The Real Cost of Using a “Free” Expense Report Form

Is it outdated to use spreadsheets as expense report forms, and should you instead choose faster, more high-tech solutions?

This was the premise of our recent blog post Fact or Fiction: People Still Do These Things at Work, and blog reader CarlCarefor recently shared a comment opposing this idea:

“You want me to throw away years of spreadsheet skills and numeric number entry to use a touch device (the error rate on touch entry has to be at least 3x as high). Are you employed by crapple? Touchscreen number entry is as clunky as a dull sled blade… Smartphone[s] are not for figuring complex equations, sorry...”

First of all, thank you to CarlCarefor for taking time to read the blog and comment. His comments inspired us to debunk a few myths about using a spreadsheet as a free expense report form. And thanks to blog reader jkeller for the debunking assist:

“I don’t think anyone thinks you should dispense with your spreadsheet skills. I think the post is simply suggesting they’re going the way of the buffalo – at least for expenses. The mobile app bypasses having to input numbers altogether.”

The truth is, CarlCarefor is not alone in holding this opinion. When given the choice, many people think using a spreadsheet over any other expense report tracking method is a no-brainer. It’s commonly held that a spreadsheet is free to use, and that it is good enough to serve as an expense report form.

But what most people don't realize is that using a spreadsheet - though it seems cost-effective - does in fact cost money and unnecessary time.

Here are three ways a "free" expense report form will actually cost you:


Free expense report form gotcha #1: It takes time to fill out, itemize and sync your expense report with credit card reports.


Ask yourself — How much are you really spending on your expense reporting process? Try this simple equation to get a good idea of how much your current process is costing your company:

  • How many full time employees are responsible for filing expense reports?
  • What is the average number of expense reports they file each month?
  • On average, how long does it take an employee to fill out each report?
  • How long does it take your finance department to process each report, including double-checking all itemizations?
  • What are your total annual expenditures reimbursed through expense reports (on average, you can assume each expense report is $700)?

Since expense report processing is often viewed as a normal business activity, few companies take time to assess all the costs associated with it. Taking a few minutes to compile this information will help give you an accurate baseline for how much expense report processing is actually costing your company, and how much you stand to gain by switching to expense management software.


Free expense report form gotcha #2: You spend money on employee hours.


How many hours do you spend filling out those spreadsheets? What about matching receipts to expense reports, checking them for accuracy and attaching them, and then waiting for your expense report to be approved? If you’re using a “free” expense report form, your answer is likely “way too many.” Free expense report forms add employee hours to both sides of the equation. According to recent research from Quocirca, “Both sides [claimants and processors] agreed that they find existing systems too complex. 65% of claimants and 43.5% of processors find it too time consuming. Lack of visibility of the claim, as it moves along a process, can be frustrating for a claimant. Ensuring that the claim is valid and justifiable can hold up the claim payment. However, checking for validity and justifiability at the outset can significantly speed up the claims process.” Concur helps you out by doing all that work for you, whether you’re on the web or on-the-go with your mobile device. It automatically syncs with your credit cards and even your e-receipts. Plus, it alerts you when your expense is out of company policy, making it easier to have your claims approved and reimbursed. Your data is already uploaded for you, meaning less time auditing and correcting mistakes, too.


Free expense report form gotcha #3: You could be working on other things.


Think about everyone at your company who is responsible for any type of expense reporting activity. Now, think about all the ways they could be using that time to help your business. Sales reps and managers will have more time for the mission-critical work that drives revenue and fuels growth. Your finance department will have more time to work on the cost-cutting initiatives that lead to a healthier bottom line.

And your entire staff could not be spending time doing tedious, manual expense reporting tasks on a consistent basis. Look, your employees are accustomed to automated solutions, whether at home or for other aspects of their job, like with payroll and automatic bill-pay. The manual expense reporting tasks associated with a “free” expense report form represent an antiquated, inefficient process that prioritizes morale over time.

Automated expense reporting not only saves time and energy, but also adds much-needed capabilities, improving accuracy and insight for everyone involved.


Essential Guide for Expense Reporting_CTA  


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