Monday, June 26, 2006

Backup Your Financial Life

Thanks to this excellent "Automatically Back Up Your Hard Drive" article at Lifehacker, and Tricia's new Quicken Tips blog, I was prompted to rethink my "financial-data backup" plan yesterday.

Those of you who depend on Quicken, MS Money, and/or Excel to keep your finances on course probably know what I'm talking about. As Gina so succinctly wrote in the Lifehacker article above:

Hard drives fail. It's a fact of computing life. It's not a matter of whether or not your computer's disk will fry; it's a matter of when. The question is how much it will disrupt your life.

I know how much it disrupts your life: a lot. A whole lot. Hard drive failure sucks, sucks, sucks. I've been there, done that, and lost two months of data (and digicam shots of my daughter) to prove it.

It was a lesson I needed to learn, though. And it could've been much worse.

My household has two Dell computers — a Dimension PC and an Inspiron laptop. Before I had the laptop, all I had to worry about was the PC and its data. After its hard drive collapsed (and I'd lost the data mentioned above), I immediately replaced the offending component — and installed a second drive for backups only.

This form of backup (internal hard drive) is fine to protect against hard-drive crashes. But it's worthless against things like burglary or home fire or tornado or other instances where the computer itself could be pilfered or destroyed. The way to shield against that is "remote backup." This is the ideal setup, where backed-up data is kept somewhere separate from your computer(s) ... somewhere very separate, if possible. Like in another state.

Anyhow, where backing-up to CD-Rs and CD-RWs had been a big pain before, and thus done not nearly as much as I should have, the second internal drive made backups quick 'n' easy. Problem partially solved. Until the laptop appeared, of course.

Now my laptop, thanks to its go-anywhere convenience, bears nearly all of our Critical Data burden. It's where my latest version of Quicken resides, as well as all of my financial spreadsheets and self-employment and website stuff. Right now, all this data totals out to about 310 megs.

The laptop has wireless capability, so initially I figured that I could just network it to our PC and use the PC's second hard drive to backup the laptop also.

The problem? Our laptop-to-router-to-PC network (whether wireless or via crossover cable) is S - L - O - W when it comes to moving hundreds of megs of data. Painfully slow. Like "Get ready for 45 minutes of dropped connections and partial uploads" slow.

The way I see it, at the least, I should be backing up my data every other day. And that's not gonna happen when it takes almost an hour to get it done. (It's entirely possible that I'm a Windows XP networking idiot, by the way. Your thoughts and opinions on this, as always, are welcome.)

So yesterday, Lifehacker's article prompted me to look into alternatives. The options, as I saw them:

  • Flash drive/thumb drive: I have a small thumb drive now. It's a cheapie version, and pretty slow, too. Also it's not big enough to hold my critical data. A suitable 1-gig flash drive would likely run me just under $90 or so.

  • Online storage: I've heard of sites (like Mozy) that act as off-site storage for your data files. I've never tried it this way. I really should, as their offer of 2 gigs of backup space for free* seems pretty nice. How fast is the upload, though? Anyone know?

  • External hard drive: Not as convenient as a flash drive, but fast. And it provides hundreds of times more freshly-scented, low-calorie storage. The more I considered it, the more I liked this option. In fact, it's what I chose. Best Buy had recently given me a 12% discount coupon for computer accessories, so I elected to use it to purchase an on-sale, $119 250-gig LaCie external hard drive. Now I just have to decide where I'm going to keep the thing . . ..

So ... since I know all my readers have been much more prudent and industrious about backing up their personal data than I've been with mine, how do you guys keep your financial data protected?

* "Free" as in whatever email you use to sign up for the service will be subjected to a weekly advertising newsletter.


— Posted by Michael @ 11:36 PM


You've already covered the external hard disk and web account (think gmail) options; there's one more I use.

Periodically, back up data to a DVD - and give it to a close friend or relative for safekeeping. Or if you have a safe deposit box anywhere, that's another option.


I've been looking into getting a 1 or 2 GB flash drive. I think you overestimated the price at $99. You can grab a 1 GB for under $50 (including shipping) easy on eBay. Brand new.


buy a mac. 5 macs over the years, never any data loss.

on the other hand, every pc i've ever owned has crashed with catastrophic data loss at least once in its life.

Anonymous Anonymous
, at 9:50 AM, June 27, 2006  

I use a couple different methods to make sure I don't lose important files.

As my main backup, I set up Foldershare
- a great (free!) program that synchronizes folders between any internet-connected computers - on my home PC, my wife's PC, and my PC here at work. I set it up to use a folder on each that's my backup directory, and anything dropped into that directory from any of those machines gets mirrored everywhere else, automagically.

And then as an additional backup, every week or so I copy everything in my backup folder to my GDrive. I should find a way to automate the copying step so I don't have to even think about it, but just haven't gotten around to it.

If I have to babysit the backup process, it's just about guaranteed that I'll keep putting it off until after I really need it, so foldershare is perfect for that. Gdrive is just my 'the town burns down/taken out by a tornado/all my backup machines no longer exist' true emergency backup.

Both of these take a bit to transfer the files initially (after which it just swaps updated files, which generally is pretty quick), but I've got an always-on internet connection, and it's all done in the background anyway so I didn't really notice.


I actually started using Mozy earlier this month and I love it. The upload speed is limited to whatever your Internet connection is. My DSL upload peaks at 384 kb/s so when I went to back up 160 MB or so, it took well over an hour. However, the next time it backs up, it will only back up files that have changed since your last backup. Also, you can have it automatically backup whenever your computer is idle. That's been a nice feature.

As Jesse said, you are overestimating the flash drive cost. You can get deals online for around $20 for a 1 GB flash drive. Check out sometime.

Anonymous Anonymous
, at 12:09 PM, June 27, 2006  

I run a LAN with three PCs and mirror my data to a second hard drive on each weekly. Also use a USB drive as a belt-and-suspenders addition that I can take with me if needed.

Finally, I make quarterly CD-R backups for tax purposes, which are stored off-site.

Too much redundancy, but I've lost drives as well

Anonymous Anonymous
, at 12:28 PM, June 27, 2006  

Backing up over the network is definitely the way to go.

However, I would be extremely careful about putting sensitive data on someone else's computer in an unencrypted format. You never know what will be hacked into next. There is a free tool called the GNU Privacy Guard (GPG) which is an open-source implementation of the Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) encryption program. If uploading sensitive data to any remote place, I would recommend encrypting it first.

I currently am working on moving all my data over to my website hosting company, Dreamhost (with referrer tag, if you don't mind). I get over 70 GB of storage space, which includes website, email, and anything else I want to store. Then, I setup a Subversion repository on my account, which allows me to backup and version documents, being able to restore a particular version when I want.

I can access my files through a subversion checkout program (like 'svn' or TortiseSVN), or even through a web interface.


Be sure to check out I use them and it's roughly $50/yr of *unlimited* storage. I keep about 70 GB of data on there in addition to doing the process outlined in the lifehacker article as well as quarterly off-site backups to DVD :)

** Comments Closed on this Post **

Thoughts on my personal finances, goals, experiences, motivations, and accomplishments (or lack thereof).

My financial life began turning around when I took responsibility for it.
— Dave Ramsey


Start (2005-12): ~$21,900
Currently: $0
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Savings Goal: $15,000
Currently: ~$15,115
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