Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Reducing Your Paperwork Footprint

Check out this cool website which calculates just how many resources are consumed by billing you for your consumption! PayItGreen! instructs you in how to cut back on the endless reams of paper from bills and payments, with encouragement to go electronic. It can save you time and postage, but this initiative is from an alliance of financial service providers, since it saves them a lot of money in paper, printing, and postage. (Since they generally provide a return mail envelope, and checks aren't terribly expensive, I wouldn't tout this as a big $ saver for the consumer, but it is generally a good thing environmentally.)
Cutting back on paper is great in theory, but I've found it more difficult than this website suggests. I often refer back to credit card bills. I experimented with going electronic with one of the accounts, with an automatic bank debit, and I found I printed out all the bills anyway, to check them against my purchases. So it's just my paper and ink verses Chase's. With utilities, I already have automatic bank deductions, but the idiot utilities faithfully send me a return envelope with my paper statements. If you're tracking your electric and gas use like we are, I still find it handy to have paper bills.
The area where I LOVE electronic posting is for our investment paperwork. We are both in our 50's and our retirement funds alone generate a gazillion reports, proxies, and prospectuses - boring fine-print publications which heretofore I swiftly recycled. Now they all come online. Hit the delete button, and they're gone.
My conclusion is that this is generational - if you're used to paper, it's hard to give it up. (This has been one of the great unintended side-effects of computerization. It was supposed to make for a paperless world and instead has generated hugely more paper for us all.) If you track your expenses carefully, you probably still want paper.
It's worth checking this website. They report the average house pays 17 bills a month, so with postage going up, even if you're not concerned about the eco-footprint angle, you could save about $85 in postage a year, and maybe even a few trips to a post-office, never anyone's favorite errand.
Have you successfully given up paper financial records? Do you feel safe relying on cyperspace for your financial life?


Anonymous said...

"If you track your expenses carefully, you probably still want paper."

Don't agree, and it's probably because we're a different age (I'm 26 and grew up 'paperless', so I tend to try to do things in a paperless fashion.) Here's how I track my expenses:

I use my credit card and checking account's export feature to export all the data as a CSV. I paste that into Excel.

I put the expense into a category. I keep it very simple -- my columns are labeled like this:

April Food Gas Writeoff? Fun Random ($150) House improvement

And my expenses all look like this (some of my actual expenses from April)

4/1/2008 -$0.97 AMZN PMTS 866-216-1072 WA $0.97 *S3 bill
4/1/2008 -$2.15 USPS 0568659556 QQQ SAN JOSE CA $2.15
4/1/2008 -$22.85 THE DAVID ALLEN CO. 8056468432 CA $22.85
Very straightforward...just the date, a negative total amount (this is how my CC/checking exports the data), the name (also exported), the amount underneath its respective category (positive), and a note at the end (mostly describing writeoffs for my accountant.)

At the bottom, of course, I set up all my totals for each category and compare them to my budget, with one big negative or positive number to show whether I'm under budget or not.

Then I just set up a new tab in my Excel spreadsheet for each month so I can easily flip between them.

Any credit card or checking account should let you export this data. There are easier ways to do this online with tools like Mint, but the ol' Excel spreadsheet hasn't let me down yet.

You can email me at erica AT erica dot biz and I will send you a template if you would like to try it. Also, www.erica.biz is my blog -- I'm also talking a lot about the same things, like "Why Become Rich?" and how to find good deals online.


Betsy Teutsch said...

You're right, it's generational. It would take me so long to do that, I would never even attempt it.
I don't budget. I just check my receipts off against my credit card charge, and likewise with my bank deposits and checks.
In time, fewer and fewer people will do this, I suppose.

Anonymous said...

With most billers, you can save an electronic version of your bill on your computer. Then you can always go back and refer to it if you need to, but there is no need to have a huge paper file to store all of that paper that you build up. I find the electronic versions are much easier to keep organized and find later if I need them.

Anonymous said...

I put everything I can on my credit card, and pay the whole thing off every month. This includes bills like cell phone, internet, and PG&E finally let me put my electric bill on Visa.

While otherwise I'm paperless, I do have my credit card bill come in the mail. I find it easier to look at one sheet of numbers every month, highlight things to cut out (Starbucks, Amazon.com, looking at you!) and by writing the physical check myself, take a hard look at what I'm spending.

Best of luck, and looking forward to reading more of your blog :)