The Strangest Expense Claims (That Actually Got Approved)

the strangest expense claims

A pet octopus. Lawn-mowing goats. Caribbean vacations. These are just some types of work expenses that employees have tried to get approved by their managers.

Managing expense claims can be complicated, and it is undoubtedly misunderstood by many. In a memorable exchange on Seinfeld between Jerry and Kramer, neither one understood what a write-off was, but it didn’t matter since the business they were discussing would be the one handling the write-off.

Surprisingly, though, some finance experts who do understand write-offs still approve some incredibly bizarre employee expenses. We’ve made a list of some of the strangest expenses to get approved, as well as a refresher on basic work-related expense claims.

Note: This post is not tax advice. Tax laws and hospitality regulations vary by country and may put caps on the amount spent on meals, entertaining a customer, or other business expenses. For specifics in your country, speak to a tax advisor.

What are work-related expense claims?

Work-related expense claims are fairly easy to understand. When employees lay out money of their own or use a corporate spending card to purchase something work-related, they have generated a work-related expense. 

For example, if an employee has started working from home and needs to buy a desk, printer, and faster internet service, those are all claimable expenses. Depending on the company’s expense policy, the employee may be able to get reimbursed for all or part of the money they spent. 

There are many common business expenses, although it is worth noting that different countries treat some of these expenses differently. 

Travel Expenses

When employees travel for business, they generate several different expenses. The company pays for transportation and, in the event of an overnight trip, their hotel stay. Employees are often entitled to a per diem amount, which they can use to buy food and other incidentals. 

Meals

While not every meal is a business expense, meetings with customers over lunch or dinner may be considered a business expense. If work requires staying late, dinner can also be a business expense. 

Office Expenses

Any items needed to run an office would fall into this category. That includes computer equipment, office furniture, and phone lines. It also covers things like pens, paper, staplers, and other items required to run a business.

Examples of Outrageous Expense Claims 

Businesses operate in different areas, which can lead to some expense claims that range from curious to jaw-dropping.

Puppy Behind Bars

Things got weird in 2020 when a lot of companies shifted to work from home set-ups — and so did their employees’ expenses. According to Certify, one employee submitted a request for a $79 dog crate specifically to help train a COVID puppy “to not run into Zoom meetings.” Much to our surprise, the request was approved. It’s unclear if the puppy’s owner had to buy a separate crate for the dog to use outside of business hours.

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Llama Drama 

Another strange animal-related expense reported by Certify was a llama rental. In 2016, a photographer wanted to include a llama in a particular picture, so a $150 llama rental fee was submitted — and approved. It was never revealed what business sanctioned the rental, but we hope they got their money’s worth.

An In-House Rock Wall

We’ve heard of climbing the corporate ladder, but climbing the in-office rock wall? That was a new one when LivingSocial installed a rock climbing wall in one of their Washington D.C. offices. The company approved the massive project, claiming it as an employee perk that helped boost employee wellness and morale. LivingSocial was acquired by Groupon in 2016, and the building is now an events space — without a rock wall, sadly.

Eyelash Extensions

Teambuilding, a company that facilitates teambuilding events, famously implemented a policy that reimbursed employees for anything they could justify as a health expense. One woman submitted a form claiming her eyelash extensions positively impacted her sense of well-being, and that’s all it took — the expense was approved. 

A… Human Skull?

Most employees would run if they discovered a coworker had been ordering human skulls, but in 2013 one was approved as a business expense. It was not revealed what company approved the purchase or exactly what its purpose was other than being used for “a medical experiment.” The approved charge came to $800. 

Craft Services for Horses

Fashion editors can find themselves working with unusual props in unusual settings, but if it’s all in the name of work, why not expense what you can? One woman expensed a hefty serving of carrots to feed horses on the set of a shoot. The finance department was confused, but ultimately approved the reimbursement after some explanation. 

Hangin’ Out

Certify also uncovered a particularly novel way of traveling to work at one company. An employee submitted an expense report for a $2,000 hang glider ride. The only reason given was: “to avoid a divorce.” The strangest part of all is that it was actually approved.

Shapewear for the Stars

At a photoshoot with a Hollywood actress, a publicist had to leave the set when it was discovered that the actress hadn’t brought her own undergarments as instructed. The publicist had to purchase an array of Spanx for her client, then expensed the purchase. She didn’t reveal exactly how much the Spanx haul cost, but did tell Reader’s Digest, “I’ve never spent so much on them in my life.” Luckily, accounting approved the reimbursement without a fuss — it wasn’t even the first time this had happened. 

How does writing off expenses work?

Most companies have a policy outlining expenses and reimbursements. Employees and their managers are expected to understand the policy before making purchases. While the mechanics are somewhat different depending on whether the company or the employee paid for the goods, the process is pretty similar. 

Employees make a purchase and fill out an expense report. The report is first approved by their manager and then sent to the finance manager. The finance manager may ask some questions, particularly for out-of-the-ordinary expenses, and then either approve or reject the expense. 

Assuming the expense falls within the company’s expenses guidelines, the receipt is filed away. If the employee paid for the item, they are reimbursed. If the expense is not approved, the employee may pay out of pocket.

What to Know About Expenses in Your Workplace

Expenses are an essential accounting tool. They lower your overall profit, which reduces your company’s tax liability. For example, a company with $5 million in gross revenue won’t pay taxes on the full $5 million. First, they’ll calculate gross profit by deducting any expenses that were directly related to the production of goods or services sold, such as direct labor and raw materials. 

Next, they’ll calculate operating profit, which takes the gross profit number and deducts the expenses we’ve discussed in this post, as well as things like rent, utilities, payroll, shipping costs, and depreciation of assets. For companies without non-operating revenue, operating profit is also referred to as earning for interest and tax (EBIT). 

Finally, all cash flows are tabulated to come up with net income, which is the number the tax authority assesses for tax liability. 

Increased expenses over the course of the year can push profits down, which reduces profitability. The tax authority may audit expense records to ensure that companies aren’t using funds on inappropriate expenses to reduce their tax bill. Therefore, it’s vital to maintain a clean paper trail on all expenses for tax purposes.

Use Technology to Avoid Unexpected Expenses

As you might imagine, ensuring that employees stay within budget and don’t abuse expenses is a challenging position. Fortunately, we have seen new tools on the market to help businesses ensure that their employees only make approved purchases. 

Spending cards, like those offered by Mesh, eliminate employee reimbursements and have built-in controls to ensure all expenses are approved. They work like credit cards but have preestablished rules that can be customized with spending caps, geographical limitations, vendor limits, and more. They ensure that all spending falls within corporate policy, and that employees cannot sneak expenses past an overworked finance manager. 

Systems like the one offered by Mesh allow for automatic expense approvals. It reduces the need for back-and-forth emails and cuts down the bureaucracy, allowing employees to perform their job functions without delay.

How to Manage Expense Claims with Automated Expense Management Solutions

One of the key benefits of a spend card system is how it enhances spend management processes. The systems work with your accounting software, automatically matching invoices with receipts. It means less manual work and eliminates human error from the process. 

Expense management solutions help streamline the entire process. While there may be the occasional exception, expense data no longer needs to be manually added into the system. Receipts don’t need to be scanned, and managing travel expenses with different currencies are automatically converted into the company’s primary currency. 

Reporting is another way automated expense management solutions help. The system can quickly generate reports, offering insights that can help reduce expenses even further.

The Bottom Line on Expenses

While there may be legitimate reasons for seemingly outlandish or strange expenses, you want a system in place to ensure that other out-of-policy expenses aren’t approved. 

To learn how Mesh Payments automated expense management system can protect your businesses from questionable expenses, book a demo today!  

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