Efficiency Tips: Spend less time on Expense Reports

I pay for most things with my American Express (Amex) but I am required to submit receipts for all charges over $10. We either scan our receipts in and attach them through the web browser to a pending report or we fax them to a dedicated fax # with a spiffy system-generated coversheet that accomplishes the same thing. In the expense system website, every few days, charges from the Amex are automatically available for me to add details to (which sponsor is the charge billable to? is any part of the charge non-billable?) and to group into pending expense reports. Unfortunately cash purchases or those made on my personal credit card have to be manually entered and categorized so I try to limit these types of transactions.

I make my own travel arrangements through our travel agency and they pass those charges through to my Amex. Airline tickets, rental cars, and hotels are the bulk of my expenses and whether or not they are reimbursable is very clearly delineated in our travel policy (for example, a $500/nt stay with spa treatment at the Ritz is not OK, but $150 at the Marriott with free breakfast is very much within policy). There are also clear guidelines for our meal expenses and tips in the travel policy too, but in my experience, this is the area where I most frequently have issues with reimbursement. Part of the problem is that I may lose a receipt or they haven’t scanned in clearly so my entire expense report can get denied or otherwise held up in processing. For that reason, I typically submit 2 expense reports for every trip. If I have booked airfare more than 2 weeks in advance, that goes through in its own report so I can go ahead and have the company pay my Amex down before 30 days pass. Everything else I pass through up to 4 weeks after the trip in a second expense report.

While traveling and at the time of purchase, I usually slip charge receipts in the billfold portion of my wallet but after a few days the wallet is overstuffed and won’t fold closed. A solution I have come up with is to periodically group and file the receipts in a specific pocket of my laptop bag. The keycard folios they give you at the hotel are terrific for organizing receipts so I simply group them together in chronological order in those handy little keycard envelopes. I organize in two categories, transportation related (receipts for gas, rental car, parking, cabs, valet, tolls, etc.) and for meal expenses and tips.

Breakfast & Expense Report
Efficiency: Eating breakfast and working on expense reports.

When I am flying home from my visit, I put down my tray table and prepare all the receipts for scanning. I now travel with blank paper and tape (tape dispensers are bulky so I have taken to carrying self-dispensing double sided sticky crafting squares. I get mine from the dollar store but click here for a link to the product I am using). I fashion all the receipts on as many pages as I need and when I get home it only takes a few minutes to scan the whole stack and attach them to my expense report. Many hotels offer free business centers with scanning and faxing so I could also do this on the road but I like to do it when I get home for now.

Timesheets are due every two weeks so I ensure that when I am signing off on my timesheet I am also submitting any pending expense reports. Our Amex is paid bi-monthly so this helps me to always be current and never go in arrears on my corporate account. You certainly don’t look very professional if you aren’t paying your credit card on time so I manage this closely. Not to mention, who can afford all the crazy fees they would love to charge you?

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About The Author

The Lead CRA

Nadia started The Lead CRA blog in 2007. She is now lead author for ClinOps Toolkit. Nadia is currently working as a Clinical Program Manager at a small specialty pharmaceutical company in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can reach Nadia via email at [email protected] anytime.


  • Anonymous

    August 29, 2012

    Hi Nadia, I was thinking of the Neatdesk, but the iphone works just as well. Take a photo of your receipt, email it to yourself, save as a pdf and fax (I use ‘MyFax’, which is electronic, so no paper involved). Please note my employer does not need hard copies of the receipts. So simple, I take a photo of the receipt before I leave the restaurant, hotel, etc. No more smashed up receipts in my purse, jammed fax machines, etc. And it’s all filed on my laptop!

    • Anonymous

      May 9, 2015

      Now there is turboscan, an app that let’s you take pictures of documents and converts to a PDF you can email to yourself. I do this with my receipts while waiting at the airport or on a shuttle there.

  • Lainey

    November 25, 2010

    I bought a NeatWorks receipt scanner as part of my office equipment when I started with my new company. Every night at the hotel, I scan in my receipts for the day and file them in the expense folder and then THROW THEM AWAY!! It’s LIBERATING!! It just takes a couple of minutes and the scanner software produces a PDF file for me to attach to the expense system when the charges post to my account. I also use it to scan documents at sites to send to the TMF electronically.

  • Anonymous

    October 9, 2008

    I organize my receipts in a sheet protector. I put the itinerary invoice facing out. Then, when I have a receipt during the trip, I place it in between the two pages of the itinerary. I always have access to my flight numbers, etc on the itinerary and all my receipts are protected during travel. Once I arrive home, I know I can complete that particular expense report with that one tool.

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