Seven Steps Towards Minimizing Your Junk Mail and Unwanted Calls

One big disadvantage of bargain hunting, being politically active, and researching personal finance products is that I often end up o a lot of mailing lists and calling lists. And they’re distracting. Sometimes, I’ll get multiple phone calls a day related to causes that I’m not interested in, and I’ll see items and catalogues in the mail that I have no real interest in receiving.

A few years ago, I didn’t worry about this too much, but over time this built up to absurdity, with phone calls all throughout the evening and piles of junk mail arriving on a daily basis. Not only did these things cost time, they also cost money – catalogues and other such items sitting around the house are an easy temptation.

So I started putting my foot down, taking action against all of these unsolicited mailings. Here are some of the tactics and resources I used (and still use).

Four Essential Websites
There are four key websites worth visiting when trying to minimize the amount of junk mail and telemarketer calls you receive.

This website, hosted by the credit agencies, allows you to opt out from prescreened credit card offers for five years. Under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003, the credit agencies must allow people to opt out of mailings generated solely by your current credit score – primarily, unsolicited credit card offers.

Signing up is pretty simple. Doing it via the web lasts five years – sending in your form by snail mail makes the opt out permanent. If you receive quite a few credit card offers, this is well worth signing up for.

Do Not Call Registry
Another federal act, the Do-Not-Call Implementation Act of 2003 (and the later improvement, the Do-Not-Call Improvement Act of 2007), comes to the rescue when battling against unsolicited phone calls.

To put it simply, visit or call 1-888-382-1222 and simply ask to join the National Do Not Call Registry. Once you’re on the list for ninety days, solicitors can no longer call you unless you’ve already opted in on the phone call in some fashion (meaning, for example, businesses you already work with). Mail Preference Registry’s Mail Preference Registry enables you to easily get off the mailing list of direct mailers of all stripes, like catalog shipments and those little cardboard flyers that let you know about “sales” at local stores. This is actually done by a large consortium of direct mailers, who would actually prefer not to waste their money sending things to people who simply ignore the material (it’s not free to send a catalog, and if you’re just tossing them in the mail, that’s a needless expense).

Do Not Mail Registry
This final site isn’t something you can sign up for quite yet. Instead, it’s a grassroots organization attempting to develop a national Do-Not-Mail registry backed with penalties from the government. You can sign their petition and get involved with the project on their website.

Three Additional Steps
Beyond visiting these sites, there are three additional things you can do to minimize the pervasiveness of junk mail and telemarketing in your life.

Don’t let unwanted mail persist in your home. If you get an unsolicited mailing, whether it be a credit card offer or a catalog, destroy any personal information and get it in the trash can immediately. That way, a catalog or another offer that might tempt you (like the Williams & Sonoma catalog at our home, for example) won’t be sitting around encouraging you to spend money. Just trash it immediately (or utilize the third tip below).

Request removal from specific unwanted mailings and call lists. If you’ve opted in for a mailing in the past and now wish for it to stop, call the phone number on the mailing and request removal from their list. Removal might not be immediate, but with a few patient calls, even the most persistent of mailers (or the most lazy of customer service representatives) will cease their mailings.

Use junk mail as a resource. A final tactic: use the junk mail for something else. One great tactic is to shred junk mail, add a bit of paraffin, and make simple firestarters out of them (great for camping!). You can also harvest envelopes for your own mailing purposes and, of course, take things like mailing labels that some solicitors will send to you. Just toss the rest and don’t worry about it.

Junk mail (and junk phone calls) eat up your valuable time, waste resources, and serve as a great distraction that encourages you towards poor financial choices. Why not just nip these things in the bud with a few minutes of your time right now?

Trent Hamm

Founder & Columnist

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.