Friday, March 4, 2011

Desk Organization: Receipts

I confess. I'm a receipt saver. You never know when you might have to have that little white paper tape for a return. But oh, the mess they bring into my life! They get thrown on the desk, doomed to pile up until I can't stand it any longer. Then, they get stuffed into a file for months on end until my annual purge every December 31st.

It's not working for me.

A desk revolution has to take place; for my sanity. Let me introduce you to my new system...

Shocked I'm sure. But give me a chance to explain. 

First, you need to know that more than likely, I'm not going to reform my habits. So I have to have something that will take into consideration my current tendency - stuffing them someplace. 

Second, I don't have a business, other than blogging, where I need to save a bunch of receipts for income tax purposes. I just need to save them long enough to know I don't need them for a return.

Third, I love jars (but you already knew this about me, didn't you?). What's not to love about using a jar for organizing anything?

Here's how the system works...

I have two jars. One for the current month...  

and one for the previous month...

Whenever I come home from shopping, all I have to do is stuff the receipts in the jar for the current month. At the end of the month, I just rotate the lids so that the one I just finished filling reads "Last Month". Then I can empty the old jar with the receipts that are over a month old (and older depending on when I purchased them during the month), and I can shred, burn, compost, or toss them. I put the lid back on which now reads "This Month" and I can start filling it all over again.

"WAIT!", you say. What about those important receipts that go with warranties? See this file below? I have three files for items that I occasionally (and I do mean rarely) need to save receipts for longer than two months.

One is for my Costco purchases (big box discount store). Since they take returns for an extended amount of time, I put a sticky note on the receipt to indicate what the "big purchase" was and then I file it. However, since Costco keeps a record of my purchases and they don't even require a receipt, this is totally redundant. I seriously need to get over this file.

A second is for tax purposes. Okay, earlier I said I didn't need any of these for taxes, but I do keep a few for documentation, particularly related to home improvements. They have a file of their own and at the end of the year, they go in a labeled zip lock bag and are tucked away for seven years in a rubbermaid container up in the storeroom.

The third, is a file for large paper receipts such as those you get with an Amazon order. Since they're too big for my jars, I just neatly file them. And since they're all the same size, it's not messy. (Why am I saving these? I've never, ever used one of these for a return. CATHY!!! Help! I'm a hopeless receipt saver!). I'm going to at least try to have a mini-revolution of this file and try to shred these four times a year instead of waiting a full twelve months. It should keep the files from getting so packed.

What I haven't addressed here is a system for those who really do need to save receipts for tax purposes, particularly those who have a small business. I wish I could tell you those little papers aren't really necessary or that you could just scan them on to your computer, but apparently the IRS requires a hard copy original to back up that scanned receipt. So not much point in scanning, is there? If you have a solution for other readers, please chime in and share!

How do you save household receipts? Would the jar method work for you?


  1. Looks like a good method to me.. The jar method would work for me, however, I have a 'junk' drawer and a cookie canister that is currently doing the collecting. I empty them out every 3 months or so.. I like your method though.. very organizational as usual. :)

  2. 1. Get a portable scanner. I bought one called the "magic wand."
    2. Teach one or more of your children how to use it, and make it one of their chores to scan any receipts they find in the jar, and move it to the "scanned" jar.
    3. Every once in a while, download the images from the scanner, and store them. I store them in a folders on the computer by year>month>category. Then I name the file with "date store - summary of items, and names of large items - cost." This often means that the same receipt image will be saved in different folders under different amounts. So, in 2011>03>hygiene I might have the file "110303 walmart - diapers - 14.53.jpg"
    4. When you've downloaded and stored all the images, shred the receipts. This feels *great*!
    5. You now have a searchable database of printable receipts, and the ability to quickly tally up how much you're spending in each category every month.

    Just a suggestion... :)

  3. As I sit here at my desk... I'm looking at receipts scattered about. In my purse, there are receipts. On my bedside table, there are receipts. I've got to do something and your system looks pretty good.

  4. Thanks to you I am organized, pretty much, into a large notebook. I bought a heavy duty canvass pencil bag to put in the front of the notebook. I turned the cardboard label inset in it around and wrote Receipts on it. I put current receipts behind it and others I might need labeled in front of insert. At the end of the month I throw away useless receipts and staple together those we might need. Then, those go into a large envelop. We live on a small income, so our receipts are not that numerous which allows this to work for me.

  5. I am also a receipt saver. My method is a plastic grocery bag hung on the cupboard doorknob. I so like your system much better. And it just so happens I'm a jar saver too so whoo hoo! I'm all set!

  6. I also love jars. They have so many uses!!!

  7. What a timely post! I just returned from the office supply store with wire baskets to set on top of our desk. I'm on a purge & organize mission! Paperwork piles up so quickly, but I never know what you might need to hold onto. Love the jars! -Mary

  8. I only hang on to receipts for a very short period of time then out they go.

    I do like those jars. Do you have a good source? I'm interested in buying a couple.

  9. I love this idea! I have been meaning to get all of my office files and stuff organized better. It's always nice when something can be so functional and beautiful at the same time :)

  10. I believe you can deduct your sales tax on Federal income tax instead of your state taxes...(this was to benefit those who pay no state taxes) however if your sales tax was more than your state taxes you will receive a larger federal especially in years you have large purchases you may want to keep your receipts for the whole year

  11. I love this idea and am going to look for some jars! My google ID is or Barbara Dougherty, I think....

  12. I also use a jar - just one however.
    On the 1st of each month - OK at least by the 7th - I empty the jar, check with hubby for more receipts and then categorized them and record them on a sheet of notebook paper. I then staple the receipts to the back of the paper.

    I've used this type of recording since we were married 43 years ago. Then it included pay stubs with the various categories like insurance, union dues, etc.

    At the end of the year it was easy to get the necessary info together for tax preparation.

    For the dozen or so years we had a business I did the same thing but I had to use a file folder. Our accountant approved 100% of my method and that meant it cost us less to have taxes done as I had already done the organizing.

  13. I think that I will give this try!

  14. Oh, I LOVE it! Thanks for this great idea! I am so going to try this method and get all those slips out of my purse.

  15. I use a coupon file type thingy that I label with the store names. It fills up quickly during the holidays, and then I clean it out in Jan. I place the most recent receipt for that store in the front of that particular slot. I keep them for a month or so and then clean them out. It works for me!

    In my filing cabinet, I keep a file for warranties and receipts that I need to keep.

    That is one of the few areas I have under control. There are few things I hate more than trying to find a receipt for a return and realize it's missing.

  16. Maybelline, Target has the jars in 3 sizes - small, medium, and large. The small is around 5.99.

  17. I love those jars Amy - very stylish! I must admit I'm a stuff the receipts into the drawer type of person. I have one draw set aside & then when I get the chance (or rather when it gets near tax time which is the middle of the year for us) I can put them all into the computer for the farm. That's when I cull any that need throwing (blush - did I just admit that).
    Love your new system - hope it continues to work well!
    Have a great weekend

  18. Genius! What a clever excuse to buy another jar or two.


  19. Where can I get these jars? What are they called? Love them.

  20. I've tried a lot of different filing methods and yours look actually pretty. I bought 2 13-pocket expanding file (about 10 inches x 5 inches) and one I use for everyday purchases and the other for business slips. The business slips stay in there for the year and the other one I take out as soon as it gets too full. But I always keep our Costco slips and any other electronic purchases' slips. But I looovvveee your glass jar idea.

  21. This is so much better than my "stick it in my purse until I can't stand the clutter anymore" method! I love how you describe your style, then how the new system meets you where you are. I'm a pile and out of sight out of mind person, so your tips are especially helpful to me!! Thanks!

  22. Wow. Thank you for this post. This is an area that REALLY makes me feel defeated!! I have them shoved in a drawer and they fall out the back when I open the drawer. Every time, I wonder how I can live like this?! No one would know I have this secret receipt disorder problem b/c my house is really neat and tidy...
    I'm excited to have something lovely to shove my receipts in (that they can't fall out the back of...) In fact, I'll probably have some nice red vinyl letters cut for the jar...THANKS!

  23. Sorry so late to this conversation. I love your jar system. It makes complete sense. In the past I used to print out emailed receipts for business related items, home improvement expenses and larger home inventory purchases. I would attach them to the credit card statement they were related to and file them in the important file (business) Home inventory and improvement stuff goes into the vital file. Now, I just create a pdf of the email and file it a yearly records file on my hard drive. I figure if I received the information digitally, the IRS must consider it a solid support document. I still cross check against my money management program and my credit card statements.

  24. We keep a mason jar in the kitchen behind our cookbooks. Easy access for us, but you can't see it. The minute we come home if the receipt has something we might return (a gift, something we are trying but don't know for sure it will work, a bigger purchase, anything with a warranty), it goes in the jar. We do not keep receipts for food and other day to day things. Every couple of months I go through the jar and clean it out. Bigger items with long term warranties get filed, receipts for smaller items stay in the jar until they are either used or the gift is given, then the receipt gets tossed.

  25. I'm so happy to find others who love JARS!

  26. This is a great idea! I am trying to bring order to my husband's work desk. He works from home and must save receipts. But I'm also not under the impression he will do more than stuff receipts somewhere. Currently they are everywhere all over the house.


  27. I am a fellow jar lover. I like your idea! As a small business owner one of the best business decisions was to hire a book keeper to come every other week or once per week... Could I afford it? Barely. But could I afford not to? Nope. For one thing, she has found hundreds of dollars that I was missing or that did not get put into my bank account that I never would have looked for or knew what I had missed...and secondly, she files my receipts, handles my taxes, insurance, billing, utility payments, etc! Basically she allows me to focus on my business and what I am good at. As a bonus I have someone that I trust with my money to talk to about financial decisions and bounce ideas off of. After ten years running my business from home, I'm positive that hiring my bookkeeper was one of the best business decisions I ever made.

    As for personal receipts, my husband and I switched to a cash system a few years ago to dig ourselves out of credit card debt (it worked). And so if I feel like I need to keep a clothes receipt, I stick it into that particular cash envelope after I buy it. This also helps keep them organized. Otherwise, on groceries, etc, I get to shred them! Going to cash eliminated a large job from our life (check book entries, debit card, credit card entries, quicken, etc).

  28. While the jars keep all receipts in one place; if you need a specific receipt, you still have to dump all receipts out of the jar and search through each and every receipt to find what you're looking for. How do you figure that is organization? Sounds like something I do ! Glad to have the company!

  29. Great system. Just yesterday I was scrambling to find a receipt for a return. I'm going to try this. Thx for sharing.


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