The History of Receipts

The word “receipt” comes from the Old Norman French word for recipe and the Latin word to receive. A receipt is “A written acknowledgment that a specified article or sum of money has been received.” More precisely, receipts contain two main elements, the clearance of goods or services and the settlement of payment. Many countries require receipts to be provided at the point of sale or upon receipt of goods sold. Furthermore, some countries mandate that tax also be included on all receipts. There is no set form for a receipt, though receipts often contain the details of payment and transaction such as a list of goods and services provided, cost of those individual goods, the tax on those goods, the total prior to tax, and the full total after tax. Receipts often contain the name of the seller or vendor along with the vendor’s address.

Receipts are different than invoices, though in some cases receipts and invoices are combined. Receipts document the receipt of payment and list goods and services provided. Receipts can also be provided either by the buyer or the seller. Invoices are the agreed upon terms of a transaction provided to a buyer by the seller. Essentially a receipt indicates a complete transaction while an invoice usually implies money is owed.

The concept of a receipt has been around for at least 5,000 years. In fact a receipt represents one of the oldest examples of known writing. This cuneiform clay tablet lists clothing along with their prices was used in Ancient Mesopotamia. Some expense experts define this more specifically as an invoice or shopping list since it doesn’t document receipt of payment.

Receipts have come a long way from clay tablets. Most receipts today are paper documents automatically printed at the point of sale. Prior to the sales terminal printing a receipt, receipts were drawn-up by hand and sometimes still are. Paper receipts can be written for less frequent transactions or when there is no computer terminal available.

Soon, paper receipts may go the way of the clay tablet. The logical next step is to use digital receipts. Digital receipts are being used now by some retailers and will most likely over take paper receipts. In addition to taking up wallet space, paper receipts account for 640,000 tons of paper used in the US each year. Services like Itemize can capture receipt information in 15 seconds from a photograph scanned with a mobile phone, reducing the need for physical receipt storage. While this helps with receipts taking up space, it doesn’t solve the resource issue. Digital receipts can help. By emailing receipts to customers instead of printing the receipt on paper, paper receipt waste is reduced and eliminated. Itemize also helps organize digital receipts by connecting with email accounts. This can make the transition from paper receipts to digital receipts easier and keep everything organized.