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Backing Up Financial Data on Your Computer

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Exercise. Flossing. Cleaning the gutters. Backing up computer files. All things we know we should do, but often don't.

I can't help you with the first three. (Actually, I could motivate you with gum-disease horror stories courtesy of my friend the dental hygienist, but I won't.) However, backing up computer files becomes especially important when you're tracking your entire financial life electronically, so let's give it a shot.

Why don't we do it?

  • We don't know how.
  • The files are too big for floppy disks.
  • We don't know which file(s) to save.
  • We don't have the necessary equipment or software.
  • We keep forgetting.
You'll need list
  • Disks or rewriteable CDs
  • Software to perform the backup function (either included with your computer system or purchased separately)
Choosing a Backup Method
This is one of those tasks that sounds simple, but when you get into it, it can become maddeningly complex. In the process of writing this book, I discovered that the backup utility in Windows XP works with disks only, not CDs. I had about 900 MB of data to back up, and a floppy disk holds just over 1 MB, so that wasn't going to work.

I tinkered and got frustrated and finally tried something so obvious I was sure it wouldn't work. I simply dragged and dropped a file from the C: drive to the E: drive, where my blank CD was waiting expectantly. Lo and behold, it worked. So, now I know that to back up my files, I copy the pertinent folders to E:, then open E:, and click Write These Files to CD. (And yes, I will do regular backups now, I promise.)

If the same thing works for you, I'll be elated and also surprised. Every computer is different, whether due to the variety of operating systems available or quirks introduced when you (or your computer consultant) set it up. But creating a backup routine is important and worth pursuing – annoying as it is – so keep trying until you find a way.

When you've determined how to back up your files and which files to back up, write down the steps so you won't have to figure it out again if you forget to back up for a few months. Then add this task to your calendar, planner, or to-do list to remind yourself to perform regular backups.

Deciding Which Files to Back Up
At the very least, back up your financial management software from within the program by following its instructions, and make a disk copy of any other documents you use to manage your finances. For example, I use the backup function built in to QuickBooks to create backup copies of my QuickBooks files on floppy disks, and I copy the subdirectories containing my most critical business and personal files onto CDs. It helps that my computer files are organized so I can quickly determine what to copy and what to skip, but that's a whole other book.

Simply copying your entire hard drive is not realistic. You need to do at least some file selection. But if you use Windows and you save all of the files you create to the My Documents folder or to subfolders within My Documents, you can simply back up the entire My Documents folder to a CD. That's pretty darn convenient.

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Reproduced from Organize Your Personal Finances in No Time, by Debbie Stanley, by permission of Pearson Education. Copyright © 2005 by Que Publishing. Please visit Amazon to order your own copy.

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