Coffee heat rising

Enough with the Pieces of Paper, Already!

Over the weekend I was once again reduced to having to enter the month’s myriad charges into Quickbooks. Wonder-Accountant has suggested that instead of wadding receipts into a file folder and forgetting them, I should organize them and staple them to the relevant month’s statement, a strategy conducive to her reconciling the books.

For a person with English-major math skills, doing the bookkeeping is a monthly exercise in self-torment. I just hate fiddling with dozens and dozens of nuisancey little pieces of paper, no two of which have the date in the same place. The accursed Safeway receipts show you how much you supposedly “saved” by presenting your fraudulent red card, thereby getting them to refrain from charging more than the actual retail price for groceries and household goods. So you have to sit there and study the things to figure out which figure represents the amount that actually was charged to your card. The pieces of paper get lost, and so every month SOMETHING doesn’t show up in Quicken, so then you have to kill more time trying to figure out what the charge on the statement means.

This weekend I finally lost patience with that routine.

I’ve decided to go back to the antediluvian process of paying routine bills with checks. It costs more—you have to buy the damn checks. But it creates a paper trail (which cash does not), and you don’t have to fiddle with a thousand little pieces of paper to pay a monthly bill. The bill is paid when you make the buy.

My plan now is to use the charge card only for tax-related purchases that require me to have a receipt and for big-ticket items like appliances and major repair bills. All the rest of the little pieces of paper will go straight into the trash. The small, routine stuff will be strictly pay as you go. Since I’m pretty well behaved about entering my checks in the register, to put those expenses into Quickbooks all I’ll have to do is copy them out of the list in the register. The credit union has upgraded its online banking software so I can view my checks without having to switch from Firefox to Safari, and I can download them to disk with a simple right-click. When the statements come in, I’ll just copy every check to disk. Time Machine will back them up to a hard drive, and voila! A virtual paper trail.

And if that turns out to be too much of a nuisance? Then once or twice a month I’ll go to the credit union and withdraw $500 or $1,000 in cash to use for discretionary spending. Rather not: cash does flow through my fingers like water. But  I have had it with the little pieces of paper.

Regressive? Probably. We’ll see if it makes life better.

Is there any modern convenience in your life that you’ve decided to abandon in favor of regressing to an older way of doing things? Why?

Moment of Fame

The Festival of Frugality appears at This That and the MBA, where the overpackaging rant was included.

7 thoughts on “Enough with the Pieces of Paper, Already!”

  1. I continue to charge everything. If I had a biz, I would use 2 charge cards: one for me, one for the biz.

    Do you really need to save everything? Maybe only things over a set amount?

  2. @ frugalscholar: Accountant wants to see the receipts.

    B.A. (Before Accountant), I would stash tax-related receipts in a special file folder and all the rest in a fat file folder, and once a year would have an auto-da-fe in the fireplace.

    Sometimes it’s convenient to have even fairly old receipts (esp. from Costco), to return things. And a couple of times I’ve disputed charges and surprised various retailers and service providers by being able to produce months-old receipts. Ah, the benefits of bone-laziness!

    Dawns on me, though, that…hey…. I don’t need to write checks to enter purchases in a check register. Why not carry only the register and use it to enter charges? The effect would be the same: a tidy list of figures to enter in Quickbooks, rather than a restless herd of receipts to wrangle.


  3. Oof. That sounds like a major hassle — the checkbook, that is, not the monthly accounting. I write checks for rent, period, because this landlord won’t accept ACH transfers like the last ones. Oh, and I had to mail a paper check (rather than PayPal) as a deposit for our honeymoon photographer. I think that’s because she doesn’t cash it until a certain date.

    Most everything else goes on a debit or credit card (credit’s preferred because of reward points), so I have a digital record of purchases and don’t have to save receipts unless they’re for big-ticket items or something I might want to return, or if they’re tax-related (donations and medical expenses). While has its bugs and lacks a few features I’d like, it’s free and has been very helpful in organizing my finances. You might weigh the pain of aggregating that info electronically against the pain of doing all this manually.

    • @ Remy: Turns out to be a MUCH larger hassle than expected. Downloading the PDFs of checks requires click after click after click. Under the endlessly annoying Lion OSX, the Mac no longer remembers the location where you stored the last download, and so for each and every download, you have to navigate back to the place where you want to store it. So, let’s say you have something stored in Documents > Personal > Money > Credit Union > 2012 Check PDFs, you have to go clickety clickety clickety clickety clickety, five times, each time searching for the desired subdirectory. Then you have to fart around with renaming the file and then clicking some more to get it to go into the coveted spot.

      I just downloaded the checks I’ve written since June 1. That month I wrote an unusually large number of them — eight! — and it took forEVER to get them on disk. If I were trying to do that with 20 or 30 transactions, it would make me even crazier than I already am.

      Plus as you note, paying with checks means you forfeit the AMEX kickback. What makes the best sense is to enter charge-card transactions in a check register, which will make it easy to transfer the data into QB.

      I think I’d rather enter transactions manually than have an online program tracking my charges and entering them for me. That’s probably not rational…but it’s my gut feeling.

  4. I realize your business Quickbooks differs from my personal Quicken. However…When I get home I place ALL receipts near the computer. Next time I sit down I enter them. It takes moments on a daily/weekly basis. I no longer write checks. Quicken is my register.

    Groceries and Costco get broken down into many categories. Booze, groceries, junk food, paper products/cleaning supplies, dining out, even vacation groceries. Yes. I am OCD enough to break out each receipt. LOL

    • @ Brenda: Quickbooks Online is very similar, only not as versatile — it assumes you’re running a business, and so you have to shoehorn household categories into Intuit’s ready-made categories for businesses. I have two QB accounts, one for the S-corp and another for the personal bookkeeping.

      The beauty of QB (and, I expect, probably similar online programs) is that your accountant can get into it. When I realized how much easier it was for her to figure the corporation’s tax returns using the QB account than my Excel spreadsheet, I decided to open another account for “Personal.” The really complex tax accounting is my personal stuff, although it’s a lot better than it was when I was working full-time, freelancing, and also getting income from several antiquated general partnerships. I think this year’s QB is going to make her life easier and my tax prep bill cheaper!

      I do pretty much the same thing with the receipts, except I can’t face it on a daily basis. Usually I end up entering charges when my wallet is so stuffed I can no longer close it, about twice a month. But gosh, I’m tired of keeping track of little scraps of paper. That’s why I’m taken by the idea of scribbling a note in a check register as charges happen: the list is already made, it’s already chronological, and the dates are entered in the same place, in a column in the register. No more taking my glasses off and holding a faded piece of paper up to my nose trying to find the date; no more trying to figure out what the actual charge was vs what the “savings” were. No more pieces of paper flying all over my desk. 😀

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