Between the challenges of limited funding, investor expectations, rapid growth, and the need for accurate financial planning, effective expense management is critical for startups. 

By investing time in creating a budget, implementing an expense policy, and using the right tools, you can vastly increase the chance of your startup's success, even if you hit bumps in the road.

Not sure where to start?

Let's take you through the nitty-gritty of startup expense management, including a 4-step process for managing expenses effectively. 

What is startup expense management?

Startup expense management involves tracking, controlling, and optimizing the expenses incurred by a startup business. This includes everything from office rent and employee salaries to marketing costs and software subscriptions.

The impact of poor expense management:

  • Burning through limited cash reserves too quickly
  • Eroding investor trust and making it harder to raise funds
  • Difficulty creating accurate financial projections and plans

As much as we'd like to, it's not possible to completely eliminate all startup expenses. 

However, by proactively monitoring and controlling spending, you can ensure that your expenses are aligned with your business goals and that you're getting the most bang for your buck.

Why is expense management critical for startups?

Expense management is critical for startups because, without it, it's all too easy to overspend and put the business at financial risk.

Startups often have limited financial resources, and every dollar counts. Investors expect founders to be good stewards of their capital, and poor expense management can erode trust and make it harder to raise additional funding.

Here are some of the key reasons expense management is so important for startups:

— Maximizing limited resources

Expense management helps startups make the most of their limited financial resources by ensuring that every dollar is spent wisely and in alignment with business goals.

— Meeting investor expectations

Investors want to see that startups are using their money responsibly and that founders have a clear understanding of the company's financial health and future cash flow needs.

— Enabling accurate financial planning

By keeping a close eye on expenses, startups can create more accurate financial projections and make informed decisions about things like hiring, product development, and fundraising.

Common expense management challenges startups face

Startups face a number of unique challenges when it comes to expense management, including:

  • Limited resources – Startups often have limited financial resources, making it critical to carefully monitor and control expenses.
  • Rapid growth – As startups grow quickly, it can be challenging to keep up with expanding expenses and ensure that spending remains under control.
  • Lack of processes – Many startups lack formal expense management processes and policies, leading to inconsistent and inefficient spending.
  • Manual tracking – Startups often rely on manual methods like spreadsheets to track expenses, which can be time-consuming and error-prone.
  • Difficulty forecasting – With limited historical financial data, it can be challenging for startups to accurately forecast expenses and plan for the future.

4 tips for effective startup expense management

1. Create a detailed budget

Creating a detailed budget is the foundation of effective expense management. A comprehensive budget helps you allocate resources wisely, make informed financial decisions, and stay on track towards your startup's goals.

To create a budget:

  • Identify all sources of income and funding, such as revenue, investments, and loans
  • List all anticipated expenses, including fixed costs (e.g., rent, salaries) and variable costs (e.g., marketing, travel)
  • Allocate funds to each expense category based on priority and necessity
  • Review and adjust the budget regularly to accommodate changes in income, expenses, or business priorities
  • Ensure all team members understand and adhere to the budget

2. Implement an expense policy

An expense policy is a set of guidelines that outlines what expenses are allowable, how they should be documented, and the approval process for reimbursement. Having a clear and comprehensive expense policy helps prevent misuse of company funds, ensures compliance with legal and tax requirements, and promotes fairness and consistency in expense reporting.

To implement an expense policy:

  • Define categories of expenses such as travel, meals, entertainment, and office supplies
  • Specify spending limits, preferred vendors, and required documentation for each category
  • Establish a clear approval process that includes manager review and sign-off
  • Communicate the policy to all employees and provide training on expense reporting procedures
  • Regularly review and update the policy to ensure it remains relevant and effective

3. Track expenses diligently

Tracking expenses is crucial for maintaining accurate financial records and gaining insights into your startup's spending patterns. You can use spreadsheets or expense management software to record and categorize expenses. Choose the method that best suits your startup's needs and resources.

When tracking expenses, make sure to:

  • Record all expenses, no matter how small, to ensure a complete picture of your spending
  • Categorize expenses based on your budget categories (e.g., travel, meals, office supplies) for easier analysis and reporting
  • Include relevant details such as date, vendor, purpose, and amount for each expense
  • Attach receipts or other supporting documentation to validate expenses and comply with tax requirements
  • Review and reconcile expenses regularly to identify any discrepancies or errors

If using spreadsheets:

  • Create a template with columns for date, vendor, category, description, and amount
  • Establish a consistent process for employees to submit expenses, such as a shared spreadsheet or email
  • Designate a person responsible for maintaining the spreadsheet and ensuring its accuracy

If using expense management software:

  • Choose software with features such as mobile receipt capture, automatic expense categorization, and integration with your accounting system
  • Ensure that the software is user-friendly and provides robust reporting and analytics capabilities
  • Train your team on how to use the software effectively
  • Encourage your team to submit expenses promptly to maintain accurate financial records

4. Review and optimize recurring expenses

Recurring expenses, such as subscriptions, memberships, and software licenses, can add up quickly and eat into your startup's budget. Regularly reviewing these expenses helps identify opportunities to reduce costs and optimize spending.

To optimize your SaaS expenses, you can use a software spend management platform like Spendflo to streamline the process of reviewing and optimizing recurring expenses. 

Spendflo helps you:

  • Automatically track and categorize all your recurring expenses in one place
  • Identify unused or underutilized subscriptions and memberships
  • Receive personalized recommendations for cost-effective alternatives based on your startup's needs and usage patterns
  • Negotiate better rates with vendors on your behalf, leveraging their extensive database of pricing data and supplier relationships
  • Set up alerts and reminders for upcoming renewals, giving you ample time to review and make informed decisions
  • Provide detailed reports and analytics on your recurring expenses, helping you identify trends and opportunities for optimization

Try Spendflo Now and save up to 30% on your SaaS spend

SaaS Costs Become the Second Highest Expense for Startups - Is It Good News?

For many startups, software-as-a-service (SaaS) subscriptions have become the second largest expense after payroll. In fact, roughly two-thirds of businesses are paying between $600,000 and $12 million annually, while 22 percent of organizations are spending over $12 million. 

But is it good news? Short Answer: No

Here's why:


Many startups end up paying for SaaS tools that they don't fully utilize. This can happen when teams sign up for a tool with a specific use case in mind, but then fail to fully integrate it into their workflows or find that it doesn't deliver the expected value. As a result, startups can end up spending a lot of money on tools that are not providing a good return on investment.

SaaS sprawl

As startups grow and evolve, they often accumulate a large number of SaaS tools across different teams and departments. This can lead to "SaaS sprawl," where there are multiple tools with overlapping functionality, redundant subscriptions, and a lack of centralized management. This not only drives up costs but also creates inefficiencies and makes it harder for teams to collaborate effectively.

Shadow IT

In many startups, individual teams or employees may sign up for SaaS tools without going through a formal approval process. This "shadow IT" can lead to security risks, compliance issues, and unexpected costs. When SaaS tools are not centrally managed, it's harder to ensure that they are being used in accordance with company policies and that sensitive data is being properly protected.

Opportunity costs

When SaaS expenses become a disproportionately large part of a startup's budget, it means that there is less money available to invest in other areas of the business. This can limit a startup's ability to hire new talent, develop new products, or expand into new markets. In other words, high SaaS costs can represent a significant opportunity cost for startups.

How Spendflo Helps You Cut Down Excess Spending on SaaS With Assisted Buying

At Spendflo, we understand that managing SaaS expenses can be a significant challenge for startups. That's why we offer an assisted buying feature that helps you cut down on excess spending and optimize your SaaS investments. 

Spendflo Assisted Buying

Here's how it works:

  • Centralized procurement with guided buying processes and automated approval workflows.
  • Vendor negotiations to secure discounts and favorable contract terms on your behalf.
  • Consolidated billing to simplify payments and provide a clear picture of your total SaaS spend.

Try Spendfo Now!

Ajay Ramamoorthy
Senior Content Marketer
Murshida Ahamed
External Contributor
Karthikeyan Manivannan
Head of Visual Design
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