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!

Hugs,

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.

Planting Peas and Hoping for the Best

Planting Peas

I planted peas last week, so the 2015 summer garden is officially underway.

I probably should have gotten them in the ground earlier, but we had heavy, wet snow last weekend and I was ensconced inside with a good book and hot tea.

With our changing weather patterns it’s hard to know exactly when to sow seeds and how our plants will respond to temperature extremes, but we do our best and keep trying.

Gardening always has been, at its heart, an act of faith.

 

How to plant peas

 

These are organic Oregon Sugar Pod snow pea seeds. They soaked in filtered water inside for 24 hours before planting, so they were nice and plump. I planted half of the packet, and will save the other half for a fall crop. The seeds are planted about an inch apart — twice as dense as the recommended 2-inch separation. When the plants emerge I’ll thin them and we’ll enjoy the tender pea shoots on pasta.

Close up of peas before planting

 

To give the vines something to climb on, I planted them around a cone-shaped support woven of willow:

Willow support for peas

 

How about you? Have you started planting your summer garden yet? What do you hope to grow this year? I’d love to hear about your plans.

Hugs and happy digging,

The signature for Eliza Cross

Nepal-childP.S. My heart is heavy this morning, mourning for the people of Nepal. So far away, all I know to do is offer the two things that can help — prayers and support. Organizations like Mercy Corps and American Red Cross are on the ground right now providing assistance, and we are grateful.

Photo: Mercy Corps

 

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.

Happy Simple Supper: Fried Rice Quinoa

Fried-rice-quinoa

If you haven’t cooked much with quinoa, you might enjoy trying this recipe. I developed it for my book The Quinoa Quookbook, and based it on a fried rice recipe that was one of my family’s favorites for years. Surprisingly, they now prefer quinoa to rice, which maybe isn’t all that surprising given quinoa’s nutty flavor and wonderful texture.

The great thing about this recipe is that you can make it with whatever you have on hand. I used snow peas, carrots, celery and onions plus some lean pork, but you can substitute other veggies and meats. If you’re vegan or vegetarian, just omit the pork and eggs.

At the end of the recipe, I’ve included a link to a Goodreads giveaway where you can win a copy of The Quinoa Quookbook and a pound of organic quinoa. You’ll also find complete directions for cooking quinoa. Enjoy!

Fried Rice Quinoa

This updated take on traditional fried rice is my family’s #1 favorite way to enjoy quinoa. Serve it hot from the skillet and see if you agree.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 pound lean pork, cut in 1/2-inch cubes
2 stalks celery, cut in 1/2-inch diagonal slices
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 medium carrot, scraped and cut in thin slices
1/4 pound snow peas, trimmed and cut in 1-inch diagonal slices
3 cups cooked quinoa
1 tablespoon tamari or low-sodium soy sauce
2 eggs, lightly beaten

In a skillet over medium heat, heat the olive oil until it just begins to shimmer. Add the pork, celery, onion and carrot, and cook until the vegetables are tender. Add the snow peas and cook for 1 minute. Add the quinoa and soy sauce and cook for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Pour the eggs over the mixture in a stream, stirring constantly, and cook just until eggs are cooked. Remove from heat and serve at once. 6 servings.

Between now and April 30, 2015, enter to win a copy of The Quinoa Quookbook and a pound of organic quinoa:

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Quinoa Quookbook by Eliza Cross

The Quinoa Quookbook

by Eliza Cross

Giveaway ends April 30, 2015.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to Win

 HOW TO COOK PERFECT QUINOA

Quinoa is extremely easy to cook, and because it’s not starchy it doesn’t require lots of picky timing. But before you cook it, you do need to give it a good, brisk washing.

Step 1 (the MOST IMPORTANT step): Rinse and repeat.

Mother Nature gave quinoa a natural coating that protects the grains, a soap-like substance called saponin. To remove the saponin, pour the uncooked quinoa in a bowl, add water and swish it around with your hands to remove the coating.

Now, dump the quinoa in a strainer and rinse it again under running water to get off every last bit of the coating.

Step 2: Add liquid and bring to a boil.

You can cook your quinoa in many liquids. Water is commonly used, but stock and broth will impart quinoa with a nice flavor. In this book, I generally recommend 2 parts liquid to 1 part quinoa, but you may need more or less liquid depending on your climate, altitude and the moisture content of your quinoa.

Unlike rice, quinoa won’t get mushy or stick together if you add a little liquid if it’s too dry, or cook off a little extra liquid. So relax, and simply combine your quinoa, liquid of choice and salt (if using) in a saucepan. Bring it to a boil over medium-high heat.

Step 3: Cover and cook.

Reduce the heat to simmering and cover the pot with a lid. Let it cook for about 15 minutes without peeking or stirring.

Step 4: Sample.

Remove the lid, taste a bite of the quinoa to see if it’s tender, and put the lid back on the pan. If the quinoa’s texture is chewy you may wish to cook it for a few more minutes.

Step 5: Just walk away.

Once it’s cooked to your liking, remove the pan from the heat and let it sit, covered, for another 5 to 10 minutes.

Step 6: Fluff time.

Use a fork to gently separate and “fluff” the grains. Serve and enjoy.

How About You?

Do you enjoy cooking quinoa? What’s your favorite way to enjoy it? I always love hearing your comments.

Hugs,

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.

Could Your Wallet, Keys or Purse Use a Spring Cleaning?

Oversized purse

A dear friend of mine went to the doctor because she was having chronic shoulder stiffness and back pain. The doctor was puzzled, finding no evidence of an injury or obvious cause for her ongoing pain. As my friend prepared to leave, she hoisted her designer purse on her right shoulder.

“Wait just a minute,” the doctor said. “How much does that thing weigh?” With the scale handy, they weighed that bad boy and discovered she was carrying around 22 pounds of stuff every day. A too-heavy purse is not only a pain to carry around, it can cause asymmetrical posture and an unbalanced gait.

She traded in her purse—which was heavy to begin with because of its extra zippers, studs and metal buckles—for a lighter model, and removed all but the necessities. Within a month, her pain had vanished.

Last year during a simplicity workshop at the Pagosa Springs Women’s Retreat, we did a fun exercise to see who had the oddest thing in their handbag. One woman pulled out a jar of jalapeno jelly, another had a ceramic camel, and the winner carried a life-sized replica of the U.S. Constitution. Our purses can sometimes become receptacles for everything—and anything.

How Many Keys Are Too Many?

Too many keys

Another friend told me that she had gone to the mechanic because her car sometimes wouldn’t start. She learned she’d damaged the car’s ignition switch. How? Her massive key ring contained 22 keys and a number of decorative fobs; its weight had pulled on the switch over the years and worn it out. (UPDATE: Thanks to Money Beagle for alerting us to the scary fact that heavy keys may have contributed to more than a dozen deaths due to ignition-related accidents in GM cars. You can read more about the affected car models and recalls in this USA Today article.)

When I left the publishing company, it seemed like a good time to simplify my keys. At the time I owned a ring that looked like something a prison guard would carry, filled with keys for everything from my safety deposit box to the keys for a house we no longer owned. After removing the nonessential keys, I was surprised to discover that I only needed to carry two—a car key, and a house key. My purse instantly lightened up by several pounds.

Wallets can get jammed with an over-abundance of stuff, too. Over time, things like old receipts, notes and expired cards can accumulate, until the wallet will barely close. How about those membership and loyalty cards we all hate to carry (but which retailers love)? If you have a smartphone, you might try an app like Stocard or Key Ring Rewards Cards, which lets you enter and store the numbers—and lose the plastic cards.

Lightening Up and Letting Go

It’s not easy for me, but simplifying helps me let go of my desire to control everything. Carrying less means accepting that I won’t always be prepared with every little thing I might need in every circumstance. The payoff is that I can go shopping or strolling without experiencing shoulder pain from a too-heavy purse. It’s also easier to find things inside the bag without having to dig.

How about you?

What items do you deem essential to carry in your purse or wallet? How many keys do you carry? Is your wallet svelte or bloated? If you’ve discovered any strategies for carrying less, we’d love to hear from you.

Hugs and happy springtime,

The signature for Eliza Cross

 

Photos: Jeffrey Pott and Simplerich

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.

In Search of Good Toilet Paper – Part 2

Toilet paper comparison

I’m beginning to consider the possibility that the perfect toilet paper may not exist. As I wrote earlier this month, I’m on a quest to find the perfect t.p. that offers comfort, a reasonable price, and earth-friendly manufacturing. Unfortunately, these attributes can sometimes conflict with other important considerations.

We’d all love a brand of toilet paper that is soft, strong, and not prone to turning “linty” during use. (One Amazon reviewer referred to a certain toilet paper’s tendency to cause “dingleberries,” a term I laughed over for several days.) Cottonelle and Quilted Northern Ultra Plush get high rankings online for these attributes.

Quilted Northern Ultra is the #1 toilet paper on Amazon, in fact, with a near-5-star rating and more than 3400 reviews.

For more data related to these attributes, alert reader Elaine kindly pointed us to testing by Good Housekeeping. The institute performed extensive research, looking at factors like absorbency, strength, and softness.

Their top choices? Charmin Ultra Soft, Cottonelle Ultra, and once again — Quilted Northern Ultra Plush. Eureka! Might Quilted Northern Ultra Plush be the elusive, Holy Grail of toilet tissue?

Not So Fast, Kemosabe

The issue with Quilted Northern Ultra Plush? From reader e-mails I received with anecdotal information, it’s one of the brands  that may be more prone to clogging pipes. The other brand most mentioned in this regard by readers is our household’s current brand, Cottonelle.

It stands to reason that the tissue’s strong/fluffy combination doesn’t break apart as quickly, so if your pipes are super-finicky you may want to choose something other than Cottonelle and Quilted Northern Ultra Plush.

Scott was a brand recommended by several readers for its sewer pipe-friendliness (a phrase we don’t get to use nearly often enough, if you ask me).

Is Earth Friendly Toilet Paper an Oxymoron?

I’d really love to make an environmentally-conscious buying decision, so I turned to the NRDC’s list of toilet tissue ratings.

Two brands caught my eye on this list — Marcal and Seventh Generation.

Several readers recommended the eco-friendly brand, Seventh Generation, which is manufactured from 100%  recycled paper — 80% of it the post-consumer type. It’s also the only brand that scored well on both the NRDC list, while ranking a respectable B-on the Good Housekeeping list.

Marcal Thick & Soft, also praised by readers, is made from 100% recycled paper, but only 40% of it is post-consumer. This might actually be a plus, as you’ll read below. In addition, Marcal’s parent company Soundview Paper is frequently recognized for its corporate values, ethical standards and environmental stewardship.

Of the three brands we tested, Marcal is also the “tallest” t.p. — about 3/8 inch wider on the spindle than Cottonelle. It also has the most sheets per roll — 360 two-ply sheets.

Could Seventh Generation or Marcal be our Ultimate Choice?

Hold On There, Maynard

Several readers alerted me to the possibility of BPA levels in toilet tissue made from post-consumer recycled paper; this is due in part to the recycling of thermal receipts — which have high levels of BPA — that get in the general paper stream. You can read more about this possible problem here, but even after trying to “absorb” the information it’s difficult to make an educated decision. The facts are as fuzzy as roll of cheap toilet paper about how much BPA one is exposed to when using these products, as well as the levels it might be considered safe for us be be exposed to BPA.

Marcal and Seventh Generation both have a slightly greyish color, and their two-ply paper comes apart more easily than one-ply Cottonelle, making them less DR (dingleberry resistant).

What About Cost?

Because toilet paper is a product we use every day, day in and day out, the costs can add up over time. The ultimate product would also be a good value.

It’s challenging to decipher the costs based on number of sheets per roll, but alert reader Judy sent in a handy chart to compare brands according to the square footage per package, the only real way to evaluate those confusing “double roll” claims.  Scott brand comes in at the top of this list for best value.

Of the three brands we’ve been testing this month, these are our local costs for a 12-roll package from least to most expensive:

Marcal Thick and Soft – $9.99 or 83 cents a roll or .23 cents per sheet

Seventh Generation – $12.72 or $1.06 a roll or .35 cents per sheet

Cottonelle Clean Care – $10.95 or 91 cents a roll or .44 cents per sheet

The “Bottom” Line

We’ve personally tested Seventh Generation and Marcal this month, comparing it with our previous brand, Cottonelle. Here are our findings, based on a 12-pack of “double” rolls:

SEVENTH GENERATION might be right for you if you want:  A product that doesn’t use trees; is made from 100% post-consumer recycled paper; and has pretty good comfort qualities.
Number of sheets per roll:  300 2-ply sheets
Width:  4 inches
Cost:  Mid-range
Earth-friendly attributes: Very Good
Comfort and DR (dingleberry-resistance):  Good
Value:  Moderate

MARCAL might be right for you if you want:  A taller roll that fills up the holder; more sheets per roll and a low price; a socially-responsible manufacturer; a product that doesn’t use trees; and a lower percentage of post-consumer recycled content which might translate to lower BPA levels.
Number of sheets per roll:  360 2-ply sheets
Width:  4 5/16 inches
Cost:  Low
Earth-friendly attributes:  Excellent
Comfort and DR:  Moderate
Value: Very Good

COTTONELLE might be right for you if you want: A product made from responsibly sourced trees (certified by the Forest Stewardship Council); good DR qualities; a product that is soft and strong (and therefore most appropriate for sewer pipes not prone to clogging).
Number of sheets per roll:  208 1-ply sheets
Width:  3 15/16 inches
Cost:  Higher
Earth-friendly attributes:  Moderate
Comfort and DR:  Very Good
Value:  Moderate

To complicate our experiment, our local grocery store put Cottonelle on sale this week!

Cottonelle on sale

For now, we’ve switched to Marcal in two out of three bathrooms, with Cottonelle still present in the third.

Next we’re going to try Trader Joe’s toilet tissue, which was recommended by several readers. I’ll report back with our findings soon, knowing that you’ll be on “the edge of your seat” until then.

Big thanks to all of you who chimed in on the original post and shared many interesting suggestions around this topic. I’d love to hear if you’ve discovered a solution, so please keep those comments coming!

Hugs,

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.

Let’s Talk about Toilet Paper – Part 1

Toilet paper holder

My friends, I’ve decided to give our toilet paper choice a comprehensive review. Because toilet paper is an ongoing expense and a resource we use continually, I want to be sure we’re making an informed decision. Naturally, you’re invited to come along for the journey.

Last year, I finally got fed up with the store brand of toilet paper. Over the years the rolls had gotten thinner and shorter, and the paper seemed increasingly prone to disintegrating. One day I marched into the store muttering to myself, “You work hard, you make sacrifices for the family, and darn it, you deserve nice toilet paper.” I yanked a 12-pack of Cottonelle Clean Care off the shelf, and never looked back.

Cottonelle toilet paper

This wasn’t a frugal buying decision at all. At our local King Soopers, a 12-pack of Cottonelle is $7.49. With tax, it’s 67 cents a roll. We don’t belong to a price club, so the only way we save money is when it goes on sale—which is rarely.

The label is printed in nice, bold print. Yet for some reason, the text at the bottom listing the number of sheets per roll is printed in the lightest, impossible-to-read pale blue. Why do you think this is?

toilet paper info

With the aid of high-strength binoculars, I was able to read that a pack contains 12 rolls, each with 208 1-ply sheets per roll. It also lists the square footage (266.4) and square meters (24). This information could be handy for easily comparing brands—if only one could read it.

The package boasts that my 12 “Double Rolls” are equal to 24 “Single Rolls.” Like me, do you scratch your head when you read this? Since every toilet paper brand now considers its products to be double rolls, ours don’t seem particularly robust.

 

Magnifying the text on a t.p. roll

Aided by a magnifier, I found the Double vs. Single explanation on the package back in a font so small that Ripley’s Believe it Or Not Museum once used it to print the Declaration of Independence on the head of a pin:  “1 Double Roll equals 2.3 times the number of sheets as the leading ultra brand regular roll.” Ahh, now I understand.

Fancy T.P. and Sasquatch

Wait—what “leading ultra brand?” Are you telling me the leading ultra brand only has 90 squares per roll? I’m skeptical. Let’s keep our eyes open for pricey—but skinny—super-fancy t.p. rolls in the future. Will you let me know if you find this elusive, half-size luxury roll?

On the plus side, I also discovered this information in tiny elfin text: “Paper from responsible sources,” accompanied by a miniscule logo from the Forest Stewardship Council. Greenwashing? Not this time. A little research convinced me that the FSC is a legit organization which promotes responsible harvesting. Here are the principles of FSC-certified forests:

* Never harvests more than what grows back
* Protects biodiversity and endangered species
* Saves rare ancient trees
* Guards local streams
* Supports the local people
* Uses narrow skidding trails so as not to disrupt the rest of the forest
* Prohibits replacement by tree plantations
* Bans toxic chemicals
* Bans genetically modified trees (no GMO)

In the coming days, I aim to delve further into whether Cottonelle is the best choice for us—and if so, whether we can buy it cheaper elsewhere. All three of these attributes are equally important:

a. Comfort

b. As earth-friendly as possible

c. Reasonable price (would this be the right time to make a “cash flow” pun?)

How about you?

Do you make your own toilet paper from recycled feed sacks? If not, would you be willing to share the brand of toilet paper you use? Do you buy it at the grocery store? Or do you get those Volkswagen-sized packages at Costco for a better price? Are you Single Roll, Double Roll, Triple Roll or Mega-Quintuple Roll user?

I look forward to flushing out all of the options with you in the days ahead.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

Top photo: A.N. Berlin

 

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.