For me, being an Efficiency Ninja isn’t just about converting every document to PDF. In some instances, I feel that certain documents shouldn’t ever be printed on paper and should remain in digital format from the start. Take, for example, the financial service industry. I’ve been with a number of them over the year, and one thing they all have in common besides managing my investments is the sheer volume of documents they put in the mail to me. Every time a mutual fund makes a change in the way it manages a fund, for example, some banking law requires them to send out a new prospectus booklet. The same goes for shareholder proxy forms for voting. And then there are the individual statements, the brochures for new services being pushed to customers, and even big catalog-sized books once or twice a year that summarize every stock, bond, and mutual fund ever traded. The list goes on and on, and at one point I really believe I was getting something in the mail from my financial company every other day. It was crazy.
Fortunately, my new financial service company offered me a way to turn it all off. (And I’m guessing that most of the other companies do the same thing.) I had to make a few calls, login to a few accounts and tweak a few settings, but the paper flow slowed down drastically. Not completely… but enough to save a few thousand trees per year.
And now, after turning off the flow of mailouts from my financial service, this Efficiency Ninja’s biggest enemy-left-standing is the simple bill. Credit card bill. Electric. Gas. Cable/Internet. And a few more. Now, many of these bills my wife and I already pay online, but for some reason we still get a paper bill in the mail. Annoying. But also sometimes helpful as a reminder. While I’m quite fine paying a bill online, I’m a bit disappointed that the only email reminder I get is from my mobile phone carrier. All the others simply use the paper bill to advertise their online bill paying service. (To be fair, I’m sure a lot of them have a way to turn on and off an email alert, but they’re not always so easy to find.) What I’d love is a two-punch solution.
Punch 1! Lose the paper bill!
Punch 2! Get a reminder when the bill is due!
Kick 1! Let me decide how many days prior to the bill’s due date to get that reminder!
Kick 2! Make it super-easy to access all my digital bills and their balances!
1. I’ve managed to reduce my paper bills from about 10 per month down to two… and I’m working on eliminating those.
2. I get email reminders.
3. I set the number of days prior to a bill’s due date to get that alert.
4. A single login on my laptop or my mobile device gives me a one-glance look at everything that is due and balances.
5. I pick the companies, provide my login credentials, and Manilla syncs my accounts.
First, not every company that sends you a bill is in Manilla’s system. The big ones are – mobile carriers, electric companies, cable companies… those kinds of things. But my local garbage collection? Not in the list. Manilla does offer you the way to submit a suggestion for a new company to be added, but keep in mind that not every company is open to the benefits of saving on printing costs and postage. Weird, huh? And just so you know, custom reminders can be added in Manilla even for accounts you don’t have linked to Manilla.
Second, Manilla isn’t a bill-paying service. You’re still responsible for paying the bill online, and Manilla collects no banking information from you to handle automatic payments. It does offer you the ability to view your bills online and then click a button that takes you to a company’s online website to pay it. What Manilla is offering you here is simply a way to view it all in one place, see balances, and set alerts. Paying will still require an online account with the companies you choose to link to the service.
Another great feature of Manilla is the ability to download your digital bills if you want to have a copy of them. While Manilla is happy to store them for you, both the mobile app and the website allow me to download the bills as PDFs. Keep in mind, however, that while some of the companies you sign up for will automatically turn off the paper bills you receive, not all companies do this. I’d suggest linking a service to Manilla and then, after you get the online bill and reminder (from Manilla) and your paper bill, go ahead and disable the paper delivery. When linking a service provider, watch for the green alert like the one shown in the following screenshot – it will tell you that by adding the service you agree to turn off the paper notification. Again, not all services allow this by default, so make note of which ones will and will not be sending you a paper bill and contact those companies directly if you wish to disable the paper trail.
Adding and linking accounts is super simple. You use the search box to enter the name or keywords related to a business you wish to add. If the company is listed in Manilla’s database, you’ll then be asked to provide login credentials so that Manilla can contact the services for you. If you’re concerned about security, be sure to check out Manilla’s Security Overview. It’s well worth the read time to understand how it works. Below is a screenshot showing how you can select financial (Household) bill services, magazine subscriptions, credit cards (Finance), and Travel & Rewards. Manilla can track magazine expiration dates (I’m renewed, WIRED!) as well as your member points and miles – keep in mind that the magazine list is a bit short right now (I’d love to track my wife’s Real Simple subscription as well as my Men’s Health – I’ve submitted them as suggested additions) but I’ve been told that Manilla is constantly adding new businesses to their database, so I expect this service to only get more useful over time.
After you’ve linked your accounts, future logins will take you to your accounts screen like the one below. I’ve edited out amounts and the last four digit account numbers that are displayed, but you can see that my electric bill is due in 14 days. I also got an email alert for that. Notice also near the top that I’ve got 3 new documents that I’ve not yet viewed (these are PDFs of a few of my bills) and two reminders.
Reminders are easy to configure. In the screenshot below, you can see that I’m configuring one for my water service that will email me every month (SMS/text message is also an option), two days prior to the date I configure. My water bill doesn’t always come in on the exact same day, but it’s close enough. Cobb County Water System is one of those that I’m trying to get added to Manilla, but in the meantime I’d like an email alert anyway. And I love that Manilla allows me to create reminder alerts even for those services that I don’t have linked to my Manilla account!
Click on the Documents option near the top of the Accounts screen (mine lists 3 new ones) and you’ll be taken to an itemized list showing you all the documents that Manilla has received on your behalf. As you can see in this next image, some are bills and some are notices, and some are statements. The small arrow to the far right of each item is a menu that when clicked allows you to mark as read, download, trash, or simply view.
Finally, click on the Reminders button near the top of the Accounts page (mine lists 2) and you’ll be taken to a screen where you can view all the alerts. If a bill is due, as is shown in the next screenshot, you can click the Pay Bill button that will open up that particular company’s website so you can pay it immediately.
Manilla offers me yet another way to reduce the clutter. Being able to monitor my bills (or at least get reminders) on my iPad or laptop is great – I choose the frequency and timing of my alerts and, in many instances, I get to take a paper bill out of the system. It’s crazy to have to say this, but there are days where my mailbox contains nothing but junk mail and I simply move it from mailbox to trashcan. (If the US Postal Service charged me $25 or $50 per year to NOT get junkmail in my box, I think they’d solve their financial problems AND reduce the trash levels going into landfills – something to consider, legislators!)
Manilla is a free service – they make their money by charging a small fee to businesses that agree to provide their bills online to their customers. At present, they have over 3000 businesses signed up (again, most of the big ones are a given) and they continue to add more. I’m not a Groupon user, but Groupon fans (and similar services) will be happy to know that their Manilla accounts can also be configured to collect the coupons and offers – a nice one-stop-shop for bills and special offers. The Manilla blog is also another great place to get tips and advice on making your life easier, too – there’s some great writeups filed under Productivity, Organization, and many more. Efficiency Ninjas live for this kind of information!
As with any online service that contains personal information, I highly encourage you to create a strong password if you sign up. Even though someone can’t gain access to your bank account (because this isn’t a bill paying service), there’s no point in giving them access to your bills and statements. Create a secure password and you’ll have a great way to consolidate all your bills in one place for easy viewing and easy management… your shredder’s motor will thank you. (You ARE using a shredder, right?)
Update: I forgot to mention that the Manilla app is available for both iOS and Android in addition to the web interface.
Tomorrow: Efficiency Ninja Part 3: A Tablet, A Stylus, A Man, and a Plan
Yesterday: Efficiency Ninja Part 1: Go Paperless