Getting Started with Petty Cash

Learn about petty cash, allowable and unallowable uses, as well as general fund administration at Columbia University.


What Is Petty Cash?

Petty cash is a vehicle for payment/reimbursement of small-dollar transactions in an efficient and cost-effective manner. However, it is frequently not the most cost-effective way to purchase goods. Business managers are encouraged to mainly use petty cash as a last resort when other payment options are not feasible (i.e., Columbia Univesity P-Cards). 

Who Uses Petty Cash?

Each department at Columbia University may establish a petty cash fund of up to $500. The use of petty cash funds should be limited to reimbursement of faculty, staff, and visitors (including students who are not also staff) for small expenses, not to exceed $80 (taxi fares, postage, emergency office supplies, etc.).

Who Manages Petty Cash for the University?

The Office of the Controller authorizes the establishment, modification, recertification, and closure of these accounts. Establishment and increases in petty cash funds must have appropriate DAF approval at the department level and, if it is a department at the Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC), the CUIMC Controller’s Office must also approve. 


Each approved petty cash fund has a custodian who is responsible for reconciling the fund on a regular basis (at least monthly), providing adequate controls, management of expense reimbursements and Fund replenishments, recordkeeping and general fund administration. 

The custodian must be a full-time salaried officer or staff employee. All reimbursements to a fund's custodian must be signed off by a senior DAF within the department or school.

New petty cash custodians must take the required Petty Cash Web-Based Training before a fund will be set up. Contact the Service Center to request more information about this training.

Allowable Uses

Necessary and reasonable minor business transactions, not to exceed $80 (See Business Expense Policy for more information). For qualifying payments to human subjects engaged in research activities - may exceed $80.


  • Small food purchases
  • Local transportation
  • Emergency purchases of office supplies

Please refer to the Petty Cash Web-Based Training for a complete list of allowable uses for petty cash.

Unallowable Uses

Petty cash cannot be used to pay for (or reimburse):

  • Honoraria
  • Services
  • Equipment
  • Travel or salary advances
  • Registration fees
  • Business meals outside of the office
  • Expenses older than 120 days

Please refer to the Petty Cash Web-Based Training for a complete list of unallowable uses for petty cash.

Submitting Requests Via Service Now

The petty cash team utilizes Service Now to manage the following petty cash lifecycle requests:

  • Establishing a fund
  • Increasing or decreasing a fund
  • Changing a fund project
  • Changing a fund custodian
  • Closing a fund

Each of the processes above has specific requirements that must be met. Service Now requests submitted without required documentation will delay updates to associated petty cash funds.

A training guide for the above lifecycle processes is available in the Resources section below to assist users. 

Managing the lifecycle of a petty cash account includes the following interrelated steps:

Please review each step's webpage before attempting to submit a request.

Petty Cash Fund Trainings

For comprehensive guidance on how to manage and use petty cash, please refer to the Petty Cash Web-Based Training

For instructions on how to submit petty cash requests using the Service Now catalog, please review the Submitting Petty Cash Requests via Service Now Training Guide.

When to Use Other Procedures

Use Travel and Business Expense Reports to request reimbursement for:

  • All individual expenses, including the emergency purchase of supplies and minor equipment costing over $80
  • Registration or conference fees
  • Business meals outside of the office
  • Any out-of-town travel expenses
  • All credit card/debit card purchases
  • Expenses older than 120 days (requires Supplemental Approval)

Travel and Business Expense Reports can only be used by faculty, staff, and students of the University. See the Travel and Expense website for more information.

Use P-Cards, EZ Purchase Orders, Staples Advantage program, or Purchasing Requisitions to order:

  • Materials
  • Parts
  • Supplies
  • Equipment
  • Services

See the Buying and Paying page for more information.

Still have questions?

Visit our Service Center.