How to Go Entirely Paperless at Home
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.
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.)
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.