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Tuesday, January 12

I'm Going Paperless

Taxes are due in a few months, though I usually complete mine in February. The thing I hate most about filing my taxes is the mound of paperwork involved. This has inspired me to become virtually paperless in every facet of my life.

As a frugal miser I use TurboTax to file my own taxes, and I manage my daily finances in Quicken. I don't save bank statements since they are generally available electronically, nor do I hoard old receipts - except for higher-ticket items where I will hold onto the receipt until the return policy is void.

I've been moving towards a paperless environment for quite some time, but expect to be 99% paperless by the end of 2010.

Tools needed to go paperless:
  • I use a scanner just about every day. I scan receipts for tax deductible items or major purchases. I also scan leases for rental properties and then destroy the originals.
  • Download a free PDF converter. I use PrimoPDF, but there are several programs out there. Instead of printing a document, ask yourself if having an electronic copy would suffice.
  • Invest in a cross-cut paper shredder. These days identity theft is something to guard against. Any paper that does arrive in my house goes to the shredder.
Tricks to tame the paper tiger:
  • User manuals can be found in electronic form. Just google the item and product/model number and "manual" and you'll usually find a PDF version you can store in a folder on your computer.
  • Use the Notes feature on your cell phone instead of sticky notes. Also make use of an electronic calendar. I prefer to have access to important information wherever I am anyway, so using my iPhone for this made perfect sense.
  • Use the local library instead of buying your books. If ownership is a must, consider an e-reader. I have an Amazon Kindle and have purchased a couple books I wanted to have accessible at all times.
  • I go a step further by storing important documents online. I use a free storage utility from Microsoft called Skydrive. I like that it is free though moving files around and accessing them later is a little clunky.
  • Before clipping interesting articles from magazines, Google the title and save a PDF version instead. Most magazines can be accessed online. I admit I still have a few magazine subscriptions that arrive by mail, most of which herald from my days as a perennial travel when I always wanted something to take on a plane.
I still have some paper, but the most important items fit into a single fireproof file safe. For example, I keep original property deeds, tax records for three years, receipts for major purchases, and a few legal documents. I also keep two files I labeled "Active Mail" and "Save Until the 30th". Active Mail includes things I am waiting for action on such as mail-in rebates. The Save folder is for short-term record keeping. For example, when I completed a balance transfer offer on one of my credit cards I saved the offer paperwork until the terms were listed on my next statement.


  1. This is a really great idea. I have to say I'm not quite ready to take the plunge, but I'm tired of a full file cabinet and I don't want to have to get another "cube" from IKEA or buy a regular ugly 4-drawer one. This might be a good solution... but I have to think about it a little while before I commit.

    I will certainly ditch the manuals though, they are annoyingly thick!

  2. debtmaven... getting rid of user manuals cleared half a drawer in a filing cabinet for me. I almost threw them away without searching for their electronic cousins but I knew as soon as I did that I would need one of them. I definitely had a "lightbulb moment" when I freed up all that space.