here are some categories you might have:
- Bills (sub-folders for: electricity, water, rates, body corporate etc.)
- Affiliate income
- Guest posts
- Invoices sent
- for each month of the year
- OR a separate folder for each client
- Marketing (e.g. stock photos, Pinterest advertising, Facebook advertising, sidebar advertising on another blog)
- Necessities e.g hosting, domain name renewal etc.
I highly recommend separating income and expenses receipts into their own folders. It only takes an extra second or 2 to click on the next sub-folder and it keeps everything super organized and easy to find.
Still not sure what categories to choose? This free printable checklist of 100 Tax Deductions can help 🙂
This is what I do when I spend money:
Put the receipt in a clear document wallet. I use a clear document wallet (the same ones I use to organize planner stickers that I talked about in this post) to store tax deductible receipts. I used to place them in a separate section of my wallet but it tended to get a bit too full with all those loyalty cards we all seem to end up with!
I still store personal receipts such as groceries in my wallet. Another way I tried storing them was using the pocket folder that comes with most planners, but I would always be paranoid they were going to fall out.
By filing receipts as I spend money, I don’t need to waste time sifting through and sorting all of them when I get home.
If the receipt has personal and business expenses on it, I draw an asterisk beside the business expenses, total them up, then write the dollar amount on the receipt (in a color other than black so it stands out – I recommend using bright colors such as Pink, red or orange, that way you’ll easily be able to see the amount at a glance). I love the Papermate Inkjoy gel pens – they write really nice and come in lots of colors 🙂
Each week (usually on a Sunday) I take a photo of each of the receipts. Each receipt gets a separate photo to make naming the photo and finding it easier later on.
As I’m taking photos of each receipt, I record them using an expenses log / tracker from my budget binder printables kit (there’s also an expense tracker my tax planner printables kit), and place them in a binder (more on that below).
If it’s a digital receipt, I print the receipt as a PDF (or take a screenshot using the snipping tool then save it as an image file). I do this as I spend the money, not once a week otherwise I would forget to record them, plus then I have to find the receipt again – I find it quicker and easier to just save it as I go.
I store the tax printables & receipts in a binder. I recommend closeable pockets for each year’s receipts (or each category’s receipts if you have a lot of them). This pocket has the holes pre-punched for a binder (Ditto brand from Big W). You could also hold your receipts together with a butterfly clip.
I use my iPhone to take the photos and upload them to my laptop, where I store it in the relevant folder.
I don’t just ‘dump save’ the file on my desktop it goes into a specific folder:
TAX (main folder)
- 2016- 2017 (sub-folder)
Because I have a digital business, I don’t have that many categories or receipts. I could combine the blog and business folders but I find it easier and more organized to keep them separate. I put everything for marketing under blogging as the only marketing expenses I have for my business are stock photos which I use for blogging as well.
Don’t be afraid to use a lot of folders when storing receipts. If you get audited or need to check if you’ve already filed a receipt it’ll make it much easier if you have a lot of folders.
I try not to have anymore than 3 levels of sub-folders.
I could add a folder for the months of the year to the sub-folders but I don’t really search by month, I search by type of expense – I just include the month in the file name just in case.
When naming files, I don’t bother typing the date out like 02-01-2016 because if I’m looking for a receipt I’m not going to remember the exact date of purchase. I might be able to recall the month the purchase was made, but there’s basically a zero percent chance of me remembering the exact date.
Note that you can also change the view format to ‘details’ and it’ll show the date the file was created. So this can be another good way to search for a receipt, as well as the search bar of course!
If it sounds like a lot of steps it’s not – it only takes 10 – 15 minutes per week.
I periodically back up those files to cloud storage
Backblaze automatically backs up files for me, but I’m paranoid so I also back them up manually. I do this once a week when I’ve finished updated the spreadsheet and saving copies of the receipts in their relevant folders.
I did a full walk through on how Backblaze works in this post. Basically it automatically backs up my files in the background when my computer is on – I don’t even notice it and it doesn’t slow down my computer.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to backup your files! Computers don’t last forever. What if it gets a virus and wipes your hard-drive? If you don’t think this stuff happens to you, the hard-drive of my sister’s laptop died twice!
I don’t recommend storing receipts in folders in your email account
It can be used as a temporary filing system before saving into a folder on your computer but to be honest I think it’s a waste of time. Because you’re filing it in your emails only to have to file it again in the folders of your computer. So you’re creating twice as much work for yourself. While you can search your inbox for receipts that’s not really keeping everything all in one place. If your business was audited it would be a nightmare trying to find receipts that are stored here, there and everywhere.
Another problem with long-term storage of receipts in your inbox is if your email is hacked, or you exceed your allowable storage limit (albiet this is huge on Gmail – 100GB!) you may accidentally delete receipts when doing a mass cull to make room for more emails etc. On a side note if you want to quickly clear out your inbox I recommend Unroll me (it’s free!).
When I purchase something online and the receipt is sent to my emails, I file it straight away in the relevant folder on my computer but another method could be to scroll through your emails and save all the receipts all at once on a weekly to monthly basis but I found this more time consuming than just filing as soon as the expense incurred.
How to organize and file paper copies of receipts
Why bother keeping a paper copy of a receipt if I already have a digital copy? Because I’m paranoid. I used to use backup hard-drives to store computer files (in addition to saving them onto the hard-drive of my laptop), but when one of my hard-drives that had a LOT of files on it corrupted, I needed a place I could backup everything to – 2TB hard-drives weren’t big enough to store all of the graphic design resources I have, videos for my ecourses and YouTube channel, all of the printables I’ve made over the past couple of years, photos for the blog, personal photos, tax documents…you get the idea.
So I’ve since switched to cloud storage and use Backblaze to automatically back up my computer. Anywho, let’s get back to organizing receipts:
What you’ll need:
- Binder – I recommend a clear view binder as you can slip a pretty cover in the front and spine
- Label maker (I use the DYMO label maker) or you can just hand-write your labels
- Tabs – I recommend the colored tabs (great for color coding) that have a little pocket so you can change out the label if you need to later on
- My tax planner printables
- Colored pens (optional)
In each section of my binder I keep an expenses log tracker (I use one of the ones in the budget planner printables kit from my shop, but there’s also one in the tax planner kit as well) – here I record:
- Date purchased
- What the receipt was for (e.g. pens, planner stamps etc.)
- Expense category (e.g. stationery)
- Amount (including cents – I like to track it all 🙂
- And a column to tick when the receipt has been filed both the paper copy and a digital copy
I keep this as a ledger at the front of each category in my binder.
An alternative is to keep the expense tracker at the front of your binder and use a different colored pen for each expense, but I find the method of placing the spending log at the front of each category easier to track.
Because I have a digital business I don’t have many categories I have enough colors that I can use a different color for each. If you had a lot of categories you could try a symbol referencing system instead e.g. an asterisk beside the transaction means it belongs in the stationery category, an arrow means it belongs in self-education etc.
When the page is full of transactions, I take a photo of it with my iPhone and save it to my computer in the relevant folder. Again… just in case. I’d rather keep too many copies of things than not enough!
I use plastic document wallets with a velcro enclosure (you can also get ones with a zip like a big pencil case) to store the receipts – I use a separate one for each cateogory. When I file the receipt I place the most recent receipt on top.
If you have a backlog of receipts or you currently don’t have any filing system other than a shoebox, gather all your receipts and all of your supplies, spread them out in front of you on the coffee table and put on the TV – it’ll make it a much more bearable process!
Tips for organizing receipts:
- Listen to music while filing or do it in front of the TV
- Keep everything e.g. sticky notes and a pen within reach – create your piles around you, or sit on your bed
- File in chunks at a time. If you’ve left your filing to pile up, grab a stack, forget about all the other receipts for now and just file what is in your hand
- Do a little bit each day until all of your files are organized – put a note in your planner to remind you to actually do it
- Don’t chunk together too many things. For example, rather than bills, use separate folders for each type – so separate folder for your electricity bills, another for car bills, another for water bills etc. It also makes it easier if you switch health insurance providers, phone provider company etc.
- I placed a piece of cardstock in each plastic sleeve/sheet protector, that way you can’t see the receipts in the category stored behind. If you didn’t have that many expense categories I’d reocmmend tab folders like these from officeworks – plus they’re gold and have chevrons (need I say more 🙂
For documents such as birth certificates, I keep these in a separate binder with the important information kit from my shop.
Other ways you could organize receipts:
Set up a different folder for each letter of the alphabet. I wouldn’t recommend doing a folder like A – M as you’re going to have to sift through all of the receipts each time you have a letter somewhere in this range. It only takes a couple of seconds to set up a new folder and it’ll save you a lot of time later on down the track
A different folder for each month of the year. I opted not to store receipts this way as I don’t care when the money was spent – I am more likely to search by category than try and remember when I spent the money.
Liked this post? Pin it!