High cost of attention – USPS Edition

March 7th, 2007 by

396270430_f9ca7cd959_m.jpgWe’ve talked about the cost of unwanted email in previous posts, but what about unwanted paper or snail mail?

US Postal Service

In a given week, it’s safe to say that my household receives at least 3-5 credit card offers, 5 catalogs, 4 or 5 grocery fliers and scads of other mail that we never asked for. A very small percentage of the stack of mail is something that I either asked for or actually care about.

I know that I’m not alone in this. The US Postal Service, in their 2006 annual report, states that they send over 102 billion pieces of “Standard Mail” each year. Standard mail, by the way, is composed of loose fliers from grocery and other local stores, letters sent to “Resident” or any piece of mail that you receive that isn’t addressed to someone.

This number doesn’t include the 90 billion pieces of first class mail that is sent each year. First class mail is the regular addressed messages that you receive which could include hand written notes from your aunt or pictures of your 3 year old niece. Sadly, I don’t receive many of those kinds of messages, so most first class mail is unrequested as well.

The cost of uninvited mail

Unlike email, most postal mail must be closely inspected before you dispose of it. The dozens of credit card and mortgage offers I receive monthly contain sensitive information about me or my family. That information offers up an opportunity for identity theft. All of these messages need to be shredded. G

In a previous post about the cost to my time, I established some figures for the wages of the average American, I spend another 5 minutes a day disposing of postal mail and another 15 minutes a week at the shredder.

$18.50 an hour x 21 hours per year = $388.50.  


15 minutes a week x 52 weeks * $18.50 = $240

Added together, unwanted mail costs you about $628 or 34 hours per year in lost time. Ouch.

Identity Theft?

Now, you could argue that I’m overly paranoid when it comes to shredding financial documents, but the cost of having your identity stolen is considerably higher. According to a study by the Identity Theft Resource Center, it takes on average about 330 hours to recover from identity theft.

330 hours x $18.50 = $6,105

There are about 10 million victims of identity theft per year in the US and according to the U.S. Department of Justice Statistics, identity theft is now passing up drug trafficking as the number one crime in the nation.

Long story short, buy a shredder folks.

What’s next?

I’ve looked at the costs of unwanted mail for individuals, but what about the companies that send it? Finally, I’ll end with some tips on how to lower the amount of unwanted mail you receive and help regain some of the your lost time and productivity.

photo by Flickr user MrBG