What is the best way to buy something?

It depends on what the product is and how fast you need it. With a few exceptions, there are five basic ways to pay for things: through a purchase order using the Buyways system, via a Procard, out-of-pocket (followed by a reimbursement), via a Travel Card, or with a cash advance disbursement. Each method has its advantages, disadvantages, and restrictions. 

  • Buyways is the largest and most predominant method and is the general default for most purchasing. It is the required method for blanket orders, contracts for services, purchasing most major items such as equipment, and/or for purchasing items from our contract vendors (such as Office Max). For a Purchase Order Request form, see Downloads.
  • The fastest methods are with a Procard or out of pocket; these are best used with small-ticket items from non-contract vendors, or in situations where the prices are unpredictable (e.g. retail stores where the cost of items may be unknown ahead of time or are unexpectedly discounted). The drawbacks to a Procard include the credit limit (generally $1,000 per vendor per day and $5,000 per month) and a fairly extensive list of restrictions on items you are allowed to purchase using the card. The drawbacks to the out-of-pocket method are that you have to have the money up-front and that reimbursements can sometimes be delayed or even rejected in whole or in part if your purchases are not subsequently approved by the Controller’s Office, the funding account manager, and/or your supervisor. 
  • Travel cards provide an immediate method of payment, which is useful when purchasing things like airline tickets online. However, these can only be used for travel-related expenses, and delayed reimbursement can impact an individual’s personal credit history.  
  • Cash advances most often are used in human subject compensation situations (if a Principal Investigator wishes to pay her/his subjects directly for participating in a study) or to reimburse non-employee students for work-related expenses. 

For more information on any of these subjects, see the Procurement website.

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