There are a couple reasons to create searchable receipts.

  1. If you ever get audited for tax purposes
  2. If you want to be able to trace your inventory back to the original order

For audit purposes, a quality scanning solution is really all that you need. First of all, naming conventions (like vendor name and date) and folder organization goes a long way. Second of all, Google Drive performs OCR on .pdfs a few hours after they’re uploaded, which means that it’s easy to search for any pdf by searching the contents within it.

However, if you want to be able to trace your inventory back to the original order (if, for example, you run an online store), you might need the receipts in spreadsheet form. You can search for a pdf using Google Drive, but it’s not easy to manipulate a pdf inside Google Drive. If, for example, you want to compare your current inventory to what you purchased, it’d be easy to do so with a MATCH function in spreadsheets, but really time consuming to do so by comparing pdfs.

How to turn a pdf into a Google Sheet

There are two ways to turn a pdf into a Google Sheet. There’s a paid way which is easier, and a free way which is a bit more trouble. The paid way is just to use an app for Android and iPhone called ABBYY Finescanner, which currently costs $10/year. It can actually work straight from the paper receipt or invoice, too. It’s really, really accurate at going straight from receipts or invoices to spreadsheets while preserving format.

The free way is to use a combination of Adobe Scan and the Chrome extension and Firefox add-on Copyfish. Copyfish works by taking screenshots of the text on your computer and transforming it into copy-pastable text. It does not preserve format, and is also a bit finnicky.

Here are a few tips to scan receipts effectively in Copyfish:

  1. Make sure the original receipt is smooth and well-lit, the text is contrasted with the receipt (Adobe Scan will help with this), and the receipt is squarely aligned with the screen, so the edges of the receipt are parallel to the edges of the screen.
  2. Magnify the receipt as much as possible on your screen to create large text.
  3. Take screenshots in columns, so you copy all of one column at once, then move to subsequent columns.

Regardless of whether you use Finescanner or Adobe Scan/Copyfish, once you get the pdf into a spreadsheet, you can clean up the results with the free Google Sheets add-on Paperpusher. It’ll also let you tag each line item with custom tags and put all your receipts in a Google Drive database, so you can more easily search through past receipts.