Monday, March 17, 2008

Hack Your Expense Reports While Traveling

By Matt:

I hate expense reports as much as the next hack, and I absolutely despise trying to keep track of all my expenses when I'm traveling. Keeping track of hotel receipts, eating out, and toll-road fees, all while lugging my possessions for the week around on a wobbly-little two wheeled suitcase in a city I don't know is almost too much to deal with.

So how do you hack your expense reports?

Step 1: Prepare. Well first you need an organizational system for all the receipts you get. Before you leave on the trip grab an empty letter-sized envelope. Label it if you want - "Receipts" - and place it in a bag that you are going to have on you at all times, like your laptop bag, or your purse, or a backpack. NOT your suitcase - that's going to sit in a hotel most of the time. Sometimes the hardest part of doing expense reports is finding all the receipts once you get back - now you have a place to put them.

Step 2: Collect diligently. Every time you buy something - whether it's food or taxi fares - immediately put the receipt in the envelope. Make sure you get a receipt whenever you buy something. Taxi drivers, toll-booth operators, and valets can all generally provide receipts - ask for it, even if it takes a couple extra minutes, and it will save you from headaches explaining things away later. Finally, if the reciept you get is a little vague, "tag" it on the back by notating it as food, or parking, or tolls, etc.

Step 3: Expedite. When you get back home, do your expense report as soon as possible... just block out 30 minutes of your day and get it done. It's a pain, but if you've been diligent about filing and cataloging all your receipts, it should be a breeze.

My company is incredibly strict about how expense reports are done (I've been chastised for putting staples in the wrong corner), and before I had a method of collecting receipts I couldn't keep track of anything... I can't tell you how many times I've been on the phone with hotels asking them to fax me copies of my receipts. Expense reports are certainly not the most exciting activity in the world, but hopefully these tips will take some of the pain out of your next one.


Peggy Duncan helps you spend less time working. said...

Great post, Matt. This is very similar to the system I use. I don't allow the driver to give me a blank receipt. They have to at least put the date, city, hotel.

I just acquired a NEAT Receipts scanner. Love it. It's small enough for travel and I scan receipts on the go.

Matt @ Corporate Hack said...

Scan on the go even! Fancy!

John Cox said...

Another idea is to write a tally on the outside of the envelope with each expense.

As far as scanning goes, just use your camera. Great for train tickets in Japan :)

Matt @ Corporate Hack said...

Also not a bad idea - thanks for the thoughts John!

kevin said...

I'd echo John's suggestion about using your cell phone camera. Also, you might try a web-based tracking app while you're out an about, rather than waiting until you get home. We created a free one for our own firm ( and have been letting friends and other biz owners play around with it. You can export your info in CSV of QuickBooks IIF file when it comes time to submit.

Phick Steven said...

Expense reports can be hacked only with the right strategy of expense tracking and there is no better option other than deployment of tools that can manage the expenses in a much better way. For a better approach I have opted to go with the online web based Replicon's expense reporting software ( What is your approach on the same?

Richard C. Lambert said...

I don't know is almost too much to deal with.
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