So it's time to write your company's expense policy. And either you have no idea where to start, or you've done this before and you just want to make sure that you hit all the important points.
Either way, we've got you covered. We've pulled together a handful of useful templates that you can copy directly. And perhaps more useful are the seven real-world expense policies from companies and institutions you've heard of.
See how each approaches its travel and expense requirements differently, and what they each expect from employees. Then use these insights to write a successful policy that team members actually use.
Let’s begin with a collection of ready-to-copy templates to help you create your company expense policy.
|Disclaimer: The real expense policy examples below were easily found online and not provided by the businesses themselves. They are to be used for the purposes of comparison and inspiration, and Spendesk will happily remove them from this post if requested.|
Real company expense policy samples
We’ll share hands-on, ready-to-use policy templates shortly. But perhaps more valuable is to see the real travel and expense policies successful companies use.
We’ve pulled out the most noteworthy aspects of each below, and you can click the links to see them in full. Read through a few and decide which company’s approach best matches your own philosophy. It’s always nice to know that there are thriving, famous institutions that think the same way you do.
You don’t need a link to see the full Netflix expense policy - it only contains five words:
“Act in Netflix’s best interests.”
For obvious reasons, this has become famous. And it matches Netflix’s overall culture code, which includes a full section on Freedom and responsibility. It’s a fascinating document, including a few highlights:
- Our vacation policy is “take vacation.” We don’t have any rules or forms around how many weeks per year. Our leaders make sure they set good examples by taking vacations, often coming back with fresh ideas, and encourage the rest of the team to do the same.
- Our parental leave policy is: “take care of your baby and yourself.” New parents generally take 4-8 months.
- Each employee chooses each year how much of their compensation they want in salary versus stock options. You can choose all cash, all options, or whatever combination suits you.
If that sounds like the kind of company you’re building - and you’re willing to back it up - then perhaps the Netflix approach is right for you.
Basecamp’s expense policy is not quite as simple as Netflix’s, but displays a similar ethic. We don’t have the full policy itself, but rather a set of key benefits given to Basecamp employees. These were shared by CEO Jason Fried in a 2016 blog post.
The most important aspect shared is the company’s “no-red-tape business account.” Every employee gets their own American Express card. There’s no need to ask for approval for transactions - just be reasonable.
Which is clearly a highly trusting approach to managing spending. But if you plan to replicate this, you’ll still need to ensure you have a clear process for documenting transactions - otherwise your finance team will be forever in the dark.
Because this post is full of fascinating nuggets, we’d better share a few more:
- Employees receive a $100/month massage allowance.
- They also receive $100/month towards their gym, yoga studio, or fitness pursuit of choice.
- Employees can work from anywhere in the world. “Move cities, keep your job.”
There’s plenty more to read in there. It may not be the exact expense policy that employees use when spending, but it’s fascinating just the same.
It’s always interesting to read internal policies from institutions as famous and storied as the BBC. As a government-funded entity, it’s certainly not going to be able to take the Netflix approach. So how might we describe its travel and expense policy?
In a word: classic. The document is comprehensive and contains all the main expense categories and key pieces of information you’d expect to find. It’s a good example of a more prescriptive (but still easy to follow) policy.
Here are a few highlights:
- The BBC has a written sustainable travel policy, and explicitly requires staff to use public transport where possible.
- There are specific rules governing “late night/early morning transport” (LNEMT), which makes sense given the operating hours of its radio and television channels.
- Employees may claim interest incurred on personal credit cards if reimbursement from the BBC was late and this was the reason for the interest.
There are a huge range of incredibly specific rules in this document. Which makes for a very interesting read.
Allowances for things like food, accommodation, and mileage follow HMRC’s recommendations, as you’d expect. Read our detailed explanation of HMRC’s travel expense rules.
Note: This is an older document - last updated in 2015. So it’s possible that it’s no longer 100% up to date. But nonetheless, it’s worth looking through it to see what inspiration you can draw.
As an enormous international company, it’s probably not surprising that FedEd’s policy reads like a legal document more than a set of guidelines. The company likely feels that can’t afford to be unclear about its rules, and has been quite exhaustive in stating what’s permitted.
It’s up to you whether this matches your own philosophy. At Spendesk, we prefer overarching guidelines to prescriptive rulebooks. This suits us better.
Here are some noteworthy sections of FedEx’s travel and expense policy:
- The first page of the policy explicitly states that “termination” is a possibility if employees don’t follow the policy. Which makes sense, but isn't always spelled out in a simple policy document.
- Expense reports should be submitted on a weekly or per-trip basis. The latter is quite standard, but submitting reports weekly can easily put a huge burden on both travelling employees and finance teams.
- Team members are expected to keep all of their receipts for 12 months. This has likely been updated with more companies using e-receipts these days. If not, that’s quite a tall order.
- Vice Presidents and above are permitted to travel first class, while other employees are expected to fly coach (economy). For flights longer than six hours, business class may be allowed.
Because this travel policy is so detailed, there’s plenty more of interest to explore.
Similar to FedEx’s, Bank of England’s policy and long and detailed. Similar to the BBC, Bank of England is a public entity and therefore takes fiscal responsibility seriously.
The policy begins by setting out two clear operating principles:
- The value-for-money principle: because the bank is accountable to Parliament and the public, it needs to take good care of spending.
- The integrity principle: “we should not be influenced by the prospect of personal advantage or gain. We must use the Bank’s resources responsibly for the public good, not to profit personally.”
While quite exhaustive, this policy does read as though written by those with the best interests of both employees and the institution at heart. The language is clear and easy to understand, and many of the ideas are based on what’s good for the individual.
For example, “wellbeing is also important. Travelling long distances and being away from family and friends has a cost. The Bank wants staff to be able to perform at their best when travelling for work.”
This shows that, even if long and quite technical, a good expense policy can also show the care with which a company treats its team.
Dartmouth’s travel and expense policy is one of the more legal and technical policies we’ll see. It’s written more like a piece of legislation than a “clear and simple” playbook. Whether that suits your business is your own call, but it probably makes it more difficult to follow for employees.
On the other hand, it’s very comprehensive. And we might imagine that Dartmouth employees are naturally more used to technical and academic writing than the average company employee.
Similar to others we’ve seen above, the document sets out a list of non-allowable expenses, which is important if you want your policy to be exhaustive. It also states clearly the likely penalties if the policy isn’t followed properly.
It’s also worth examining the procurement section near the beginning of the policy. If your business handles lots of high-value purchases, you may be interested in the rules set out by Dartmouth.
We can compare Dartmouth’s policy with another academic institute: Victoria University. Similarly, this policy is formulated like a legal document, setting out very clearly what’s permitted and what isn’t.
Despite this, it’s fairly easy to understand and is only 9 real pages of text. Which compared with some others isn’t too daunting.
A few things worth noting:
- All University travel should be economy class, with a few narrow exceptions. These exceptions are not related to job description.
- For meals, mileage, parking fees, and other on-the-road travel expenses, the University doesn’t state a fixed amount covered. Instead, it will cover “all ordinary, necessary and reasonable expenses required for the individual to undertake approved University travel.”
- The second page sets out the ethical framework upon which the whole document was written.
Expense policy templates
Putting an expense policy together is often a long, drawn out process. You need buy-in from different teams, managers, and executive leadership, to ensure you’ve covered all your bases.
And even then, there’s no guarantee that everyone will read and appreciate your hard work. Expense policies are regularly overlooked or ignored, and many employees prefer to do things their own way.
Which is frustrating, of course.
Given this, it doesn’t make sense to devote hours and hours to writing it from scratch. Instead, take one of these templates and tailor it to your own company’s needs.
This is a very clear and easy to understand expense policy, written in plain English (which is always important). It can be downloaded in DOC format, with spaces for you to fill in managers’ names, points-of-contact, and any other important information.
You know, a template.
And a very good one at that. If you simply want a plug-and-play expense policy that you can get live in a hurry, this is the perfect place to start.
This policy template from the team at FlareHR is perhaps not quite as clearly laid out as Workable’s. But while it may not have the same quality of formatting, it is probably more comprehensive.
Especially when it comes to expense categories. FlareHR has provided a great list of expense types, and also a range of expenses that companies may wish to explicitly exclude. This will give you a great starting point if you choose to list out categories - not an essential element of an expense policy, but often a good idea.
This PDF from Corporate Traveller isn’t exactly a copy/paste template like the two above. But it includes the firm’s recommended top 10 elements to include in your own policy.
Some of these don’t feature in our other listed templates, but may be good ideas. For example, “traveller profile forms” which ask frequent travellers for information to the company which might help in an emergency. This isn’t rocket science, but it’s the sort of thing that you might easily forget.
This template is specifically for employee expense reimbursements. We always advise you avoid expense claims, but since most companies still rely on them on some form, it’s a good idea to make sure the rules are clearly stipulated.
If all the above isn’t enough information and inspiration to draft a winning expense policy, here are two more excellent resources that give you principles and foundations to build upon.
- Expense policy 101: understanding the basics
- Company expense policy: a guide for modern businesses
- Spend management guide for growing businesses
Create the perfect policy with help from others
As we've seen, there's plenty of inspiration available for finance leaders and managers to craft a winning travel and expense policy. It doesn't have to be a chore.
And on top of the excellent examples we've shared, get help from the people around you. A good expense policy isn't simply a top-down affair. If other team members have input - not just your finance team - you can be confident that your policy will reflect what's best for the whole company.
In the end, it's about writing something that people will actually follow. More often than not, that means a simple, clear, and concise travel and expense policy.
And even better, it might mean a policy that's built into the tools your teams use every day. That's how it works here at Spendesk, and we'd love to help you achieve the same outcome: