Managing receipts on fieldwork


ost of the time when I’m doing scientific fieldwork, I have to keep track of receipts in order to get reimbursed by my funding at a later date. Keeping track of all these bits of paper over the course of a long expedition can be really annoying and I have to have some sort of system in place otherwise I quickly lose the receipts.

Normally, when I get a receipt, I immediately take a picture of it on my phone, that way even if I lose the receipt, there is a backup. Forcing this habit is tough at first but I have found it becomes normal quite quickly. If the receipt is of ambiguous purpose or it’s lacking some information like the date, I normally scribble this on a blank area of the receipt before taking the picture. I also have the same approach for backing up field data in notebooks. Before my boots come off at the end of the day I take pictures of all the pages filled in that day and put them on the laptop. It’s saved me at least once I can remember when a notebook got very wet and one of the pages got torn. At the end of the day, the receipts go in a plastic zip folder. Most of the time during the trip, things only go in this folder, they don’t come out.

Towards the end of a trip, if I have the time and energy (sometimes it gets done on the flight home), I make a spreadsheet of the expenses with this information:

Item Date of purchase Local currency Cost (local) Cost (GBP) Description Notes Receipt image file
Train 2019_03_01 AOA 12000 29.40 Lubango -> Benguela 50% other grant train_lub_ben.jpg

This makes it easier to keep track of all the costs of the trip and helps when applying for reimbursement.

In some places, for instance mechanics in Lubango, or a roadside fruit vendor, providing receipts is not the norm and so I tend to carry a receipt book around with me. I fill in the cost and ask the vendor to sign it. However, I would also not recommend claiming for every tiny little bit of expenditure. My opinion is that there are some things you can claim on expenses that you would be spending money on even if you weren’t in the field, such as food, and this balances out the many small things that it’s really not worth claiming for, like a beer when out with colleagues. However there is also the line of thought that one is claiming for expenses to repay themselves for the potential discomfort of being away from home for so long.

Example of a receipt book

I’ve seen some people keep track of receipts by stapling them to a piece of A4 paper. That way the receipts are harder to lose, and also they can write notes on the A4 page referring to the receipts with extended descriptions, a breakdown of the cost, and other necessary information.