The Writing Biz: Keeping Track of Expenses

Our recent visit to the tax lady  (which, can I just say, was not fun, seeing as how we have to give this year instead of receive) has inspired me to organize a system for tracking receipts.

I just filed a receipt in it and I paused and admired it for quite a few minutes.  Then it occurred to me that I might want to share it with you.  After all, I write a lot about creativity and craft, but I rarely write about the business side of this profession.  That would be because the business side of it does not interest me much.  But when I am so clever that I can’t stand it, that interests me.  And this receipt book falls into the cleverness without end category.

My former system of organizing expense receipts was effective but limited in its overarching organization, seeing as how it consisted of one very large manila envelope  with the year scrawled on it.   This had the advantage of being convenient.  I could simply take a wad of receipts from my wallet and stuff them in the envelope.  But it also had one huge disadvantage, and that was that at tax time it took several nights and at least one bottle of wine to sort it all out.

But this year I am all over it.  I took a small 7 by 9 inch three-ring binder that I happened to have (you could easily use a larger one, but I didn’t have one and I was so excited to get started that I didn’t want to wait to buy one) and 7 by 9 inch manila envelopes.  I punched holes in the envelopes and put them in the binder, after labeling each one.  Et voila!  A convenient place to organize all my receipts.   Easily accessible, and easy to maintain.

I have to admit that the impetus for this was a photo I saw on an author’s blog.  I wish I could remember her name, but it escapes me at the moment.  Her receipt notebook was organized according to month.  I liked the idea, but I felt (somewhat smugly) that organizing receipts by category was smarter.  After all, you have to total them up in those categories, so why not make it easy by separating them in that manner?

There are a lot of categories to track, I must say.  I have:

  • Income (I usually just photocopy checks and throw them in, or print out Paypal receipts)
  • Travel
  • Books (which will be the bulgiest envelope by the end of the year)
  • Office Supplies and Equipment (all those invoices from Friendly Computer, without whom my Vaio and I could not exist)
  • Education
  • Internet
  • Food and Entertainment
  • Donations
  • Postage

I’ve probably forgotten something.  I always forget something.  I have a little list in the front pocket labeled "Don’t Forget to Include" and I’m hoping that helps this year.

If anybody has any stellar thoughts on other ways to organize, or especially ways to save on the tax bill, I’m all ears.

6 thoughts on “The Writing Biz: Keeping Track of Expenses”

  1. I’m a card-carrying member of the “big manila envelope” club. My husband took away my envelope this year and is forcing me to use a filing system. Horrors!

  2. Great post Charlotte:

    Not sure how efficient I am, but I do have a system that helps me catch a lot of deductions. I save every receipt for every single transaction I do throughout the year. I have a shoe box (yep: a shoe box!) in my office on top of my bookcases, and I just toss the receipts in there. (I also save all credit card statements in case I buy something online and forget to record it.)

    Then, in January, I go through it all. I pull out a dozen or so large envelopes and start stuffing them with the appropriate receipt/deduction, i.e.: postage, magazines, books, professional org membership receipts, related office supplies, and so on. And I have a combo envelope for those receipts with multiple categories, like when I go to Walmart and get an issue of Poets & Writers, envelopes for sending submissions, and so on.

    The online world can be a good source for professional development-related deductions. If you pay to have a professional web site, a portion of that can be deducted, as well as a percentage of access fees. (I just list all the full prices and my accountant figures out the percentages.) If you see a professional development-related interview or lecture on iTunes and buy/download it, a part of that can be a deduction.

    Normally, I just list everything in a memo to the accountant, and he removes items that are not deductible and figures out the appropriate percentages. It’s probably much more work on me than is required, but it helps me squeeze out the maximum deductions available.

    One key deduction is professional development-related mileage. If you go to the post office to mail your short story to The Paris Review, then you get to deduct the mileage, in terms of itemized deductions. You’d be shocked to see how much travel to the post office, libraries, bookshops, a literary lecture or poetry reading, and so on add up. (Of course, these trips need to be related to your writing profession, i.e.: you can’t just go to the library and deduct the mileage, BUT if you go to the library to do research for a story or book, then you can deduct the trip.)

    And think about that short story submission at the post office. You have the following deductions:

    * mileage to the post office
    * cost of the envelope to mail it
    * cost of the SASE envelope and stamp on the inside
    * cost of the ink used to print the story
    * the paper the story is printed on
    * If you track it using one of those little post office forms, then the cost of that is deductible.

    Not a bad list when you think of it. ๐Ÿ™‚ And just think about how many times you do this over the year!!

    Anyway, these are just a few thoughts. Big business, corporate America, and even small businesses are using all of these deductible advantages to save money and succeed. We writers can do it, as well! ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. A filing cabinet? say it isn’t so! ๐Ÿ˜‰ My wife it urging me to get more organized and start “prepping” for tax time sooner. Since December is a wash (in terms of writing productivity), it may be a good idea to start in early/mid Dec. No filing cabinets yet, though! ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Thanks for all the good ideas, Roy. And Jen, I’m glad I was not the only member of the Manila Envelope Club. It was with regret that I didn’t renew my membership, but we all must move on sometime. I hope my new system will keep me better organized, but I just found a wad of receipts in my wallet that I pulled out and haven’t filed yet, so we’ll see.

  5. I dump all my receipts into one “Writing” file folder, but before I do, I enter them in Quicken.

    I have my business checking account there, of course, and I use checks or the ATM card as much as possible. But I also keep a running “Cash” account where I list everything else — credit card purchases, cash, whatever. At tax time, I generate a custom report that includes both accounts and organizes by type of expense, giving totals for each category. Then it’s just a matter of handing it to my tax lady. After it’s all done, I keep the report with my tax records. I do exactly the same thing with our family finances.

    Quicken is straightforward and relatively easy to use. I had a couple of false starts the first year, getting the reports I wanted, but it wasn’t that hard. I tried a different (freeware) checkbook software last year, as an experiment. Looked easier and fun–and it was, for inputting. Big mistake when tax time came, however. I’ll be re-inputting everything into Quicken and sticking with it in the future. Simple, neat, and IRS compliant.

  6. Quicken sounds pretty wonderful. I may have to break down and go for something like that. Right now I’m trying to figure out the issue of quarterly taxes, which does not make me happy, either.

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