Receipts are a constant for most of us. If you buy stuff, you’ll have the privilege of dealing with receipts. Unless you have a system for organizing them, they’ll start to pile up on surfaces and make you feel yucky (or at least that’s how they make me feel). Receipts are annoying but there are ways to process them that will make life a little easier. And if you have a really good system, you’ll actually be able to find an old receipt when you need it.
Here I’ll be sharing some methods I use for organizing my receipts. Creating a system will give your receipts a home and prevent the dreaded scraps from becoming a nuisance.
(This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. Please see my full disclosure.)
Do We Need Receipts?
So why would you bother taking a receipt in the first place? Most of us take it because we want to glance at it and make sure we were charged the correct amount for the items we bought. Once that’s done the only reasons you would keep it is so you can return the item later if you need to or for tax purposes. That’s it. Unless you’re returning an item or need the receipt for your taxes, there’s really no need to keep a receipt.
(The above assumes you’re paying for things with a credit or debit card which allows you to track purchases. If you pay for things with cash and you’re using your receipts to manually track your expenses…yikes! You’re a brave soul! Please keep reading.)
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Types of Receipts
If you already have a pile of receipts sitting somewhere in your home, you’ll want to know how to sort them. Lets’ go over some of the most common categories:
- fast food
- home goods
In my opinion, different types of receipts should be kept for different lengths of time. Here’s how I break things down.
Fast Food and Grocery Receipts
If you go to a fast food place and you’ve finished your meal, you can throw out the receipt right then and there. You also don’t need to keep grocery receipts. Odds are you’re not going to return food items. I think in the past six years I’ve returned one item to my local supermarket. It was $7. If I hadn’t kept that receipt I would have been ok.
Keeping these receipts even for a few days can get hairy. As you add more receipts to the pile, clearing them out later becomes one more chore on your to-do list. Better to just throw it out right away and get it over with rather than have to deal with a stack of receipts you may not want to look at again.
Pharmacy and Medical Receipts
Sometimes you can treat pharmacy receipts the same as the food receipts. If you bought an item at the pharmacy that you can’t return, the receipt should go in the trash.
But if you have a flexible spending account, you’ll be submitting pharmacy receipts for reimbursement. Flexible spending accounts allow you to submit receipts digitally so once you scan the receipt, the original can be thrown out.
This also applies to medical receipts. You can scan and submit digitally. However, there’s a way around this if you have access to your explanation of benefits statements. These are usually available on your insurance company’s website. Most of the time EOBs are accepted for reimbursement if you don’t have or don’t want to keep the original receipt from the doctor’s office.
Bank Deposit Receipts
The same goes for bank deposit receipts. I would highly recommend depositing checks with a phone app, which most banks offer. The apps allow you to take a picture of the check with your phone for deposit into your account. At that point, you’re done. However, there are check amount limits. If the check is for a large amount, you may just have to make a trip to the bank and you’ll eventually end up with a bank deposit receipt.
Here’s a tip: leave the bank receipt in a spot you walk by all the time. Somewhere that will allow you to see it constantly and be reminded that you need to check your online bank account to confirm the deposit. It may take a few days but that’s not terrible. Once the money is in your account, throw out or shred the receipt.
If you really can’t bear to see a piece of paper sitting around, get a basket and put it in a prominent place making sure to come back to it and clear it out once you’ve confirmed the money is in your account.
Clothes, Electronics, Home Goods and Shipping Receipts
The vast majority of my receipts are the kind that I only need to keep for a few months. These include receipts for clothes, electronics, home goods, and shipping. Most retail stores have a 30 to 90-day return policy. After that, there’s no point in holding on to these.
Sometimes you need to ship back something you bought. You need to keep the shipping receipt as proof if the item gets lost en route. So what can you do with these while you’re waiting?
You can go with a simple accordion file. You can either use a 13-pocket or the 5-pocket type. For the 13-pocket file, you would label the tabs for each month and the last tab for shipping. If you use the 5-pocket, you can label four tabs by quarter: Jan-March, April-June, July-Sept, and Oct-Dec.
It’s obvious where you would put the shipping receipts, but the rest of your receipts should be put in the tabs that corresponds to when you can get rid of them. So if you bought an item in February and you only have 30 days to return it, you would put the receipt in the March pocket so you know to throw it out in March.
Monthly folders are also a good option. I use the Freedom Filer system which comes with two sets of monthly folders, one for odd years and one for even years. It’s a self-purging system. You put the receipts in the folder for the month when you purchased or shipped the item. Then at the end of the first year, you swap the folders and start using the next set. The first set is put behind the second set or in a different location while you’re using the second set. By the beginning of the third year, you’ll be ready to purge the receipts from that first set of folders so that you can reuse them.
You can also DIY two sets of monthly folders if you don’t want to pay for Freedom Filer. But the rest of the Freedom Filer system is pretty awesome. I highly recommend it. You can buy it on Amazon or directly from the Freedom Filer website.
If you’re using your receipts for tax purposes, you’ll be holding onto them for much longer. According to the IRS website, you’ll need to keep some tax records for years after filing your tax return.
Freedom Filer also includes a system for organizing your tax return records by year. (Can you tell I love Freedom Filer?) But, of course, you can also set up your own folder system for taxes. I suggest keeping a folder for each year of tax records.
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Digitize Your Receipts
Managing physical receipts isn’t for everyone. If dealing with paper makes you nervous, you can just scan all your receipts. Here are some options for going digital.
You may already have a scanner at home. Using a home scanner is an easy way of getting the job done. (I recommend ScanSnap which you can find on Amazon).
Just scan your receipts and upload them to your computer or to web storage like DropBox, Evernote, or Google Drive.
Phone Camera App
You can also use your phone for storing your receipts. If you want to keep things simple, you can just take pictures of your receipts and then delete the photos when you don’t need them anymore.
Phone Scanner App
If you want something fancier than the camera app, scanning apps might be for you. These apps allow you to scan, create PDFs, and upload to the web storage services mentioned above. They even have OCR functionality that makes the receipts searchable. If you want to get even fancier, there are specific receipt scanning apps.
I’m not going to get into the weeds about which scanning apps are best for receipts, but if you want to read more about what’s available, check out this article about good overall scanner apps and this one that talks specifically about receipt scanner apps.
I’m using Adobe Scan and it works for me. Added bonus: it’s free!
Ask For Digital Receipts
Some stores now offer the option of sending a digital receipt directly to your email instead of giving you a paper copy. Some stores that offer this are CVS, TJ Max, and Home Depot. I always take advantage of this. Once I get home, I just move the receipt to a “Receipt” folder I created in Gmail. If I ever need to find that receipt later, I can do a search in Gmail for the name of the store.
Cons of Going Digital
One downside I see to scanning all your receipts is that you need to take the time to actually do it. If you’re not consistent with setting aside time for scanning, you could end up with an unsightly pile. As nice as it is not to deal with physical receipts, sometimes it’s just faster to stick them into a file folder which only takes a few seconds.
The other con is that you need to make sure you don’t have sensitive information on your receipts when uploading to web storage or taking pictures on your phone. If your phone or accounts are hacked, it could be a real problem.
Do What Works for You
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to receipt organization. I actually file some receipts and scan others. It may seem more complicated than just going with all paper or all digital but having a hybrid approach works for me.
Experiment with some of these. You may find that you need to adjust your receipt organization as time goes on. It’s best to go with the system that is easiest for you to keep up with.
Did I miss a receipt category that you feel should be included here? If so, let me know in the comments below.
Until next time, happy organizing!