Updated: Jul 13, 2018
One of my clients told me that she felt like she was handing over her dirty laundry when she gave me her receipts the first time we got together to talk about her books. Thinking back to that day and how she must have been feeling, I expect she was worried because they weren't particularly well organised, that some might be some missing, and that some of them were dated so long ago that she might not quite remember what they were all for. She was surprised that this didn't faze me at all, and I wasn't fazed because I've seen it all before and her receipts were nothing like the worst example or accounting records I've ever seen.
That said, if your receipts are nicely organised, that's going to save you a lot of time if you're doing your own books, and a lot of money (as time means money after all) if you're outsourcing your bookkeeping to a bookkeeper or accountant, so here are my suggestions of the best way to file your receipts.
1. Record them immediately
It takes discipline, but the best way to stay on top of your receipts is to record them straight away. Receipts are often lost when you're out and about, so I suggest using your phone to take a photo of a receipt the moment you're handed one. Ideally you'll upload your receipt directly into your accounting system through the app (this really is straightforward to do you know, ask me if you need more help) but if you don't fancy that or that's one step too far, you could take photos on your phone and transfer them to an electronic folder weekly or monthly.
2 Keep records by date
Whether you're doing your own books or paying a bookkeeper or accountant to do them for you, more than likely you or they are working through your accounts every week or month chronologically. I suggest keeping your receipts in date order if at all possible for this reason. One method which works well for clients is to keep one folder or envelope for each calendar month (or week if they have heaps of transactions). This means if you are prone to leaving your bookkeeping to a rainy day in 8 months time, at least it will be fairly easy to find the receipts that match the transactions as you work through them. There's nothing like trying to find a specific Staples receipt when you've been shopping there 40 times in the past year.
3. Don't worry about suppliers too much
I sometimes see clients filing receipts by supplier. I'd rather you filed by date simply because when I work through your bank statement I'm going to be working through in chronological order. This means it's quicker for me to locate a receipt for June in a June folder and then quickly move on to find the next one. If your records are kept by supplier, I'll constantly be opening and closing files as I work through your transactions, taking much longer than I need. By all means, file your receipts by supplier within your month folder (ie Month>Supplier), but recording by supplier first and then by month can be a bit of a headache. If all else fails though, just use a consistent filing method.
4. Use clever software
If you really have got a lot of receipts and not a lot of time or patience to organise them, you might like to look at software like Receipt Bank or AutoEntry. It costs a bit but that small investment can be so valuable when you have a lot of transactions to quickly get on top of. Software like this works by reading data from the receipts you scan and sending that information to your accounting system, it's really quite fantastic.