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The Startling Silliness of Paper Statements

by Gip Plaster on March 1st, 2011

Some companies still send paper bills and statements — and some consumers are silly enough to accept them.

I’m a pacifist, but I live in a country that enjoys starting unprovoked wars, so let’s start a war  uprising campaign against paper bills, statements, announcements and otherwise useless communication by mail.

I know that the United States Postal Service and some postal authorities in other countries are strapped for cash because of the so-called budget crunch and the use of email, but let’s do everything we can eliminate company letters from our mailbox.

This, I say, is war annoying.

In 2010, I went on a yearlong decluttering spree (documented week by week on So Much More Life), and I found that most of my life’s clutter is paper.

If the topic of paper clutter is fresher in your mind, it’s because Marianne Yates wrote a guest post for this blog called A Clutter Queen Tackles Paper Clutter than ran last Friday. She understands the silliness of useless paper.

An Admission of Enough Guilt To Go Around

As I was planning this post on Saturday, I got a paper bill from a credit card company, reminding me that I haven’t successfully signed up for electronic bills with them even though I pay online. So I’ll take care of that today.

Do you get any paper bills?

I switched banks a few weeks ago and have received five statements from them in the few weeks I’ve been using their (free) services. I signed up last week for their online statements, and I hope that ends the paper barrage. But why are they sending statements in the mail? It’s 2011, and I can’t imagine why I would get a statement more than once a month anyway.

And of course, there’s my electric company — a rural cooperative company with thousands of users that does not offer online billing. I pay the bill online, but I must deal with a paper statement each month. Each statement consists of an outer envelope, a payment envelope which is useless if I pay online and unnecessary if I pay in person and the bill itself. There’s even a one-page newsletter on expensive glossy stock. That’s ridiculous.

So while I’m guilty of not stopping that credit card bill, my new bank is guilty for not making electronic statements the default — or at least offering the option to me when I signed up in person.

And as for the electric company, what they do should be criminal. Requiring me to deal with paperwork in the year 2011 is insane — and perhaps should be criminal.

But This Takes The Cake

I also still get two mortgage bills in the mail every month, neither of which could be stopped when I last checked. For reasons too weird to explain, we have two separate mortgages covering this one house and small piece of land and get two bills, but that’s not the real problem.

After I pay one of them online each month, I get a letter in the mail “thanking me for my payment made over the phone or over the Internet”. Huh?

“Based on your authorization,” they say, “we have issued and forwarded for deposit the above mentioned check to make the payment on your account.”

They then suggest that I sign up for automatic rather than manual online payments. To do that, however, I would need to fill out a paper form and mail it with a voided check to them. One payment can be made online, but repeated payments require paper backup, apparently.

Not Just Complaining

But I’m not just complaining about the bills I still get on paper that should be coming online. I’m pointing out the utter ridiculousness of companies with their heads buried so far up their asses in the sand that they believe paper is still necessary.

Ideally, I’d like to eliminate my mailbox entirely. While I sometimes use mailed-out coupons, I’d rather stores offer me a good price every time and forget the advertising. And while I like getting birthday cards, the reality is that most people send their greetings (automatically and impersonally) on Facebook.

And I mean no offense to the nice old man in the green SUV, but I want him to be out of job. Soon, I hope I don’t need a mailman anymore.

Do you disagree with me? If so, this means war discontent nothing much, really.

Believe it or not, I write professionally! If you need professional writing services from a web content writer, visit Fort Worth Copywriter.

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33 Comments
  1. Jo H. permalink

    Hah! I love your sense of humour 🙂 Just to play devil’s advocate, though, let me be the first (and maybe only, since this is a minimalist site) commenter to point out that many people still don’t have computers (like my mother, in her 80’s) or even if they do have computers, do not relish paying things electronically (like us, in our 50’s, in the business world) because we have seen technology fail. Also, from the point of view of companies, it is easier for them – and possibly cheaper too – to mail all statements & correspondence as their default because of the above reasons (no computer or won’t use computer).

    That being said, I agree that the thank you notes you are getting for making payment are just unnecessary 🙂 And you should be able to make a choice of online or offline, where there is such a choice offered, once and not have to repeatedly make the same choice.

    First and second volleys fired, Gip! Bring it on, everyone else 🙂

    • Yes, Jo, there should always be a choice. And paperless should be the default choice. It’s 2011, and the transition to a truly paperless society should be well underway.
      Gip

      • Jo H. permalink

        Yes, the default choice could be changing over to paperless instead of paper, that’s true.

        I hope you were able to take my comment in the light-hearted vein in which I wrote it. Sometimes things get lost in translation to print.

        I appreciate a good debate as long as humour and respect are part of the deal!

        • Me too. My post is serious in content if not in style, and I suspect the same is true of your comment!
          Gip

          • Jo H. permalink

            True, and just because I start out disagreeing doesn’t mean I’ll end up there. Sometimes I don’t understand how I can get something to work within the constraints I have, and sometimes others don’t realize what constraints some of us face… Setting out those constraints for other eyes can be a means of getting a solution or potentially be educational.

            In any case, thank you for a comfortable forum to talk about these things.

          • You’re welcome. I’m glad to see how much discussion recent posts here — mine and guest posts — are generating.
            Gip

  2. Robert Wall permalink

    I know people that actually get angry if they can’t get their paper statements – and if they have to get their statements online, they’ll get them online and then print them out.

    Silly, isn’t it?

    What I wish companies would do is e-mail the statements. Having a statement on a website that you have to go and view (and, sometimes, can’t download in any useful format – requiring weird capture tools or, worse yet, printing to get a copy to save) isn’t a good replacement for paper.

    Since they *mail* you the paper statements, I don’t see why they can’t *e-mail* you the electronic ones…..but that would make too much sense, wouldn’t it? 🙂

    Great post Gip!
    Robert Wall recently posted Foodie Friday- Diets That Don’t Work

    • I’d like that, too, Robert. I’d like to get the full statement in my email — or at least a direct link to the statement — not just a notice telling me to login and look for it. That’s a very good idea!
      Gip

    • Jo H. permalink

      Our bank keeps customer statements online for only the prior three months. The only way to get a permanent statement is to accept their mailed copy or print the online one. Small businesses have to keep financial records for seven years for tax purposes. Does anyone have suggestions for this dilemma?

      • Robert Wall permalink

        What’s disgusting is that those statements take all of…what…50k each? Even if you had a million customers, that’s only about 50 gigabytes per month. Drives that hold two terabytes are down in the $100 range, which would give you two years’ worth of storage. Budget for four or five of those drives for backup purposes, swapping, etc., and it would cost them a (relatively) trivial amount to store things for at least a couple of years.
        Robert Wall recently posted Foodie Friday- Diets That Don’t Work

      • I would change banks, which I recently did. The one I just switched to keeps statements for seven years online. Some provide them in a downloadable format, like PDF, which you can store on your own computer or flash drive in case you don’t trust that the bank will be around in seven years.

        I download all of my records into Quicken, so I haven’t kept a paper bank statement (even when I used to get them) in at least five years. I do keep receipts that are provided on paper when they relate to my business, though.
        Gip

        • Jo H. permalink

          Good idea; I’ll check to see if our statements are downloadable. I really miss the ones that have been deleted (non-business). I hadn’t realized they’d be kept for such a short time.

      • marianney | A Life Set Free permalink

        can you save the electronic ones to your computer? they should most likely be in PDF mode. If its just a web page, use Firefox browser and install the Screengrab! add-on. It’s free and you can take screenshots of entire pages. Then just save the image in a folder on your computer.
        marianney | A Life Set Free recently posted 25 Easy Ways to Make a Difference Today

        • Windows 7 has a “snipping” tool in the accessories that can be used to draw a square around anything on the screen you want and automatically make a graphic image. There was key combination that I can’t remember to capture the whole screen in previous Windows versions.
          Gip

        • Jo H. permalink

          Thanks, marianney (and Gip below) for these tips. I’ll try them and see if I can get something to work.

    • This is precisely why I continue to accept paper statements for my electricity, gas, banking, and other usages. My cellular statement I view online — because of the most user-friendly website. If I have to go through hoops to view something, I would rather receive paper. If I can view by email, all the better, but the most I’ve seen implemented are links to their websites which don’t satisfy me.
      Ari Herzog recently posted Working It

      • I really can’t argue with that. Some companies do make it difficult to enjoy a paperless experience. One of my credit card companies has a very slow website. I actually plan to dump the company completely because they are so hard to deal with.

        I don’t understand the needless complexity of many websites anyway, but that’s a rant for another day.
        Gip

  3. Hi Gip,
    Very true what you say. Too much paperwork at the best of times. Our alleged paperless society, environmental awareness, carbon footprint etc pushes us to be conscious of our impact on earth but we still have those who distrust the electronic age and view it with baleful suspicion.
    Treat the Neanderthals the way they want (because money is money) but leave out the rest who use the online systems.
    I actually read more books electronically as its easier to carry a library that way but some folk refuse saying it doesn’t feel right. They want to feel paper in their hands.
    Nice post
    Andre recently posted Comment on The Key to a Powerful Mind by Stringfree

    • Good to see you commenting here again, Andre. You’re right: Distrust of the electronic age — as well as fear of lawsuits if clients and customers aren’t well informed — leads to the barrage of useless paper.

      I’m glad to have you here.
      Gip

  4. jesinalbuquerque permalink

    And then there’s the clutter that results when I make a donation. Okay, I’m going to indulge in a rant here.My donations are modest, as befits my income, but my mailbox is bursting with thank-you letters, calendars, address labels (enough to last several lifetimes since I rarely do paper mail), magazines, newsletters, all bedecked with adorable pictures of animals (animal charities are my favorites, but not the only offenders by a mile).

    Here is an open message to those to whom I give: I give what I can. Repeated pleading and packets of material in the mail won’t make any difference. I have as mentioned a lifetime supply of address labels, more calendars than any human can use, and if I want to read your magazine I’ll do it on line. And what bothers me even more than this hard-to-discard clutter (how can you shred a picture of an adorable kitten?) is wondering how much of my donation goes to purchasing and mailing this crap. STOP IT, DAMN IT, JUST STOP IT.

    Thank you for letting me get that off my chest.

    • You’re exactly right! I have actually taken the advice of some environmental activists and have stopped making small donations to a variety of causes. My donation of $30 is wasted trying to get me to give again and again. So I now think it’s best to give to one or two causes, and give as much as I can to them. Spreading it around results in more paper for you and greater waste of your donated money. And if a charity to which you donate will allow you to opt out of all mailings, that’s great too.

      It isn’t exactly a donation, but I support KIVA — and they have never sent me a piece of paper of any kind. That’s the way an organization with a responsible attitude toward the world works.
      Gip

      • marianney | A Life Set Free permalink

        OMG i was so going to write this exact same rant as I was reading Gip’s post, jesinalbuquerque. I get the same things! I made one small donation last year for the Haiti crisis and now every single day I get at least one (if not 3!) letters asking for more donations. I too have a bazillion address labels, of which I use one per month: for my rent check! And I so hear you: how do you throw away cute calendars with kittens on them??

        At this site, http://www.ecocycle.org/junkmail/index.cfm, they recommend that you contact each organization and ask them to stop sending you mail. I guess I will start taking those donation return envelopes and using them to send back a request to stop.

        And GREAT point Gip about how little donations are only going towards mailing you more crap. I didn’t even think of it that way. :/
        marianney | A Life Set Free recently posted 11 Up & Coming Minimalist Bloggers You Should Know About

    • Ruth H permalink

      This is a good point.
      Thankfully we mainly give to 2 organisations, which means, like Gip says, we can give a more substantial amount. The main one we give to sends receipts/updates/magazine links/via email. They have had this option for a few years. They are conscious of where they spend their money so try to print the minimal of things…more for the cause!

      I should try to get more bills on line, but some companies here (Australia) don’t have the option. We do it with some at least.

  5. Lorie McCloud permalink

    I couldn’t agree more! the printed page is just paper to me. it bugs me when I get receipts for purchases. come on! it’ll be on my check card statement online. the other thing that really irks me is all those circulars that clog up my mailbox. I didn’t ask for them. the best I can do is to recycle them which takes extra effort because my apartment complex doesn’t have a recycle bin. the post office can deliver packages. people order plenty of things online that do need to be delivered but it’s way past time to start doing things a different way already!!!

    • Of course, I completely agree with you, Lorie.

      The United States Postal Service is always looking for ways to balance their budget, and cutting three or four days of service each week would be fine. I know lots of jobs would be cut, but no one needs mail service more than every other day anymore. Even packages could wait a day — or could go private with FedEx or UPS.
      Gip

  6. Yep. This is war! 🙂

    It really is wasteful to mail paper statements in this (digital) day and age. My brick-and-mortar bank has the option to receive electronic statements (which I signed up for), but they still send me a monthly statement. WTH? I really don’t understand the point of putting a statement online and in the mail. I need to call and ask them to stop sending me paper. In fact, I would much rather earn a higher interest rate on the accounts than absorb the cost of mailing out more statements.

    And don’t even get me started on the ridiculously HUGE prospectus statements I receive each quarter.
    Jenny @ exconsumer recently posted One Debt Bites the Dust

  7. Anne Sales permalink

    Yes, it’s quite ironic that we still find so much paper in our “paper-less” society.

    Save paper for the things in life that matter, like a good book and your child’s first
    drawing. Being printed on paper is a privilege that a bill can NEVER earn!
    Anne Sales recently posted Coolhandle

  8. I know I’m late to the party, but for others reading your archives (like me). I love CutePDF Writer, or any other free PDF creator, for situations like online statements, confirmation screens, etc. Instead of printing to your printer, you choose your PDF creator program and poof, you get an electronic copy you can keep rather that a paper one.

    I vastly prefer going and getting a PDF, even from company websites, rather than getting a paper statement, scanning or filing it, and shredding it. Yuck!
    min hus recently posted Dealing with Sentimental Clutter

    • Thanks for joining the conversation here. That’s a great tip. I hope to revisit this issue with a new post soon and I’ll incorporate your suggestion.

      It’s good to have you here and commenting!
      Gip

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