Every once in a while, something related to technology and personal finance lands on my desk that makes me go "wow." I have accumulated a small stack, so now I have a collection of neat things to tell you about -- Web sites and tools that can help you become more organized and efficient, if you¿re willing to take the time to start using them.
The first product is, in fact, so "neat" that it comes from a company named NeatReceipts. It's called the Scanalizer, and is a little scanner bar, about the size of a very thick ruler, that plugs into your computer. But it has the power to reorganize all the significant pieces of paper that clutter your life.
The Scanalizer converts all types of paper documents to digital format and allows you to store them on your computer, where you can sort them, organize them in categories and bring order to everything from business cards to credit card receipts to documents like warranties for your electronic products.
Card scanners have been around for a while, but this one is impressive, as it scans both sides of a business card, in color, including the notes you wrote on the cards to remind yourself why you kept them in the first place. Then you can import the cards into programs such as Outlook, Plaxo or vCard.
But the real value of the Scanalizer is its ability to "copy" all those small receipts for credit cards, airline tickets and taxicabs. (I¿ve been sorting mine in plastic baggies.) How amazing to scan even the blurry, faded receipts clearly -- and then sort and categorize them for your expense accounting, as well as for tax purposes according to the form or line on the tax return where they¿ll be used.
Save this data on your computer or on a backup disc, and then you can print, email, or export the information into tax-preparation software or send it to your tax preparer.
The Scanalizer costs about $230 and is available in many electronics stores, or at
A Fine Update
I¿ve been a Quicken user for a decade, and have recommended it for years. I recognize that I have an advantage, because the Quicken PR people come to my office every year and demonstrate the latest version, which I then proceed to use.
In fact, I only write about the product every few years, and I often reached the conclusion that it wasn't worthwhile to pay for the annual upgrades, as the new features and capabilities always seemed minimal.
But the 2007 version of Quicken really is
. It has a completely new feel, though the basic functions remain the same. Best of all, it took just a couple of clicks and a few minutes (while I held my breath) to transfer all my earlier data files into the new version.
The opening screen of Quicken 2007 is no longer a jumble of facts, numbers and graphics. Instead, it focuses on the two key categories in most people¿s financial life: what¿s coming in and what¿s going out. From that premise, you can easily organize your finances.
The latest Quicken is no longer just a tool one uses to instill fiscal discipline; instead, it is now a system that can tell you where you are, without causing guilt about where your financial life
be. And that makes it much more compelling and much less intimidating to use.
Even if you pay your bills online at merchants or through your bank¿s Web site, it's worth downloading the new version and integrating all your bank accounts, credit cards and investment accounts in one place.
Quicken 2007 is available in office supply stores and online at
Quicken.com, at prices ranging from $29.99 for the basic version (which is all you need if you just want to organize your checking and savings accounts) to $69.99 for the Premier version, which adds planning and investment-tracking services.
Know Your Stuff
While I¿m on the subject of Quicken products, the company just introduced something new and very useful. It's a program called Quicken Home Inventory Manager, and it allows you to create, yes, a home inventory for insurance purposes -- the kind of information you¿d be grateful that you had stored offsite at your office or in a safe-deposit box if your home was destroyed by a hurricane, tornado or fire.
The program's interactive guide assists you in assembling a catalog of everything in your home -- from furniture and appliances to artwork and collectibles. You can easily link as many as five digital photos to each item, as well as a written description.
You can also attach purchase receipts, insurance appraisals, warranties or even an item's price tag. Store the inventory on a backup disc or easily print out a report, and your insurance claims will be concise and exact. The program costs $29.95, and is available at the Quicken Web site or from your favorite retailer.
As you can see, I'm a fan of organization --
it's easy to do. That¿s why I'm spending lots of weekend time scanning business cards and taking new digital pictures for insurance purposes. Because no matter how easy these new products are to use, they still require that you do some work to make them useful. And that¿s The Savage Truth.
Terry Savage is an expert on personal finance and also appears as a commentator on national television on issues related to investing and the financial markets. Savage's personal finance column in the Chicago Sun-Times is nationally syndicated, and she released her fourth book,
The Savage Number: How Much Money Do You Need?
in June 2005. Savage was the first woman trader on the Chicago Board Options Exchange and is a registered investment adviser for stocks and futures. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Michigan, Savage currently serves as a director of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Corp. She also has served on the boards of McDonald's and Pennzoil.