Tracking or trusting?
In this edition of Ask Mel, our domestic worker expert shares how viewing your home as a small business when it comes to tracking finances helps enable you to set up a system where trust and accountability are built between employer and employee. Mel offers practical tips and suggestions on how to set up a system with tracking expenses.
Q: Should I be tracking the petty cash my helper spends for us, or does it make it seem like I don’t trust her?
Ever since employing our helper, I’ve tried to think of our home as our own “small business” where I’m the manager and my helper is our employee. I often ask myself: “How would a responsible business handle this, for both the good of the company and their workers?”
When it comes to financial monitoring, the majority of businesses and owners will have systems in place for tracking all the money that is spent by their employees on the company’s behalf. Here’s the thing: they do this regardless of how friendly they are or how much they trust their employees. Why?
It’s because the accountability and structure that those expense sheets and reimbursement forms provide actually benefit both parties.
Employers can find comfort in knowing exactly where their money went, and employees can feel secure because there’s a black and white record of their spending. Did you know that employers who have money-tracking systems for their helpers are far less likely to accuse their helper of stealing? Trust levels can break down if you start finding yourself thinking things like:
“How come it seems like she spent too much money on groceries this week?” or “Why is she asking me for more petty cash already? Didn’t I just gave her some two days ago?”
For the good of your household (reducing opportunities for theft), your sanity (reducing worrisome second-guessing), and your relationship with your helper (reducing risk of wrongful accusations), I encourage you to come up with a system that works for you. Don’t worry if it’s not perfect the first time. My helper and I tried a few different money tracking ideas before landing on a method that works well for us.
- Keep short accounts. Tracking weekly (vs monthly or quarterly) is a lot less daunting, because there won’t be as many receipts to check over, and details of the purchases are still fresh in both of your minds.
- Have your helper assist you: If you’re short on time, enlist your helper to assist you with the tracking as part of her weekly duties. This way, you’re only checking over versus compiling the expenses.
- Standardise petty cash: Consider giving your helper the same set amount of cash at the beginning of every week, rather than on an as-needed basis. You can just settle the few dollars over/under at the end of every week. Having a set amount helps you to know if something seems a bit “off”, and avoids her having to ask you for money throughout the week.
- Require a paper trail: At bare minimum, ask your helper to keep all the receipts she spends for you and turn them in to you at the end of each week. A reusable envelope or zipper pouch works great for keeping these organized. If you can’t read Chinese, you can ask your helper to ask cashiers to print the receipts in English.
- Formalise with a tracking sheet: Provide your helper with some sort of Expense Tracking Sheet that she can fill out at the end of each week, with the numbered receipts attached. Then, you can have a quick look to make sure everything looks correct and then keep the records in a safe or transfer the data to your computer for easy referencing later.
Even if you’re like me and you don’t think finances are your strength, getting started with a very simple tracking system will feel great, and you can always tweak it as you go along. A weekly glance over the receipts can prevent future anxieties and create more assurance and clarity for your “home business,” which is sure to benefit both you and your worker in the long run.