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  • How Make the Transition to Paperless

    A few weeks ago, I explained why I’m finally going paperless over at Quizzle Wire. If you’re a cautious sort like me (I have a tendency to save every document “just in case”), switching to paperless can seem like an overwhelming process with too many chances to lose things or become so disorganized that you can’t find what you need. So here are some tips for making a stress-free transition to paperless:

    Develop an organization system on your hard drive that works for you – The first thing you need to do is figure out how you are going to organize your digital documents. I love nested folders, and my digital filing system starts with a folder dedicated to paperless documents – namely, statements, bills, receipts, and such. The next level down is a folder for each year, and within those folders, I have a folder for each month. I don’t get too hung up on saving documents in the exact month – for example, I have statements with a closing date of March 31, but since it was April by the time I saved the PDF to my computer, I just saved it in the April 2013 folder.

    Start slow – I started the move to paperless years ago when I began paying my bills online through my bank’s online banking system. Rather than print out confirmations or write down every confirmation number, I began taking screenshots of the confirmation page. Since then, I’ve gradually been switching one account at a time to paperless status – I just save the PDF version of monthly statement to my hard drive when it becomes available.

    Figure out a tracking system that works for you – I like to keep my email inbox uncluttered, so I delete notification emails almost as soon as I get them. However, that means I don’t have due date and payment information right at my fingertips (and some companies don’t include that info in the notification email anyway). I’ve created a simple word processing document that lists my paperless bills, and each month as the notification emails arrive, I jot down the due date and payment amount (I usually log into my account and save the PDF of the statement at that time too). When it’s time to pay the bills, my list of paperless bills has all the info I need.

    Find the right software – I’m no expert on computer software, so I’m sure there are better programs than what I use, but they were free or inexpensive, and they work for me! I have a Windows computer that came with a nifty program called Snipping Tool, which makes it easy to grab a shot of anything on the computer screen. For full-page captures in Firefox, the add-on Abduction is very handy.

    A few years ago, I tried a screen capture program called Snagit, which has been really great for the transition to paperless because it can create PDFs. It shows up as a printer option when I go to print a page, and then once it’s “printed” in Snagit, I can save it as a PDF. There’s a free trial offer, and it’s only $49.95 to buy the program (get it for free with Amazon gift cards from Swagbucks!).

    Develop a system for backing up your files – We’ve all heard horror stories about computers suddenly becoming unusable. You don’t want to risk losing all of your files if something like that were to happen to you. Fortunately, external hard drives have become very affordable. I back my files up once a week to an external hard drive – that’s a short enough span that if something happened, I wouldn’t lose much, but long enough that I don’t feel I’m constantly doing it. Thanks to Christina of Northern Cheapskate for reminding me to add this section!

    It’s taken me years, but I’m finally on the verge of converting the last of my accounts to paperless. I have a lot less paper clutter to deal with now – so not only is going paperless good for the environment, it’s good for my sanity!


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    Comments

    1. Macs have the PDF feature built in (it’s in Preview), but when we had a PC, I loved CutePDF (http://www.cutepdf.com/) because it was free!

      I do much the same as you, but also make it a point to back up data on an external hard drive. I’m not completely paperless yet, but I’m slowly getting there.

      • Chief Family Officer says:

        Ack! I meant to mention backing up files – it was in my notes but I overlooked it when writing my post. Thanks for the reminder – I’m updating now!

        • I suspected you did some kind of backup! :-)

          One thing I wonder about is whether I should do an offsite file backup. In the case of a catastrophic event (fire, tornado, zombie apocalypse), my external hard drive would be useless. I haven’t done it yet… mostly out of laziness… but it would probably be a good idea.

          • Chief Family Officer says:

            That’s a good point … I got an extra external hard drive and am loading files to it, and am going to leave it at the safety deposit box at the bank. But I would have to update it once a month or so for it function as a useful offsite backup – I know that’s not going to happen! Would love to know what service you decide to go with if you pick one :)

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