Personal Finance

What’s the best way to store important receipts and papers?

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A couple of years ago, my step-father-in-law became ill and now requires 24-hour care in a nursing facility. I take care of his finances, making sure his bills are paid on time. He was also the victim of identity theft, and I worked with the police department to arrest the criminal. (She was caught and sentenced, and was ordered to pay restitution but I'm sure she won't ever do that.)

Needless to say, the amount of paperwork that arrives from banks, credit card companies, hospitals, doctors, and state/federal government agencies is enormous. I bought some filing boxes but they quickly became full. For the last few months, I simply tossed all the paperwork into a large plastic bin, promising myself to buy a large filing cabinet to store the papers when I had a chance.

A couple of weeks ago, I reorganized my office, and I set the bin next to our garage, planning to bring it back in the next day. That night it rained, but I didn't think anything of it, because the bin had a lid, which snapped down tight. When I lifted the bin to bring it back in the office, it weighed a lot more than I remembered. That's when I noticed a crack in the lid. I'm glad my kids weren't around to hear the language I used when I took the lid off the bin and saw that the papers were soaked with rainwater.

It took a long time to dry the waterlogged papers — I laid them out on the floor of the office, about 20 pages at a time. After a few hours they were dry enough to put on the "dry" pile. Then I laid out 20 more wet pages and let those dry. I swore to myself, "never again."

I don't want to deal with physical pieces of paper any longer. I want to go digital. Now that off-site backup is cheap and reliable (I use Backblaze, which costs $5 a month), I feel confident about storing my father-in-law's records (as well as my own records) as PDF files.

Right now, I'm looking at my options. I'm mulling over three different ones:

1. There's Shoeboxed, a service where you stuff all your receipts into a prepaid envelope and let a machine do all the scanning for you. Shoeboxed offers three different plans starting at $9.95 a month for 50 receipts and business cards. The downsides to Shoeboxed (at least for my purposes) are that it seems to be catered for archiving receipts, not all kinds of documents, and it stores the receipts on their system. I want copies of all the documents on my hard drive as well as online.

2. A company called The Neat Company sells a USB-powered scanner that converts receipts, documents, and business cards into digital files. This sounds appealing to me, but the reviews on Amazon are mixed. Some people say the scanner is slow and the software is buggy. I have asked the company for an evaluation unit and will let you know what I think.

The third option, which is the most attractive but also the most expensive, is the Fujitsu ScanSnap S510M, which can digitize both sides of a piece of paper in one pass, and can process 18 pages a minute. It's gotten rave reviews on Amazon, but a new unit costs $800 and a refurbished one costs $395. I've also asked Fujitsu to send me an evaluation unit.

I'm curious to find out what your experiences with digitizing documents are. If you have suggestions or horror stories, please share them in the comments section!

Mark Frauenfelder – Editor-in-chief of MAKE magazine and the founder of the popular Boing Boing weblog, Mark was an editor at Wired from 1993-1998 and is the founding editor of Wired Online.

  • http://www.marketingmelodie.com Marketing Melodie

    I have been using Evernote for the past year http://www.evernote.com to digitize my documents. Evernote has significantly enhanced my productivity by allowing me to be more efficient in finding and storing information. It’s also helped me be more organized and eliminate clutter. The great thing about Evernote is I can save documents through so many different outlets. I can forward a receipt from an email, I can highlight something directly from a website, I can take a photos on my BlackBerry and send it, I can scan documents, I can save files of all types, I can even save voice notes! I can organize all of my notes in different categories and they have Optical Character Recognition (OCR) for finding text in images. It’s completely free and they offer a more robust version for a small fee! I’m an Evernote enthusiast and highly recommend their service!

  • http://www.thegoldandoilguy.com/ Christina

    I haven’t tried any, but I do have piles of receipt and documents. Your article gave me an idea that I should digitized my documents instead of piling them up. It’s a tedious job sometimes when I look for something. It’s a mess actually. Why I haven’t thought of that :P..thanks.

  • http://magos-biologis.blogspot.com/ vince

    Well, the problem is if in your country the government doesn’t accept the scanned papers and demands the originals

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