I must admit I’ve been struggling to start writing the blog this week, I knew I would be discussing the tricky world of expenses and as I’m sure you can imagine the subject hasn’t really stirred my creative juices!

Unfortunately for us, this is a job we as assistants have to complete on quite a regular basis, it is dull, time-consuming and can cause no end of problems but we have to do it. So how do we organise ourselves so that it is a quick and efficient process? Here are a few of my hints and tips

Do you have an expense policy in place?

If you do, read it to the point that you have memorised it and can repeat it back to your colleagues because when you are doing their expenses you will find you will get asked about what can and can’t be expensed frequently. If you don’t have an expense policy, speak to other assistants and see if there is a common approach to expenses. It would be well worth asking your manager if this is something you can put in place, it would be extremely valuable and they should be pleased that you want to save the company money.

Organising the process

From previous experience processing expenses goes something like this…

Your boss walks into the office having cleared out their wallet/purse/briefcase the night before. They have a load of receipts from all manner of places, both for work-related purposes and personal items. They ask you to sort the receipts out for them so that they get some money back. They have no idea how much money they’ve spent, where they’ve spent it and when they spent it. You have to decipher all of this by looking at the date on the receipt and in their calendar and try to work out what they were doing…

Sounds familiar? It is a nightmare, especially if they travel abroad a lot and have loads of foreign currency in addition to the receipts and credit card statements. So how do you slimline this process? Here are a few easy steps…

  1. You should have regular meetings with your manager, at these meetings always always always ask if they have any expenses, even if it is one taxi receipt take it from them and ask when they spent this money. If they don’t know at least you will have a good chance of guessing it will be a date between your last meeting and this one, check their diary and go from there.
  2. After every trip put half an hour in their diary for a debrief meeting, again ask them for their receipts/ foreign currency etc. I find it easier to process expenses from my manager’s trips because at least you have specific dates and can generally work out what the receipts refer to. If in doubt it is probably a taxi receipt!
  3. Once you have the receipts attach them to a piece of paper in date order, this makes it easier to process and photocopy later. I usually put a week commencing date on the paper and also write the places visited if the expenses are from a specific trip. I then put the pieces of paper in a designated folder, I have different expense folders for each of my managers.
  4. Try to do all of your expenses at the same time at least once a week. I usually do mine on a Friday morning, as it is fairly quiet in my office and I can just get on with it.

Some assistants I know ask their manager to write a note on the receipt detailing what the expense was for, although this is really helpful I find that if you keep on top of the process then you can generally work it out on your own.

Rogue Receipts

Along with the bundle of work related receipts, you will generally get the odd rogue receipt which you will have to query with your manager. The rouge receipt comes in a few different versions:

  • The personal receipt: If is obviously a personal receipt ask them to clarify what the expense was for, nine times out of ten they should say they’ve made a mistake and apologise. If they want you to process it anyway refer to the expense policy – they know what it is and what the rules are! If they persist with expensing personal items speak to your financial department to get clarification. If it is difficult for you to argue the case with your manager ask the finance team to investigate it and go back to your boss directly.
  • The social receipt: This is the receipt for those after work drinks and dinners that tend to be over budget and can be considered outside the normal expense policy. I have two ways of dealing with this: if the receipt comes from a Director I process it, generally they do get lumbered with the bill at these events and in my head, I think that it is work related and acceptable. If the expense is from a middle manager I will ask them to get their boss to sign the back of the receipt to approve the payment. If you get kick-back show them the policy. Alternatively, you could expense the cost to the maximum budget and ask them to pay the rest personally.
  • The overseas receipt: This could come in the form of a mini bar treat, room service, laundry or a movie. I tend to use the common sense approach to these expenses, if it is not completely preposterous I process all of the expenses from overseas because they are away from home, working long hours and should use the company’s money to fund what they need. By preposterous I mean things like spa treatments, expensive meals (alone), duty-free gifts.

As I said at the beginning of the blog this is not the most exciting of topics but it is a task we have to do on a regular basis and no wonder I’ve called this blog The tricky world of expenses because it is often something that can cause quite a few problems with our colleagues. Remember to always refer back to the company’s expense policy.  If you don’t have a formal policy suggest getting something in writing it will only help you and your organisation in the long run.

Let me know your expensing horror stories I think we all have a few!