Monday, August 20, 2007

Getting Rich Going Paperless

It took me a long time to come round to electronic statements and e-bills since I am neurotic about filing and had an irrational fear of computer clutter, irrational because we are utterly drowning (or whatever the metaphor) in paper clutter. But in doing my research for Green Factoids, I realized that if I had gone paperless way back when, I would have been able to check out my old electricity bills so that I could more accurately track our kWh use. Then I discovered some cool factoids about going paperless.

According to Javelin Strategy and Research, here are some of the benefits if all U.S. households viewed and paid bills online:

o Saves 2.3 million tons of wood, or 16.5 million trees.
o Reduces fuel consumption by 26 million BTUs - enough energy to provide residential power to San Francisco for an entire year.
o Decreases toxic air pollutants by 3.9 billion pounds of CO2 equivalents (greenhouse gases), akin to having 355,000 fewer cars on the road.
o Reduces toxic wastewater by 13 billion gallons, enough to fill almost 20,000 swimming pools.
o Lowers solid waste generated by 1.6 billion pounds - equal to 56,000 fully loaded garbage trucks.
o Removes 8.5 million particulates and 12.6 million nitrogen oxides from the air - on par with taking 763,000 buses and 48,000 18-wheelers off the streets.

But imagine this cheapskate’s amazement when I realized that some fund companies, including mutual fund behemoth Vanguard, will waive their yearly fees, now about $20 per year for small investors, if you agree to electronic statements and prospectuses.

So pulling out the old calculator, or actually Quicken’s investment planner, I decided to play with some numbers, and that amazement quickly turned to tears of joy.

Let’s say I treat the fee savings like a $20 investment, to which I add $20 each year. That $20/year is the “principal.” Assuming an 8% investment return I will make:

5 years: $146 (“principal”: $100)
10 years: $332 (“principal”: $200)
20 years: $1008 (“principal”: $400)

PER FUND!!! That’s the miracle of compound interest.

Obviously the environmental benefits are more to the point. But going paperless is yet another powerful example of how eliminating waste also saves money.

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