It’s a miracle Marianne Vander Dussen, a 23-year-old administrator at a real-estate office, can close her leather wallet. The billfold is usually jammed to the point of bursting – not with crisp $20s, but receipts.
There’s the bill from last week’s Home Depot run, a receipt she got from Shell when she filled her gas tank in June and more from recent trips to Dollarama and Metro. She won’t empty her wallet until a few months from now when she sorts through them and puts the keepers into an accordion file.
At a time when consumers track spending through mobile apps, check credit-card statements online and send landlords money transfers via e-mail, receipts remain one of the few paper records still around. But their time may be coming to an end.
Major retailers such as the Gap and the U.S. chain Nordstrom have introduced paperless receipts in recent months: Instead of getting your bill on a slip of paper, you can opt for an e-mail record of your purchase. It’s an innovation retailers are eager to adopt since it gives them access to their customers’ contact information.
This advancement may also signal the end of one small but obsessive group of consumers. Call them receipt collectors, filers or even hoarders. These shoppers hold onto those strips of paper so they can track spending, return or repair items under warranty with ease or, often, just sleep easy knowing they have a record of every last purchase.
Ms. Vander Dussen, who describes the family she grew up in as penny-pinchers, says the receipts from fill-ups and auto repairs help her figure out how much to budget for car-related expenses each year.
Those little slips have also come in handy for refunds and getting discounts. Recently, she purchased a pair of running shoes for $130 and spotted the same pair on sale the next week for $70. She was able to get $60 back from the store by simply bringing in her receipt.
When Yellowknife-based money coach Nancy Zimmerman works with new clients, she advises them to save all receipts for a month – every last ATM withdrawal and latte purchase – so they can track their spending to create a realistic budget. But there’s little need to hold onto them beyond that, she says.
Jennifer Barrett, co-author of The Smart Cookies’ Guide to Couples and Money, says it’s no longer necessary to track expenses in such an antiquated way – she says credit- and debit-card statements do the same job.
“Unless you’re keeping something for the purposes of a warranty, there’s really no need to save it more than a year,” says the New York-based writer.
Though Lisa Sansom, the 41-year-old owner of a coaching and consulting practice, was a willing convert to online banking, she prefers old-school methods for tracking her credit-card spending. To catch billing errors, she sits down every month and checks her receipts against her credit-card statement. She then stores that month’s receipts with the statement in an envelope, which gets filed away in a 100-litre metal army trunk in the basement crawlspace of her house in Kingston, Ont.
She says her friends and family may think her behaviour is odd, but she’d sooner get rid of high-school diaries than her receipt files. “It doesn’t get in my way. My house doesn’t look like one of those people on the Hoarders show. It’s not pathological or anything,” she says.
Shanda Smith, however, is happy to apply the H-word to her obsessive habit. The 39-year-old, who works as a vendor-relations manager in Toronto, has been filing away the bills from her purchases since she was a little girl.
She’s received her fair share of ribbing from friends and family – especially because of the way she “preserves” receipts.
“At one point I would keep the receipt so long that the ink would just disappear. So now as soon as I get it, if I know for sure it’s something I need to save, I laminate it. With tape,” she says.
It never occurred to her to use all the receipts to reconcile credit-card statements, though. She only holds onto them in case she needs to return something. “I should be using my time wisely doing that instead of just hoarding,” she says with a sheepish giggle.
Because storing receipts doesn’t have the same safety implications as hoarding newspapers, Ms. Zimmerman says it’s mostly a harmless habit.
“Even if it doesn’t make logical sense, if it gives a person peace of mind knowing that tucked away they have the receipt for that dress from six years ago, that’s worth something,” she says.
Ms. Smith has even converted her live-in partner to saving those slips of paper. “She says, ‘I’m so happy we got together, because if it wasn’t for you I wouldn’t even be holding onto my receipts.’”
While Ms. Smith’s partner sees the hoarding as a virtue, the innocuous act of receipt collecting can cause tension.
Michelle Pennell, a 30-year-old Torontonian who works in public relations, rarely accepts receipts when offered by cashiers, while her husband stores them in his car’s cupholder, on top of the fridge and on his bedside table.
“Literally, there are little slips of paper everywhere in our house,” Ms. Pennell says. “It’s infuriating too because I’m a Type-A personality and I’m really clean.”
Her husband’s rationale? He pays for most purchases with his debit or credit card and he’s leery about his personal information floating around. Instead, he keeps receipts for everything (even coffees at Tim Hortons), and when the pile is big enough, he saves the important ones in a file cabinet and sends the rest through a shredder.
There are times when he’s turned the tables on Ms. Pennell after she’s tried (and failed) to return purchases sans receipt. “I do get quite a few ‘I told you so’ moments because it happens to me quite a bit,” she says.
While hoarding has its practical values, for some, it serves as a security blanket. Torontonian Chris Igglesden started filing away all his receipts in the mid-nineties after his house was robbed.
“When I was doing my insurance claim, I got a really hard time from the insurance adjuster over not having receipts,” the 38-year-old Internet marketer says. His reaction was to save receipts for every purchase he made (save for groceries) in case history repeats itself.
But the judgment has been swift and vicious when he’s recruited friends to help him move. They’ve called him crazy and accused him of being a hoarder. “It’s like ... ‘Why do you have five boxes that say ‘receipts’ on them?’”
He’s used the “I might still need it for the warranty” defence, though he says the warranties on most of his purchases have expired.
When he made a purchase at the Gap recently, the cashier offered him a choice between a physical and digital receipt. He welcomes the switch to paperless records – it’s the long-awaited opportunity to liberate himself.
“It’s just one of those things you start doing and you don’t stop it because it’s not actually taking up space – yet,” he says.Report Typo/Error
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