So then… she utters those words that strike fear into every travelling businessperson: “I need to talk to you about your expense statement.”
My heart races just a bit – the Catholic school girl in me is guilty already, wondering, “Oh, hell, what does she know? What proof does she have?”
But the weary traveler in me is indignant, bristling at the potential accusation from an accountant who never leaves her desk and therefore has no knowledge of flight delays, lost luggage, boring transcontinental flights, mind-numbing client dinners, and noisy hotel room neighbors – all of which necessitate my extensive bar tabs.
I straighten up in my desk chair and speak as casually as I can into the phone, “Whatever do you mean?”
Margaret, who looks like a kindly grandmother but is actually a fierce stickler for rules, rustles some papers over the line and says, “It’s about your trip to Minneapolis to call on Target Headquarters.”
My mind races, trying to recall what questionable expense items I might have listed from that trip several weeks ago. My anxiety stems not so much from my own questionable creative accounting practices, but from Margaret’s apparent disdain for the travelling sales team.
(When James, our Sales Manager, expensed a bottle of aspirin on a business trip because he had a headache, Margaret called him to ask him how many pills he took on the actual trip. When he asked why, she replied that he should only ask for reimbursement for the pills used on the trip, since he’d be using the remainder of the bottle on his own personal time. When he balked, she said then he should donate the rest of the bottle to the receptionist’s desk, so that the rest of the company could use the remaining pills when they have headaches. I’m pretty sure James took the rest of the pills right then and there.)
So I say, “OK, Margaret, what about the Minneapolis trip?”
She says, “Well, it appears that you went to a local Target to buy some competitor’s samples of our products…”
“Yeah, so I could show the Target buyer that our products are superior to his current vendor,” I say defensively.
“And you also bought a bag of Potato Chips and a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream…”
“Yes, that was my dinner,” is my churlish reply.
“And you also bought some feminine hygiene products?”
Damn! Had I really forgotten to buy those on a separate receipt? Hmmm, I don’t suppose there’s a rational reason that I would need to buy those for business purposes.
But that certainly does explain the salty chips and chocolate ice cream for dinner.
“Heh, heh,” I laugh weakly. “Oops! Sorry for that mistake, Margaret. That’s a little embarrassing! I’ll reimburse the company for those items.”
“OK, see that you do so by the end of the day, please,” she says primly.
As an end to our phone call, I try a little levity and say, “I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t try to expense condoms! Heh, heh.”
To which she replies, “Well, if it’s a sales call, that’s allowed as an ‘Entertainment Expense.’”
Touché, Margaret, touché.
— Darcy Perdu
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(Any questionable items you’ve claimed on your expense statements? How about a funny business trip story? Share your comments below. I love to read them!)