The Best Way to Organize Receipts

Updated on June 19, 2017
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VirginiaLynne is a homeowner who likes to share her creative ideas for home renovation and home maintenance tips.

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Quick and Easy Receipt Organizing Systems

Do you spend too much time trying to find a receipt to return an item? Are you ready for tax time, or is it a scramble to make it in time for April 15? If you are like me, you may be tempted to just let receipts pile up until they are an unsortable mess. That is why the best way to organize receipts is to keep your system:

  • Simple to remember.
  • Quick to file papers.
  • Easy to find what you need.

Keeping these three goals in mind will help you to use the following 4 easy steps to create a system which works for you.

1. Chose a System

No filing system is perfect. You always have to weigh the cost of having a detailed system which makes receipts easy to find with the time it takes to file those receipts. Here are four different systems with the pros and cons of each.

Binders

Binder System for Receipts is a bit more work but helps you find things quickly. Use Pocket Index Dividers for filing receipts that are smaller.
Binder System for Receipts is a bit more work but helps you find things quickly. Use Pocket Index Dividers for filing receipts that are smaller. | Source

With a binder that has index cards to separate receipt types, you can easily find what you need. This system works best for people who often go back and look at receipts because you can easily flip back and forth to different sections and because the binder keeps the papers in order. If you always file new papers either at the front of a section or the back, you can quickly look through the receipts chronologically.

I used this system for organizing the receipts of my husband’s parents when he had guardianship over them because we were required to make regular reports on their income and expenses, and I needed to be able to find receipts easily.

Binder Pros and Cons

Takes the most time to file

Easiest to keep files in order of the month.

Best for receipts you need to refer to often

Neat and easy to keep on a bookshelf.

Limited by the size of the notebook, or you can use more than one.

File Folders

File Folders are quick, easy and expandable.
File Folders are quick, easy and expandable. | Source

The file folder system is the easiest and fastest system to use, so you have a better chance of actually keeping things organized. After falling 6 months behind in filing my notebook system for our family receipts, I finally decided to go back to file folders. I put unfiled papers in the front and generally put them in place when that front area is filled or about once a month.

Hint: keep papers you know you will need later in a file together. I put all my tax information, including charity contributions, in one file.

File Folder Pros and Cons

Inexpensive and simple.

Just need file folders and file cabinet or box.

Fast to file.

Expandable to any size and number of files.

Harder to find a paper than Notebook System.

Expanding Files

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For a smaller organizing project, grab an expanding file that has sections and tabs. If you are a student with just a few types of receipts, or if you want to organize receipts from a project like a house renovation project, this is a great way to do it. I also used this system for all the paperwork for our adoption and I often use a small expanding file for vacation plans.

Expanding File Pros and Cons

Keeps everything in a neat, portable file.

Great for organizing receipts you want to keep permanently.

Good for small batches of papers.

Portable.

Doesn't work for lots of papers.

What is your biggest need in organizing receipts?

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Digital Files

I’m starting to go paperless, and you may be too. Lots of companies want you to "go paperless" and may give you a bonus to do so. Now, some stores like Home Depot let you get an email receipt rather than a paper one. Moreover, you can scan to take pictures of receipts that aren't digital. However, you will still need to remember:

  • Organize Digital Files: don't just dump all your receipts into one file, spend some time creating your file groups and be sure to label each of your receipts as you create it or you will have a headache of having to open each one up when you try to find something.
  • Backup: computer viruses or computer meltdowns can interfere with your system, so make sure you have your receipts on a computer which has a cloud back-up such as Carbonite.

Digital receipts can relieve a lot of headaches in filing papers, but only if you are careful. You should be sure to actually download receipts of any important statements you might need later since many companies only keep a 12-month record of your statement receipts. For example, when I went to file a Credit Card Extended Warranty claim on a broken dishwasher, they required our original statement from 15 months previously. It wasn’t available anymore online, but luckily I had a paper copy.

If you go all digital, avoid problems if you download your statement receipts as you pay them, or at least keep the end of the year receipts.

Digital Pros and Cons

No paper mess to worry about.

Easily find your files on your computer.

Print out only the ones you need.

Keep records as long as you want.

Easiest if you also pay bills and do banking online.

If you invest in a hand scanner, you can digitize paper receipts easily too.

2. Deciding What to Keep

"Trash" file for organizing receipts you aren't sure you need can save you time.
"Trash" file for organizing receipts you aren't sure you need can save you time. | Source

Remember there is a difference between keeping and organizing. You don't need to organize every receipt you get, even if you do decide to keep them. What you will want to organize are receipts you will need to retrieve later for taxes, returning items or keeping track of expenses.

Keep Receipts for

Returning an item to a store

Taxes

Budget planning

Resale of an item, including home resale

Home improvements

Business expenses

Trash Receipts You Don't need.

You will save yourself a lot of time and trouble if you just throw away receipts you know you won't need again, or which you know you can access online. If you can't think of a reason you would ever need it, you probably won't, so throw it away!

"Trash File" is a Way to Organize Too!

If, like my husband, you can't quite bring yourself to throw a receipt away, then do yourself a favor and create your very own "trash" file box. We have one. It is a plastic bin that sits above my receipt files. Anytime I'm just not sure whether I should throw something away, I toss it in. 99.9% of the time, the trash bin gets thrown out untouched at the end of the year. For those few instances I have needed a receipt, the time it has taken to find it is far less than it would have taken to organize them all.

3. Categories to Use

Don't get tricked into too much work on this step. You want categories which are broad enough that you can re-use this system every year, yet narrow enough that no single file will be so crammed that you can't find a receipt you need.

Keep categories for organizing receipts broad so you can file quickly.
Keep categories for organizing receipts broad so you can file quickly. | Source

Sample Categories

Bank

Bills

Business Expenses

Car

Contributions (donations for tax purposes)

Credit Cards

House

Insurance

Medical and Dental

Wages and Retirement

Taxes

Warranties (on items purchased)

4. Adjusting Your System

One adjustment in my organization system was that I decided to put my check stubs in front of my files so I could find them.
One adjustment in my organization system was that I decided to put my check stubs in front of my files so I could find them. | Source

After you have your files labeled, then take the receipts you have and put them in the folders. As you use your system, you may need to make some changes like adding another folder or switching to a different filing system. Recently, I switched back from using notebooks to using file folders again because I found I wasn't keeping up with filing my papers often enough.

How often should you file your receipts? If you file them as you get them, that's best. However, if you are like me, you may be too busy to do that every day. So, I usually have a spot in front of my folders where I put new receipts. Then, when I can't fit any more in, I know I need to file them. Generally, that means about once a month.

Keep It Simple!

The key to organizing your paperwork effectively is to not make it too complicated and to keep to the same system every year. That way, you will be able to automatically file things and retrieve them easily when you need them. It only takes about an hour to set up this system, and it is certainly worth the many hours it will save you in sorting through papers.

Do you have any other ideas for organizing receipts? I hope you will share with us in the comments!

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    • VirginiaLynne profile image
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      Virginia Kearney 23 hours ago from United States

      Hi Sheila--thanks for the tip. That could be helpful for some people.

    • profile image

      Sheila 24 hours ago

      Virginia, Thanks for the tips.

      It used to be so about me struggling with all my paper receipts. I want to add that digital receipts are also a lot of pain. Even if you found an easy way to cope with paper stuff you have to somehow find a way to keep track of both. I signed up for Veryfi app, they were called IQBoxy previously and really it took my pain away. It shows you the dashboard with your spendings against your budget, you can collect receipts by scanning with that app, upload from cloud storage, email to your personal email, and even dictate it. What I like is that it can break down my expenses into payment methods, and I can mark an expense as reimbursable. Whenever necessary I get a PDF report with a table and pictures of all my receipts. So handy and timesaving. They still have this free plan without monthly receipts number limit.

    • profile image

      Jacobb9205 2 years ago

      Great way to organize receipts!

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 2 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      i like using the paper clips, big ones to separate them

    • Tolovaj profile image

      Tolovaj 3 years ago

      Good tips, thanks. Organizing is the key and if we promptly store receipts in right folders, it is really not difficult. Storing stuff in digital form belongs to future for many reasons but we are not there yet:)

    • misslong123 profile image

      Michele Kelsey 4 years ago from Edmond, Oklahoma

      You did a great job in explaining how to organize receipts. I rarely save receipts unless it's something I may need to return or for tax purposes. I have a little basket for my tax receipts. I use bank zip-lock pouches for all other receipts. I put envelopes in the bank pouches with my major receipts on things I may need to return. I need to go thru them, because a lot of them have probably expired by now. lol. I look forward to more of your articles on organization. You were very thorough and did a great job! Michele

    • VirginiaLynne profile image
      Author

      Virginia Kearney 5 years ago from United States

      Thanks Di! I really try to keep things organized with all my kids!

    • profile image

      DiCalderon 5 years ago

      Really great ideas! Enjoyed this article because it was easy to understand. Under each of the different types of filing methods you put your opinion and personal experience with each of them. This made it easier for the reader to choose which method works best for them.

    • anniecarr profile image

      anniecarr 5 years ago

      This is really smart and very useful! I am horrible about keeping up with receipts and this has really helped me with knowing how to organize them and keep up with them. Thanks for the idea!

    • VirginiaLynne profile image
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      Virginia Kearney 5 years ago from United States

      I certainly have that problem too. I'm a continual re-organizer looking for the best method. I do think that the best method changes with different times of life.

    • prairieprincess profile image

      Sharilee Swaity 5 years ago from Canada

      Virgina, great hub! I love how you itemized each method with its pros and cons. I try to keep all our receipts organized but my problem is that get behind in my systems. I tend to use a combination of two different file boxes.

    • VirginiaLynne profile image
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      Virginia Kearney 5 years ago from United States

      I probably need to trash more myself. Thanks for stopping by monica!

    • monicamelendez profile image

      monicamelendez 5 years ago from Salt Lake City

      I don't know why I haven't thought of trashing the receipts I don't need. Sounds simple enough! I have sooooo many receipts that I don't need. Duh...

    • VirginiaLynne profile image
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      Virginia Kearney 5 years ago from United States

      Oh my goodness, I definitely know this feeling. In fact, I had let my system slide because I'd moved our family receipts to the notebook style after taking care of my in-law's estates. Finally, I realized I needed to go back to the file folder system where I can just drop them in. It makes it so much easier to find things!

    • Helena Ricketts profile image

      Helena Ricketts 5 years ago from Indiana

      I REALLY need to start filing our receipts. Right now they are scattered all over the place, including my wallet in my purse. I know I have "that" one somewhere then three hours later, I've found it! It's not a system at all right now. More like a scavenger hunt!

    • kissayer profile image

      Kristy Sayer 5 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      This gives some fabulous ideas to stay organised! Perfect for storing receipts for tax purposes!

    • VirginiaLynne profile image
      Author

      Virginia Kearney 5 years ago from United States

      Thanks so much Marc. You are right that there are a lot of free cloud services too. I appreciate the sharing and I'm definitely checking out your ideas!

    • Marc Rohde profile image

      Marc Rohde 5 years ago from Racine, WI

      Interesting and useful hub! I have gone digital with most of my necessary receipts and there are many online sites to store copies so you don't need to worry about data loss.

      Voted up and shared a link on my hub on 18 Ways to Eliminate Clutter https://hubpages.com/health/18-Ways-to-Eliminate-C...

      Thanks for the information.