WWYD: Too Many Work Expenses At Once

In this installment of WWYD, a problem with expensing things at work:

I have a job I kind of like and with it comes frequent travel. We don’t have corporate credit cards, so travel comes out of our own pocket and then we are reimbursed after filing expense reports (I’ve asked if we could get corporate cards, and the response I got was “We had those once and it was a nightmare. No one used them properly.”). For some scope on the cost of the trips, I recently had to take two trips in a row and it cost me about $2,000. For people who make more than I do, this isn’t such a big deal (I guess), but I live in a big city, have some already high credit card bills I’m trying to pay off, plus student loans. Since I’ve had this job, I’ve been trying to throw all of my extra cash towards those debts. This means, at the end of the pay period, my checkbook is pretty low, but I feel good about myself for not getting into more debt.

My plan for these travel expenses at this point was to put them all on a credit card that I use solely for business travel, then apply my reimbursement check directly to that card as payment. Good deal, because this means I’m paying the card in full every month. The problem: This past week I was asked to take another trip. I haven’t yet been reimbursed for the other recent travel (the reimbursement is processing), which means that I cannot put this one on the credit card as it would put me over the credit limit. I have about $600 in cash in my checking/savings, but the $600 would not cover the cost of the trip, not to mention, I’d be flat broke at that point.

Today I had to tell my boss that I couldn’t afford the trip—he mentioned something about it being “embarrassing.” I assured him that it wasn’t embarrassing for me, as I don’t know a single one of my friends who would be able to float their job a $3,000 loan, but I agree, it does put me in a bind.

What on earth am I meant to do? I’m not financially at a point where I have tons of money socked away and even if I was, I don’t want to spend it on work travel (even if reimbursable). If I had an extra $3,000 I’d like to take an actual vacation, not keep it in limbo just in case I’m asked to travel again for work. How do other people handle these types of expenses? — A.

I can’t believe your boss described this situation as embarrassing. Did he not offer up any solutions? I hope he didn’t just say he found this predicament embarrassing and shrug his shoulders.

At one of my previous jobs, I was sometimes asked to travel or take clients out for dinner or drinks, and was told I could expense anything that was job-related as long as it was approved by our CFO. Like A.’s situation, we weren’t given a corporate credit card, so we charged these expenses on our own cards, and were reimbursed when we received our next paychecks. The more savvy of us put them on credit cards that offered rewards like cash back, or airline miles, but everyone appeared to have high enough credit limits that waiting for a reimbursement wouldn’t be a problem.

That didn’t mean there weren’t problems of course. The finance department had petty cash on hand in case someone needed money immediately (petty cash is usually a small sum of money a company has on hand to pay for expenses that don’t require a check, but our company also had money around for emergencies). Employees could also ask the finance department to expedite reimbursement checks so that they arrived much sooner. There are also instances where, for one reason or another, my boss would use his credit card to pay for something for me and would deal with the filing of expenses himself. My boss and I had a good working relationship, and if I explained to him that I couldn’t charge a trip on my own credit card, he’d simply pull out his own card and take care of it for me.

Perhaps I was in a luckier work situation, but if I couldn’t get my reimbursement check expedited, or if my boss didn’t offer his own credit card as a solution, I would call up my credit card company to ask for a credit limit increase. The credit limit increase is likely to be approved because you’ve shown that you are responsible by paying off your credit card every month. If for some reason that doesn’t work out, it should be up to your company to figure out how to make travel arrangements for you, not for you to worry about not having enough credit or savings to do your job.


Email me your WWYD experiences to me with “WWYD” in the subject line. See previous installments.



39 Comments / Post A Comment

craygirl (#63)

OMG, this is incredibly timely. I’m a poor grad student who this semester has to take at least 2, possibly 3 expensive conference trips which are paid on reimbursements (which take about 45 days…). I don’t have any real tips, but just sending you ALL my sympathy. It’s very stressful.

I know for me, my boss might not have been able to help, but as Mike pointed out, the secretaries in my department are INCREDIBLY kind and understanding, and have offered to give me an advance from the department’s petty cash if it’s necessary for work expenses. I haven’t taken them up on it yet, but you should talk to Payroll or whoever and see if you can get some help!

craygirl (#63)


And *DON’T* be embarrassed. It’s totally annoying of the company to not at least book your flights for trips they are making you take. (also your boss sounds like a total jagweed)

Your job sounds like my job. Lots of trips, no company credit cards, and very slow reimbursement. After a while, I was able to increase my credit card limit enough to cover it. Be careful about doing that TOO much, since a coworker ended up having a $20,000 limit on his card, and that interfered with his ability to get a morgage. If you can’t increase your credit limit, call someone in accounting and see if thre’s a way to get an advance on expected purchases for things like that. You probably won’t get the whole thing advanced, but it could be more manageable.

Also, I hope your card has some sort of points/rewards system. That’s the one upside of using a personal card for expensive work purchases.

OllyOlly (#669)

@MilesofMountains Could you explain why having a high limit on your card would interfere with a mortgage?

Safari (#3,209)

@OllyOlly A low debt to credit ratio on your cards is good up to a point, but once you start having really huge amounts of credit, banks and people see that as a potential for you to run up an enormous amount of debt overnight, even if nothing in your credit report indicates you would do such a thing.

@OllyOlly I can quite remember his explaination, and maybe it also had something to do with him making huge work purchases on it too, but I think it just made banks concerned that his cash flow might be pretty volatile. He said they were worried that he’d make some huge purchases, go bankrupt, and stop paying. He eventually did get a morgage, but he said they had to have some discussions about it to convince them that it was for work-related expenses only.

@Safari Yes, that’s exactly what I meant to say by my rambling there.

OllyOlly (#669)

@Safari Thanks! I recently applied for a card and they approved me for about $20k under no request for them to do so. A mortgage is a few years out, but it is good to have a heads up that I might need to think about that.

@OllyOlly Banks may require a letter of explanation for such a large credit limit (I’ve had to provide one for each of my four refis over this past year), but if your credit history is good (no late payments, staying under limit) and your debt to credit ratio is reasonable, I wouldn’t worry about it too much.

faustbanana (#2,376)

Your boss is a jerk, both for his comment and for not offering you possible solutions.

Mike’s solution is good. Raising your credit limit might also raise your credit score a bit if you keep paying off the card every month. I probably would have pressed harder on my boss for other ideas, that is, if I wasn’t crying with anger at his “embarrassing” comment. Yuck.

WaityKatie (#1,696)

@faustbanana Yeah, I think my response to that one would have been along the lines of “maybe if you paid me more I would qualify for a higher credit limit.”

probs (#296)

Tell your boss to huff your hog and backflip out of the door while giving the double bird? But realistically, yeah, what Mike Dang said.

olivia (#1,618)

@probs This made me laugh HARD. I need to learn how to back flip while giving the double bird just in case I’m in a situation like this.

OhMarie (#299)

This is insane to me, unless he meant “embarrassing for us that we can’t get you a corporate card.”

Mike’s solution is a good one, I bet they will be happy to raise your limit. And maybe get a cashback card!

@OhMarie That’s what I was hoping he meant by embarassing too! As in, “I’m so embarassed to have to ask my employees to loan this company so much money.”

TARDIStime (#1,633)

@OhMarie I also really hope the company is embarrassed – my managers recently instigated a “company breakfast” once a month (always Fridays), where there is the food organisation is rostered by two different people every month.

Whoever is rostered is responsible for purchasing the food and preparing it, but the person managing petty cash is not available to reimburse you on the day due to always having Friday off. So whoever is rostered doesn’t see their money til Monday.
For the managers who are not paycheck-to-paycheck, this is resonable. For me, not so.
When my time comes I will certainly be hassling the petty cash manager for my money up-front on the Thursday, and I will be refusing to provide Friday breakfast if I do not get it then and there.

LW, this is WWIWD in your situation: no cash upfront, no travel.

@OhMarie Agreed! “Embarrassing”? Yeah, for THEM. That’s incredibly lame.

Worker Parasite (#2,292)

Ridiculous! I travel a lot for work, though they pay for flights, hotels, and rental cars, so all I have to float are other travel expenses and food, and they take 6-8 weeks to reimburse me. I’ve gotten to the point that they constantly owe me a few hundred, which sucks, but is nowhere near as bad as this.

As others have said, Mike’s solution seems like the best possible, but might I add, start looking for a better company to work for? I’ve had a few jobs that involved travel and every single one of them has offered to advance me money for expenses if needed, without me asking.

Worker Parasite (#2,292)

@Worker Parasite Also, I’m not sure about the scope of your travel, but it might be worth looking for creative ways to rack up frequent flyer miles. Like New York to Chicago through Orlando. I like it because:

1) it gets me more points I can use for personal travel
2) it’s usually cheaper to book something silly like that, which my company likes
3) when I’m in the air I have some quiet time as my phone is off

Downfalls include possible missed connections and that much more time spent dealing with cattle in planes/airports, but some people love doing things like that.

mishaps (#65)

@Worker Parasite Sometimes corporations get very strict about your travel choices based on contracts with the travel agency and/or airlines, though.

Worker Parasite (#2,292)

@mishaps Very good point, I haven’t experienced this, but if it was in place I’d be sure to not do anything that would run afoul of any of those rules.

kellyography (#250)

Wow, they’re real idiots if they don’t know how to manage an employee-held company card system, even just for specific employees whose job descriptions require lots of travel. I am just an assistant and I have a company card for situations just like this (among other things).

@kellyography Agreed. It’s not rocket science; most companies manage it just fine.

cmg16 (#3,226)

I used to have a job like this, but the employer was a constantly-struggling nonprofit and I often travelled on the cheap (ie staying with co-workers in the destination cities, etc). Two things helped me budget – one was having a card, as you’ve done, the other was finding a travel agent who would bill me. So she would book the flight on her credit card and then send me a bill, which I would submit for reimbursement. She charged a $35 booking fee, but she was great about finding really cheap flights and helping make changes. Also using priceline for hotels really helped.

sheistolerable (#2,382)

@cmg16 That’s a neat solution! I also am an impecunious grad student who needs to go to conferences, wonder if I could make that work.

Megano! (#124)

Wow, your boss is a real asshole.

Megs (#644)

I am 100% in the same situation right now, and find myself in it about twice a year. I’ve called up the credit card companies and asked about raising the credit limit and telling them my honest situation, which sometimes has helped. Sometimes it doesn’t, though, and that sucks.

The last time it didn’t help, I called my bank, lied, and said I was moving so I needed a “temporary” credit increase. It wasn’t temporary, but it did score an extra $1000 on my limit. Sometimes asking for a manager when it comes to requesting an increase helps if you were denied before.

If you’re in a situation where you’re traveling frequently and fronting it on your own credit cards, I hope you’re racking up every frequent flier mile and hotel point you can get your hands on. That’s the one bonus of doing it that way, especially if you can swing it so you always travel and stay with the same airline and hotel. I racked up some free nights at the W and 3 flights to Europe that way when I traveled more.

Ask whomever you send your reimbursements to about getting a travel advance. That’s something my small, no corporate card, company does and that usually gets paid out pretty quickly (like, actually in advance of the trip provided there’s at least some days notice). And if you’re usually putting everything, like the hotel and flights on your own card, you may ask if there’s a card someone has you can use to book those in advance and just pay for incidentals on your own.

kellyography (#250)

@Mary-Lynn Bragg@twitter I completely forgot about advances (even though I fill out reqs for them at least a few times per year!). This company the OP works for sounds poorly run. Get out of there!

If this is a regular monthly expenditure, can they give you a petty cash float to cover costs?

sheistolerable (#2,382)

I’m a low cash flow grad student who travels to conferences and gets reimbursements, and so far I’ve tried to use Bill Me Later for flights–it’s no interest if you pay it off within 6 months. However, we’re talking under $500, nowhere close to what you’re floating. And I have no idea if Bill Me Later is evil or what. Probably.
And your boss is a jerk.

nikp (#3,186)

@sheistolerable I don’t know how evil they are either, but I did buy my grandmother a lift chair using BML and they didn’t charge me any weird fees or scam me or anything obvious, so I guess they’re at the very least neutral.

tiktaalik (#778)

Is there no way that they can book your flights/hotels directly? I work for a university, and when I travel to conferences and such they reimburse some of it (food, car rental, gas) but pay the big expenses up front. Maybe see if they’d be willing to do that? Of course, then your travel itinerary is at the mercy of your finance person, which can be a whole other set of issues…

poptastic (#3,228)

Does your company have cashflow problems themselves? it kind of sounds like it to me based on a) them not paying directly for large expenses such as flights and b) taking a long time to pay those back.

My company would always pay for the large expenses (travel, accomodation) and only expect people to front their own eating/drinking/local transport costs. Even then, I would expect the money back within 1-2 days of handing in the receipts. The *only* place I ever had to put big things on my own card (a £1800 flight), went bust. They were making employees do it because they didn’t have the cash themselves :-s

dudeascending (#1,921)

Ugh. How embarrassing–that your boss is so clueless. I’m with others hoping against hope that he meant he felt embarrassed that your company can’t process employee reimbursements more quickly, or, at least, have ONE company card for everyone to use?

@dudeascending Seriously. This is beyond unacceptable to me. I never realized how lucky I was to work for a company that actually pays our expenses promptly until I started hearing (frequent) stories like this. Our company has one corporate card that belongs to the Controller, and if any employee cannot or does not want to charge work expenses such as travel to their personal card, they can use the company card.

I understand that giving everyone a corporate card can also lead to abuse, but seriously. The company should have a line of credit for these types of expenses. There should be some kind of employee protection law for things like this (unless there is one already and it’s not enforced, and I’m just ignorant). Ugh is right.

emjb@twitter (#3,234)

This makes my blood boil, and you are exactly right; there isn’t and shouldn’t be any embarrassment on your part. I had this come up when I was making less than 25k at a shitty university job; the conference was non optional, and them paying for my hotel/food/gas (we drove) was out of the question. Their solution was to make me drive with a coworker (she had more available credit) and share a room with her (same reason) and also it saved them money on one room instead of two. What also saved them money? They were a state U and their policy was never to reimburse sales tax on meals eaten inside the state, since they were a nonprofit. Problem: am I supposed to ask McDonald’s to fill out a nonprofit form to drop the sales tax? Seriously? That job was fucked up in many ways, but expecting your nearly poverty-line employees to front conference costs was definitely one of them. It is a loan, full stop, and no employer should have the right to demand you do that for them. If they can’t manage their corporate expenses such that people don’t abuse the cards/they can’t figure out how to pay costs directly, then they are incompetent.

hopeful (#3,240)

This does happen especially if your boss is inexperienced and depending on the company/job you may not want to leave but just move to a different position/boss. I think you should get a hold of the HR person and handbook and figure out how to resolve this. It is better if you can say to your boss something like I would like to have the company credit card because I traveled X days last month. This is just another variation of how to work with a difficult person problem. You can solve that. Don’t let that it involves money confuse you. I also would find a good time to discuss ’embarrassing’ comment with your boss to sort that out.

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