How exciting is this – it’s tax time! Said no person ever. Our approach to doing our tax returns is one of the stranger missions we all embark on. We deny their existence for about 11 months of the year, and then once we get our group certificates from our employers we suddenly look up in horror, stunned at the fact that this annual event has crept up on us. Not to be forced to do something we don’t want to, we then procrastinate about completing it for as long as possible. Finally prompted either by a good accountant or a building guilt, we put aside the time to collate all that paperwork, to a soundtrack of cussing and arm waving normally linked to a bee swarm attack rather than completing some financial paperwork. Does any of this sound familiar?
I would love to say that as someone that has worked in financial services for over 20 years that I have never done the erratic tax-time dance; however, it simply wouldn’t be true. No one is immune. So, what can we do about it? We can become tax-time ninjas! A true ninja creeps into a volatile situation, defuses it and creeps back out again. They’re not interested in the fight – they’re interested in being so quiet that no one even knows they need to fight.
So let’s shift our focus away from the fight in tax time (procrastination and arm waving), and put it firmly on our creeping skills. And in terms of tax time, creeping skills are all about our preparation: the extent to which we have everything ready to go so that we can bundle it all together in a few moments and ship it o to our accountant.
Now, just like ninjas, we can’t all leap straight into scaling walls and tiptoeing across electrical wires. We need to start with the ninja level that best suits us and work our way up from there. So in the interest of providing you with an entry point that seems achievable, here are three levels of tax ninjas, and the tools they use to get the job done …
Key characteristics: You struggle to collate paperwork no matter what it relates to, and probably use a spot on the floor of your study as your ‘wobbly filing cabinet’. When you are exposed to new technology, generally in the form of a new phone, it takes you three months to work out how to retrieve voicemails, and six months to find the alarm app to stop it going off every morning at 5am.
Tools of the trade: Getting you to dive straight into technology solutions for collecting tax receipts and paperwork would be a mistake. The key skill to learn is collating all relevant documents in one place – even if it doesn’t live in The Cloud.
Where to start: Get yourself a shoebox. I know, I know, it’s not very exciting or revolutionary, but simply having one place to put all the little pieces of paper you collect over the course of the year would probably knock a whole day off your efforts at the end. If you are keen to add a bit of style to your shoebox, then check out the beautiful boxes available at bookbindersdesign.com.au, or go a little further and purchase a receipt folder from the lovely Kikki.K.
Key characteristics: Unlike your Ninja Student colleague, you are not afraid of new technology; however, you generally aren’t such a fan of counting and data entry. You are happy to collate all the bits of paper in one place, and find that once you’ve had a bit of training you can acquire a habit of using an app on your phone or desktop to get on top of repetitive tasks.
Tools of the trade: The best type of technology for you to focus on is anything that scans and collates bits of paper. By getting into the habit of taking a photo of your receipt as you receive it, the right app will mean at the end of the year you have an electronic file of receipts that your accountant can then dig through to crunch the numbers. Consider tagging the receipts with names like ‘Tax receipts – ’15-’16’ to make sure you can pull out just one year’s worth of receipts at the end of the financial year.
Where to start: Evernote (evernote.com) is one of the most popular widgets for collating notes in general, and can be easily tweaked to file away receipts for you. Not only can you take a photo of a receipt with your phone and then archive it into Evernote, they also provide you with a special email address that you can forward any email receipts or paperwork straight into the app as well. The app has a free version and can sync between your phone, tablet and desktop, and once you start using it you will work out it does much more than just collate ‘notes’. Simple ‘notes’ can be text or a photo, but can also be a voice note, a handwritten note or even parts of a webpage. Some alternatives to Evernote include Springpad, Google Keep and Microsoft OneNote.
Key characteristics: A true master, you not only naturally collate paperwork into categories and sub categories, but you also find some satisfaction in keeping running totals of your achievements. This could manifest itself in a need to count your steps taken, calories eaten or the shopping days to Christmas. You are quick to learn the latest technology, and love to hear about new widgets that make life more efficient.
Tools of the trade: Simply scanning a receipt and archiving it won’t do the trick for you. Your comfort with entering data and tracking it will make an app that uploads the receipt, and then gets you to enter the key data on it into the app, the most satisfying for you. However, like all of the ninja ranks, the key trick will be making this task a regular habit as soon as you receive the receipt rather than letting the task build up into something more than a 30-second exercise.
Where to start: Expensify (expensify.com) can do so much you will start to wonder if it can make coffee too! The app allows you to take a photo of your receipt then select which report that expense should be allocated to. The app’s SmartScan technology reads the receipt and creates the expense, eliminating any need for you to manually enter the data. Not only does it import credit card transactions, you can also use the app to record work hours and mileage. Some alternatives to Expensify include Pocketbook or Shoeboxed – and, if you like the general idea but need some extra help, check out Expense Magic, who take your receipts and use bookkeepers to do the data entry for you.
So, work out your ninja rank and make a commitment to receipt tracking in whatever form it takes – and make it a regular habit. Like anything, the best time to start is right now, so get cracking!