Making the most of your expense account

These days with more mobile working, more business travellers and an ever greater need for those at the top to steal what could be their employees' wages to fund their restaurant / mistress / coke habit there are a serious number of expense accounts around. These, for the un-initiated, are what one charges business expenses to in cases where you aren't expected to pay for them yourself, which should be in every case that is vaguely to do with non-recreation.

For the more lowly peons, such as the Poorhouse, the whole company credit card idea is out. Rather one has to take on personal debt then claim it back. This is a bit annoying in some ways so it pays to try and make the most of the opportunities for personal profit.

Note that this article is not to suggest fraudulent means of pwning your company's expenses into your pocket, such as, um, making up receipts, changing dates of personal invoices and so on. That would be naughty. Rather there are many legitimate ways of funding your personal life - to admittedly a small degree - through your business life.

The key idea is that, without actually committing fraud, you need to ensure that as many perks - by which one could include discounts, free things, BOGOFF offers and the like - as possible are kept off the receipt for what you are charged. If it's not on the receipt, it's yours to keep. It works the other way too don't forget - no receipt, no claimback. See what you can do ensure every last refreshment break, every tip and so on is documented wherever possible, obviously preferably under generic headings rather that "free optional tip for a lapdance" or similar.

Anyway, back to it. "Invisible" discounts are a good way to make a few pennies. Sadly sometimes it is literally a few pennies, but hey, every little counts.

If you're in a position to buy things from t'internet, then cashback sites like Quidco, Rpoints, TopCashCack, GiveOrTake and many, many others can be your friends. To quote a slightly lame example, if you procure train tickets from thetrainline.com via Quidco, you get an "invisible" 1% discount that will not feature anywhere on your receipt. Whoo, I know, 1%, but hey, that's a free pint for a mere couple of hundred quids worth of train tickets, which in this day and age of ridiculous ticket prices for often terrible service is probably no more than 2 trips worth.

Better yet, should you want to make snippets income on almost every purchase you might make in a business context, grab a cashback credit card. These sort of creditcards offer the normal credit facilities, but as a bonus for every pound you spend on them you get a certain amount back - again, invisibly from a receipt point of view. The offers change, so check places like the lovely moneysavingexpert, but the best generic offers around currently seem to be the Platinum cashback American Express (5% cashback for 3 months, then between 0.5% and 1.5% after that), the Egg Money card (1%) or the Platinum Capital One cashback card (also 1%). If you can get accepted for any of those, happy 1%ing or more is yours. Check Quidco et al. before applying in case you can get some sort of free money just for asking for the card. Amex offer between £25 and £40 for certain cards currently.

These of course can be used in combination with Quidco etc. to get the extra percent point or similar back. They are also good to use in your personal life, assuming you can successfully pay your debts off in full every month and hence avoid any interest fees, which will invariably be rather more than the 1% benefit of using them.

There are also more specialist reward cards that may give you special perks in supermarkets, Nectar points, Airmiles, Sky TV bills etc. Obviously these are much less flexible than getting cash back and only good if you want whatever the reward is but they may be of greater financial benefit to you if you do want the rewards. Of course MSE has a helpful suggestion list.

On the subject of rewards, don't forget the various loyalty card schemes around, all of which you can amass personal pleasure on whilst spending your company's money. Nectar is a potential option for general shopping (although the Poorhouse never really uses many places that take it).

Perhaps more business oriented would be the various airline and/or hotel loyalty cards. Useful ones may include the British Airways executive club if you ever use them or their partners (many other airlines have equivalent schemes if you prefer them), or for hotels maybe join Priority Club Rewards that can get you free hotel stays, air miles and the like for staying in Holiday Inns, Crowne Plazas, Intercontinentals and the like. It must be said that rewards don't come quickly, but if you stay in enough hotels or take enough flights then after a long hard while there is a chance you'll save up enough for a subsidised holiday for yourself somewhere. Nice.

Other suggestions welcome, preferably ones that are not literally stealing or gross misconduct (yet...). It's not gonna make you rich, but on a recent trip prospective the Poorhouse could have earned maybe £35 cash, a few hundred BA air miles and a smattering of Priority club points had the above strategies been used.

NB: Of course these techniques work equally as well in your personal life, so go for it. Every penny counts. It's just that unless you take a stack of holidays or buy an immense amount of things it will take a long, long, long to build up requisite benefits. You probably could muster some personal credit card cashback without too much trouble though if you love your shopping. It's just that much nicer when you reap the rewards without bearing the costs.


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