How I Beat the Clutter By Going Paperless

erica-manfred-headshotLast week in Aging With Geekitude, Erica challenged tech support to get with it and be more senior-friendly – read about it!  This week, she’s saving tress and beating clutter…


I finally did it. I beat the paper habit.

I have slowly been entering the world of online bill payment for years, but I haven’t had the nerve to go totally paperless – despite being really sick of staring at piles of bills, most of them unopened.

I used to file bills after I paid them, until I realized I could find them online if I needed to. Same for bank statements. But whenever a website asked me to “go paperless,” I refused –  even though I felt guilty about all those trees that were dying to feed my paper habit.


Step 1: automatic bank withdrawals

I long ago authorized automatic bank withdrawal of some bills: Insurance, because I didn’t want to be one of those people who watch the house go up in flames while trying to remember if I’d paid the bill on time. Electric, because I owed so much that I didn’t want to get cut off. And monthly minimum payments on credit cards because I was continually running up $30 late fees.

As for sending out paper checks, I found  it really laborious to write them, fill in the check register, put them in envelopes, stamp the envelopes and take them to the post office – even though seeing a pile of bills actually leaving my house instead of arriving did give me a warm, fuzzy feeling.


Step 2: online bill pay

Then a while ago, a friend told me I could sign up for online bill pay and the bank would do all that work for me and I’d never have to write a check again or stand in a post office line. What a terrific service! Since I never balanced my bank book anyway, it was a relief to stop sending paper checks.

But I still received paper bills. I knew that signing up to go completely paperless was the next step, and it terrified me. Not only do I not want to save Visa and Time Warner money, I also don’t want to put another nail in the coffin of the beleaguered U.S. Postal system. But my biggest worry is that I won’t get around to paying bills that I can’t physically see. As long as my bills stare at me every day, I know I have to pay them.


Step 3: going paperless

Finally, I decided that I could risk going paperless as long as I signed up for email bill-pay alerts or just set them in my calendar. I bit the bullet and ticked off the “go paperless” buttons on several websites.

Now I had to decide whether to use the bank’s website to pay my bills or pay them on the individual company’s sites. I made this decision the way I make all my important decisions – I asked my Facebook friends. The consensus was to use the bank bill pay service because then everything is in the same place. However, one freelance writer friend who struggles with paying her bills like I do, pays on the credit card sites to take advantage of the “float.”

“Sometimes it takes a couple of days for the company’s website to talk to my checking account, and that couple of days can be a lifesaver,” she explains.

Some friends are frighteningly organized. Toni says: “I’ve used Quicken for about 20 years, which connects directly to my bank, credit card, and broker accounts. Everything’s in one place and backed up on my own computer. Also, I use Turbo Tax and it imports info directly from Quicken, making tax prep even easier.” I am awed by Toni, but have no plans to follow in her footsteps.

Another friend warns that you  need to be careful how you set things up because there may be charges involved: Some companies charge to do automatic payments from their websites, she says. “I go thru my bank’s website, since it’s free and then I can hit the ‘see scheduled transactions’ button to keep track and make sure I have enough to cover.”

I decided to hedge my bets and have it both ways. I have my credit card payments scheduled on the card companies’ sites and will pay the cable, doctor and other bills directly from the bank’s website.

Now that I have no more paper coming in, I have to figure out what to do with that huge box of old bills on my office shelf. Throw out? Sort and file?

Or maybe they’ll just sit there for so long that even the IRS won’t want them, and the decision will be made for me.

Are you paperless? 

Erica Manfred is a journalist, essayist and humorist who writes about everything from dentistry to divorce to fantasy fiction. Friend her on Facebook.


7 responses to “How I Beat the Clutter By Going Paperless

  1. I currently pay online, but I’d like to go totally paperless for receiving bills too. But I have a question that no one seems to address:

    You know how when someone goes to the hospital unexpectedly, friends and/or family then grab their bills from the mailbox and take care of them? What if the person had gone paperless? Will the electricity and other goodies just get turned off eventually when no one responds to the emailed bills and termination notices? Is there a “dead man’s switch?” :)

    1. They will shut you off if you don’t make payments, another reason to have all my bills go to my credit card….. Friends were traveling in their camper, out west, and forgot about the electric bill until a neighbor called and told them their garage smelled like someone died in it. The freezer thawed in the hot Florida summer sun….. they called and got the elctric back on, and had the whole full freezer thrown out.

  2. I will never sign up with bank payments. I have all my bills go to my credit card, then I can look at the bill online and see if the charges are right, then I pay the credit card from my bank. The difference is I hit the pay button, that way I don’t have to worry about one of those bills where someone put in too many zeros.

  3. Enjoyed the humor in your column Erica. Chuckled a few times out loud. After my gas meter went bonkers and the gas company was charging me double from other years, I had a battle on my hands to get the payments straightened out as the payment was set up on gas company’s website, not my bank’s website where I had control of the funds. They took their sweet time (months by time it was discovered the meter was no good) about giving me a refund. Once it was straightened out, I switched my payments from their website to my bank’s bill pay where I had control of my payments.

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