Great Savings #61 – Embrace Virtual Records


I've got paper clutter everywhere. What do I do?

Are you buried under a mountain of paper? Do you like the feeling? Maybe it’s time for a change.

Are you constantly shuffling through paper or old photos? Do you have too much clutter? Do you realize all that printer ink you use ends up costing more than the printer, itself? Maybe it’s time to do something about it. I know I resist a lot of the new technology that comes along, but with endless change on the horizon this is one area I can be thankful technology provides me with alternatives. Are you still printing out receipts, bills, statements, photographs and the like? Why not save money, get organized, reduce clutter and, go virtual instead?


Below I’ll list several steps to take to avoid costly printing. But first, I wanted to tell a personal story to remind you of the absolute necessity of backing up your virtual data.


A Sad Story


I'm buried under a mountain of paper. I need to take care of this.

Unfortunately, whether those old photos are stuffed in boxes or on your computer you still need a back up plan. Don’t risk losing all those precious memories.

A co-worker of my wife recently had her house broken into. Thank goodness no one was home so no one got hurt. The thieves smashed in a basement door that was locked and quickly rifled through the house looking for electronics. Among all the items stolen was a laptop. Though insurance will cover the physical loss, all the electronic files in the laptop are now gone. Now her photos (there were a lot of them) and personal financial data (there was plenty of that, too) are gone forever. Worse, she may be at risk for identity theft since the lost financial data contains all sorts of details identity thieves require to hack into accounts.


Mozy is one of several online data backup plans available.

This “MozyHome” programs backs up my computers files on a secure server in the “cloud” so if I ever need a back up of my critical data I’ll have it.


I know when I read about topics like NSA spying or corporate data bases being hacked I wonder if my virtual data will be safe if I store it online. Yet hard drives or other storage devices kept at home aren’t immune from theft, fire, damage, or wearing out, either. For this reason, before you start embracing a virtual lifestyle build the best fool-proof way to store and backup your data possible. If you can afford it, pay for a monthly service to automatically back up your files and store them online. If you can’t afford it, then make regular and consistent backups by hand and store them in hidden and locked locations (preferably in a fire resistant lockbox or container). For more on the critical importance of backing up data, read our post, “Great Savings #37 – Protect Your Data.”


Once your back up plan is firmly established it’s time to embrace the digital revolution. For this:


My new printer does an excellent job of scanning old photos.

If you have an “All-In-One” printer you already own a scanner.

1)   Buy a scanner. If your printer doesn’t already have a built-in scanner find a new one that does and or just get a separate scanner you can plug into or use wirelessly with your computer. Scanning will become a key part of going digital so don’t get one with insufficient resolution (measured by dots per square inch or DPI—higher is better). Best of all, for every bill, photo, or document you scan instead of print you’ll be saving printer ink and that means saving money.


2)   Scan old photos. Start with your best old photos and scan at the highest resolution you can get out of your scanner—a resolution that won’t drive you insane for the time it takes to process. Admittedly, scanning is a chore if you have hundreds or thousands of photos so you might consider getting a company like Costco (check their photo department) to do it for you. Companies that digitize photos typically charge per piece, but sometimes offer a deal for a set number up front. Watch for coupons in the mail or go to their website and look for deals. Once a photo has been digitized, be sure to name or rename it appropriately and put it in a folder that will allow you to find it. A good method is to create photo albums that mimic the physical album you’re scanning (e.g. My Wedding Photos), or to get photo software such as Adobe Elements which has a built in cataloging feature and will allow you to correct faded colors or touch up photos as needed.



3)   Scan old financial records. Got old tax returns, bank statements, or otherwise that aren’t already digitized? Scan them. Again, sort them in files. It’s best to encrypt or add a password to protect sensitive files like these. Some virus and protection software like McAfee have options to store this data in a “virtual vault” on your hard drive. Consider it. Just remember you’ll have to remember the password to the vault or you may end up being permanently locked out. Incidentally, most every computer or smart phone has a feature that allows you to password protect it if left untouched for a period of time. Check out your settings or control panel. This could save you big time if someone steals your device.


II've got to pay some bills. Good thing I've got automatic payments set up.

These days all the banks offer electronic bill paying. Are you taking advantage? Why not?

4)   Sign up for electronic bill pay with your bank. If you haven’t done this yet, do it. Not only will you save hundreds on postage, but your bank likely works with many of the companies you use and allows you to set up automatic billing. That means less clutter in your “snail” mailbox. Check with your banker for the options unique to your bank.


This is the way the Chrome browser allows me to change my printer options.

In your browser find the option to print. When the “print menu” comes up look for an option to change the printer. You may already have the capacity to print to a PDF file.

5)   Print to files. Instead of printing receipts, bills, and statements out on paper, print them to a file instead. If you’re in your browser look for your print options. For example, in Google Chrome, hit Cntl P or go to the window task bar and find the drop down menu to customize and control Google Chrome. Under it, you’ll see “Print” as an option. Select it and you see a menu which will allow you to change the destination from your printer to a document type like a PDF file or otherwise. Store the file in an appropriate folder. Firefox works largely the same. Again, find the print menu and open it. Now, find “Name” which is a drop down menu. It may currently be displaying the name of your printer. However, there should also be an option for creating a PDF file. Use it to store your document. If printing a PDF isn’t an option, you may want to download a PDF creating program like doPDF for free at this link.


Got ink? This HP printer ink is expensive.

Let’s face it, those new printer cartridges cost a pretty penny. Why not start printing less often or print to files instead?

6)   If you have to print, print less often. Sometimes you can’t avoid printing a document out. When that happens ask if you need to print everything or can get by with a snippet. For example, you may be able to select a part of the document you are viewing online with your mouse and copy that. Now, when you pull up the print menu check the option labeled “print selection.” Better yet, many websites will offer a “Print This Page” option after you pay a bill or buy a product. When you print using this feature you’ll save paper and your precious colored ink, as you can avoid printing out unneeded web page headers and footers.


This is Great Savings Tip #61 - Embrace Virtual Records - A exclusive.Action Item: Are you ready to start embracing virtual record keeping? Then start by putting a backup data plan in place. Once that’s done, develop a plan that will have you scanning old photos or files for an hour or so once a week. Now, keep at it, until you’ve got the most important ones backed up. Also, if you haven’t already done it, be sure to sign up for automatic bill paying with your bank. Finally, don’t forget to shred any old paper files that contain personal information. That way, you’ll keep your paper data out of the hands of identity thieves.


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