Let's Make a Deal

I remember watching my Dad, sitting at the kitchen table always on a Sunday, pen in hand and surrounded by papers. If I would ask what he was doing, he would always say “it’s that time of the month”. Little did I know then, but that statement often carried a duel meaning.

For generations Dads (and sometimes Mom’s) would perform the dreaded task of paying the monthly bills as sort of an ongoing ritual that always seemed without end. You open the envelop containing the bill, fill out a check for the amount, make an entry in the check register, fold up the bill with the check and stuff it in the envelop, lick the seal, apply the stamp, and address the envelop. Then when all are done, a trip to the mailbox, or post office finishes the routine until the next month, when you perform this ritual again. This process would usually take a full hour of your time, and cost a few dollars, all depending on the number of bills a family would incur.

In my Dad’s case, I don’t think it was the time or the money that was responsible for the serious frown on his face, I know now that it was the depression and fatigue as a result of the unending ritual itself.

For many decades I followed in my Dad’s footsteps and carried on the ritual of bill paying, without any change in the process, and with that same frown upon my face. I know full well what he and millions of others are still going through every month of every year of their lives. The old adage about death and taxes, should also include bills (at least for the majority of the working class).

So much for yesterday. Let’s review bill paying in the 21st century and how technology has changed the ritual. A typical bill payer today is using “online billing and payment”. An electronic bill is sent via email (or an electronic reminder). The customer views the bill/statement via the internet (or direct link to the payee). In many cases, the bill can be paid during the same viewing using a pre-established payment method (credit card, electronic check, or bank transfer). There are several choices in making the payment to each biller, or to pay all of the bills at once from a bank website.

Sound to complicated? I’ll make it simple. You login to a website and pay all your bills in about 5 minutes. Typically, this costs you nothing, reduces an hours work to a few minutes, and it can all be done using a small, portable device (smartphone, tablet, watch) from anywhere. No more kitchen table with a swarm of papers. No more trips to the mailbox or post office . . . but what about the “frown”? Probably won’t cause as many permanent wrinkles on your face, but if you are like me and my Dad . . . it is still there.

Let’s talk about the frown. No one enjoys paying bills. I doubt no one enjoys creating those bills, either. Think about the person, or company, who has to generate the bill each month that you have to pay each month. Yes, they too have to take a certain amount of time and processing, and printing and mailing the bills must cost them as well. Truth be known, it costs them a lot more than most imagine.

Could it be this is the reason behind all the notices, promotions, and reminders you get from your billers to convert from a paper bill to an electronic payment process? Aside from this, even my bank is suggesting I go to “paperless statements” in order to see my bank statements, so they don’t have to print and mail them to my door. “PAPERLESS BILLING” is for everyone today.

Yes, go paperless and it will save a lot of trees. Even my friends and family are trying to make me feel guilty by not opting for paperless billing. They only see it as convenient and “saving the trees”. Is anyone really that naive to think paperless billing is the silver bullet for a green planet? Or, even more naive to think this is why all those corporations are spending so much time and money, to “save the planet”?

“Bullshit”. . . (Check here) . . . or . . . (Check here)

Fact: The costs for processing, printing, and mailing paper bills to a single customer, every month, are significant. These costs vary a lot, but $7 to $10 is a conservative average cost to generate a single customer bill. For large corporations and large bills, I have heard more realistic costs to be $50 or more. Take that times 10 million customers and you can see why any company would want you to forego your paper bill.

So let’s take a peak behind the green curtain. The companies that are asking you to help them out and save the trees, are only trying to make themselves more money.

I made a counter offer to one of my billers in response to their request that I convert to paperless billing. Any honest person would expect the request to be fair and justifiable: “I know you are going to save money. Will you split the difference in cost of a paper bill and subtract my half from my payment each month?”

I never received a reply.


“The paperless office will become a reality about the same time as the paperless toilet.”

            - Anonymous




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