Are You Ready If Your Computer Crashes? How to Save Hundreds If It Does

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Do you know how much it stinks to lose all of your digital photos? Besides that, do you know how much it can cost to get them back? Conservatively, you could spend $300 to $2,500 to recover deleted files from your hard drive. Ask me how I know.

From April 2002 to April 2003 I lived in the Peruvian Amazon. Before I left I purchased my first digital camera. Set aside the fact that my camera was nearly the size of my head (literally) and focus on how many pictures I took. Hundreds. maybe thousands. People. Rainforest. Adventures. Foods. Creatures. I captured them all on my camera, then downloaded them to my computer.

Homes built on stilts in the city where I lived. During rainy season you’d traverse by dugout canoe, not by foot.

The concrete house where I lived. It was quite nice by Peruvian standards.

Kitchen in the school where I taught

Halfway into my year-long stay my computer crashed. I lost every single picture I’d taken in those six months. I cried.

I did learn a lesson from my painful loss. I tried to create backup CDs for everything on my computer after that. I almost became a crazy person trying to keep up with all the backups as my collection of files and photos grew.

Lightening Strikes

Eventually, I quit backing things up. It was too much work. About that same time something in our townhouse complex was hit by lightening and our computer fried. Aside from the few photos I’d put on to CDs, we lost all our digital photos again. We had just decided to get out of debt and didn’t want to spend several hundred dollars to have a professional try and recoup our data. We took the loss. Sad.

Finally, when I became self-employed in January 2010 I knew I needed a better strategy. Even after two total data losses our strategy was to pray and unplug our computer, including the phone line to the modem, whenever lightening was imminent (yes, that meant waking my husband up in the middle of the night to go downstairs and unplug everything. He is one gracious man).

Now that I’d have business-related documents that would be required in an IRS audit, God forbid I ever get audited, I needed a solution. If you don’t have some sort of data recovery plan in place, then you need a solution too. I think you have two options.

Automatic Backup Service

Services like Jungle Disk or Dropbox can be configured to keep real-time back-ups of everything (or just some things) on your hard drive. You pay a monthly fee, but your information is stored on the cloud. (Yes, I know you get a certain amount of storage free, but I’ve always exceeded that and pay $12/month). Not everyone is comfortable having your photos and files stores on computer servers somewhere else in the world, which is essentially what the cloud is.

Services like Jungle Disk or Dropbox do more than just backup your files. They keep track of historical versions of your document, provide access to your files from anywhere you can get on the internet and allow you to share files with others.

Data Recovery Software

Data recovery software is a totally different, and more cost-effective, way to protect yourself against data lass. You pay a one-time fee for a software; Remo Software is one I’d recommend and their prices start at $39. You install the  software and then hope you never have to use it. Should you lose photos or files Remo is able to recover them for you. If you keep a lot on your phone, one of Remo’s solutions includes recovery for Android devices.

It’s also a good solution for those who are leery of the cloud. Like I said, not everyone wants their stuff stored on other people’s computers in some unknown part of the world. Data recovery software protects you from loss, but lets you keep everything locally on your computer.


Take it from me, Miss I-have-lost-all-my-photos-and-electronic-documents-more-than-once, that an ounce of prevention, when it comes to your digital life, is worth the investment.

I’m interested to hear what you are doing to keep your online files and photos safe. Do you run a data recovery software? Do you use an automatic backup service? Do you have any concerns with your information being stored on the cloud?

Photo credit: The top two images in this blog post were taken by my friend Colleen when she came to visit me in Peru.


  1. Joy says

    Just please keep in mind that anything stored electronically must be recovered electronically. (Think Sandy and Katrina here) No power, no internet, no cloud. Or no power, no computer (after the laptop battery dies) no external hard drive. No power, no address book, no calendar, no "notes to self"……

    It might be wise to keep hard copies of VERY important files. Of course these can be destroyed by fire or tornadoes etc.

    Hmmm, is ANYTHING safe? The brain… noooo… that seems to be deteriorating as well. B-)

    Just sayin'

  2. Colleen says

    Hey Carrie – Thanks for covering this important topic! I read it hungrily for the info, then noticed the familiar pictures from our Peru trip! (That trip was 10 years ago, but by complete coincidence I just showed one of the same photos at my church as a reminder of the "Pencils for Peru" mission project it supported.) Colleen

  3. Nancy says

    Hi, Carrie. Just this past Friday my 400gb portable hard drive crashed on me. I am devasted and don't know what to do because I was not aware that portable external hard drives could crash and so I did not have any backups. I only thought that computers could crash. It held thousands of precious pictures and videos of my children from birth to recently. I don't have any knowledge about computers or recoveries or technologies. I am very saddened. I only hope that when I do find a shop that can try to recover my data they won't try to rip me off a ton of money. It's a coincidence that you've posted this information up I am going to try my best to find a backup that works for me. Thank you.

  4. says

    Colleen – It makes me smile to know that you got to see those photos and wow, 10 years already! Your young man is in the one of me in front of my house and wow, now he is in college :)

  5. Christine says

    My laptop crashed on me 1 week before my final thesis was due. After completely flipping out, my hubby was able to hook up the harddrive to some type of reader and put all my info on his desktop.

    Now we use a backup harddrive for important things. We also added a server for extra storage space. I use dropbox for our business because I can access the most up to date version from anything, anywhere.

  6. Heather says

    I just took a class at national camera tonight and they have a recovery service if you photo cards become corrupted. I was told they charge $25 if they can recover photos and won't charge you if they can't.

  7. says

    Side note: This makes me think of that new TV show "Revolution" where the one gal carried her iPhone around (even though she couldn't turn it on) because it contained the only pictures she had of her kids.

  8. says

    Nancy, whatever you do, don't start installing new things or adding new documents that go through the external hard drive so you don't risk overwriting the lost files. Once files are overwritten they are gone, or such is my understanding. Maybe you could try a free trial of recovery software and install it on the computer to have it search your external hard drive?

  9. Katie says

    One thing for pictures that I have found helpful, is that most websites that you can order prints from will "save" your pictures in your "online account". Because of this, I almost never print pictures at a store from a disk or card, I usually always upload them and then print. In the past I've used to print at my local grocery store, and every picture I've ever uploaded to print is still there. Since I don't really scrapbook, I usually only print pictures I have a frame for or I'm giving away. I don't know how many pictures I've uploaded or how much space you can use for free, but it's better than nothing:)

  10. TracyK says

    I try and print out some pictures of the kids and they each have there own photo book with a handful of my favorite pictures. I have a million on the computer and try to back them up on cds also but if I were to lose all of them I have a book with some so we don't lose all. I usually only find time to print them out every 6 months or so. The kids really enjoy looking at their books also.

  11. says

    I really do wonder whether massive data loss like this is a thing of the past, with the advent of the cloud, and, separately, whether the new concerns that the cloud poses significantly complicate the question. I think you tackled the pros and cons of cloud storage really well. I lost something outright on Dropbox once, for the record, but still ahven't lost anything stored on Google Drive. Has anyone else had a range of cloud experiences?

    • says

      I haven't lost any files, but I have run this website on the cloud and had issues. Others near me on the cloud did something wrong and it took down the whole server. That isn't *supposed* to happen in the cloud because there should be built in redundancy, but it did (and has numerous times). Nothing is foolproof, that's for sure.

  12. Rene S says

    Just recently, part of our computer's motherboard got damaged and the computer could no longer connect to the Internet. We've long had an external hard drive that we run regular back ups to. After getting a different machine, I hooked up the external and chose "restore," and all of our files were back in place.

    I have used Dropbox but mostly for transporting or accessing files temporarily, not for longterm storage.

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