Capturing and Storing Receipts digitally — Replacing Neat

For a while now I’ve not been as happy with the Neat company and their storing of my receipts.  When they had a desktop app only I thought they were the best but with their changes lately to cloud based I’ve had some problems with them so I’ve been searching for another solution for storing receipts.

First, let me elaborate on Neat and why I’m choosing not to renew my subscription.  When I purchased my Neat desk scanner it was great.  It still works great after several years.  But the product I purchased came with a desktop app…back then we called them programs!  Over the years they have been transitioning to a cloud based system and that’s fine but if I made a purchase of software that I intended to run without paying a subscription and wanted to store my own documents then that’s what I expect to get.  They abandoned their stand alone product and now it is cloud only.  That’s fine with a few problems.  Most cloud services do not guarantee against data loss.  If I store my documents then I back them up.  Currently all my data is stored on my NAS, backed up to 2 separate small portable drives as well as backed up to one or more clouds.  I shouldn’t have to worry about losing data unless we have an apocalyptic event in which case I really won’t care about my data.  With cloud services, the service could have a problem and lose your data or they could go out of business or they could increase their fees so much that you now have to move all your data elsewhere or pay more.

If these reasons weren’t enough then there is the issue with cloud syncing.  I’ve had a lot of problems with their cloud app refusing to sync.  It says it syncs then it gives me an error saying I need to choose a new location for my file.  I do this and it says it syncs but my data is not synced.  I spent several hours on with tech support who couldn’t fix it and to make matters worse they say that the number of records I have in the cloud greatly exceeds the actual records I have.  When I login to the cloud from a web browser I see what I expect to see but they say I have thousands more records than what I see.  Now, some of this is their fault and some of it was mine.  Microsoft OneDrive made a lot of changes recently.  I have had my users/documents folder on my OneDrive since OneDrive came out.  This way all of stuff is replicated across all my various machines.  This was never a problem until recently.  Something changed either with Neat or with OneDrive or with both and now they are in conflict with each other so I had to remove my documents folder from OneDrive.  Once I moved the Neat folder out of OneDrive then it finally synced.

But syncing was not the only issue.  When Neat came out their biggest selling point was how it auto captures all the data and fills it in for you.  I’ve noticed over the last 2 years that this auto capture feature works less and less and more and more of my receipts have been requiring me to type in the information.  Now, I can pay them more money and have them validate my receipts.  But I didn’t used to have to do that and it used to work.  The places I shop haven’t changed much so my receipts are pretty much the same but now I have to input the data.  WHY?  It makes me wonder if they intentionally made changes to their capturing process in order to encourage people to pay more for the validation service.  In any event, it is not working as it did and I am no longer a happy customer.  Why should I pay for having to input my own data when other companies do that for free.

So my search began for a new process.  I’ve tried several.  Some were pretty good.  Some were horrible.  What I settled on for the time being is a bit odd but I’m still waiting to finalize my perfect receipt capturing and storing process.

I downloaded about a dozen android scanning apps.  I finally settled on a couple that work well.  CamScanner was my first choice but I abandoned it.  FastScanner also seems to be a workable app that I tested out and considered.  Genius Scan is still in the running as well.  It met my criteria as well.  The one I finally settled on was Scanbot.  I paid for the app to unlock the features.  The price was good, the interface is nice looking and it seems to work well.  One reason I chose it over the others was the ability it has to AUTOMATICALLY backup anything I scan.  So…even if I did nothing else once I scan a receipt it automatically uploads to my Google Drive Receipts folder where I have been saving all receipts in PDF format.  I could stop there and be perfectly happy.  I save each receipt with the store name and date so that does require me to type in a little bit but not much.  And Scanbot automatically OCRs each file so that makes them all searchable another plus.

But that wasn’t enough for me.  I’m used to using Neat and being able to see a listing of all my receipts.  So I tested out several receipt storing products and settled upon two.  Expensify and Wave Receipts.  Each of these programs allows you to email in your receipts.  So…I created a new email forwarding address.  Since I use GoDaddy for my web hosting and they give me 100 email forwarding addresses I figured why not use them!  I created a receipts@mydoman.com.  That email address automatically forwards to my expensify address, my wave receipts address and until my subscription runs out my Neat address as well as sending a copy to my Evernote address.  I also tested emailing it directly to Microsoft’s OneNote but that process was unreliable at best.

So the simple process after everything has been set up is.  Scan receipt on Scanbot.  It auto uploads to my Google Drive.  Then I just click email and put in receipts@mydomain.com and boom…that receipt is sent to Expensify, Wave Receipts, Evernote and Neat.  BOOM.  Backing up my receipts all at once.

Now those receipt programs.  Expensify looks pretty good.  I like it’s interface and it seems to work well.  They offer a FREE subscription but it will only auto capture a limited number of receipts and populate the data fields.  After that you have to pay to have them auto captured.  BUT…I don’t care about having the data captured.  I just wanted them backed up.  If I really needed to do expense reports or something I would probably pay for Expensify.  Their pricing was decent and their product is well thought out but I only really need to save receipts in case I ever need them.  For me the expense was not justifiable.

Wave Receipts, however, is free and claims it always will be free.  They do auto capture the data and fill in the fields and it works pretty well.  Not as well as Neat used to work in the beginning but much better than Neat has been working for the last 2 years.  It’s report submitting and such is a little more kludgy but hey…it’s FREE.  So now I have the list of data that I want for free and they save the receipts as well.

I am sending the data to Evernote just for experimentation. I’ve never been a big Evernote user although they do make a good product.  I think it works well and I will always keep my free account with them.  I just haven’t really ever used it much.  I was using it when it synced to my Gear watch and let me do check lists.  That was a great feature but now that we know how to set up and take down the RV I’ve abandoned that list.  So far the Evernote emailing seems to work well with one exception. It wants to name all my things emailed note.  So when I have a process that runs on CloudHQ that syncs EverNote to Google or OneDrive it creates all my files as emailed note instead of the file name of the attachment that was emailed.  So for now emailing to Evernote is just for an extra backup.  I’m also unclear with them as to how much data I can store.  They seem to base their plans on how much you send in each month not how much you actually store.

As for automating other things like Amazon and GoogleExpress orders I have a rule set up in Outlook.  Anytime an email shows up that indicates I placed an order it grabs it and sends it to my Receipts@mydomain.com as well as sending it to an email address I set up at EmailItIn.  EmailItIn lets me email directly to my Google Drive.  The process seems to be working well.

I realize my system right now is a bit of overkill but it’s still in testing phase and I haven’t decided on my final solution and I figure having copies of receipts in more than one place as long as it costs me nothing isn’t a bad idea.

Since I don’t like to have a ton of files out there to search through I used PDFTK to run a task through Task Scheduler that runs the first of every month at midnight.  It grabs all the PDF files from my Google Receipts folder and it combines them all into one file and then deletes the individual files.  Then all I have to do each month is rename the file to the month name and date and then move it to my archive folder.  I’m not worried about the PDFTK messing up and deleting files as I have 3 local backups in case that happened as well as cloud backups.  So far testing of the PDFTK has been great and saves me from having to manually create the file at the end of each month.  I’m sure I could automate the renaming process and moving process but for now I want to do it manually so that I make sure the file process is running properly

This is a lot of information and a lot of systems here but it should give you several options depending on what your needs are.

 

UPDATE – 07/30/18

After about 2 weeks of tweaking, tuning and testing various things I think I finally settled on my system.

Alright in simple steps here.

  1.  Capture receipt imagine with ScanBot (Scan Bot automatically saves to OneDrive — it is saving to OneDrive because I couldn’t get step 2 to work with ANY, and I tested everything I could find, automation routine using Google Drive.)
  2. After ScanBot uploads the file to OneDrive receipts folder Microsoft FLOW has a flow created that when it sees a new file in that Receipts folder it does the following:  A.  Saves a copy of the file to Google Drive (because I prefer keeping them there.  Their interface and app seems easier to work with in my opinion.)    B.  Sends an email to receipts@mydomain.com (which is set up as a forwarding address that sends the email to my personal addresses for  Neat, Expensify, Wave Receipts and Evernote — I plan to keep only one of these as a backup but I haven’t yet chosen which one and since most are free leaving them all active just gives me more backups available.)
  3. At the first of the month I have the PDFTK running via script that combines all the receipts into one PDF file.
  4. I manually rename the PDF file and move it verifying that everything was done then I can delete all the receipts for the month from the processing folder.  (I will probably automate the deletion step after a few months of verifying that the PDF file is generated without error.

That’s it.  So for my part once it’s set up…all I do is capture the receipt with my cell phone in ScanBot….the rest is now fully automated!  Pretty sweet.  I’d love to actually capture the date, vendor and amount but since I don’t really NEED that information I’ve left that to Wave Receipts to capture.  If I need a receipt during the month I purchased something all I do is go to my Receipts folder.  All file names are saved as Vendor date for easy finding.  If I need to find a receipt for an item purchased prior to the current month I just open the monthly PDF folder and SEARCH in the folder.  The PDFs are saved in searchable text so that makes it easy.

As far as cost goes building my system.  You can get 5 Gb free with OneDrive so as long as you clean it out each month you should be good.  Google also gives you 15 Gb free.  Expensify is free but they will only “capture” 5 receipts a month which means they will grab the vendor, date, amount and populate data fields.  Wave Receipts is free and promises to always be free and they will capture the data fields for all the receipts.  Evernote gives you 60 Mb of uploads each month free BUT if you want to be able to email into Evernote you have to pay $7.99 a month to upgrade to premium.  But Evernote has lots of interesting options so it might be worth it.  ScanBot has a free version but I believe to auto upload you have to pay $4.99 for the full version.  Microsoft Flow has a free plan that includes 2000 flow runs per month, unlimited flow creation and checks every 5 minutes to run your flows.

Also note I could have just used Microsoft Flow to send the emails to the different places but I like using my auto forwarding email so that I have one email address and if I have other receipts that perhaps I just received via email and didn’t scan I can just forward that email to my receipts@mydomain.com and it will go to all the correct places and updating the email forwarding addresses is a quick signin to GoDaddy and make a change rather than opening up the Flow and editing it.

If you have any cool ways to save receipts, feel free to share them in the comments.  I’m always looking for the best automation system available for the cheapest cost.

 

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