In a previous post, I described how you can keep receipts organized using a folder structure. Year-based folder structures work well for keeping tax-related, business, and household expense receipts. For receipts you must save for warranties, insurance, and so forth, here’s an additional hint for managing and tracking the receipts and other information you need. This usually saves people garage and closet space as well as headaches!
When you purchase expensive or warrantied items, you generally want to save the receipts, plus other purchase information, in case you need to return or repair the item, or to show proof of ownership in the unfortunate event you must file an insurance claim. You can easily save the receipts, as well as the purchase information, on your computer, and recycle the boxes, booklets, and packaging you might otherwise have saved and find cluttering up your garage and closets. This method also ensures you have a readable receipt: Many stores now use soy-based ink on their cash register receipts and invoices, which is great for the environment, but lousy for preservation. If you buy an item with a 10-year warranty, and file the paper receipt, you may be surprised in a few years when you go looking for the receipt, and find a piece of blank paper, because the soy-based ink has worn off!
When you get your new item — say it’s a computer — do this:
- Save the receipt from the store. (If you are buying a Mac, ask the store to email a copy of the receipt to you!)
- As you unpack your computer, cut the bar code and model information from the box, in a square shape, using an Exacto knife or razor. (Bar codes and model information are often needed to show proof of purchase).
- Tape the receipt, as well as the bar code and model information you cut from the box, on an 8.5×11 (or A-4, if you’re not in the U.S.!) piece of paper.
- Scan the paper (150 DPI in black and white).
- Save the scan as a JPG or PDF, incorporating a naming convention and file structure.
Don’t file your big receipts in year-based folders, as retrieving them may be difficult. Instead, file your big-ticket/under-warranty items in a separate file structure.
I use the loose structure shown in the image.
Depending on what you tend to buy, you might have folders that are item-specific (Mac2008Manjula, for a Mac computer I bought in 2008 and related items), item-general (IpodShuffles; I’ve had a few) or store-specific (REI_Misc; I’ve bought a lot of travel, camping, and other gear here over the years, yet either the length of the warranty or the size of the item may not warrant a separate folder). Of course, you can also use a simple naming convention with the item name in front of the date to store your receipts (such as 15_PowerBook_2008_08.jpg).
Also note that I keep a folder named 00_Old. This could just as well be a_Old or z_Old; it’s where I put receipts for things once they’ve passed their warranty period, but I don’t, for some reason, want to throw them out quite yet!
Once you have scanned and saved your receipt in this way, you can either shred and recycle the original piece of paper, or, if you really want to, put the paper in a file or 3-ring binder with your other big-ticket/under-warranty items. If you save the original hard copy, write what the receipt is for in permanent marker at the top of the paper. This will help you retrieve the hard copy from the file, especially if the soy-based ink from the receipt’s faded.
I started using a computer-based receipt filing system about 10 years ago, when I was on the road constantly, and working with cameras and equipment that often needed repair across the country or across the globe. I needed to have receipts and warranty info on hand for repair shops, but I couldn’t carry paper receipts for everything. The scans proved invaluable.
Another hint: If you scan and save computer, camera, software, and tech info, you can simplify printed documentation even further. Most geeky things now have manuals in PDF format. Search the web or the manufacturer’s website to see if your item has a PDF version of the manual you can download. If so, download and save the manual on your computer with the receipt. You can then recycle the printed manual (or keep it with your hard-copy receipt).