One of the things I am most appallingly tardy about is filing expense claims. I’m really bad about this. Not just in terms of the amount of time it takes me to get to it, but in the actual amounts that need to be claimed. People who are smart about this take less time to file their largest expenses… it is usually the opposite with me. I know people who are essentially doing their expenses as the trip they are on proceeds, and by time they’ve landed back at their home city they are putting the completed forms and bundled receipts into the mail (internal or external) with one hand while still holding their luggage in the other. I on the other hand, find myself forgetting to do it again and again, losing track of what I actually spent and can claim back, and so on and so forth as the trip fades from memory. Yes, I have forgotten to claim for entire trips, in the past, remembering years later that I was supposed to (happily that has not happened too many times). I’m not sure why this is, but it is partly as a result of the immediate re-immersion back into local life after the trip. The trip is done and now I’m back to the everyday routine. Figuring out the expenses becomes a sort of distraction from moving forward. Or it just keeps slipping my mind.

It’s pretty stupid of me, and I acknowledge it every time, but I still end up doing it. Sometimes at great cost. Right now, I have four big trips I have not claimed my expenses for yet, including some of my Summer 2008 travel! Reflecting on the cost of the flights and accommodation alone, I think I’m owed at least $6000. Yes. I’m stupid. It is not like my cash flow likes such a big hole in the balance sheet. Why do I do this? It is not like it is painful, really. I’m actually pretty good at keeping receipts – because of one of my other handy flaws: I can’t throw stuff away – and so I know that (with a bit of desktop archeology) I can find all the bits of paper I need to do the task. I think it is just… well, I don’t know really.

As with other ground-in habits, I need to identify a way of fixing this flaw, as it is expensive. It needs to be a way that fits naturally with the other routine things, and not some wrenching change that is unsustainable. I began simply already a few years back by at least trying to make sure that I put lots of fiddly bits and pieces of paper into a single envelope when on longer trips (some of which I find in the study years later, stuffed with little fragments of memories, including a little of the smell, from somewhere on the planet). But to get the filing itself done, I think I am going to have to do something like schedule on the calendar a period shortly after the trip with the sole purpose of sitting and doing the expenses for the trip. Actually schedule it. Put it in my calendars on the computers at home, work, and my phone. With reminder beeps. (I should do this with things like fully unpacking the bags too. That can sometimes take weeks.)

Really got to stop procrastinating when it comes to expenses. I could start with… not blogging about it any more.


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11 Responses to Expensive

  1. Jude says:

    I’m notorious for losing things, so my newest attempt is to scan every piece of somewhat important paper that enters my house. They make portable scanners (not that I can afford one at the moment), and fast scanners which will scan both sides of a document. I then stick the scanned stuff into a folder, recycle the originals, and it’s much more organized and less annoying to deal with. I keep some originals, but I just scanned and recycled half a drawer from my filing cabinet (with much more to do). Doesn’t that seem like it would be easier than sticking receipts in an envelope?

  2. Clifford says:

    Easier is not always better, sadly. Your idea is an excellent idea, thwarted by the fact that most business offices that process expenses want originals of receipts.


  3. Clifford says:

    By the way I find portable scanners a bit redundant for my own purposes. When out and about on the go and I want to have an electronic copy of an article or document or receipt I want to record for later… I just take a shot of it with a digital camera. It is a great secondary use of the technology that people seem to not take advantage of. Most people seem to have them these days and with enough pixels per frame to make it easy to read and print the information later. All that is needed is knowledge of how to turn off the flash (although, strangely, people seem unable to figure that out a lot of the time) and a steady hand, for an evenly lit and blur-free image of the text.



  4. In our college, we now do it all online. Great idea, except everyone wastes hours struggling with the stupid program, only to have to produce the receipts at the end of the process anyway.

  5. EJ says:

    C’mon, Clifford… we procrastinate because we can *afford* it! To put things in perspective, when I was a grad student I often paid for my own airfare to conferences (and hotels). If I didn’t file my expense claim first thing upon return, I wouldn’t be able to pay my rent! All you need is a little motivation 😉

  6. Elliot Tarabour says:

    For motivation, you should decide that something/experience you want will only be paid for from your expense money. That might get you moving.

    Just a thought.

    I’m overdue to file one for work myself 😉


  7. Moshe says:

    I’m exactly the opposite, I have to do these things right away, because otherwise all that paper gets lost. Mostly, paper gets lost because I am really keen on throwing it away, just as soon as I possibly can (and sometimes before that).

  8. Ken says:

    Not filing expense reports is actually a good thing! Consider it as a conservation principle. By not filing those pesky forms, you have more energy to do the things that you really like to do.

  9. onymous says:

    I’m also terrible at this. Lost a thousand dollars or more in grad school from not filing things. I haven’t figured out any good system to remind myself reliably.

  10. Laura says:


    I cannot afford NOT TO claim my work-related expenses, given that the funding at my uni is dismal, and the travels outside US are absolutely necessary for my research.
    The reminders work well; I have triple reminders too. And a nice leatherette receipt-holder / dossier I bought for $11 at Marshall’s which looks good and does not clutter my desk :). I drop everything in there. Form and function!
    Good luck and goodnight 🙂 !