Receipt Design and Unclear Taxes

Reformatting an daily item.

At the start of almost every year I tend to promise myself that this year I’ll be better at tracking my spending.


Very quickly, however, it becomes overwhelming and I quit.

This year, I thought a smaller, more attainable goal might work. So I decided to only track my spending for one month.

And, in all honestly, this shouldn't be so difficult. With online banking and services like Mint, it’s easier than ever. Unfortunately, for me, the struggle is real.

Interestingly, this year, because i’m trying to track every purchase, even those in cash, I've found myself inspecting all my receipts rather heavily. And the amount of variation from receipt to receipt is astounding. Some are hard to read or completely uninformative, while others are clear and super detailed.

Pretty much standard though, is a vague and confusing tax area of the receipt. Every receipt had a section for taxes, but the vast majority lack any detail, with descriptions such as “Tax” or “Tax 1, Tax 2”. In the entire month, I only received one receipt that meticulously recorded the type of tax and it’s percentage of the total (or item).

In speaking with my only tax-minded friend, Brian, I found that he does, in fact, track the specific taxes he pays, but that it isn't the easiest of tasks.

That begs the question, why are taxes so unclear? And how would I be able to differentiate between a sales tax, city tax, or other tax?

Most receipts usually display 8 types of information:

  1. Title
  2. Name/Location/Contact of Seller/Logo
  3. Transaction Information (Date, Time, Order #, CC Type/Cash)
  4. Item Information (Description, Quantity, and Price)
  5. Tax Information
  6. Subtotals
  7. Total
  8. Change

(I’ll note here that some receipts offer additional information like reward savings, messages, and promotional offers, but I’ll leave that for another post.)

But what of digital receipts? Wanting to see the difference, if any, I looked at receipts from Macy’s, PayPal, and Square.

The Macy’s receipt seemed to essentially be a replica of the paper version, but PayPal and Square did things differently. Paypal placed priority on the total amount paid, with any additional details below.

While Square also placed priority on total amount paid, it included a brief experience survey, which I thought was a nice touch.

With all of this in mind, I decided to run through the exercise of creating a general paper receipt that includes all the general elements, but also placing usage and understanding as a high priority. Also of high importance if that ultimately I want each receipt to be a quick touch point in my goal of tracking my spending.

To start, I measure the receipts and found that most were about 280px wide, with the length generally dependent on the number of items bought. Then I prioritized the required elements, based on my goals.

  1. Total
  2. Where I bought the item (Name, location, Logo)
  3. When I bought the item (Time stamp)
  4. What items I bought (Item descriptions, prices, subtotals)
  5. Taxes Paid (Tax details, subtotals)
  6. Transaction Information (How I paid, change)
  7. Additional Seller Information (contact, feedback ability)

Also, important to note, that all printed receipts were black and white, so color has been excluded.

Here’s the first round:

I've included a feedback feature because i think there is a lot to this idea of instant feedback, even though QR codes are a mess sometimes. Overall, I’m relatively happy with readability and priority of the receipt. One thing this doesn't really address, however, is the description of taxes. Space-wise, it doesn't seem to be the greatest usage, but additionally, it was very hard for me to even find more information about each tax.

Just for fun, here’s some information on Chicago-specific taxes:
http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/fin/supp_info/revenue/tax_list.html

Read more at: uxedforit.tumblr.com