How I Ditched My Loyalty Rewards Cards and Created Wallet Space

Tips for reducing loyalty rewards cards | Happy Simple Living blog

You can’t blame retailers for loving loyalty rewards cards.

If we shoppers don’t agree to use the card, the store charges us higher prices–Ka-CHING! If we do sign up to use the card, we have to share our contact information, phone number and e-mail address–Ka-CHING! When we use the card, the retailer can track all of our purchases and buying habits–Ka-CHING! Meanwhile, we carry around a little plastic ad for the company in our wallets. What’s not to love?

We’re promised **BIG** rewards and special discounts for carrying and using these cards. I’m excited to receive my meaningful rewards, which should arrive any day now. Have you gotten yours? I like to imagine that you’re cashing in lots of valuable freebies, rebates, and luxury vacations.

Fat Wallets ‘R’ Us

Card-lovin’ retailers don’t seem all that bothered that it’s physically impossible for your average consumer to carry a thick stack of cards around. Neither do they care that we can never quickly access the correct card at checkout time.

Have you ever muttered while you’re digging through your bulging wallet something to the effect of, “I have so many of these cards, and I can never find the right one!”

Cashiers must hear this muttering all the time. This is my fantasy reply:

“I so feel your pain. You know what? You’re a valued customer, and I don’t need a plastic card to tell me so. We’ll give you the discounted price AND a $50 gift card for your trouble. Furthermore, I will pass your helpful feedback along to management and suggest that they come up with a better, less cumbersome program–like maybe just charging everyone fair prices and eliminating the cards. Did I mention that we’re giving shoppers a free SKOR candy bar today? It’s Loyalty Card Customer Appreciation Day.”

A Possible Solution?

Key Ring AppLast month I wrote about purse and wallet decluttering tips, so I decided to give the Key Ring app a try. Once you download the app, you hold your loyalty cards’ bar codes in front of the phone and it instantly copies the codes and logs your membership numbers. You can also photograph your cards as a back-up if you’re paranoid, which of course I am. It took me about twenty minutes to scan and photograph all of my cards, but I didn’t feel comfortable discarding them (paranoid) until I was sure the app would actually work.

At Walgreen’s last week, I proudly handed the cashier my phone with my Balance Rewards bar code showing. (I felt so high tech!) When he scanned my phone, it didn’t pick up the code so he entered the number manually which took another ten seconds or so. “This scanner has been acting up,” he said, handing my phone back. Because the app now holds all of the membership numbers, even if it doesn’t always scan I think it’s good enough and I’ve removed the bulky cards from my wallet.

UPDATE: I used the app successfully at another store last week; the cashier easily picked up the bar code from my phone.

How about you?

Do you participate in store loyalty rewards programs? Have you scored some fabulous rewards? Please, do tell.

Have you ever been forced to buy a second, auxiliary wallet to hold all of your loyalty rewards cards? Have you tried an app like Key Ring? I’d love to hear your experiences and ideas.

Meanwhile, here’s to free SKOR candy bars and slimmed-down wallets for all of us!


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About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of nine books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

The Great Dishwasher Controversy

White vinegar for clean dishes

A shot glass holds a little white vinegar for spot-free dishes

You might think that a blog about simple living wouldn’t get ensnared in scandals, but you’d be surprised.

I’ve penned two posts that generated lots of debate and mostly-negative comments. Both of these articles were written about that most contentious of subjects:


Since 2012 when I wrote these articles I’ve stayed silent on the subject — hoping that with the passage of time, the public would find someone new to focus on and the negative publicity would pass. I think the time has finally come to publicly apologize for my past mistakes.

My first wrong-minded post in July 2012 was gleefully entitled:

A Green, Clean and Cheap Way to Enjoy Spot-Free Dishes

In this post, I innocently wrote about how I’d stopped using rinse aid in the dishwasher dispenser and replaced it with white vinegar. Not only was vinegar much less expensive, but I was concerned about the chemicals in commercial rinse aid. Here’s the actual label from the product I formerly used:

Rinse Aid at Happy Simple Living

One reader insisted that the ingredients were “PROVED, HARMLESS substances” and called me out on my “wrong-headed conspiracy thinking.”

I later went back and updated the post, after hearing comments like this one from our helpful reader Kelsey:

“DO NOT PUT VINEGAR IN THE RINSE AID COMPARTMENT!! I came across an article about dishwasher tips and homemade detergent. The woman suggested putting vinegar in the rinse aid department. She posted an update saying that after a few years of doing this, she started having problems with her dishwasher and called a repair man. During the home visit she told him that she had been putting vinegar in the rinse aid department. He said vinegar is helpful but it’s BAD to put it in the rinse aid compartment because it wears down and destroys the rubber and internals. Instead, he told her to put a small cup on the top rack of the dishwasher and put in small amount of vinegar in the cup.”

I decided to heed her warning. I, too, began pouring a little white vinegar (about 2 teaspoons) in a shot glass and putting it in the top rack of the dishwasher.

Vinegar shot glass

Yes, that is a Hooters shot glass — which happens to be the only shot glass I own.

This method works great, and the dishes come out sparkling clean with no spots, no chemical smell, and no worries about delicate rubber dishwasher gaskets and the like.

History Repeats Itself

Fast forward to November of 2012, when I for some reason decided to slosh back into the subject of washing dishes. Some of us never learn.

This time, my post was:

A Simple, Time-Saving Dishwasher Tip

In this most-controversial post, I naively suggested grouping silverware together in the basket so it was pre-sorted and took less time to put away. What was I thinking?

Loading the dishwasher at Happy Simple Living blog

One comment neatly sums up readers’ thoughts on this idea:

“Just look at the spoons in the picture above, a lot of them are bunched together, and they might not get any water or soap and would come out cruddy. The silverware takes 2-3 minutes as it is, not a huge amount of savings.”

Chastened, I had to agree that the potential time savings wasn’t worth the possibility of cruddy spoons (although just between us, I do still group the forks and knives together that way. )

How about you?

Have you tried white vinegar in lieu of rinse aid?

Do you use a Hooters shot glass or something more classy?

Do you secretly group the spoons together in the silverware basket?

Have you ever been accused of being a conspiracy theorist?

Do you have any dish washing tips to share?

When are they going to invent a dishwasher that unloads the dishes for us?

Hugs and happy Presidents’ Day,

The signature for Eliza Cross



About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of nine books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Welcome to Day #1 of the January Money Diet

Happy new year 2015

If you’ve decided to try the January Money Diet this month, congratulations! Previous participants have accomplished amazing goals, from paying off credit cards to saving for a house down payment to funding emergency savings accounts.

The key to starting off 2015 financially strong is to radically cut spending on everything but the barest essentials. Together we’ll explore ways to spoil ourselves, eat well, enjoy fun activities, improve our surroundings, and have a wonderful time — all without spending cash.

What Are the Rules?

One of the most common questions I’m asked about this annual month of no spending is “How do you define essential expenses?”

The answer will be different for each one of us, and the good news is that there are no hard and fast rules for the January Money Diet. In our family, I keep it really simple:  I try to only spend money on the monthly bills and groceries. It’s quite amazing how much money is left over when I’m not regularly whipping out my debit card for non-essentials.

If spending is a temptation, you may want to leave your credit card in a safe place at home (one reader froze hers in a block of ice!) or try Dave Ramsey’s envelope system for paying only for the month’s essentials.

How Does It Work?

If you’ve participated before in the January Money Diet, you’ll notice two changes this year.

The first update is in the number of e-mails you’ll receive. In the past, I sent an e-mail every single day during January. Thirty-one e-mails can be a little too much for anyone’s InBox, though, so I’m trying a different approach this year.

You’ll receive a daily e-mail from me for the first five days of the diet. Each of these posts will discuss an important, key strategy for January Money Diet success.

After that, I’ll send out several e-mails a week with various ideas and challenges for you to try. I encourage you to share your own ideas and experiences in the comments section of those posts. Let us know about your victories and struggles, and we’ll encourage and cheer each other on!

Be Diligent and Win a Special Prize

The second change for this year’s money diet is that I’m giving away a large gift box filled with goodies to one lucky January Money Diet participant.

The box includes a $25 Barnes & Noble gift card, $25 cash, pantry staples like bean soup mix and organic quinoa, signed copies of three of my cookbooks, homesteading supplies like candles and eco-friendly cleaning supplies, and more.

In past years I’ve done some smaller, random giveaways, but this year’s winner will be chosen intentionally. At the end of January I’ll ask you to share your results, and the prize winner will be someone who participates in the January Money Diet with heart and soul and achieves good results. Good luck!

Your First Challenge

On this first day of the January Money Diet, begin by doing some “shopping” at home. This is the perfect time to go through the closets and drawers looking for those unused things we all tend to hold on to for “someday.”

Take inventory at home for Day 1 of the January Money DietStart in the pantry and freezer; do you have any fancy, gourmet items or forgotten goodies lurking back in the shelves?

In my own kitchen, I did some excavating and brought forth a box of pumpkin bread mix, a bag of frozen blueberries, lasagna noodles, artichoke hearts, panko crumbs and baker’s chocolate. This month I’ll try to find creative ways to use these products (not all in the same dish, of course) and clear some room in the cabinets and freezer at the same time.

What about those specialty kitchen appliances and gadgets gathering dust? We have a paella dish, a tortilla press, and an ice cream cone maker (that’s right), all of which I plan to put into service this month.

Another place to “shop” at home is the bathroom cabinet; are there shampoo samples, fancy soaps, loofahs, pedicure kits and bath salts languishing in your cabinets? Gather them up and plan to use them. If not this month, when?

What about those unused craft and scrapbooking supplies? Home improvement materials? Fabric and notions? Yarn and knitting needles? Office supplies? Candles? Blank journals? January is a splendid month to take on a project using things you already have.

Check your medicine chest, too; are there vitamins and supplements languishing there? Take a look around the closets and drawers of your home, and you might find a treasure trove of good stuff just waiting to be used up and enjoyed.

Make a List

After you’ve gone on a scavenger hunt at home and taken an inventory of the products you plan to use this month, post a few highlights in the comments section below this blog post. You know we’re all just dying to hear what you unearth.

From our home to yours, we wish you a happy, healthy and prosperous 2015. May these next 30 days be the beginning of your best year ever!

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of nine books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

15 Inexpensive, Last-Minute Stocking Stuffers

Clementines for Christmas stocking stuffers

Photo: PostBear

As we enter the home stretch before Christmas, one of the last things on the To Do list is often the stocking stuffers. Let’s not blow the budget on a bunch of little things our loved ones will never use. Instead, here are some ideas for fun, inexpensive and practical presents to tuck in Christmas stockings:

1. An orange or clementine

Traditionally put in the toe of the stocking.

2. Candy canes or sticks

Unusually flavored versions are fun!

3. Tea

A box of tea, or a bag of loose tea, or even a few favorite tea bags.

4. Knit gloves

The stretchy kind that cost $1 a pair, much appreciated by the person who always loses one of their gloves. (That would be me.)

5. A used paperback book or a favorite magazine

For the reader in your life.

6. Candles

For eco-friendly illumination in the year ahead.

7. Socks or Slipper socks

The super-soft ones are often on sale at this time of year.

8. A small notebook

For jotting down those great ideas in 2015.

9. Packets of seeds

Great gift for your favorite gardener!

10. A pretty bar of soap

Choose one with organic ingredients and bless the environment, too.

11. A jar of cinnamon or other spices

Perfect for the baker in your life.

12. A bag of imported pasta, quinoa or bean soup mix.

Nice for making a comforting meal on a chilly night.

13. A ball of yarn.

Do knitters and crocheters ever have enough yarn?

14. A roll of duct tape.

What did we ever do before duct tape was invented?

15. A package of batteries.

Are we the only ones constantly running out of the AAs?

How about you? Do you and Santa fill the Christmas stockings in your home, and if so, what are some of your favorite treasures to give?

No matter how you celebrate, I hope you’re finding time during this busy season for some moments of relaxation, rest and reflection.


The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of nine books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

5 Simple Ways To Better Manage Your Time Online

Organize your online time

Photo: Danijel Grabovac

For all the wonderful ways the internet has made our lives easier, most people would agree that its vast expanse of competing applications and expectations has created even more time management and communication challenges. While I’ll probably be wrestling with better time management forever, these are some tips and tricks that have worked for me:

1. Save it for later.

I often find websites and articles I want to explore further, but I don’t happen to have time at the moment. In the past I’d end up with a dozen windows open on my browser, but now I use Instapaper to save sites and pages for reading later. Once you download the application you’ll have a little “Read Later” button on your toolbar that you can simply click to save the page. Review the contents of your folder later, on any device, when it’s convenient for you.

2. Ruthlessly guard and cull incoming e-mails.

Use a spam filter to eliminate most of the junk mail, and check the file once a week to make sure you haven’t missed any legitimate e-mails. Unsubscribe to newsletters and promotions that no longer interest you. Don’t, however, click the “unsubscribe” button for e-mails you never signed up for; unscrupulous marketers will recognize an active e-mail address and use it again. Instead, stop unwanted senders by marking their e-mails as junk and blocking their e-mail addresses. Delete unnecessary e-mails right away so they don’t build up in your inbox. Here’s a challenge for today: Go through your inbox and see if you can find 5 incoming e-mails to stop receiving. Continue weeding out nonessential e-mails on a regular basis.

3. Stay focused on your priorities.

Have you ever had a day where it felt like all you accomplished was responding to others’ e-mails? An incoming e-mail can often cause us to stop working on our own priorities and get sidetracked into responding to someone else’s priorities. Turn off any sound or pop-up that alerts you to new e-mails. You may wish to set aside two times a day to review and answer e-mails—perhaps mid-morning and later in the afternoon. Keep your replies short and sweet. I also remind myself that sometimes it’s more efficient to simply pick up the telephone and have a quick conversation about a complex topic.

4. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

Set up an e-mail address just for social media, newsletters, advertising and less-pressing matters. I like Google’s Gmail for this purpose, because the interface automatically sorts the incoming e-mails into “Primary,” “Social” and “Promotions.” This is a great address to give those dear folks who like to send jokes and chain letters, too. Don’t share your primary e-mail address with companies that ask for it on a form unless you absolutely have to.

5. Mind your minutes.

I love Design Sponge, Houzz and David Lebovitz’s food blog, but if I’m not careful I can discover that I’ve whiled away too much time exploring dreamy kitchens and French recipes. To limit the time you spend on a particular website, try Minutes Please. It’s a simple application that lets you set a specific time allotment for surfing a site, and then gives you a friendly little pop-up window when you have one minute left.

How about you? Do you sometimes feel like the internet is a huge, sucking time magnet, or do you generally manage your online activities well? Have you learned any tricks you’d like to share? I always love hearing your thoughts and ideas.

Hugs and have a happy weekend,

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of nine books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Confessions of a Type A Personality

Sunshine in the trees


When you’re at home relaxing, what do you really see? I’ve been thinking about this question all week, after I had something of an epiphany about myself.

I had let our dog Maddie outside, during a quiet work day at my home office.

Black dog on green grass


Impulsively, I followed her out and sat down on the grass under the shade of a maple tree. Ahhhh…

Enjoying a summer day


The day was glorious as only a late-summer day in Colorado can be, and after I’d closed my eyes for a minute I opened them to take in the blue skies, lazy clouds, bees buzzing the flowers, and ripe tomatoes ready to be picked.

Black-eyed susans


cherry tomatoes


Feet against the sky


I would love to write here that I remained truly present, in a Zen way… that I simply appreciated the moment, soaked up the sunshine and fresh air, and experienced the surrounding beauty with a heart full of gratitude.

I experienced those fleeting feelings for a few moments, but then something shifted and my eyes settled on different things.

I began to notice the flaws.

My eyes slid down from those gorgeous blue skies to a hole in the chimney siding that a flicker drilled this spring. No! Add another home repair to our never-ending list.

Flicker hole in siding


I saw that the summer sun had caused the paint around the window trim to peel, too.

Peeling paint


The side garden has tendrils of bindweed climbing everywhere.



I saw dead tree branches that need to be trimmed, and I noticed that the hinges on the back gate have come loose again. The kids must have knocked over the brick edging I so carefully placed this spring.


Whether I’m inside or outside our home, just about anywhere I look I can see something that needs to be fixed, or a chore that needs to be done. I realize I’ve developed a bad habit of focusing on these flaws and adding the tasks to my mental ‘To Do’ list, a habit which clouds my ability to see our home with grateful eyes.

Yet I am so very, very thankful for our home. In her book A Million Little Ways, Emily Freeman writes of being “addicted to measurable productivity.” How I recognize myself in her wise words.

Being a serial do-er isn’t necessarily bad, of course, but when my Type A tendencies mean that I can’t even sit under a tree for fifteen minutes without critically eyeing all the things that need to be done, something is out of balance. So my prayers and meditations this week have been these:

Let me be truly present.

Let me simply breathe in all that is precious and imperfectly perfect.

Let me always see our home through the eyes of a grateful heart.

Enjoy these lovely late summer days, my friends,

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of nine books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.