Most people dread creating and submitting expense reports. This fact is often exacerbated by vague suggestions from your boss, like “Don’t spend too much” or “Just use what you need.”
How you handle your spending says a lot about you as an employee, and it can also have an impact on your reputation with your boss.
Fortunately, throughout the years, we've learned the best practices for expense reporting that will keep you in check.
Let’s dive in!
Learn from your Coworkers
Observing your more experienced coworkers is the best approach to determine how much you should be spending. You're probably going to dine, drink, and stay in the same places, so you'll have plenty of opportunities to see what they do first.
For instance, when you and your colleagues go out to a business dinner, let everyone else order first and observe how much your peers are comfortable spending.. When it's your turn, make sure your choice is in the same price range as the other orders in the group.
Pro Tip: Keep an eye out for outliers. Just because one person in the group orders something extravagant doesn't mean you have to have to as well. Watch what the majority of others purchase and keep your order in a similar price range.
And what if you're the only one on your trip? Make an effort to do some preliminary research. Ask your coworkers questions like, "I'm going to Chicago—can you recommend a couple places to eat?" Find out where the rest of the team normally goes, and you'll have a few places you can trust to spend your money.
Don’t let greed get the best of you
This may sound self-evident, but when your office is flying you around, paying for your hotel, and sending you to dinners with customers, it's easy to feel like you can let loose a bit. But it's always a safer bet to restrict your spending to a minimum.
A good rule of thumb: If you wouldn't buy something with your own money, don't buy it with your company’s money. With dinner, how about a glass of wine? Be sure to check with your company’s policy first, as some organizations do not reimburse alcohol purchases. To see an expense report template click here.
It seems sensible that you shouldn't spend too much money on company property, but what about the less expensive items? When travelling for work, can you deduct your morning latte and bagel? Sure, you can ask your employer to compensate you for the $5.00 you spent on breakfast l.
Your firm should cover acceptable charges when you're representing the firm outside of the office, but nickel-and-diming your spending will make you appear unprofessional. Here's an example: If it's something smaller you'd normally buy for yourself on a regular workday (coffee, vending machine purchase, etc), don't expense it (but save your receipts in case your supervisor wants to cover the cost).
Ask for Receipts
On that topic, saving your receipts is the most important thing to remember when you're on assignment outside of the office—aside from keeping your expenditures reasonable. If you don’t have documentation, an expense cannot be reimbursed. Your supervisor is accountable for all the purchases they approve, so they require receipts to verify each transaction.
Pro tip: Keep the hotel stationary packet in your bag or briefcase once you swipe it from your room. Wrap a large rubber band around your wallet to remember you to ask for the receipt, then place it in the envelope as quickly as possible. And, if the expense is exceptional in any way, note it on the back before filing it away.
Every organization and every manager has a unique approach to handling expenses, so there is no one-size-fits-all solution that will work in every circumstance. But if you follow these rules, your supervisor will appreciate your due diligence. You can learn more about what your expense report should include here.
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