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Digitize your Finances

(Part 1)

As most of you people out there, I pay bills (god I HATE them!!) since very young. Receiving paper statements from creditors, utility companies, etc. in which I would make checks for, make a copy of the check and then file it. Well over the years I have been collecting boxes and boxes of bills and payments  that every year I have to purge (keeping only 7 years of records for IRS – 10 for businesses) in order to keep myself from appearing in an episode of “Horders”.

We are now in the digital era and the “Green” era which major corporations are boarding that wagon. This gives us an opportunity and another reason to digitize most of our financial records and at the same time be “Green”. This is a system that I’m sure I’m not the only individual doing it but most don’t know how to do it or feel intimidated by it. In this guide I will try to abolish any fear you have in taking the steps to accomplish to go truly paperless and thus saving you some printer ink, space, valuable time, and some hair.

A few things you need to have or do before:

  1. Download an Adobe PDF reader – If you use the internet and email a lot (who doesn’t), you probably have Adobe Reader already, if not, here is the website (website) where you can download the latest version. Another I recommend because It is safer, its Foxit Reader (website)

  2. Download a PDF printer software – A PDF is the file format  Adobe reader  uses. The two free software I tried are “Bullzip” and “CutePDF” for more information about these programs go to their websites. Bullzip or CutePDF

  3. An encrypting software – I use “Secret Data Manager” or you can encrypt your Financial folder (This will be covered in Part 2)

  4. An external media (CD, Thumb Drive, External HD) - for backup and storage, and for extra caution you can upload it to the Cloud using Skydrive, Dropbox, ICloud or any other Cloud backup service.

  First things first, download Adobe reader and PDF Printer software and install them on your computer. When you install the PDF printer software, it will require a PS2PDF converter such as Ghostscript
you can get the free GPL Ghostscript here but Bullzip already has it (you just have to tell it to install Ghostscript when it prompts you).

  Once all the software is set up, the next step is to register for your online banking, Utility websites, Credit card websites etc. if you haven’t done so yet. Most of these companies have an option in their website or they will offer you (sometimes they will send you an email) to go paperless, meaning they will no longer send you statements over the mail. Instead they will send you an email every time a statement is ready to view or download on their website. This is where The PDF Reader comes in play. Most, if not all of these companies create these statements in PDF format, why? because it’s small in size, to save storage and bandwidth (don’t know what is bandwidth? see our bandwidth analogy here). You can now download these statements and save them in your computer’s hard drive.

  Now that you have your statements, and ready to make a payment, you ask yourself what do I do now? Well this will be your second tough step to take because most of you are in the habit of sending checks over the mail or maybe you do not feel safe in making an online payment. Making an online payment is as reliable and safe (if not safer) as relying on the US Postal Service with your checks. You also save a trip to the Postal Office and 47 cents. Sometimes certain companies charge a fee for online services and payments but these fees are disappearing fast because of the demand, convenience, and effectiveness these online services bring to them so I wouldn’t worry that much about it. Just follow your Financial Institution's instructions on making an online payment.

  So you made your first online payment, congratulations! Ok, so what do we do next? By now you should have in front of you a webpage with a confirmation number. You are going to print it! Yes print it but not the usual way. Remember that PDF Printer software? When you installed this software, it created a new printer option in your Operating System with the name of “Bullzip PDF printer” or “Cute PDF printer” (depends on the software you installed) so now you have the option every time you send a file to print (see image), to convert it to a PDF file (same format as the statements). This printer comes in very handy not only with finances but pretty much with anything you want to keep a record of on your computer. Instead of selecting your default printer, select your PDF Printer (Bullzip or CutePDF) follow the instructions and voila!

In part 2 we will discuss the methods to secure this data on your computer.

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