How to Tell Your Boss You Can’t Afford to Pay Out-of-Pocket

1.9.18 Out of Pocket

Story provided by The Muse and written by Stacey Lastoe – 

Your boss is somewhat scatterbrained (and that’s putting it mildly). He’s great at his job, but when it comes to things like remembering to send the email response he drafted to you or picking up the case of wine for the client event on his way into the office, he fails repeatedly.

Sending an email is one thing: You’re comfortable following up (he’s assured you that’s exactly what you should do if and when you don’t hear back from him in a timely manner), but the whole reimbursement thing makes you squirm. You can live with that one time you ended up buying the round of coffees at the morning meeting without getting a dime from him as promised, but you’re not cool with it becoming a habit.

The company’s budget is tight, you get that. But whether your boss has offered to pay you back or you’re supposed to get reimbursed, it can be problematic if your financial situation is somewhat precarious. Not to mention, no one likes an awkward expensing conversation.

Muse Career Coach Emily Liou notes that “Every company is structured differently when it comes to accounting protocols,” so it can be helpful to understand that and then to navigate individual situations as it makes sense for you (and your bank account).

She says that “large companies will often provide corporate credit cards to exempt employees,” but that “others may ask that you pay out-of-pocket and submit receipts for reimbursement.”

So it’s not abnormal if your manager’s asking you to put something on your card only to be paid back at a later time—either through the organization’s expensing platform or directly from them. That said if this isn’t something you’re in a position to do or are uncomfortable doing, simply be as direct as possible. It’s not that different from turning down work invites you can’t afford.

After all, there’s nothing wrong with maintaining strong reins on your personal budget and being wary of discrepancies that threaten to upend it, no matter how little the charge. Simply put, you’re going to need to flex your assertive muscles and let your manager know that paying out-of-pocket for an expense the company is responsible for.

The Conversation

Liou’s advice? Speak directly with the requestor or your manager and propose some creative alternative solutions. You can let them know that “financial assistance would be helpful at this time,” without going into detail. It’s, frankly, none of their business why you’re not cool with buying the holiday decorations or paying the postage on the FedEx for the client.

Offering solutions, however, is typically seen as a good thing. To that end, if you’re asked to buy something, instead of glumly agreeing or outright saying no, you can try asking if “your manager or someone else in the department have a corporate credit card they can expense the transaction on,” Liou suggests.

You might also, depending on how large the expense—are you being asked to put three nights hotel accommodation on your card for a conference—see if it’s “possible to receive a cash advance or check advance; or ask if the accounting department be able to complete this transaction directly?”

If you’re putting this into an email, it might look like this:

Hi Courtney,

I’m super excited for the conference next month. I’m getting ready to purchase my flight and wondered if there was a company card I could charge it to? For personal reasons, I’m unable to purchase it on my card and invoice later. If it’s easier, I can send you the information or reach out to accounts for their help booking it with corporate funds.


Again, the bottom line is that it’s A-OK if fronting the costs of something work-related doesn’t sit well with you. Maybe you were burned by a co-worker or manager in the past. Maybe you were late on your rent check while waiting for the accounting department to process a large expense. Maybe you just don’t like seeing those extra charges on your credit card, or you flat-out don’t have the extra funds to cover it. Whatever the situation, know that you’re allowed to bring it up.

Oh, just note that if this involves traveling, you should read this first.

Either way, remember that you’re in the right and that you’ve got this.

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