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COMPUTER FILE / Lawrence J. Magid

Program Helps Track Out-of-Pocket Expenses

July 28, 1986|Lawrence J. Magid | Lawrence J. Magid is chairman of Know How, a San Francisco-based microcomputer education company

Whether you're self-employed or work for a company, you probably have out-of-pocket expenses that must be reimbursed or accounted for. There are lots of ways to keep track of such expenses. You could, for example use virtually any spreadsheet or database management program to record expenses and print weekly, monthly or occasional reports.

If you're facile with a program such as Lotus 1-2-3 or dBase III, it will probably be a fairly easy task to create a simple reporting system. Another option is to purchase Expense Pro from Greentree Publishers (5364 Ashwood, Camarillo, Calif. 93010; (805) 483-5375).

This $49 program allows you to maintain your expense records on a weekly basis and print out reports to submit to your employer or file for tax purposes. It runs on IBM and compatible personal computers.

The program opens up with a calendar for the current month. The menu on the bottom of the screen allows you to select the week for your report and, once selected, loads that week's expenses into memory. Unless you tell it otherwise, it uses the current week. If it is a new report, a blank form appears on the screen with your expense categories in the left column and seven blank columns for each day of the week.

As it comes from the publisher, the entry form and report resembles the forms that you can buy at a stationery store. There are lines for fares/car mileage, car rental/taxi, breakfast, lunch, dinner, other auto, postage, entertainment and gifts/miscellaneous. The names of these categories can be modified by the user, but the total number of categories cannot be changed.

To enter information, you place the cursor in the appropriate category and day of the week. For some expenses, such as lodging and meals, your only option is to enter a dollar amount. When you enter information in other categories, such as entertainment, a window pops up, allowing you to enter a date, cost and comment for several items. The program adds up all of the items in the window and places the total in the appropriate place on the form.

The car rental/taxi and fares/mileage categories allow you to enter "FROM and TO" for each expense along with the cost. The category for fares/mileage can be used to enter the dollar amount of a fare or the number of miles if your car is used. If miles are entered, the program calculates the amount due, if you have previously entered the reimbursement rate per mile. That figure is added to your other fares and posted along with the total for that day.

The program is easy to use and is adequate for producing the kinds of reports that are typically used in small businesses and some large companies. Modifications to the report form can be made using most word processing programs or with Edlin, the text editor that is included with the IBM and Microsoft disk operating systems.

The program creates standard (ASCII) data files that can be used with many database or spreadsheet programs, according to Lonny McKinnon, a partner in the two-person company that publishes the program. That makes it possible, in theory, to use Expense Pro reports as input for companywide accounting. In practice, configuring a database or spreadsheet to work with the data files could be a bit of a challenge and might require the services of an expert database or spreadsheet user.

Like many of the standardized paper expense forms, the program requires you to organize your life into weeks. Although the program will print a monthly summary, all data is entered and reported in single-week increments. That deliberate limitation, according to McKinnon, was based on the advice of accounting personnel in several companies that insist that employees submit weekly reports.

Personally, I wish it were more flexible. The program could be improved by allowing the user to enter data for any date and having the software post expenses to the appropriate week.

For my own expense reports, I use a Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet that allows me to enter date, item, amount, category, vendor and comment. I enter my receipts in random order and, before printing the report, use Lotus' sort function to sort by date and category. The resultant report has all of the information that the Internal Revenue Service and our accounting department needs, although I must admit that my company's bookkeeper would be happier if I used a more standard form, like the report created by Expense Pro.

A few weeks ago I wrote about Disk Optimizer, a $49 program that can speed up hard disk access (from Manchester, N.H.-based SoftLogic Solutions). The article prompted a letter from a reader who suggested a way to perform the same task without buying the software.

Disk Optimizer works by finding all files whose data is in non-contiguous locations on the disk and rewriting the files so that the data is contiguous. In other words, it finds and consolidates files with scattered data.

Another method is to type CHKDSK *.* (the CHKDSK program comes with DOS). That will tell you which, if any, of your files contain "non-contiguous blocks." You can then back those files up to a floppy or another directory on the hard disk, erase them from the original hard disk locations and then copy them back. Type CHKDSK *.* again to see if it worked, and, with any luck, DOS will report "all specified file(s) are contiguous."

I won't guarantee the method, but it worked when I tried it. If you value your time and sanity, however, it may be better to spend the $49.

The Computer File welcomes readers' comments but regrets that the authors cannot respond individually to letters. Write to Lawrence J. Magid, 4 Embarcadero Center, Suite 1970, San Francisco, Calif. 94111.

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