Book Review: ‘Wallet Activism’ offers lessons for all consumers

Book Review: ‘Wallet Activism’ offers lessons for all consumers

What we do with our money has more consequences than we might realize. What we buy, how we invest and/or bank, and the organizations we support tell a story we might not know is being written.

The book Wallet Activism: How to Use Every Dollar You Spend, Earn and Save as a Force for Change (BanBella Books, 2021) by Truckee resident Tanja Hester lays out a strong case that we all ought to be paying better attention to where our cash is going.

What we spend money on makes a powerful statement—whether we consciously acknowledge it or not. That’s part of the problem; we are not paying attention. Hester makes is clear why we all ought to be aware of what we are spending money on, that we need to understand the true cost of something—what is it made out of, who made it, what did it take to get to a store and then to your home.

We have choices. And those choices matter. What we do with our money can be more consequential than how we vote because it’s something we are doing almost on a daily basis.

As she wrote, “Companies spend billions of dollars on advertising and marketing to attempt to persuade us in  our decision-making, but ultimately it’s up to us in our role as consumers—not as voters—to determine where society and the planet are headed.”

It’s about having our spending choices match our values. That could mean not buying whatever is cheapest. It could mean buying less. It could mean just not buying whatever it is.

This book was thought-provoking. I’m not sure what changes I will make in my life. But there will be some.

I’m going to guess most people will be better off reading Wallet Activism.

Retailers buying loyalty through rewards programs

Retailers buying loyalty through rewards programs

Safeway grocery store shoppers can earn gas discounts. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Customer loyalty can be a financial boon for businesses and a money saver for shoppers and clientele.

Information technology services and consulting company Accenture says about 90% of companies have a loyalty program.

Businesses large and small, chains and independents buy into the need to provide incentives to customers to keep them coming back. It might be in the form of spending money on groceries and then getting discounts on gas, it could be getting a free smoothie after a certain number of purchases, or it could be a free spa treatment once you have spent a requisite number of nights at a hotel.

More people in the United States are joining loyalty programs, according to Forrester Research, which is based in Massachusetts and has an office in San Francisco. In 2022, 86% of adults in the U.S. belonged to at least one program. That number has increased to 89% this year.

“I think part of it is driven by inflation and I think people want to save money,” principal analyst Mary Pilecki said. “They are also demanding more and want more from loyalty programs.”

Some people will remember plastic cards that hooked onto key chains that were used at retailers and grocery stores to obtain a discount. Punch cards are another relic now hard to find.

Today, phone numbers and email address are ways businesses keep tabs on customers.

Some programs track what people are buying so deals are tailored to past purchases.

Loyalty programs continue to evolve — part driven by technology, part by consumer demand, part by a company’s bottom line. Some places, such as Dunkin, have gotten rid of their birthday programs for rewards members.

“Over the last five years or so we’ve seen customer loyalty programs change. They are not necessarily disappearing, but changing in big ways,” said Julie Ramhold, consumer analyst with, a company that curates deals online. “More are using a tiered model. Consumers may have to pay to be in a higher tier or they may have to spend more to be in a higher tier.”

Since the pandemic, Ramhold said there has been an increase in paid loyalty programs, “Retailers find that by rewarding customers it will keep people coming back for years and years.”

Pilecki at Forrester Research shared these stats:

  • 60% of consumers in the U.S. who belong to loyalty program say they do so for the special offers that aren’t available to others.
  • 54% say special treatment is important to them.
  • 49% state getting relevant personalized offers or promotions are the key reason to join.
  • 47% of people in the U.S. belong to a supermarket rewards program, 46% to a credit card one, 40% to a pharmacy/drugstore
  • 35% belong to hospitality plans like airlines and hotels.
  • 28% belong to gas station programs (up 3 percentage points from 2022).

Retail is probably the biggest user of loyalty programs and that’s because there are a lot of retailers,” Pilecki said.

Forrester Research published a report last year about the return on investment for companies with loyalty programs.

“What we found is you can get anywhere from 56% to 77% of your investment back in one year,” Pilecki said. “That is great because the investment in the technology is huge.”

She said multiple vendors offer various platforms for companies of all sizes to choose from, some more sophisticated than others, with most integrating into established point of sale software.

What it comes down to is loyalty programs are a way for companies to save and make money.

“It is less expensive to retain customers than get new ones,” Pilecki said. Rewarding them helps retain them.

Note: A version of this story first appeared in the North Bay Business Journal.

Arizona botanical garden shows off wonders of desert plants

Arizona botanical garden shows off wonders of desert plants

The Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix showcases an arrray of plants. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

One sign of a special place is if you want to go back to it, especially if you want to go back unlimited times.

While I haven’t been to the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix often, each time I go I’m glad I did.

A garden like this is always changing. Clearly, the plants are growing, with some removed and new ones taking their place. Depending on the season what is in bloom will always be different.

Then there are the special exhibits. Colombian artist Fernando Botero’s work was on display when I was there in October. His paintings and drawings, as well as a short film about him, lined the wall of an enclosed area, making it feel like a private museum. His oversized sculptures were scattered about the gardens.

What my friend loves to see each year is in the luminaries, which began in 1979. I might have to make a trip back one December.

The whole concept for the garden came about in 1939 when “a small group of passionate local citizens saw the need to conserve the beautiful desert environment.”

Some might question the desire to visit a desert garden when the entire area is full of desert plants. The answer is to have all the species in one place, to learn about how to care for them—which my friends did from one of the docents, to get ideas what to plant in your own garden, and for those who don’t live in this desert environment—to learn and appreciate this foreign flora. I was able to see plants I hadn’t seen before, or at least ones I don’t remember, like the crested whortleberry cactus.

And as the founders of this sprawling garden envisioned, it’s about conservation. I’m sure they would be astounded to see what Phoenix and the greater metropolitan area has become. A lot of desert plants have been uprooted and replaced with concrete. Preservation is clearly needed here and elsewhere.

Appliance hiccup necessitates visit to the laundromat

Appliance hiccup necessitates visit to the laundromat

It’s not cheap to use a laundromat. (Image: Kathryn Reeed)

A washing machine full of water when the spin cycle has finished is never a good thing.

I kept trying things, but my feeble attempts only put more water into the contraption. The spin cycle clearly was not working.

I reached out to people in Chico to see if anyone had a washing machine expert they liked. No, was the response. But a couple of my tennis guys said I might be able to fix it myself and one sent YouTube videos.

I had already looked at a couple videos. One had the machine outside, with the person saying this was the best option so water didn’t get all over the house. Our machine is oversized, so a bit unwieldy. Unlikely that I could move it on my own.

It takes a few quarters to dry a load of laundry. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Before I even tried to fix it I had to empty the washer. Mom and I did a bucket brigade of sorts to drain the machine, with the plants outside getting a dose of gray water.

I knew I needed to get under it to try to solve the problem. But I was super apprehensive about doing anything inside and knew getting outside was going to be problematic. Mom didn’t want me trying to move the thing.

Since it was the weekend and this wasn’t an emergency I was not going to pay inflated prices for a repair person to come out.

So, off I went to the laundromat with my wet clothes. Sheets and towels mostly, so heavy wet stuff.

It had been a while since I was in a laundromat. How do people afford them? It cost $6.50 to wash my load in an oversized machine. What I had would not fit in a regular machine. This seemed like an exorbitant amount of money. It didn’t include detergent or drying.

During the cycle I was able to get some work done, and help a very needy older gentleman who didn’t seem to know the first thing about washing. And later I learned didn’t understand how to operate a dryer.

I wonder what those who study human behavior would have to say about the people who use a laundromat. That could be interesting.

I’m just glad mine was a one time (knock on wood) visit.

The repair dude came out later in the week. He tilted the machine against the wall. Why hadn’t I thought of that? He didn’t get the gasket on correctly at first, causing some water to get on the floor. No biggie. I asked if what he did was something I could fix on my own if/when there is a next time. He said it can be tricky. Fingers crossed I won’t ever need to know if I’m capable or not.

The verdict? Gunk was in the drain spout. I was hoping repair dude was going to find my missing sock.

Book Review: ‘After the Flood’ a novel that could be prophetic

Book Review: ‘After the Flood’ a novel that could be prophetic

With headlines continually saying the sea is rising and now a super El Nino is coming this winter, it made the premise of After the Flood: Courage is a Force of Nature (HarperCollins, 2019) even more plausible.

Author Kassandra Montag takes readers on a journey of what life could be like after flood waters cover most of the world as we know it. What’s left of land is what used to be mountain tops.

As with most disasters, it brings out the good and bad in people.

This book is about how people learn to adapt after the floods. Myra, the main character, is a single mom literally navigating the waters in order to stay alive and make a life for the two of them.

While it’s no secret I’m not a huge fan of fiction, what I liked most about this story was it got me thinking about what life might be like if the land were inundated with water.

The characters are believable. The story interesting.

I’m sure there will be plenty of people who love the book. I’ll say it was interesting. It’s good for escaping into a different realm.

Thanksgiving Day walk helps those in need

Thanksgiving Day walk helps those in need

I’ll be running for food on Thanksgiving.

OK, I’ll be walking a 5K. I’m not sure how many of these walks I’ve done, but I have several shirts to commemorate the event.

And the food isn’t for me. The food is for those who have a hard time paying the grocery bill.

According to the event’s website, “The Run for Food started out in 2006 with just over 1,000 participants and now the event brings together 5,000 participants each year along with 75 businesses and 200 volunteers for a true community-wide event.”

The website also says this is Chico’s largest annual event. It’s also the largest fundraiser for the Jesus Center.

All proceeds from the walk (some actually run it) go to the Jesus Center, which was founded in 1981 to provide a hot meal to the homeless.

Today, the center does much more than help feed those in need. Primarily the center helps the unhoused.

There are a lot of people in Chico without what I would call traditional housing. It’s obvious when someone is living in their vehicle. Tents, while more prolific before the city rousted them, are still plentiful. Short-term housing has been built as a transition. Services are in place to help stabilize these people’s lives.

But it’s never enough. Too many people are living on the edge. Sure, mental health and addiction contribute to homelessness, but there are so many other factors.

The irony is not lost on me that I will have walked to raise money for those who don’t even have a place to call home, and then I’ll go to a family member’s home and presumably eat so much my stomach hurts.

Maybe next Thanksgiving I’ll do more than walk.

Rocky, desert terrain a hiker’s paradise in Arizona

Rocky, desert terrain a hiker’s paradise in Arizona

The beauty of Sabino Canyon from the Phoneline trail. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

There was no waterfall.

This had nothing to do with our excursion being in late October. It had everything to do with being on the wrong trail. A trail that has no waterfalls no matter the time of year.

It didn’t matter. Our unplanned route was stunningly beautiful. A ranger’s suggestion to make it a loop made it even more sensational.

Looking toward Tucson from the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Sabino Canyon leads to the Pusch Ridge Wilderness Area. The 57,000-acre wilderness area was designated such in 1978, the same year private vehicles were banned from the canyon road. The whole area is part of the Coronado National Forest in Tucson, Arizona.

Today, an emissions-free shuttle takes people up the three-plus mile road to where an abundance of trails begin. We opted to walk the road with a few others. (The Sabino Canyon Recreation Area has more than 30 miles of trails.)

The rocky ridge line above us made me feel small. Saguaro and other desert plants grew from these rocks, looking other-worldly at times because it seemed like there was no dirt binding them to the ground.

While we didn’t see much wildlife, a roadrunner couldn’t decide if it wanted to cross the road or stay to the side where it was almost camouflaged against the terrain.

Roadrunners are popular in this part of the world. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Once off the pavement, the trail was entirely single-track. Some was decomposed rock, other times it was like stairs of rocks. Much of it necessitated looking down.

Information provided by the U.S. Forest Service says, “The Santa Catalina Mountains were formed over 12 million years ago, Over time, the land around them sank, forming valleys while the mountain range was left standing. Episodes of erosion produced thousands of feet of sediment which now liked beneath Tucson.”

Large rock formations line the canyon. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

What I was surprised to learn is most of the rock is granite. Surprised because it doesn’t look like the granite of the Sierra. There is also a “banded gray-and-white metamorphic rock called Catalina Gneiss,” according to the Forest Service.

The road was a gradual climb, with the dirt trail ascending as well. It didn’t feel like we had climbed more than 1,400 feet. But then when peering down at the road the people looked like ants.

Various kinds of cacti grow throughout this national forest. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

A few spots had substantial drop offs. It would have been painful tumbling onto sharp rocks and prickly cactus. Fortunately, when my fear of heights was triggered, I could lean away from the drop and grab onto the rock wall.

We finished the day hiking 9.72 miles, with an elevation gain of 1,463 feet. We reached a maximum elevation of 3,788 feet, and a minimum of 2,671. It should have been a little shorter mileage-wise, but I said we should zig when should have zagged.

There is a $8 parking fee, no pets allowed in the recreation area, and cycling is limited to certain days and hours. The tram is an extra fee.

Yahi trail highlights natural beauty of Upper Bidwell Park

Yahi trail highlights natural beauty of Upper Bidwell Park

A tranquil Big Chico Creek flows through Upper Bidwell Park. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It’s been an “official” hiking trail since 1967, but who knows how many years it was used by fishers plying the banks of Big Chico Creek as they cast their lines.

The Yahi trail in Upper Bidwell Park never disappoints. Yahi is the name of an Indian tribe that once flourished in this region.

While the park was established in 1905, it took a few decades for the city of Chico to make this an official trail in the park. It’s gone through a few changes and could use some work today.

A knotty trunk on a sycamore. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The stairs that were built many moons ago west of Alligator Hole are not useable. It would be best if the concrete were removed and either a dirt or rock path took it’s place. While this is for a short section, it is a bit of an eyesore.

Nonetheless, this trail provides some of the most stunning natural beauty in Bidwell.

The five of us started our Veterans Day hike at parking lot E, walked the Upper Park Road a bit before turning off at the big sign for Yahi.

A mix of terrain along the Yahi trail. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Much of the actual trail is single track dirt, though at times it’s possible to walk two-abreast. The changing of the seasons was evident with the colorful display of leaves.

Most of the way we could hear Big Chico Creek. With all that rain we got last year and little bit this fall, there is still plenty of water.

Big Chico Creek seems to go on forever. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Farther up, though, it’s like the creek is at a standstill. Not a ripple to be seen.

Basalt rock in places seems to frame the water, with the golden grassy hills farther up like a border around this swath of Mother Nature’s glory.

We opted to take Upper Park Road back to the vehicle. We logged about 3.7 miles, though the entire round trip (from the parking lot to the end and back) is about 8 miles.

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