The Hill Life: Managing Expenses
Apr 18, 2012
When I moved into the private sector, my new job came with a few perks. For the first time in my career, I have an office with a door, an assistant and an expense account. But with these privileges comes great responsibility, something not all employees take seriously.
So I thought that today I would talk about how to keep track of your expenses and some of the abusive expense account behavior I’ve witnessed in recent months. Because while keeping track of receipts and expenses can be a bit of a chore, handing your assistant wadded up slips of vellum and then asking him to sort through it all is rude.
Write It Down. Before I leave a restaurant/bar, I write the name of the person or people I met with and what we discussed on the back of the receipt. Why? Because my memory isn’t perfect and I don’t want to spend hours staring at an anonymous receipt trying to remember what it’s from.
Be Organized. I keep two Rebecca Minkoff pouches in my purse: one for business expenses and one for blog expenses. When I pay for something the receipt automatically goes into its designated pouch. Then, when I get to the office, I put my receipts into a storage box that I keep on my desk, saving them until the end of the month.
Have a Backup System. Before I put a receipt in storage, I like to add the details of that meeting to my Outlook calendar and categorize it in a different color (green, of course). That way, when I go to put my expense report together at the end of the month, I know exactly how many receipts I should have and what meeting they are from. This prevents confusion and protects me in case a lose a receipt or can’t read the meeting details that I wrote on the back. (The latter is FAR more likely as my handwriting was once described as that of a serial killer with Parkinson’s.)
Don’t Expense Stupid S**t. I can’t say it any plainer than that. It is not your Boss’s job to pay for your cold medicine, your daily 3pm sugar fix or the taxi you took to a non-work brunch on Sunday morning. Trying to expense frivolous things or expand the definition of “work related” to abuse the system is a black mark on your professionalism. And yet, people still try.
Trust me, the $1 you spend on that Snickers bar is far less important than being the cheap bastard who tries to expense a candy bar.
Be Honest. Most employers have a vetting process for expenses, but in some cases, it isn’t very rigorous. Abusing this complacency can be tempting. Fudging the numbers on a receipt or expense report is stealing, plain and simple. If/when you’re caught embellishing your expenses, your integrity will be called into question not just for past dealings but future ones as well. So resist the Siren’s song of the free dinner, and just be honest.
This is particularly important if you work on Capitol Hill. Look at what is happening with GSA, right now. No oversight led employees to abuse the system, and now, the fate of the entire agency could be at risk.
Imagine what would happen if a reporter or a constituent got a hold of a Staffer’s expenses and learned that she charged taxpayers for a bottle of suntan lotion on a CODEL or a birthday dinner for a family member while on a staff trip?
Being honest about your expenses is important in the private sector because it speaks to your professional integrity. But when you work for the government, you are a keeper of the public trust so honesty is even more critical.
Do you have any tips or tricks for keeping track of expenses? Has someone you know ever tried to expense something really egregious?