What you need to know: Back Up Computer Files Today

back up computer files

Why do I need to Back Up?

If you have been lucky enough to not have computer problems, you may ask “Why do I need to back up?”  But unfortunately, it only takes one big problem to answer that question.

Big Problem

I work on the computer “all” the time, so I have had my share of big problems – either personally or with my clients. Here’s some computer problems I’ve experienced:

  • Worked at a corporation that went through a period of electricity spikes that would cause the computers to shut down.  I was early in my career and this was one of my first experiences with computer panic.  I remember running up the stairs to my office to make sure the files on my computer didn’t get corrupted because of this wrong shut-down.
  • Had a laptop refuse to boot up. I was still early in my career, so at first, I just refused to believe it was a hard drive fail.
  • Had an external hard drive stop working.  Yes, one day it was great and the next day it was dead.
  • Worked with clients who were hit with horrible viruses – including ransomware. Information on their computer was either gone or locked by a hacker.
  • Worked with clients where the computer was fine — but an important file was messed up by an employee.

If one of these (or other) big problems happen to you – information is missing, corrupted, or just messed up – you will probably find yourself saying (or yelling):

I backed it up … right?  Yes, I backed it up!  Did I, Did I??

What to Back Up

Some will tell you to back up your data files, operating system, and programs.

  • My personal preference: I DON’T back up my operating system and programs.  Instead, I keep a list of programs and if I have to get a new hard drive, I do a clean install of each program.
  • I DO backup data files.  There’s no debate … you need to back up YOUR files!

Back up YOUR Data

Personal Files

Let’s start with the personal side. Here’s some things to consider backing up:

  • Important documents like wills and tax information
  • Home videos
  • Pictures  (if you have pictures on your computer, making a backup should be one of your first thoughts today)
  • Music — I’m throwing this in for all of you who love your music collection

Business Files

Where to start?  Each business is different. So let’s make it easy: back up Most & maybe ALL data.  Yes, that includes QuickBooks, Word documents, Excel documents, pdf files, videos you create for marketing, etc.


So, now is a good time to get your documents organized in specific areas on your hard drive.  You need to have an organized system, so you can easily back up.  If you don’t know how to organize files on your computer, ask your accountant or find a computer company.  But ask: do they have experience organizing their hard drive.

Where to Back Up

The great thing today is that we can back up to a Local Drive or Online.  And, being the conservative accountant, I would recommend:  USE BOTH PLACES.

Local Drive

A local drive backup is one WE physically keep. A main example is an external hard drive.  The great thing about an external hard drive is that we control it.  We can keep it attached to our computer. Later we can take it home or even put it in a safe deposit box.  And we can buy more than one if we want more than one backup.


An Online backup is a product we use via an internet connection.  The great thing about online backup is that the backup is somewhere else.  If our house/business gets flooded, is hit by a tornado, or we have other problems where our business items are gone … the backup is at a completely different location. Here’s some products where we can backup our files online.  And the great thing is that some of these products have low cost or even free options.


P.S. If you want to back up confidential information like taxes etc., there are other options — ask your Accountant about the secured portal they use.   

Just One Backup?  No!

Let’s say you accept that we should back up.  Then the question: is one backup enough?

I heard this recommendation many years ago: have at least (3) copies. I think it’s still good advice.  And, with backup alternatives much more available today, we can easily have (3) or more copies using both external hard drives and online services.

What are the minimum (3) copies?

(1) original + (2) backups

#1. The Original File

#2. The Backup

#3. The Backup of the Backup

Example Plan

  • Backup 1
    • On-site with external hard drive. The backup is at the same location as our computer – we can easily and frequently back up
  • Backup 2
    • Online. The backup is with an Online provider and gives us off-site protection
  • Bonus idea Backup 3
    • Want to be extra safe?   Back up to a second external hard drive and take that one home

Just remember: if you think these steps are annoying and excessive, just think what it would be like if your computer crashed and your information was gone.

How to Back up

There are many methods available and if you google, you’ll find many products to help you.  Here are two ideas:

  • Windows Backup and Restore.
    • A quick choice and a good place to start
    • But not my long term choice because you can’t fine-tune settings like other programs.
  • EaseUs ToDo Backup.
    • This one is worth checking out. This software is not free but does give us choices.
    • We have more choices like making “Incremental” or “Differential” backups.  I won’t go in to the techy detail today of what each means, but just know that it helps with reducing the space of every backup (it only backs up files that change so it doesn’t eat up as much hard drive or online space).

One more tip

If you work on the computer a lot:

Back up Daily!

Disclaimer: The information on this post and on the Barb Brady CPA website are for general information purposes only; it is not intended to be accounting, financial, tax, or legal advice. For further information, see Terms of Service.