How to Go Entirely Paperless at Home

By Ariel Snapp on 8 January 2010 (Updated 1 March 2010) 22 comments
Photo: redjar

Businesses are increasingly less dependent on paper, but did you know it’s not only possible, but also quite helpful, to go paperless at home?

Going paperless at home can help you get organized, save you money, and leave you with peace of mind that your important information is protected. Most importantly, it provides easy access to information that you otherwise may not remember or document, such as medical history or passwords. Whether intentionally or not, many of us have started to reduce the amount of paper we use since the invention of the computer. Now, with the use of today’s computer software and online tools, it is possible to go entirely paperless at home.

Though it may involve some initial time and energy, the long-term results of getting your important documents and information stored electronically has numerous benefits.

Benefits

Security: Most people are now comfortable using online banking, and the vast majority of these software tools use the same level or more of encryption that online banking uses, as well as multi-factor authentication, time stamps, and various security practices to ensure the security of the servers where the information is stored.

Organization: You can get more organized with your important information and have it easily accessible from anywhere, searchable, sharable (when desired), and archivable.

Environmental: There is less impact on the environment if people use less paper.

Savings: Though you may have to purchase some of these tools, you will be saving money on ink, stamps, envelopes, and paper costs if you store your files, eStatements, and bills securely online, or use bill payment systems.

Barriers to Adoption

Time: The amount of time it takes to get all of your passwords, health info, and documents uploaded to the online tools may seem daunting.

Cost: There is often a cost associated with some of the software and online tools.

Fear: Though in actuality electronic storage is much more secure than having paper in the mail or a filing cabinet, some people might not trust the authenticity or security of online tools. Always do the research and make sure that you can trust any company before you do business with them or share any personally sensitive information.

The following tools and software will get you on your way to going paperless at home.

Banks, Investments & Credit Cards

Nearly every financial institution, from your local bank or credit union to eTrade, encourages the use of electronic statements and bill payment. This is beneficial to the organization because it saves them money, but it is also good for consumers because they have quick access to many years of their transaction statements securely stored online. If you haven’t already, consider using eStatements for your banking, as well as electronic bill payment. Bill pay is usually free, and it allows you to stop worrying about recurring payments and schedule any and all of your bills online. No more statements, checks, envelopes, or expensive stamps. You can also use many online or software-based account aggregation tools such as Mint, Thrive, and Quicken (MS Money is no longer available), which allow you to store and track your accounts and investments, create budgets, and manage your net worth over time.

Cable & Utility Companies

The majority of cable and utility companies including Comcast and Xcel Energy encourage the use of electronic statements. Depending on how you use these documents for business, you may still prefer getting printed versions. If you consider going paperless, you can still store the PDF or electronic bills on your computer (make sure to regularly back them up) or securely online, using the online storage tools discussed below.

Document Storage & Personal Online Filing Cabinets

It’s now possible to store your important legal paperwork, statements, insurance information, or backups of any of your important documents online. Online tools like Orggit and Ecofile, or desktop tools like Devonthink (for Mac), offer personal secure online filing cabinet solutions complete with folders. Best of all, they are searchable. Typically, you’ll want to scan and store your documents as PDFs, and then upload them to these tools. Devonthink is unique with intelligence that can scan and auto-categorizes your documents right into the software saving you time. Though this process can be time-consuming, consider doing this as part of an overall paper filing cabinet clean up process. Save the most important and recent files, scan them in, then shred these files to further protect your personal information. You’ll want to make sure you have a good document scanner to simplify this process. (Note, use your judgment and never shred your most important original documents such as deeds, birth certificates, social security cards, or original receipts needed for tax purposes.)

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW

Passwords, Accounts & Wallet Information

Many people have numerous account numbers, online passwords, and URLs to keep track of with specific login and password information. Often times, people don’t use secure passwords or they reuse the same password frequently because they can’t remember them all. With online tools such as Mitto, Clipperz, and Passpack you can store passwords and account information online securely and access them from anywhere. There are also desktop tools such as IDVault for a PC and Wallet for the Mac (or iPhone). Orggit and eWallet are among the few online tools that allow you to store your driver’s license information, credit card information, and other wallet data in case you loose your wallet and need to quickly access a phone number to cancel your card. Orggit even allows image upload of your driver’s license for access if your wallet is lost and sends you email reminders when your driver’s license is going to expire.

Medical & Health Records

Microsoft HealthVault and Orggit, among a few others, allow you to securely store and manage your health and medical records online. Most of these services will also send you an emergency card for your wallet so that you are able to have your allergies and medical information accessible by ER professionals in the case of an emergency. Not only can you keep track of your own medical records and allergies, but you can also keep track of history of family health problems for quick reference.

Books & Journals

The Amazon Kindle, Sony Reader and countless other readers all do a great job of allowing you to read and store hundreds of books or newspapers like the Wall Street Journal without hurting your eyes from glare that you would expect when reading from a computer monitor. Beyond the initial cost of the device (ranging from $200-400), the books themselves are often much less expensive than the paper version itself.

Sites like LiveJournal, DearDiary and many others offer a place to journal or write online privately or share with friends and family. Various blog sites such as Wordpress and Blogger also provide quick and easy access to writing and sharing your stories online.

The List Goes On...iPhone, PDA’s, Computers and More

I admit, I still like to read paper books and write in a journal. And I am a huge fan of sticky note reminders. But if I had an iPhone or Blackberry I’d use that in place of sticky notes and grocery lists. The use of a computer alone has made it possible for you to reduce your use of paper at work and at home. Early adopters and the tech-savvy may be the only few to go entirely paperless at home for now. However, in the not-to-distant future, I see an entirely electronic world, both business and at home, that vaguely remembers paper the way my generation remembers Vinyl records.

This is a guest post by Ariel Snapp, who specializes in web design and online marketing and is the Web Producer for a local credit union in Colorado. Her blog, 365 Days Toward Financial Freedom, documents opinions and reviews about personal finance, organization, conscious spending and living an intentional life. Follow her on Twitter @freemefinancial.

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Guest's picture
Guest

I have asked BOA repeatedly to go electronic on their invoices, but they don't have this as an option. I would love it because the Post Office is so bad where I live. I constantly get the wrong mail and so do my neighbors. I always complain to the Post Office, but they can't seem to fix their problems.

Bank of America should be embarrassed in this day and age.

Guest's picture
Khurt

There is a downside to paperless statements that I have personally experienced. I have missed at least one or payments in the last few years because the email notification for the statement ended up in the junk mail folder. My email address gets over 200 pieces of junk email a day, most of which ends up in the junk mail folder. However, to find that email from my bank in the junk folder became difficult considering the amount of junk mail pretending to be from my bank. I gave up and went back to paper.

Guest's picture
Guest

You need 2 email addresses, then. One for bills ONLY. Never give this email address out to any company other than bills and make sure you click the "do not notify me" of promotions, etc. That solved my problem, anyway.

Guest's picture

I had the same problem with going paperless. The important emails ended in my spam folder and junk was plentiful in my inbox. That's a great idea having just a separate email for online billing only. Thanks~!

Guest's picture
drdrew

The only thing keeping me from being 100% paperless is what's in it for me? While I'd love to, there's no incentive for me to take the time to do so. Exception: Directv offered a one-time $5 credit to go paperless, bam, I was on that. It really only benefits the company - if you think they're going to pass any savings onto you, welcome to the real world. Ethics, forests, yadda yadda - you want me to go green, show me the green.

Guest's picture
Guest

@ WIIFM?

I found that what's in it for me is that I don't have to shred the bills anymore. I don't have to waste time sorting through so much mail. My mail box is locked. So I now check it twice a month. I get rid of the flyers and what's left is my magazines. Easy. And when the new Apple tablet is in hand, I (hopefully) won't have to get my magazines in the mail either.

Guest's picture

Here are some what's-in-it-for-me-reasons to go paperless!

http://www.apaperlesslife.com/2010/01/10-selfish-reasons-to-go-paperless/

Guest's picture
Derek

OMG, I've been looking for something like this forever. I'm tired of saving every receipt and paper in a drawer (no file cabinet in my new place yet).

I'm surprised you mentioned electronic medical records. I'm actually writing a blog post about to save money using them.

Thank you for the great post!

Guest's picture
Erik

You can make your small business paperless as well. I use Google Apps, Freshbooks, Right Signature, and Outright.com to file documents, create invoices, keep books, store contracts, and get contracts signed electronically.

Guest's picture
Kalloe

I would highly recommend, though, that you keep the most current information printed out. We are a lot more dependent on electricity than we'd like to think. We recently went through a week of constant power outages so they could fix and replace a transformer a few streets over. If you are in an extended power outage and you have bills due, you will need to have some way to access things. At the very least, the company's phone numbers. You might think you have it, but when it comes crunch time and you have no options to go online, you may find differently and it will be painful. That said, I do do paperless for most things, and think it can be a very helpful thing if you stay on top of it.

Guest's picture
MDale2

Uh hello, the biggest thing in it for you is the fact you don't have to keep a massive filing cabinet filled with papers and records!

De-cluttering my office is a HUGE reason for me to skip the paper statements!

Guest's picture
Janet B

Hi there. It looks like some of your organizational and filing needs could be solved with the use of some clever software! There are a lot of options for filing software. We do document management and filing for a living with clever twist. The Paper Tiger Filing System is a proven tool and we are ready to help you in any way we can to meet your filing needs!

Guest's picture

A number of good points. There's a few things you can change to cut your insurance premium; simple changes like increasing security. People often look around for the cheapest insurance estimates. Actually if one changed simple things to make you less risky, you would probably save just as much money.

Guest's picture
Justmike

Email is not proof of anything. A statement stands in cort, where I see emails fall short. I will not go paperless as long as possible until "most" of American laws change. Possession is 9/10'ths of the law, and this applies to everything including "phisical" records and email, they are NOT the same. Likewise, a printed receipt from email is not as good as the invoice. This is because people "fake" the email, and bring it into the stores.

Guest's picture
Kristal

Here’s another way to go paperless: keep all your documents digital and online. The main thing I think that is the hinderance to that is the dilemma of getting signatures on a document. However, with electronic signatures now approved as legally binding, a simple switch to electronic signature software can save you a lot of time, money and hassle by eliminating the need for paper documents.
I use eSign Online by http://www.gopaperless.com and I keep all my documents in their online vault which is accessible from any computer as long as I have internet connection.
It has completely streamlined my business management and I am no longer messing with little pieces of paper everywhere or rushing to get to kinkos before closing. I simply click, sign, email, upload & DONE! Check it out yourself at http://www.gopaperless.com/EsignOnline.aspx
Good luck going paperless!

Guest's picture

I had got a dream to make my own business, however I didn't earn enough of money to do it. Thank heaven my close dude advised to take the business loans. Therefore I took the commercial loan and made real my desire.

Guest's picture

This is all terrific advice. I went paperless and have never felt so free. Get the "how to's" with a scanner and a shredder here: http://www.organize-more-stress-less.com/home/2009/6/20/go-paperless-at-...

Guest's picture
Greg Lam

I did a video interview with a paperless pro in case you're interested http://www.smallbusinessdoer.com/how-to-go-paperless-with-a-digital-fili...

Guest's picture
Bryan

This is a good point that I think a lot of people overlook. Security of documents on a protected maybe even encrypted drive is another HUGE benefit of going paperless.

Guest's picture
S Ragsdale

I am often amused by the misconception of the environmentally friendly benefits of going paperless and confused why so many follow this dogma blindly. Why have one statement sent to your home when you can print out the pdf repeatedly when you can’t find the information. You believe your e-reader the environmentally responsible choice. Think again. I am currently reading a paperback book that was published before I was born. It has been read and re-read for decades. It will continue to be enjoyed. If for some reason I should choice to dispose of it (not likely), it is made of completely biodegradable materials. The only power need for operation is for me to pick it up and open it. The e-reader is composed of plastic - it will not break down. In addition, it is powered by a battery that not only will not break down but is composed of highly toxic materials. Continued energy is needed to keep it charged - another waste of resources. Like most toys, it will be replace not when it has been used up; but when the next toy hits the streets. Eventually it will be trash and only trash - pure pollution. And finally, please keep in mind that paper is created from trees - a renewable source. The paper and printing industries are major players in reforesting. The land that is now being used for growing trees for the paper industry would not just remain in its pristine state if that industry just disappeared. To paraphrase - they would be torn down to build a parking lot.

It great to do the right thing - just be sure that it is the right thing.

Guest's picture
Osaminc

I can't tell people enough how great going paperless is. Me and my wife are paper free all of our bills etc.. even digital photos are a god send. The benefits are end less. Plus we save around $60 a month. By the way here is one of the sites I am using great comany

http://www.osaminc.com

Guest's picture
Danny

Some great tips here. We are in the process of going paperless throughout the house and you have given me a few extra things to look at!