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Tips For The Traveling Executive: Expense Tracking Apps
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Tips For The Traveling Executive: Expense Tracking Apps - Executive Leadership Articles

Tips For The Traveling Executive: Expense Tracking Apps

Executive Leadership Articles

Tips For The Traveling Executive: Expense Tracking Apps

Somewhere out there is a person who enjoys hanging on to every receipt, jotting down for future reference what the purchased items or services were, and then filling out the necessary paperwork. As far as I can tell, that person has never crossed my path. In a world where so many things have become paperless and more convenient, there are far too many remnants of the old paper trail, remnants which we must unfortunately continue to deal with. In an effort to tame the beast, we took a look at expense-tracking apps that claim to make this all less of a bother.

It’s been a long time since I was last on a business trip, so I had to simulate one, treating the week leading up to Christmas as a sort of pretend trip during which I kept track of every expense in the manner that experience has proven best for me, which means I shoved every receipt into my pocket, and at the end of each day, uncrinkled each receipt and put it into an envelope for dealing with at the end of the trip, or if I should have any downtime during the trip.

The downtime never happened, so the day after Christmas, I sat down with my receipts, my iPhone, and a pen, and got to work test-driving some of the promising-looking apps in the app store. It should be noted that I also had an Android device, but this time around was unable to test similar apps on that operating system for reasons of technical difficulty and incompetence. The reviews here are all for iOS devices.

The Expensify app is designed to work as an extension of the Expensify website. Users create accounts, then log their expenses and, when a report is due, generate a report and send it via email. To make fullest use of the service, Expensify recommends users connect accounts to their credit cards. Transactions on the card are automatically logged in the account for later sorting by the user. I was drawn to this app because of its receipt-scanning feature. I took photos of my receipts, which were scanned for the names of businesses and total cost. The images were then kept in a sort of holding area for later connection to specific transactions on the credit card, or they could be manually sorted as cash transactions.

The scanning service was the better of the two I tried, even identifying the business names when they were printed in highly stylized type at the top of the receipts, but could be a little slow, a huge drawback for someone like me who needs to get the whole job finished in one sitting. I was able to submit all my receipts and to log all my expenses, but connecting receipts to transactions only partially got done because the scans were still in progress when I was ready to be done. Additionally, the scanner is very picky, calling some of my receipts illegible, although it read other similar photos without a problem. I was then dismayed to discover that, using the “submit receipt via camera” option doesn’t save the photos to the camera roll, meaning I had to take photos again in some cases where receipts didn’t go through. I strongly suggest taking careful photos of all your receipts first, saving them to your camera roll, then submitting them to the service using the “submit receipt via photo album” option. I had difficulty decoding some of this app’s restrictions, but it seems there is a ten-receipt scanning limit per day.

Report generation was a breeze. With just a few button-clicks on my phone, I was able to select transactions for the report, give the report a unique name, look at it in preview mode, and then submit it for approval with just an email address.

The service from the user end is free. From the management end, which I did not explore, the price is $5 per month for each user receiving a reimbursement, with the first two reports free. Up to the point where I generated my report, there’s no honest way I could say the app was any less teeth-pulling than the old-fashioned way. It involved less writing, but the number of steps required for photographing receipts was about the same, and in some ways more excruciating, especially since I had to redo some of the photos. However, the report generating was like a breath of fresh air. I didn’t have to fill out a form, write my name in six different places, or take care of sorting anything. All my reimbursement-eligible expenses were logged with photo copies of receipts, sorted into categories, and sent to the fake email address I submitted. With a few tweaks to my system and a little bit of experience, I could see this working for me.

ProOnGo has similar features, but its scanning feature was fussier than Expensify’s, although as a test I did submit one receipt as a sideways-oriented photo, and it handled that just fine, while completely misreading or rejecting perfectly fine photos as illegible or “not a receipt.” Scans that returned erroneous data could be resubmitted for a second try, or they could be kept, with the details added manually by the user. This turned out not to be as frustrating an experience as I expected, but the wait time for scans was unbearable. Only by returning to the app a few days later was I finally able to sit down and finish my task. Waiting around for the scans to return with data was maddening.

Generating a report was at first as pleasant as it was in Expensify, and I appreciated the multiple output options, which included Excel, Quickbooks, and CSV formats, but ran into a problem once I entered an email for submission. I’m not sure (because I couldn’t find a clear explanation either in the app or on the website), but it’s possible that report submission and receipt scanning (beyond a few trial scans) is part of the premium service, which is $4.99 monthly. There are pricing options for businesses, too, who want to get everyone on board, and the premium service includes unlimited report generation, SSL connectivity, and credit card integration.

This app also took some getting used to, but with a paid account, I could see it working for me too, although I’d have to rethink the way I set time aside for these tasks, as the scanning part seemed to take far too long. Still, I’d rather spend too long shooting photos of receipts than filling out spaces on forms.

Expense Tracker 2.0 and Pocket Expense
It became clear immediately that while Expensify and ProOnGo are apps that connect you to services, these (and a few others I took very quick looks at) are self-contained apps that assist you in tracking things yourself. Both apps are more like personal finance management systems, with ways to manage your budget, project expenses, log income, and set savings goals. While they fall outside the realm of the apps I had in mind, they were fairly well put-together, and served as a good reminder that the best system is the one you use. Business trip expenses are just one part of a big picture for many of us, and a separate app may not be necessary if you’re already managing your expenses in some other system. Perhaps filling out paperwork doesn’t drive you as crazy as it drives me, or perhaps for you, expense-tracking is just one task in a chain of tasks you manage as part of a work style. These apps, and others like them, can be great for that if you find a way to fit them into that style.

All the drawbacks with new technologies apply. If you’re just not as comfortable with a mobile device as you’d like, taking advantage of a new app might ultimately make that particular task easier, but if it requires an enormous amount of time spent learning how to use it, the payoff might not be worth the investment. Technology is only useful as far as it serves its user, and the extent to which it does that is purely up to you.


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Tips For The Traveling Executive: Expense Tracking Apps - Executive Leadership Articles

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