Backing Up Your (Personal Finance) Data To The Cloud

Readers would be aware of the significance of backing up their data. Personal finance is as much about saving and investing as it is about keeping proper records of progress or regress. Maintaining an excellent budget and/or net worth spreadsheet is only useful if it is available when needed. There are several files that may be of interest to readers such as spreadsheets, text documents, photos, audio files, videos, etc. The ways described below can be used for backing up any file that is deemed important enough to be preserved.

Important Note: a backup is valuable only when the same data is stored in more than one location. If one copies the data onto the backup medium and deletes the data from the original location, then it does not constitute a backup.

This post is about cloud storage but I’ll include some basic offline backup ideas too.

Offline Storage

If the data to be backed up is minimal, one could store the files on a flash drive (also known as USB, jump or thumb drive). It should be a matter of copying and pasting (or dragging and dropping) the necessary files onto the flash drive medium. For users with larger volumes of data, external hard drives (going upto 1 TB or more) would serve the same purpose. As you would have noted, the above solution involves significant user intervention. The user would have to remember to backup their files periodically and I do not think that many people would have the time for such a task. To avoid this hassle, one could use the powerful rsync command to automatically synchronize data to a web server but detailing the process is beyond the scope of this article. Check out this Engadget tutorial if you are interested.

Online (Cloud) Storage

For the uninitiated, cloud storage refers to saving your files on central servers maintained by a third party in a remote location. Such services are offered by many companies; generally, the free option will give you limited storage space, say 2GB, but if you need more, then there are paid plans offered to satisfy data-heavy users.

My cloud storage solution of choice is Dropbox, which is a cross-platform (Windows, Mac, Linux) client. I understand that people may be concerned with privacy issues that may crop up by storing your personal files on servers offered by some unknown company; read their terms of service and privacy policy to learn more about the operation.

How Does Dropbox Work?

When installed, the Dropbox folder will reside on your computer. Any file(s) and/or folder(s) placed inside the Dropbox folder will be synced to the Dropbox servers through a secure connection. You can access the files on your computer as usual but the same files will be synced to Dropbox to offer you backup. During installation, you will be asked to create an account. After entering the required info (it is straightforward), you will be asked to choose a Dropbox size based on your need (2GB – Free, 50GB – $9.99/month or 100GB – $19.99/month). There is a short tour before completion of the installation but you can skip it if you so wish. By default, the Dropbox folder is located in My Documents for Windows users and Home folder for Linux users (if any Mac users utilize Dropbox, please leave a comment about the default location, so that the post can be updated). There is also an option to change your default location during the final stage of the installation process.

After installation, when you navigate to the Dropbox folder [Dropbox sits on your taskbar (Windows) or Gnome Panel (Linux) for quick access; double click to open the Dropbox folder from there or right click on the icon for more options], you will see a “Getting Started” file and two folders named Photos and Public (this is for a Windows installation; folder names may vary on other platforms).

You can create your own folders inside the Dropbox folder for easier reference. Any file in the Public folder can be shared with others. Right-click on the file in the Public folder that you want to share and choose Dropbox -> Copy Public Link; this copies the Internet link for your file, so that you can paste it somewhere else. This file can now be shared with others by just pasting the link into e-mails, instant message conversations, blog posts, etc.

Other Features of Dropbox

One can also install Dropbox on multiple computers at home and work and by using the same Dropbox account, all files will be available for access both at home and work. In addition, if you are at a friend’s house or at a public terminal where you cannot install the Dropbox client or need it for a one-time use, then you can go to, log into your account and view files from all the computers linked to your account. You can download the file(s) needed from there and also upload files through the web browser but it is a slow process if you have multiple files.

Files deleted from the Dropbox folder will be gone from your computer’s My Dropbox folder but be available on their servers for 30 days. You can access and retrieve the file if you change your mind by going to the website and logging into your account. However, the file will be deleted from the Dropbox servers after 30 days.

A drawback of Dropbox is that your files to be backed up must be in the My Dropbox folder; the developers are currently working to address this missing feature. In the meantime, you can create a symbolic link to sync any random folder (outside the My Dropbox folder) on your computer to the Dropbox servers. Please refer to this handy guide to learn more about creating symbolic links.

Editors (FrugalTrader’s) Note:  As I have multiple PC’s at home, I use Microsoft Live Sync to synchronize folders across computers automatically.  I then use MozyBackup free – 2GB (similar to dropbox) to automatically backup files online.

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Troy W.
11 years ago

My wife and I both have a FREE Gmail account and share our calendars to keep each other in the know. We also share many Google docs–whomever creates them can share them with other Gmail users so they also show up in the other users’ Google Docs account. We now keep our chequebook online (no, we don’t list the account number) so either of us can writer cheque and update the register from work, home, or Smartphone. The budget is also a shared document, however, my wife tracks the numbers. Both have an alerts feature turned on so that when a change gets made a copy of the spreadsheet is embedded in an email which notifies me. If I click on it, it opens the shared docs which can then be edited based on the sharing rights assigned. Google is amazing for so many reasons among which is that you can do so much without paying them a penny. And for just $5 per YEAR you can upgrade from about 7.5 Gigs of storage to 20 Gigs!

11 years ago

@Robert: The only way to run without admin privileges is when TrueCrypt is installed on the computer by an admin; other users can then mount volumes, access files and save changes. But, my requirement is that I am looking to run TrueCrypt in portable mode from a flash drive and access my container volume stored on the same drive. This requires an admin password and that is the limitation I’ve encountered, which prevents me from syncing the TrueCrypt container to Dropbox. It serves no purpose if I am left with a computer at a public terminal or owned by some person who is giving me his computer for a few minutes. The person may provide his admin password but there is a bit of explaining to do (even if it’s just curiosity)!

As a side note, you could convert your folders to zips with passwords (.7z) and sync them to Dropbox.

11 years ago

@Robert: You are referring to a TrueCrypt container, which mounts as a drive and stores files inside it. Syncing the container may be an incremental backup, since you are replacing one file with another of the same name. It is just like syncing any spreadsheet after making modifications to it. Dropbox backs up only the changed part of the file. In fact, I’ve renamed files and it syncs accordingly rather than assuming that I’ve created a new file.

I haven’t checked the TrueCrypt site in a while but unless they’ve introduced something new to bypass the admin requirement, I am still clueless. I’ll check the site to see if I can find the workaround or if you remember, please let me know.

11 years ago

Thinking about this over the last few days, and I have been experimenting with using TrueCrypt and a ‘dynamic’ file with a 3-layer AES-twofish-something-else encryption. Basically it creates a file on your local PC which mounts as a drive, and you can add or modify sensitive files as needed. Then you periodically backup that encrypted file to the cloud. The actual file size depends on what you store in it, you set a ‘max’ file size when creating it initially.

Reasonably convenient, although you are re-uploading all the files every time, and not an incremental backup.

I can run True Crypt from a USB drive – I am not an expert but there is a way to do it without admin privileges – or at least with admin privs to your own USB drive. There is something on their site as to how to do it.

used tires
11 years ago

I’ve heard a lot about Dropbox lately and am going to check it out soon. I last used online storage more than half a decade ago and I can’t even remember the name of the site that I used at the time. But now, with faster connections, it should be quite handy to have a decent online storage medium. Hopefully, there’s more competition in this area so we get higher storage capacities and maybe even file hosting services.

Till then,


Clark (The Guest Blogger)
11 years ago

@Matt: The reason I prefer and use Dropbox is due to the fact that I’m primarily a Linux user and Dropbox is one of the few cross-platform clients. I had been using SpiderOak for the same reason but found the Dropbox syncing more seamless.

11 years ago

An alternative to DropBox is Microsoft Live Mesh. (

It’s free, but there is a limit on how much space you have (5 GB I think).

// Matt

11 years ago

My home was broken into a few years a go and my PC and my primary external backup drive were stolen and never recovered.So I can tell you this is not a theoretical issue.

Luckily the thieves were interrupted before stealing my secondary backup drive. Only the power supply adapter was stolen. After replacing the missing power supply.adapter I was able to recover my files from a year old backup. Then I had to painfully reconstruct the missing year from manual records.

Since then I have been backing up all my important files using’s premium service.

The Biz of Life
11 years ago

For those who think they don’t need offsite storage, you’re just kidding yourselves. The rule of thumb is two local copies and one offsite. A fire, a robbery, any other kind of malicious act and you’re screwed if you only have local copies of your data.

11 years ago

I am using for our office (SQL snapshot Feature) and the Personal Version for me at home. 5$ a month gives me unlimited storage ( using 25gb now) with an individual AES key.
The data is getting uploaded thru a https connection, which, I think, is/was not with Dropbox.
Anyhow, works great.