Why are you tossing your receipts?

During the USA’s long slog toward April 15th, tax day, I’m running some of my older posts pertaining to our book, The Money Book for Freelancers.*


Every time I use an ATM machine, I’m amazed to see how many discarded receipts litter the ground under the machine or overflow the nearby wastepaper basket. I’m equally astonished whenever I hear customers decline a sales clerk’s offer to print out receipt. I don’t understand why anyone would toss out such useful pieces of information.

Freelancers are trained by nature—and hopefully by our book—to hang onto every receipt that passes through their hands. There’s a now-classic literary character, J. Sutter, a freelancer and former journalist, in Colson Whitehead’s novel John Henry Days, who lives for receipts. One scene in the book, if I’m not mistaken, has him chasing someone else’s fluttering receipt in an airport concourse so he can pad out his expense account.


I’m not Sutter, but I do hang on to every freaking receipt that comes my way. Back in the day, I used Quicken software to reconcile transactions from my bank with the receipts I’d collected during the week. Throughout the year, I’d keep all my tax-relevant receipts and file them away for safe-keeping after I did my taxes. These days, we use Banktivity software, but we still do roughly the same thing. Rather than save the paper receipts, we scan them daily or weekly, file the the digital scans in an Evernote folder, and toss the paper. It’s a handy system that I’m not likely to give up anytime soon.

Receipts, even those boring little ATM ones, are a snapshot of a specific moment in time. On Monday, August 21 at 13:53 o’clock you were standing at 123 Oak Street withdrawing $40 from an ATM, getting dinged $3.50 in the process. Or two days later, August 23, you got $40 cash back when you bought groceries at the market down the road.

One day, two weeks or a month later, when you’re trying to reconcile your various accounts using whatever financial software you use, are you really going to remember those seemingly inconsequential events? Probably not. But you’ll stare at the transaction you just downloaded from your bank and say to yourself, “What the hell did I spend $43.50 on? And where the hell is 123 Oak Street?”

If you had treasured that worthless scrap of paper instead of casting it to the four winds, you’d have the answer right in front of you. Instead, you’re beating your head against a wall, wondering why you can’t get a handle on your money.

If you can commit to using some form of financial software, and train yourself to hang onto these receipts, you’ll always have access to the little financial moments that flit through your life.

Get it in your head: You’re a freelancer. This is what you do. You save receipts. Period. This is what I’d like you do, just to get comfortable with this concept. This week, request a receipt for every single transaction you make through your daily life. Don’t just ask for it. SAVE it. If you share income with your partner, ask them to do the same. It’s not really a big deal.

At the end of the day, dump out all the receipts fro your wallet or purse and place them in a dedicated location in your home. Use anything from a paperclip to an inbox to keep the paper tidy.

Later, when you have a chance, use those receipts to catch up on your finances with some kind of financial software, whether it’s a Quicken on your computer, mint.com, or what have you. It’s a tiny little habit to get yourself into, but most people will not take the trouble do it, unless someone tells them to.

Guess what: I just told you.

Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your free ebook, go here. Thanks — Joseph D’Agnese