An expense report is a form submitted by anyone in an organization who incurs business expenses. These reports help companies track spending and reimburse team members for qualifying purchases. In this piece, we’ll teach you how to use an expense report template and explain what the submission process typically looks like. We’ll also review the differences between traditional and digital expense reporting.
It's no secret that running a company costs money. To deliver top-notch services to clients, companies often purchase design software and communication tools. Additionally, teams must invest in themselves to gain industry knowledge and improve group dynamics. Internal costs may include professional development, team-building retreats, and travel for specific job roles.
Though some business expenses are regular and recurring, every company also has a variety of sporadic purchases for ad hoc needs like the ones mentioned above. Expense reporting is crucial for completing reimbursements and keeping track of overall spending. In this piece, we’ll explain how to use an expense report template and the differences between traditional and digital reporting.
An expense report is a form submitted by anyone in an organization who incurs business expenses. You use a budget to plan expenses before they occur, but expense reports track expenses after they occur.
There are various types of expense reports, with some catering toward internal expenses and others focusing on external spending. You can create expense reports that are used to capture recurring expenses within a certain time period. You can also create expense reports for ad hoc purchases that happen during an unspecified time range within one expense category. Expense categories may include:
Wages and benefits
Repairs and maintenance
Expense reports should display the information needed to reimburse the spender and track the expense. These components may include:
Date of expense
Vendor or service provided
Whether the expense is allocable to a specific client or project
Total amount paid (including taxes, commissions, and fees)
Type of expense
Anyone within a company can incur business expenses. As a project manager, you may be in charge of larger purchases like monthly subscriptions and client fees, but other team members may also make business purchases that require reimbursement, like travel expenses.
Because expense reporting spans across departments and projects, the tracking process should be easy to understand and access. Printable expense reports are simple enough, but combining expense reporting with project management software allows you to submit, track, and budget costs in one place.
Most expense report templates have a simple table format, and your company may provide a standardized set of forms for you to use across all departments. Aside from report creation, you’ll need to understand how to use and submit these reports so you can get reimbursed for any money you spend. When in doubt, refer to your internal company policies and ask your finance team for more information.
Below, we cover the typical steps involved in submitting an expense report. However, before you submit an expense report, you should always check with your internal finance team to make sure they don’t have a specific system or format in place. In a similar vein, the finance team is usually the final approver on any business expense—that way, they can ensure your business expenses are accurate.
The first step in expense reporting is the reporting itself. If you’re using a time-based expense report template, you’ll list every business expense you incur within the specific time period and fill out any information the template asks for. If you’re using a category-based expense report template, you’ll use the report to track recurring expenses within that category. You may also need to submit an expense report for a one-off expense, like a reimbursement for an annual conference fee or a donation your company agreed to match.
Some best practices for listing expenses on any type of expense report include:
Keep receipts of every expense you incur so the finance team can verify the information you’ve reported.
Place every expense you incurred on a separate line.
Break down subtotals from taxes and tips to make bookkeeping easier.
Describe the expense’s purpose, and if it was for a project expense that you can charge to a client account.
List the payment method you used for the expense, such as a credit card or cash.
Provide additional clarifying notes when necessary.
Tip: Digital expense reporting makes this step less complex because you can input expenses, upload receipts, and share your information on one platform. With physical reports, you’ll need to keep up with your report over an extended period and ensure it makes it into the hands of the right people.
Once you’ve completed your expense report, you’ll submit the report for approval. Every company has a unique team structure regarding who approves financial reports. Before submitting your expense report, check with your finance team to confirm the final expense approver.
As a project manager, you may have to submit these documents to a department manager above you, or you may submit expense reports directly to the finance team. If a team member below you fills out an expense report, they may submit it to you for approval before it goes to the next person in charge.
Tip: Because expense reports change hands frequently, there’s always a risk of it getting lost in the shuffle. Team members may lose track of physical documents more easily or pass them to the wrong people at the wrong time. With a digital system for submitting expense reports, you can create settings to send them where they need to go.
Even if you’ve thoroughly reviewed your expense report, the finance team may have questions before they provide a stamp of approval. This doesn’t mean you’re in any trouble, but it means you’ll need to make any requested changes before you can receive an expense reimbursement. Some common changes you may need to make include:
Clarifying the expense type
Offering a detailed breakdown of pricing
The more details you provide on the front end, the less likely you’ll need to revise the report once you’ve submitted it. The goal is to receive approval quickly so you can reduce processing time for the finance team, get your reimbursement, and get back to work.
Tip: Changing a physical expense report can be tedious. You’ll likely need to find the original file for the report on your computer, compare notes from the report sent back to you, and make changes before printing out a new copy and resending it. With a digital report, you can complete all changes in one living document.
At this point, the finance team has hopefully approved your expenses. Typically, this concludes your involvement in the expense reporting process. However, if the expenses in question are project-related, you may need to do some additional reporting. Make sure to include these expenses in the company budget or project budget to ensure you stay within project scope and on track with larger business objectives.
Tip: Visualizing the financial plan of a project or company is challenging without project management software. By inputting the costs from your expense reports into a greater cost management system, you can view where you’ve spent money and make strategic financial plans for the future.
During the final step, you’ll be reimbursed for any qualifying expenses you’ve incurred. This completes the reporting process—until you incur new expenses and begin the process again.
Tip: The reporting process can get hectic, with many people incurring expenses and their reimbursement cycles beginning and ending at various times throughout the year. This is why it’s crucial to have a strong process for everyone to follow. With online form automation, there’s less risk for mistakes and delays to occur.Read: The ultimate guide to choosing a universal reporting tool for team leads
The example below shows a filled-out expense report template for a team member in the marketing department. Sally Brown listed her business expenses for the week of January 15th, which she submitted to her company’s financial team for approval. This weekly expense report has a lot of detail, including what each expense was for and a breakdown of the cost.
When glancing at Sally’s report, you can see that she took a business trip to a marketing conference and drove to a photoshoot where she paid the model.
You can download a copy of the weekly expense report template below. However, before using it, make sure your finance team approves the format and layout. Once they do, your team members can use this template to input business expenses, explain what the expenses were, and submit them for reimbursement.
One person or group of people within a company can’t be solely responsible for making business purchases. Not every team member will make purchases for a company, but having an expense reporting process can ensure that any time someone needs to submit an expense and receive reimbursement, they can.
Expense reports are important because they:
Track team and company spending
Improve cost control by showing where costs can be reduced
Determine profitability by deducting expenses from gross revenue
Reimburse employees for business expenses
Money is one of the most important things to monitor within a company, and expense reporting is one piece in the larger cost management puzzle.
Printable expense reports can be helpful when team members need a quick way to list their purchases, but using online forms will take your company’s financial monitoring to the next level. If you want a flexible system that lets you make changes, automate submissions, and share documents with ease, then digital reporting is a no-brainer. With Asana, you can create a standard intake process that makes it easy to input expenses and deliver reimbursements.Free weekly expense report template