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Paperless Filing: Organize Receipts on Your Computer

Going paperless and organizing all your financial records on your computer instead of in file drawers will save you precious space and is also good for the environment.
Written Apr 17, 2012, read 2484 times since then.
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Thinking through how to save files and what to call them makes electronic organizing a snap.

Going paperless and organizing all your financial records on your computer instead of in file drawers will save you precious space and is also good for the environment. However, staying organized electronically is not as simple as labeling a few folders and storing everything away. You need to make a few extra decisions up front that will help you maintain consistent, easily searchable records.

File Types. You receive receipts and other financial documents in a variety of ways—via email, consumer websites, and papers you’ve scanned into your computer.

In order to save all those receipts into a common place on your computer—not your email inbox—you should convert them to PDF files and save them in a special file or folder. You could also save them as image files or documents. Whatever file type you choose, it helps to be consistent so you don’t have a jumble of files that each require different programs to open them when it comes time to prepare them for the tax season.

Folder Categories. Now that all of your receipts are saved on your computer, you need to store them in easily navigated folders. First, create a set of folders on your computer organized by year. Within that, you’ll have sub-folders labeled to correspond to the categories you’ve already established for each of the different receipts and vendors that you have. As you collect receipts—whether by email or scanned into your computer—you’ll simply save them into the appropriate folders by category. This mimics the paper-based, accordion file system: by filing each of your receipts into these pre-determined categories, it will make sorting through your papers at tax time a cinch.

File Names. Unlike a paper system, electronic filing requires one extra layer of labels: you need to name every single file or document you save on your computer. You might consider coming up with a simple naming system for your individual receipts, so you know which file is which without having to open one after the other. You might try naming them with the date, followed by a description of the purchase—for example, “042312.computer” for a computer you bought on April 23, 2012; or “101512.office supplies” for office supplies you picked up on October 15, 2012. That will keep your receipts organized in chronological order and with easy shorthand if you ever find yourself needing to track down a specific purchase. There are all kinds of ways to name your files; whatever feels intuitively right to you is the system you should go with.

These may seem like a few extra steps compared to a paper-based system of filing papers into a folder, but knowing your naming and filing conventions from the start will make these steps practically effortless. And when tax season comes, all your receipts will be labeled by date, type of purchase, and stored within bigger categories that will make sorting through them a breeze.

Professional Organizer 
San Francisco, California 
Joshua Zerkel

Joshua Zerkel is a Certified Professional Organizer® and the founder of www.CustomLivingSolutions.com. He specializes in helping entrepreneurs leverage technology so they can be more productive, organized, and get more of the right things done.

Learn more about the author, Joshua Zerkel.

Comment on this article

  • SEO Consultant 
Jersey City, New Jersey 
Elvis Arias
    Posted by Elvis Arias, Jersey City, New Jersey | Jul 18, 2012

    Great tip Joshua, I should actually follow this tip instead of still using the old fashioned filing system, it guess it would save a lot of time in the end. Thanks.

  • branding business 
Charleston, South Carolina 
Nora Richardson
    Posted by Nora Richardson, Charleston, South Carolina | Jul 18, 2012

    Thanks for the info, Joshua! My accountant thanks you, too! ;)

  • Seattle WordPress Trainer 
Seattle, Washington 
Bob Dunn
    Posted by Bob Dunn, Seattle, Washington | Jul 18, 2012

    Good info, I have been paperless for quite awhile and love it. The only thing I would add is to make sure you have a good backup system in place for your computer, preferably external or/and in the cloud : )

  • QuickBooks Trainer / Consultant 
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 
Gabrielle Fontaine
    Posted by Gabrielle Fontaine, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania | Jul 19, 2012

    Good grassroots tips. If you want to make it even more efficient at tax time (or if the IRS ever comes calling for an audit) - if you use QuickBooks or have a bookkeeper doing it for you, after you've organized your PDF receipts each month, you can use the Document Center in QB to attach the PDF to each transaction.

    Your tax preparer will thank you since they can SEE what each deduction is really for, and you have water-tight records for the IRS.

  • Inbound Marketing & Social Media Strategy  
Seattle, Washington 
Sindi Lindberg
    Posted by Sindi Lindberg, Seattle, Washington | Jul 19, 2012

    Great article Joshua! It was hard to let go of paper, but it feels so good now that I'm in the 'cloud'! Thanks @Gabrielle for your tip - that's exactly what I was wondering. I'm going to find the Doc Center in QB and take that extra step :)

  • Professional Organizer 
San Francisco, California 
Joshua Zerkel
    Posted by Joshua Zerkel, San Francisco, California | Jul 19, 2012

    Hi everyone - thanks for all the feedback and bonus tips! I can see I struck a nerve here with this topic. Going paperless is definitely something a lot of people ask me about, and luckily, there are lots of tools, tips, and techniques that make doing so easier and more effective.

  • Financial Controller 
Everett, Washington 
Teresa Brown
    Posted by Teresa Brown, Everett, Washington | Jul 19, 2012

    Great tips! Transitioning to a paperless environment can be a challenge.

  • Owner 
Fredericksburg, Virginia 
Linda Clevenger
    Posted by Linda Clevenger, Fredericksburg, Virginia | Jul 25, 2012

    Awesome Article Josh....thank you so much!

  • Professional Organizer 
San Francisco, California 
Joshua Zerkel
    Posted by Joshua Zerkel, San Francisco, California | Jul 26, 2012

    Teresa, yes - moving to paperless can be challenging. I recommend breaking the project into steps, chunks, or areas to make it more manageable. For instance, maybe you begin by just scanning your bills or switching to e-statements, then you move on to scanning one file at a time in your drawer. You don't have to do everything at once!

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