Call it trendy, call it convenient, or call it caring about the environment, but whatever you do, don’t dismiss the benefits of going paperless. Whether you want to go completely paperless or merely receive your bills electronically, the benefits of money and time saved as well as knowing you’re contributing to a help make our planet healthier for the next generation, can be quite rewarding. This article will help get you started.

Electronic Bills

This is one of the easiest steps to take. Nearly every company that will send you a bill is happy to send it electronically. We’d love to think they are doing it for the environment, though a more likely reason is saved money and quicker payment. Regardless of the why, you should be able to visit the website of each of your accounts and turn on wireless billing. If you don’t see an option, try giving them a call. Chances are pretty good that you can get a paperless bill. My suggestion is to setup a separate email address just for your bills. Many e-mail apps such as dropbox’s Mailbox, will allow you to check multiple accounts simultaneously so you don’t have to worry about checking them one at a time. However it’s convenient to have this separate account so you can check just your bills if you like. This is also convenient if you are married or in a relationship as you can share the billing account and keep your personal address personal.

Eliminate Junk Mail

While we’re avoiding getting paper bills in the mail, why not get rid of all that paper junk mail as well. This is much easier than you may think. Simply download an app called Paper Karma and setup a free account. Once your account is setup you simply take a picture of each piece of junk mail you receive using the app. The picture is uploaded and the people at Paper Karma take care of the rest, doing their best to get your name and address removed from that junk mailer’s mailing list.

Check out PaperKarma at www.paperkarma.com

Digitizing Unavoidable Paper

Some paper is just unavoidable. The bill from the company that just can’t get with the digital times, receipts (although some stores such as Dick’s Sporting Goods are starting to offer e-mail receipts), and other random pieces of paper that make their way into our lives. For this we can go one of two routes, or my preference which is a combination of the two.

The first option is to buy a scanner. Scanners range in price from a cheap $50 flatbed stand-alone  scanner or all-in-one, to thousands of dollars for high-end flatbeds. For most of us the cheapy will suffice, however if you would also like to scan those old photos to make sure they’re safe, spending a little extra money is a worthwhile investment.

The second option is a scanner app for your phone or tablet. My two favorites are ScanBot or Scanner Pro. Both do an excellent job and both have either syncing or auto upload to on-line storage services available. And both are available for under $5. If syncing is important go with Scanner Pro by Readdle, however if storage services are more important to you, then go with my favorite and the slightly cheaper ScanBot.

You could go either route on this, however my recommendation is to go with both. Use your desktop scanner for documents where quality is more important, but when convenience and speed is key, just pull out your phone, snap a photo and you’re done.

Check out ScanBot at www.scanbot.io

Go Paperless With Your Notebooks

What about avoiding paper when taking notes in class, at work meetings, or just in general? My suggestion would be either checking out Evernote, or my preference, Microsoft’s OneNote. OneNote is now a free application. You can download standalone apps for Mac and PC, apps for your phone or tablet, or use the web app. In addition you can sync all of your notebooks using Microsoft’s OneDrive which is their version of Dropbox or Google Drive. They give you enough free storage space for all the notes you could ever take, and the apps are all extremely well written. In fact, I’m using it now to write the draft of this post. Evernote has some features not available in OneNote, however I don’t think the design is quite as intuitive as OneNote. This coming from an Apple fan and someone who generally despises Microsoft, so take that for what it’s worth.

Calendar

This one’s easy. Throw the day planner in the garbage and use your smartphone’s built in app. You do have a smart phone don’t you? Believe it or not I know a couple people who still use flip phones. You know who you are. I’m honestly not worried about offending them here because they probably haven’t found this post anyhow. I honestly haven’t found a third party app that I like more than my iPhone’s built in app. Part of the problem here is that for whatever reason while most developers sell there apps for $2.99 or less, most calendar apps are $7.99 – 9.99 with no free trial version. I just can’t find a reason to chance spending that much money when the built in app does everything I need. If you have an opinion on a good third party app please leave it in the comments below.

To Do Lists

What about those pockets full of paper reminders that you never remember to look at on time anyhow? Unlike the calendar, I don’t much care for my phone’s built in todo manager. I’ve tried several apps. AwesomeNote, Wunderlist, and several others. Many of them are good, but I never found one that was so good I used it consistently for more than a couple of days. That is until I found Todoist. Wow, this app is excellent. They have a free service and you can upgrade for pennies on the day and get some great additional features. The app has a web app, standalone apps for PC and Mac, as well as phone and tablet apps, which all sync. You can setup projects to store your items in, and each of those can have sub-projects. The same goes for tasks. You can have standalone tasks, or tasks with sub-tasks. You can also assign color coded category labels which you create to each task for easy filtering. Finally you assign due dates or make it recurring and then it’s easy to see what’s overdue, what’s due today, next seven days, etc., along with a priority flag. Finally the app will send you reminders either by e-mail, SMS, or your phones messaging service. You can even set multiple reminders for one item, and choose on an item by item basis which service you want to use for the reminder.

Check out Todoist at www.todoist.com

Paperless Money Management

Managing money in a paperless fashion has become extremely easy. Most banks now offer an online bill pay service. You enter the information on who you need to pay and it’s stored in your account, then each month you simply enter a payment amount and hit submit. I would check your specific bank for more information on their process. If your bank doesn’t offer online bill pay, chances are many of the companies you have to pay will allow you to pay through their websites.

Additionally you can manage your checkbook without paper as well. For this I would suggest a gem of a program I recently found called YNAB which stands for You Need A Budget, which give you the bonus of a very slick and easy to use budgeting system. This program is easy, intuitive and has an app for mac or PC as well as apps for your phone that sync via dropbox which allow you to enter transactions right at the register if you prefer. You can try the app for free for 34 days, but be warned that you you may as well download the trial with the assumption you’re going to spend the $60 to purchase it because once you’ve used it for a couple weeks you’ll be hooked.

Organizing Documents Digitally

Document management is an area where I won’t claim to have a lot of great advice. I know Thomson Reuters offers a powerful program simply called FileCabinet CS, but it is probably outside the price range of the average user. It would be more for power users. You can find a great feature comparison on many of the popular software packages at TopTenReviews.

The other option which is my personal preference is to use dropbox and just setup a detailed folder structure to store your documents in. I prefer this method for several reasons. For starters dropbox gives you a decent amount of free space to begin with, along with many opportunities to earn additional free storage. If you become a power dropbox user like I have, you can get 100 GB in addition to your free space for a measly $9.99 per month. They also have native apps for most any phone or tablet allowing you access to any of your documents on the go. Additionally, many of the apps I’ve mentioned here will also utilize dropbox so it makes integration easy. However if you need something with a little bit more power and options such as the ability to tag documents and search their contents, then check out that link I provided above.

How About Toilet Paper?

I don’t know smart ass… perhaps a bidet? In all seriousness this is a personal choice. I choose to keep using paper. If you really want to go paperless in this part of your life you can use water, a leaf, or the three sea shells if you were ever able to figure out what that was all about.

This should certainly get you started moving toward a paperless life. What tips do you have for a paperless life that aren’t discussed here?

Photo Credit Kris Krug