Underneath my desk, often upended by my feet, is a small used Amazon box. Periodically, I'll empty my pockets of receipts – some inkjet cartridges and copy paper I bought at Staples, a taxi ride from the airport, a restaurant receipt after breaking bread with a client, etc. Sometime in late March (much too late for my wife's and accountant's liking), I pull out the box and, over a weekend, will enter all the receipts into Excel to figure out what my precise taxable income is.
This is not a good system, and I know it. But I may have found a better way: Expensify, one of the best expense tracking apps available for Apple iOS (iPad/iPhone), Android and BlackBerry.
If you do a search in the three smart phone app markets/stores, you'll find hundreds of expense tracking apps. Many of these track one or two types of expenses, or simply household expenses. But Expensify is one of only three business-oriented ones that encompass six necessary attributes for an expense tracking app:
- It's available on multiple smartphone operating system platforms, which means it can be used by everyone in your family or workgroup without any compatibility issues;
- You can securely connect the app to your online credit and/or debit card transaction record and bank record and import those charges that are expensable or tax deductable;
- You can create custom categories under which to file certain expenses;
- You can snap a photo of your receipt with your phone's camera;
- You can import expenses into Intuit's QuickBooks, the premier small business accounting software;
- It coordinates with a Web-based/desktop service to make it easier to set up the app's parameters, categories and report generating.
How it works
On the surface, the idea of "expense tracking" would seem technically daunting, more arduous than just tossing receipts into a box for later reckoning, and sounds suspiciously like work. Okay, all three – but not nearly as much as you think.
Once you download the app and register, you create a report to which you will add expenses. You hit "add expense" and fill in the obvious info into the appropriately labeled fields: when, how much (it'll do automatic currency conversion for international receipts), who (the merchant), expense category (from a menu), maybe a sub category (i.e. "Transportation" then "cab ride" or "rental car"), and snap a photo of the receipt. Done.
You can do a day's receipts in five minutes while watching "Real Housewives of Orange County" and not miss a cat fight or whatever they do on these "reality" shows.
Expensify actually is readying a way to make the receipt input even faster and easier – but I can't tell you about until next week. But it's really cool.
Once you get all your receipts input, generating a report is the matter of a click of a button online or in the app.
Why do I recommend Expensify?
It's free. It will always be free – if you're an early adopter.
Expensify's marketing strategy is to create viral adoption. They figure you'll get it, love it, and suggest it to someone else. You tell other people, and they each tell other people, and soon the company you all work for (assuming it uses QuickBooks) adopts it – Expensify also can generate reimbursements via snail mail, PayPal and direct deposit, and can help a small business manage the whole expenses thing.
At the point where an administrator approves reports from three or more people in a single month, then Expensify costs $5 per person per month, but only if that person submits an expense report to be adjudicated. No reports from that person, no charge.
Both Concur Breeze and ProOnGo incur charges regardless – after a free trial, ProOnGo has four monthly plans (99 cents, $2.99, $4.99, $9.99), depending on varying conditions and options, and Concur Breeze, a small business version of Concur, the best-selling corporate expense tracking package, is $8/month per person, regardless of expense report activity.
So, free is always better. That doesn't mean Expensify is better, though.
ProOnGo, which does everything Expensify does, actually offers more automation than its two competitors. ProOnGo takes the picture of your receipt and scans in the when, who and how much information into the "New Expense" fields instead of you inputting this data – it works perfectly and speeds things up considerably. Each of ProOnGo's monthly pricing plans include an increasing number of receipt scans (none, 30, 50, 100, respectively).
ProOnGo also is better at car expenses. It has a separate, specific new auto expense form (Expensify forces you to adapt its single "add expense" form for car expenses – change "merchant name" to "miles" or "hours" and set the "amount" to the number of hours/miles you want to log, etc.), and ProOnGo uses GPS to help automate the expense record – you take a GPS reading when you start your drive then a reading at your destination, and the app figures the miles driven, etc.
But, free often trumps increased functionality. Just make sure you're the first or second at your company to adopt Expensify (and ask them to add a separate car expense form).