Twice today, at my office cafeteria and at Subway, I had to ask for a receipt for my purchase. This happens all the time. I suppose that since most people don't bother asking for a receipt when they buy something like coffee or a sandwich, the cashiers don't bother printing one or, if it is printed, they just throw it away.
But these small expenses add up. Consider the typical middle-class American office worker, and the purchases she might make throughout her workday:
Morning stimulant from coffee shop: $2.00
Brown-bag lunch from sandwich shop: $6.50
Afternoon pick-me-up from vending machine: $1.50
That's $10 a day, easily missed if not recorded, and adding up to $200 in a typical 20-day work month. Yet our typical worker just gets out another $40 from the ATM, and when it comes time to balance the checkbook wonders "where does all the money go"?
The above figures are conservative for some and liberal for others, of course. They say we should all bring our lunch, drink water instead of soda, eat apples instead of candy bars, etc. (Or at least buy the soda and candy in bulk.) But who are we kidding? Most people are lazy, myself emphatically included. I'm mostly-vegan, and yet I still eat out more than I cook nowadays. I may not be following the best course of action financially or nutritionally, but at least I know exactly what it's costing me. And recording the expense every time makes me give extra thought to every purchase I make.
Whenever I buy any item, no matter how inexpensive, I either get a receipt or record the expenditure in my Palm Pilot. I then periodically enter the data into Quicken on my Mac, along with all other expenses and income. I can then make monthly tabulations which break down my expenses by category.
I've been following this routine for years ever since reading Your Money or Your Life, an excellent book not just about personal finances, but on how to align your finances with your values. I'm not following all of the steps of the YMOYL program closely, and I am far behind on generating my monthly tabulations at the moment. But the idea that a person is a business, and a business must record all income and expenses, no matter how small, has stuck with me.
So I'll go on asking for receipts, and hope that the sandwich shops don't just get rid of that function on their cash registers altogether.