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Thursday, January 05, 2012

Ask the Matriarch: Tracking Expenses

We've had a number of conversations over the last few months about leading our congregations in the budget process - but what about our personal budgets? For many of us, that can be a much trickier area. We have treasurers at church to keep the books straight, but at home, most of us are on our own! So how do you manage this important task? Our question this week is straightforward and relevant. If you are already good at this, I hope you'll share what's working for you. And if you, like me, need help with this, then I'm sure you'll be appreciative of the wisdom our colleagues share.

2012 is ... here and that means another year of keeping track of expenses, both those reimbursed and those which are not.  I am looking for a very simple online tracking/budget program.

What I am hoping to find is one where I can track housing expenses, professional expenses, other ministry expenses, medical, and non-ministry related expenses.  I would appreciate what has worked and what has not worked for the Rev Gals/Pals. 

Muthah+ responds:
Most of my career was pre-computer and definitely pre-smart phone so I have years of date books with highly cryptic numbers and squiggles that no accountant, IRS agent or even I could make heads nor tales of. Nothing I ever turned in could stand scrutiny.  But then again, I never made enough for them to even care. That said, the rector with whom I now work uses a free app for his iPhone called "Milebug".  He said he uses Quicken for everything else. 
On the other hand, I take off my socks.

And Kathrynzj writes:
Great question - I'm looking forward to reading the other answers. 

It's been awhile since I looked to find something that was all encompassing and was accessible both from the laptop and the mobile. I now use Quicken at home and use the memo line excessively so I can look things up quickly. I have also used '' when I needed a simple spreadsheet in front of me to help me figure out what money was going where during the month.

The key to the whole thing is finding something that works for you. (I know, duh.) What I mean is, after trying to find the right mileage app and having this or that on my phone, I realized that what really worked for me was a pencil and paper on the console of my car. I photocopy it and attach it to my reimbursement request and there it is. I also keep track of my expense accounts on paper and keep it in a folder right by my desk. Archaic, but it works for me.

Kathryn's combination of old school and tech sounds much more effective than my current method of jamming all relevant receipts into my wallet and sorting them out at the end of the month. Thank you to our matriarchs for sharing what has worked for them or others they know. What about the rest of you? Any greats tips or tools that the rest of us could use? Please take a moment to share in the comments what you would recommend. 

Our question queue is empty again, so if you have a question you'd like the matriarchs to discuss, send it our way and we will get right on it! Email us at askthematriarch[at]gmail[dot]com.


  1. I had a summer job processing expenses-claims in a multi-national many years back. Since then whenever I've needed to keep receipts I have put an envelope in my purse with a pencil in it. Before I shove a receipt into the envelope, I write what it was for on the back of it. Makes the form filling much easier later on, and helps the person who has to process it.

  2. The bulk of my reimbursement is for mileage. I write down the places I've been in my paper calendar and try to keep track during the month on a form I later give the Treasurer, which includes miles and tolls. Some times I am right on top of it and the miles are written in the paper calendar. Other times I have to use Mapquest to calculate the miles later. The key is to keep on top of it. Last year I let it go and had to do three months at once, which was toilsome, and I had only myself to blame.
    For other things, I try to use the church credit card when possible. It eliminates a step in the process. But I haven't always worked in churches that have one!
    I don't turn in a lot of other receipts, but when I do, I give a copy to the Treasurer and have a paper file of the originals in my office.
    The key is to keep up with it.

  3. Martha, you are so right about keeping up with it! That is definitely key.

    I have wished for years that the church would let us have a church credit card, but they won't, which makes things more complicated. If anyone has any tips for persuading a church of the value of this, I'm all ears!

  4. Yes, to earthchick's question about having the church have a credit card.

  5. I'm the queen of mapquesting after the fact with mileage like Martha. The problem is I do it more like quarterly at best. I do NOT recommend this. My former church had a church credit card and I LOVED it. I never had to worry about reimbursements. This one does not.

    No helpful organizational techniques here. I just stuff everything in my wallet and fill out a reimbursement slip for everything stashed there when I can't close my wallet anymore. I'm fairly certain my husband wishes I were more responsible than this.

    In terms of keeping track of non-reimbursable stuff (household, medical, etc), I'm not much help there either. We don't claim as much as we could as housing allowance because we have just resigned ourselves to only keep track of the big, easy stuff - - mortgage, utility bills, large purchases like furniture. Cleaning products other little things that are on receipts with lots of other stuff, just don't get archived.

  6. It's funny about the church credit card. In my previous two calls, (and as a chaplain at a college) I had church/college credit card.

    For the churches, I had to persuade them that it was a good idea. For example, I was often the booker of tickets for mission trip related things---and putting 2,000 on a credit card is a little much to expect. Finally, both churches came through, and it was so great.

    My bigger, richer church will not abide by a church credit card. It's just nuts. However, I just opened an separate credit card account that I ONLY USE for church stuff, and I pay off every month. (and I have had to book some big things on it, but my treasurer is amazing at turn-around) The only plus for me is that I get mileage for all this charging, but so far the mileage hasn't really got me anywhere.

    As far as receipts--I use EarthChick's method. However, I have a spouse that is a Quicken fiend--she gets up early to do her morning quicken, and then there is always evening quicken....which totally keeps me on track. But that is a luxury I know...

  7. For mileage, I keep a small spiral notebook in the pocket of each car, along with a pen. When I am leaving on a business trip (or a deductible one for driving my own kids and friends to events)" I write the date, then Pers (for personal), and the mileage at before I start. On the next line, I write where I am going and Bus (for business), and then at the end of the trip I put in the mileage; I can always mapquest it later if I forget. At the end of the year, or midway through if I am more organized, I can total it up. Low tech, and it works well.

    For home finances, I use Quicken. Sometimes I keep up really well; other times--like now--I am way behind. Over the years I have fine tuned all my categories to make both tallying reimbursable expenses and tax info pretty easily, but it has taken a while to do so. Every possible relevant receipt I stick in a big folder on the kitchen counter, so I can sort out things like the housing related expenses at Target when I also have bought other stuff.

    It is a total pain, but a necessary one.

  8. We use Quicken. at present my husband does the 'bookkeeping', but it has been my task at times. Quicken allows us to print out all deductible expenses at tax time. it is sometimes months behind, but by writing on dockets, we usually manage to sort it all out.
    for reimbursable expenses, I try to keep the dockets separate, and hand them in as soon as possible. I also try and make sure I spend enough in each trip to make it worthwhile claiming a reimbursement.
    I don't claim mileage from the congregation, it is included in the stipend package, so gets counted in income and I claim expenses against tax. [here I only have to keep track for 12 weeks every few years and that percentage is how tax deductibility is worked out against total car expenses]

    unfortunately I think keeping track of expenses is one thing that we have to do, even though it takes time and is tedious [IMO]. an organised partner is a blessing.

  9. We have an expandable file envelope at home with the categories eligible for housing expenses, based on the paperwork we fill out for the accountant every year. At the end of each month, we sort the piles of receipts from our wallets, and it saves a ton of time when taxes roll around.

    For mileage, in spite of all the technology undoubtedly available on my fancy phone, I've always found it easiest to write the miles driven on my calendar next to the appointment. I'm far from perfect about it, but it generally works.

    My church does have a credit card and it makes life infinitely easier.

  10. Reasons for a church credit card: ours has a low credit limit (about $2500); only a few people have one (several staff members at a large church); it makes things quite a bit easier for the parish administrator/treasurer, who does not have to cut lots of smaller checks for reimbursement - instead, the work must be done by the staff member to identify how the expenses should be tied to the budget. Plus it can be paid online rather than taking the time to get a check printed and signed.

  11. I use the pencil and paper system for mileage. Once we moved to this call, I discovered that because we are so very rural Mapquest and Googlemaps can't always find where I am going and cannot EVER locate the parsonage or church! So I have a worksheet with the mileage to regularly visitied places - the hospitals, care centers, etc. That way, if I forget to write down the odometer readings, I know what the mileage is. As far as other expenses, we don't have a church credit card. When I make a 'church' purchase, I write on the top of each receipts what it is for and keep the receipts on my desk (I have a special paperweight for them) until it's expense report time. We're very low tech, so reports are all paper and pencil, but I keep a copy of every report and supporting receipts and then note check number and date paid on the report. It works - at least until this summer when we go to youth gathering! I'll have to see how we handle large expenses before then.

  12. Another program you can use is Gnucash. It's a free down-load, though it's a bit tricky to get the hang of at first, especially if you haven't used an accounting program before, but you can personalize the categories, add, subtract, whatever you want.


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