Doing an expense report for work? Here are some tips

business and consumers, grab bag, tips

I recently traveled to Brazil and Mexico for work.  That’s damn cool, I admit.  I’m lucky to have that opportunity, grateful to meet so many wonderful people on my journeys and see so many awesome sights.

But, as with many things in life, there’s also a downside.  In this case, I am owed thousands of dollars in hotel, airfare, meal charges, etc., so—of course—I need to file an expense report.  And doing that in three different currencies is no fun, no fun at all.

Procrastinating this effort even further, I just wrote up a blog entry on my company’s internal blog system, but then I realized… heck, maybe others could benefit from my tips.  So without further ado, here they are 😀

  • Sweat the small stuff.  “Oh, it’s just a $4 coffee and energy bar!” er, it all adds up, trust me!  Keep track of this.  Along these lines, don’t forget to take into account (and expense) ATM surcharges, reasonable tips (which may not show up on your receipt), etc.
  • Put as much stuff as you can credit cards.  On the downside, this’ll likely result in an extra 1-3% fee when you are outside your home country, but… you’ll often get extra protections (such as lost luggage assistance, purchase protection, etc.) and as noted above you’ll have backup evidence of expenses in case any of your receipts are lost or stolen.  It also gives you an extra 30-6o days to cover the bills (and get your money back from your company!), which is especially important if you’re on a tight personal budget!
  • Write down a quick note after every expense, e.g., “Sat Sep 20 dinner, incl 2 colleagues, 1 partner $R152, on Amex.” Note the pertinent details here: the when, what event, who, how $much, and on what card (or “cash”).  Add this to an “Expenses” note in your Blackberry or iPhone, or on a handy notecard in your wallet, etc.  I can’t tell you how much I’m frustrated with myself for overlooking this to-do this trip; now I’m having to piece together, er, which was the dinner where I treated a friend (my expense) or took along a colleague (Google’s expense), etc. I’ll get it right, but it’ll take a lot of extra time.
  • File your expenses in a timely manner.  Wait too long and you might not even get your money! (there are actually tax laws about this!) But even waiting an “acceptable” amount of time… you forget stuff.  Some receipts may have gotten misplaced in the interim.  Don’t risk it.
  • Be smart about currency values.  If you’ve been somewhere that has a rapidly fluctuating currency, use reasonable conversion rates from the days you converted your native currency, using your credit card and ATM charges as a guide. Don’t just go on xe.com (admittedly a very cool currency exchange site) and plug in the single conversion number you see today; you could be substantially cheating your company or cheating yourself :-(.

Hope these tips have been helpful 😀

2 comments… add one
  • Vinny Oct 11, 2008

    Here are a few more tips:

    [1] carry a plastic wallet/manila folder/etc in your laptop bag – slip receipts into there as you get them (ie make it your expenses “inbox”, in GTD parlance);

    [2] before putting a receipt into your inbox, note on the top what it was for, what category it falls under, who else was there, currency, and whether you paid by cash or credit card – then when it comes to expense input time, you just look at your notes and type it directly into the reports;

    [3] pay by credit card wherever you can – other than the reasons you mention, it also means less cash to carry (safer and less cumbersome). Also, when it comes to claiming time it’s simpler to request reimbursement for the amount on your credit card statement rather than for you to calculate FX rates, conversion costs, etc.  Credit cards also give you competitive FX rates;

    [4] everytime you draw out cash at your destination, make a note of what the exchange rate was on that day – very useful in times of fluctuating rates;

    [5] if you are out with colleagues, convince the other guy to foot the bill – this means the task of writing up that expense receipt falls on his shoulders and not your’s 😉

  • Irish Gifts Oct 26, 2008

    Good tips.  Fortunately, I get to use a company credit card for the majority of expenses.  However, when you have to use cash, it is very important to keep track of those expenditures, as well as ATM fees, international service fees, etc.  All of those can easily add up to hundreds of dollars, particularly in places where taxis do not take credit cards, etc.

What do you think?