Having the company pick up the tab on the road is great, but searching through the bottom of your suitcase for a receipt isn't. In our last main Business Travel Week post, we look at how to make expense management less of a hassle.
Picture by MemphisCVB
I'm not going to lie: like most organisational tasks, there's no magic bullet that will eliminate the pain involved in sorting your receipts and submitting your expenses. But there are tactics you can adopt to make it less hassle. Here are five simple time-honoured techniques that help get the job done.
Use a credit card whenever possible
If you've got a corporate credit card, the only reason not to use it for work-related expenses I can think of is that either the amount is too small to bother with, or for some unforeseen reason it gets rejected. Even if you're using your own credit card (and promptly claiming expenses to avoid interest charges), using the card provides a back-up level of receipts and a useful way of tracking multiple expenses in one place. With online banking, that means the majority of your expense details will be easily available in a single location. Picture by Lisa Clarke
Be very clear on what your company policy is
Claiming items which you know the company won't cover — be that taxis, room service or drinking with clients — is a waste of everybody's time. You'll waste time submitting that data, and someone in finance will waste time reviewing and rejecting it, and you'll probably waste time arguing over it with your boss. Plus, it's a career-limiting move that makes you look like a scrounger. I'm not saying you should make a long-time career with a company that's permanently stingy, but you need to know what you're getting into. Find out what the expenses policy is and stick to it. Picture by SteveR
Have a designated location for receipts
Especially on the road, you'll accumulate a lot of receipts quickly: taxis, meals, phone recharges, unexpected stationery purchases. Set a designated location to store these. Even though it's tempting because your credit card and cash are in there, your wallet isn't always ideal unless you've got sufficient space to keep quite a few receipts (which is perhaps more likely if you've already shifted a lot of your wallet functionality with your phone).
That said, the most important principle is having a consistent location, whatever it is. As soon as you acquire a receipt, place it there — and don't store receipts you can't actually claim in that location. If you need to keep personal receipts as well, put them somewhere else. You don't need an over-the-top solution; a couple of envelopes in your carry-on bag will do the job just fine, especially if there's an exterior pocket. Picture by Thirteen Of Clubs
Make smart use of your smart phone
There are specific expense management apps, but those will generally only serve as a double-check if you have to use a specific company expenses app. However, virtually any modern smart phone can be used to photograph your receipts, which gives you a legally-binding copy. If your employer insists on paper, print out the picture when you return to the office. For maximum efficiency, use a note taking app to store the data and keep it tagged for easy retrieval.
Schedule calendar time to do your expenses
Whether digital or carefully stashed scraps of paper, the time will come when you need to submit your expense claims to get reimbursed. There's usually a fixed deadline for this in most larger organisations, so schedule a regular appointment in your calendar a day or so before this to knock over the task. Otherwise you'll end up in a mad scramble with admin staff and finance people screaming at you. Even if you don't follow the other organisational steps we've recommended, having a fixed appointment will give you time to hunt down the documentation you need. (If you are slack in this area, set two appointments: one a day ahead to remind you to find the receipts, and another to submit them.)
Got other expense management strategies that save you time and stress? We'd love to hear them in the comments.
Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman does not want to discuss the size of his shoebox. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker. Throughout Business Travel Week (which, like many a business trip, has gone a little longer than originally planned), we're looking at strategies to make business travel more productive.