Mom, why is there a receipt stuffed in the turkey?

Posted on: November 20th, 2007 by Julie Bestry | No Comments

Got no check books, got no banks. Still I’d like to express my thanks – I got the sun in the morning and the moon at night.

~Irving Berlin

Not what we say about our blessings, but how we use them, is the true measure of our thanksgiving.

~W. T. Purkiser

Are you reading this post while waiting for everyone to get ready to go? Perhaps you’re going to fill up the gas tank on the way to Grandma’s for Thanksgiving. Maybe you’re going to the grocery store to get the Butterball turkey or to the mall to start shopping for presents. It’s likely that filing is not foremost on your mind…but please bear with me.

Last week, we covered the first of the five family/personal file categories:

  • Financial
  • Legal
  • Medical
  • Household
  • Personal

Since we’re finishing up financial filing, and as we’re just moments away from Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and the start of the Receipt Season, you may be wondering, “What do I do about receipts?”

So, let’s look at some basic rules to help you figure out what to do with all of those receipts rushing into your life over the next month:

  • Keep cash receipts for things you might return, and for the duration return period only. If you pay for a McDonald’s Happy Meal in cash, toss the receipt — it’s not like you’re going to be returning that baked apple pie you ate yesterday. If you purchase toys or clothing for cash and the store’s return policy is 30 days, discard your receipt after that period.
  • Keep all receipts for big ticket items (set your own benchmark–it could be $50 or $500, depending on your lifestyle) and things you might return, but only until the return period has expired. Recently, the IRS has allowed taxpayers to choose between deducting state taxes and sales tax; if you opt for sales tax, the default amount is usually your best bet, but if you’ve purchased a house, car or boat, you’ll want proof of that big ticket deduction.
  • Keep all receipts for tax-deductible expenses such as charitable donations and medical expenses in your Tax Prep folder until you’ve completed your taxes. (You won’t know until the end of the year whether you’ve accumulated a high enough percentage of your adjusted gross income to deduct most expenses.) Did you know your pharmacy will print a summary of all prescription purchases? Instead of keeping your pharmaceutical receipts indefinitely, just ask your pharmacy to give you a printout at mid-year and again in January for the preceding calendar year. (Of course, if you use a different pharmacy — for example, when you’re on vacation — save those receipts.)
  • Keep receipts for all items for which you are due reimbursement until you get paid. Most often, this will include purchases submitted on your expense reports at work. Less regularly, you’ll submit receipts to your insurance company for repairs done to your home or auto, or for medical procedures where the doctor’s office won’t file on your behalf. Occasionally, you’ll even have to submit the receipts to someone else’s insurance company if the other party was at fault. Be sure to keep photocopies (or better yet, provide photocopies and keep the originals).
  • Keep credit card receipts and deposit and ATM withdrawal tickets until your credit card or bank statements have arrived. Reconcile the receipts against the statements, and if the receipts don’t fit any other mentioned category, shred them.

Following these general rules should keep you protected in terms of financial, legal (proof of ownership) and most tax issues. However, if in addition to Federal taxes, you also pay state and local taxes, check with a tax professional regarding any state- and municipal-tax reasons to keep other receipts. For example, Minnesota has two programs that allow residents to save on their state taxes for K-12 educational expenses. As we discussed last week, these receipts would go in your FINANCIAL files category, in a Tax Prep folder.

Have fun shopping this Thanksgiving week, whether at the stores or online. I encourage you to purchase clutter-free gifts that don’t have to be stored or dusted.

Whatever you buy, have a system for collecting your receipts until you get home. Check receipts for accuracy before leaving the store and then put them neatly in your wallet, purse or (if you carry neither) an envelope in your pocket. This year, resolve not to have any crumpled receipts in your pockets or the bottoms of your shopping bags.

Happy Thanksgiving, and I’ll see you back here next Tuesday.

Next up: Legal and Medical files

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