Don’t forget your receipts

One of the best and worst parts of conference travel, is getting the reimbursement sorted out afterwards.

It’s great, because it means I finally get back the money I had to shell out in advance (such as registration costs and airfare) as well as costs I incurred during the trip (such as hotel and food). It’s terrible because it’s such a huge pain.

However, there are a few things you can do in advance that will save you a lot of time afterwards.

  1. As soon as you get a receipt, store it somewhere safe. Possibly a folder on your computer, or printed and ready in a pile on your desk.
  2. Get a copy of your reimbursement form, and start filling it out as soon as you have your first receipt. This will allow you to figure out if there are any questions you need to ask your supervisor (such as any specific codes or comments that are needed on the form).
  3. Know in advance (by asking) if you need to keep receipts for food or if you will be getting a per diem. Know what the total possible food claims are (for example that the most you can claim per day is $50). This way, you’ll know going in if you’re spending more than you can claim.
  4. Realize that if you are claiming individual food purchases (no per diem) that you likely can’t reimburse alcohol. Know if you do get a per diem, that they don’t know what you spent it on. 😛
  5. If what you’re attending (such as a conference) supplies any of your meals, ask if this will reduce your ability to submit per diems/food claims. I often end up only submitting for half the number of days, since about half the meals are supplied.
  6. Keep your boarding passes. This means do not use electronic boarding. Often they want proof you actually went (and they consider boarding passes this proof).
  7. If, at all possible, avoid having to split reimbursement costs between different groups/supervisors/etc. Unless it’s very obviously defined who is paying for what. It can get very tricky really quickly. And you don’t want to be like Senator Duffy – caught claiming expenses from two places for the same thing.
  8. When you have your final document ready, photocopy all original receipts. Should anything go wrong, you can at least resubmit if needed.
  9. Finally, realize that the rules at your university probably don’t make sense. So use your best judgement, and expect things to go wrong. 😛

The upfront costs of going to conferences can be huge. As in well over $1000. In fact, for one of mine, I think I was nearing $3000 (but it involved airfare for a trip to Europe). If you’re really stretched for cash, realize that reimbursement takes time. I know of one university where it can take up to 90 days. That’s three months! Which is huge, and can cost you a fair amount in interest if you’re waiting to pay off a credit card. In most cases, you can usually ask for an advance on your reimbursement before the trip. If you’re not sure about this, ask your supervisor and/or whoever you actually submit your receipts to. (We have a couple of accountants specific to our department, that we deal with for these type of things.) Don’t just try to suck it up. If there are ways to help you out, take them.

Oh, and realize, if you get a per diem, it’s sometimes possible to make money during your trip. 🙂

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