This page describes my personal experience with document digitizing and archiving. I like keeping old records because I don’t know if I might need them in the future. I had every tax return that I ever filed, cancelled checks, receipts, etc. The bottom drawer of my file cabinet was full of old tax records, receipts, important papers, and the like. After purchasing a simple flatbed scanner I decided to preserve the documents while getting rid of the papers.
I started with the tax records and scanned the “like” documents in a single file. The 1040 pages were in one file, each W-2 was in a file, tax schedule pages in a file, etc. I created directories for each year and subdirectories for the different types of data (taxes, healthcare, utilities, etc.) and moved the files into those directories. Papers were shredded as the documents were digitized. Receipts for major items were also scanned and the files were moved to the digital archive.
This process took time but an hour of scanning can digitize a fairly impressive stack of papers. Entire piles of papers now took the space of a single SD memory card. Soon most of those papers were gone but very well preserved as digital files. The bottom file cabinet drawer went from being jam packed to being almost empty.
For many years I used Quicken for my home finances. I enter my receipts, balance my accounts, and use it for creating tax reports. When entering receipts I use the Split feature to enter purchase details. Purchased items such as appliances, video games, tools, etc. were itemized. For example, if my son bought an Xbox game I would add a Quicken line item, categorize the item, and add a comment such as “Xbox game: Halo.” Adding the details takes very little time. The filename for the scanned receipt would contain the date and store (such as “2012-02-03_Walmart”).
Some data is already digital and merely needs to be saved and moved. For example, when I purchase an item on eBay I export the receipt to a file, enter the transaction in Quicken, and move the file to the data archive. When I pay a credit card or utility bill I save the statement to a file and move it to the archive.
Burglary and Insurance
I did this Quicken, scanning, and archiving for years. Once you get into the groove the process takes very little extra time. One day I drove up north to take photos of the blooming tulip fields. I arrived home to find my house in complete disarray (more than usual, that is). Burglars broke into the house and stole my computers, game consoles, watches and jewelry (mostly cufflinks), and lots of other stuff.
My son and I made general lists of missing items. I restored a backup copy of my Quicken records and searched for missing items (searched for Xbox, watch, computer, etc.). Quicken created item lists and I used the dates to retrieve the receipt files. I sent digital copies of the actual receipts to the insurance company and they paid all of them without any question. They said that they have never seen such complete records and having copies of the receipts sped the claim and reimbursement process.
Digitized records are also useful for proof-of-purchase, warranties, and other uses. The amount of extra time required for digitizing is very minimal and the advantages of having all of this data readily available can be huge. Imagine if you were selling an expensive car and you could include all of the service receipts with dates and prices. Or, if you were selling a house and had digital copies of receipts for repairs and improvements. There are many uses for this digitized data.