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Simple Rules: How to Thrive in a Complex World Hardcover – Apr 21 2015

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (April 21 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0544409906
  • ISBN-13: 978-0544409903
  • Product Dimensions: 21.6 x 15.2 x 3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 363 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #53,880 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


One of 12 leadership books to watch for in 2015" - Washington Post

"One of Wall Street's Must-Read Books of the Summer" - - Bloomberg Businessweek

"Whatever you want in life can be achieved if you break it down into a few basic rules. Well, that's the theory of these two business experts, and many influential figures think likewise." - The Times of London

"Can't convey enough how important this is… Simple Rules is the nerd book of the summer." - Tom Keene, Bloomberg TV

"At last, a book offering an ingenious way to fight back against the relentless assault of complexity and its insidious spawning of untold confusions, costs, crashes, and calamities. Simple Rules offers an exciting framework for both understanding complexity and rendering it harmless. Whether you run an organization or are simply trying to survive modern life, this book is gold." - Chris Anderson, TED curator

" Simple Rules shows how a handful of thoughtful principles can not only sharpen the quality of your decisions, but also allow you to maintain latitude in your judgments and to see the richness of opportunity. We all deal with complexity now, and this book will show you how you can do more with less."- Michael J. Mauboussin, Head of Global Financial Strategies, Credit Suisse

"Our future will be increasingly complex, from accelerating technological change to global connectivity of federated teams. Simple Rules explains how we can manage to make meaningful progress in a world that exceeds human understanding. At DFJ, we use simple rules, like "invest in unique ideas" to support breakout winners across multiple industries undergoing profound disruption. This is a harbinger of the information economy to come." - Steve Jurvetson , Managing Director of Draper Fisher Jurvetson

"Sull and Eisenhardt have written the definitive playbook injecting sanity, creativity, and productivity into our workplaces and the other spheres of our lives. SIMPLE RULES is brimming with clever and surprising tips, lovely stories, and compelling research that will help you spot unnecessary complexity, eliminate maddening frustration, make the right decisions faster, and have a whole lot more fun along way." - Robert I. Sutton, bestselling author of The No Asshole Rule and co-author of Scaling up Excellence


From the Inside Flap

We struggle to manage complexity every day. We follow intricate diets, juggle multiple TV remotes, face too much data at work, and hack through thickets of regulation at tax time. Sull and Eisenhardt argue there's a better way: by developing a few simple rules, you can tackle even the most complex problems. Simple rules are a hands-on tool to achieve our most pressing personal and professional objectives, from overcoming insomnia to becoming a smarter investor. Simple rules can help solve our most urgent social challenges, from setting interest rates at the Federal Reserve to protecting endangered marine wildlife. Drawing on more than a decade of research, the authors provide a framework for developing and refining effective rules. They find insights in unexpected places, from how Tina Fey codified her "Saturday Night Live" experiences into rules for producing "30 Rock "( never tell a crazy person he s crazy ), to burglars rules for selecting targets ( avoid houses with a car parked outside ), to Japanese engineers using the foraging rules of slime molds to optimize Tokyo s rail system. Whether you re struggling with information overload, pursuing opportunities with limited resources, or just trying to change your bad habits, "Simple Rules" provides a powerful approach to taming complexity."

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is one of the best books I've read, period.

Whether you picked up this book for business or self-help is irrelevant.The concepts explained in this book are applicable to every aspect of your life. I can only speak for myself, so here's what I gleaned from the book: When to use simple rules and when to use something more detailed? Simple rules are great when flexibility is important whereas detailed rules are great when consistency is important.

The book goes on to detail different types of simple rules that are benefical under different circumstances, and how to go about crafting them for your individual needs and improving them over time.
The book also plays the devil's advocate to make a case for when to let go of your simple rules all together for a brand new set of simple rules or detailed ones.

At the end of the day, the question I ask myself AFTER reading every (non-foction) book is: what did I learn from this and how can I apply this EASILY? The book is short and succinct, so distilling what you learnt from it and how you can apply it is easy. So for me it gets a very hgih mark there.

The question you should be asking BEFORE reading this is: do I want more simplcity in my life, but didn't know how to get there? For me the answer was yes. The book certainly promises that, and I could sense the clarity with the few pages I read in the book preview. If this sounds like you then you should probably buy this book, and go through it with a highlighter. Re-read it again after the fact.
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Format: Hardcover
First, I want to share two of my favorite quotations on the subject of simplicity. First, from Oliver Wendell Holmes: "I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity." And from Albert Einstein: "Make everything as simple as possible but no simpler."

Donald Sull and Kathleen Eisenhardt explain the power of simple rules in terms of several substantial benefits. Here are five.

1. They save resources, especially time and energy.
2. They can be adjusted the given circumstances.
3. They help to eliminate confusion and consequent hesitation.
4. They provide a framework within which to improvise.
5. They allow flexible collaboration, especially under duress.

I cannot recall a prior time that was more complicated and more stressful than it is today for people to meet all manner of obligations in all areas of their lives. Moreover, on average, each of us receives about 8,500 "messages" a day that compete for our attention. Sull and Eisenhardt cite Warren Weaver whose pioneer research in the field of complexity (much of it conducted at the Rockefeller Foundation) reveals several valuable insights. Sixty years ago, "Weaver argued that simple and uncertain problems have largely been solved, and that the greatest challenges of the future would be problems of complexity. He was right." I presume to add, in this context, that one of the greatest challenges now is to simplify the process by which to solve complex problems. This is what Jon Katzenbach has in mind when suggesting the most difficult challenges for change agents is to change how they think about change.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This could have been one of those, "Heard It All Before" books, and certainly most of it has been covered in part in a multiplicity of sources.

But I had a lot of aha moments reading the book and my musings lead me to solve several personal strategy issues that have been perplexing me. I have successfully developed some simple and unanticipated screening criteria and in other instances focused lists of "changing the things I can can change" Thereby gaining a manner of control over the things I cannot change. Great book
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0xa0a2a0e4) out of 5 stars 113 reviews
95 of 99 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa0b6ac60) out of 5 stars A complex book on simple rules filled with practices rather than platitudes. March 9 2015
By Mark P. McDonald - Published on
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
The book is Highly Recommended. It is not the easiest book to read compared to popular business pulp fiction. This book is full of good insight, practical advice, and ideas that you can start to apply tomorrow. This is the best business book I have read in the last six months and one I will refer to for a long time.

While the world is complex, simple rules describe the world in an actionable and valuable way. That is the central premise of Sull and Eisenhardt’s book. This book is a guidebook to understanding, creating, deploying, and enhancing simple rules. The authors provide a comprehensive exploration and examination of the idea of simple rules applied across nature, personal lives, society, and business.

The authors treat the reader as an adult. This is not pulp business fiction that we see where one person is selling their wares based on a single story. The ideas in the book are simple, but their explanation in the book is rather dense. You have to read this book, rather than skim it; the discussion found in the book rewards the reader for their efforts.

The book contains the simple rules for creating and applying simple rules. There are three ‘rules for rules’ :

1. Figure out what will move the needle
2. Choose a bottleneck, a constraint that is holding you back
3. Craft the rules

There are two basic groups of rules. Rules for making better decisions include:

> Boundary rules – help decide between two mutually exclusive alternatives
> Prioritization rules – provide the basis for ranking alternatives and assigning
> Stopping rules – when do we reverse a decision or take a different course

Rules for doing things better include:

> How to rules – guide the basics of executing tasks
> Coordination rules – getting things done when there are multiple actors
> Timing rules – guidelines for when to take action

Each set of rules is the focus of its own chapter in the book.

Reading Simple Rules takes some persistence and focus but it is well worth the effort. The book’s density comes from a rare combination of the author’s desire to tell compelling stories and their academic background which calls for telling complete stories. It is a cross between the story telling style of a Malcolm Gladwell and the thoughtful prose and thinking of a Peter Drucker.


The idea behind simple rules and their application is elegant, actionable, and particularly helpful in the face of demands to be more agile and flexible.

The book contains multiple examples of simple rules developed by others and the context in which those rules work. This is critical to help the reader understand where the rules come from, why they are the way they are and how that can apply to you.

The book goes into the processes, approaches, and questions involved in creating simple rules. Across multiple instances, Sull and Eisenhardt share the behind the scenes thinking people went through to create rules.

The chapter on Simple Rules as strategy is terrific and should be required reading for any business executive.

The examples are rather long, but it is invaluable in building the understanding to apply these rules. It is a part other authors leave out, making their ideas seem more platitudes than practices. This book contains practices.

The case stories cross a wide range of situations from butterflies, honeybees to religious orders and up, and coming companies. The sheer breadth of stories illustrates that the ideas are real and readily applicable to multiple situations.

Chapters on applying simple rules to your personal life are illustrative and helpful. These chapters demonstrate the broad applicability of the idea as well as the context behind different situations where rules apply. These are not self-help chapters filled with assertions; rather they are the information needed for reflection to help you in a meaningful way.


The case stories are sometimes long on explanation which makes the book feel like a heavy read, particularly if you are used to skimming a business book for ideas. In this case, take the time to read as the depth of explanation often includes the micro-insights needed for execution.

Not every case story is business related. This may frustrate people as they wonder how the history of the Jesuits, California landscaping or strength training matter. However, they do not only to illustrate the examples but also to demonstrate the power of simple rules.

The prose is occasionally self referential, which is something rare in business books. While personal experience is helpful, it often adds words and weight to the book that is unnecessary given the other strong stories supporting these ideas.


Highly recommended and a book I will return to time and time again. Particularly helpful when you are stuck and the things that worked are not working. Chances are the rules need to change.
40 of 42 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa0b6b624) out of 5 stars Simply Profound April 9 2015
By L. M. Keefer - Published on
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Want to know the 'simple rules' which explain the break-out success of HOUSE OF CARDS? Ever wonder how a coach using some 'simple rules' could take Stanford U football from a 1-11 losing year in 2007 to, in three years, an unlikely streak of top ten rankings and Pac-12 championships? Want to know some simple investment rules which have proven to outperform more complex rules? (Hint: one rule is Loeb's rule - if an investment loses 10% of its initial value, sell it.)

This is one of the best business books on strategy I have read. The authors define strategy: "Strategy, in our view, lives in the simple rules that guide an organization's most important activities." This book on simple rules has profound implications for success in achieving business and personal goals. Here are some simple features to appreciate about this book:

* simple thesis that is profound: simple rules are rules which are fundamental to successful outcomes. They vary according to domain but have some features in common including: there's only a handful of them for each activity, they confer flexibility while maintaining some consistency, they enable individuals to make quick decisions with limited information, they synchronize activities in a community, and they apply best to well-defined activity or decision.

* types of 'simple rules' are simply organized for your consideration into six broad categories

* discussion of 'how-to' on crafting simple rules for your life and business - a simple 3-step process described (p.123)

* effective exercise for readers - authors coach you how to devise some simple rules for a challenge you're currently preoccupied with - you will come away with insights if you do it

* 3 field-tested questions all individuals should ask to create economic value in their company or start-up

* see simple rules road-tested - authors detail how entrepreneurs devise and tweak rules for their businesses through Young Presidents' Organization, a global network of 20,000 executives who have founded or run a sizable organization before the age of 45. Author's MBA & PhD students have worked with YPO companies to develop rules, document implementation and measure impact.

* understand all strategy in the form of simple rules - which handful of simple rules will create success in your endeavors?

* entertaining & engaging in-depth application of simple rules in three diverse, practical case studies such as online dating, minimizing depression, and increasing charisma and people skills

* simply readable - not academic or scholarly writing, but fairly conversational with colorful stories

* original and intriguing examples of simple rules evidenced in Zipcar, Michelin Chefs, Jesuits, bees, Airbnb, and Tina Fey & improv comedy - reading how Japanese engineers viewed foraging rules of slime mold to guide them in creating railways from Tokyo is worth reading the book for alone (p.108)

* simple takeaways - inspires readers to consider the 'simple rules' which would maximize success in areas of life you want to improve such as health, losing weight, saving for kids' college or retirement, or having a more fun and enriching life.

If you have ever suspected that a few simple rules underlie most successful outcomes in life, you should love this book. It will help to train you to consider and identify the simple rules for successful outcomes in the various disciplines of life which you care about. I found the book simply smashing. I will continue to use the ideas in it in future endeavors. One of the best books on business I have read because of its implications. And it's a good read.

(As an aside, while reading this book, I realized I had crafted some 'simple rules' for writing Amazon reviews such as: employ empathy and integrity, write what you want to read, don't give negative votes to put yours or others' reviews on top, it's good to spend more time on reviews for books you love, likewise not all reviews have to be masterpieces, it's okay to write a few reviews to amuse yourself, be creative and take some risks if you feel like it, when it's no longer fun change it up a little, and keep learning about writing and writing reviews.)
69 of 77 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa0b6b0fc) out of 5 stars Gimmicky June 17 2015
By Athan - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I design (and follow!) rules for a living, so I’m rather interested in rules. My attitude is I try to craft the most complete set of rules that I know for sure I can follow. Now, in the narrow setting within which I operate, the rules are executed by a computer, so there’s no risk they will be forgotten. The way I see it, the constraint is that they should be simple enough that I can trust they will never contradict each other or cancel each other out or land me in a place where I have no rule to follow.

In other words, you could say that my motto is to use “as complicated rules as I can handle”

It’s no exaggeration, then, to say that the authors and I start from pretty much the opposite side of the spectrum, and it is therefore with great interest that I picked up this book. Also, I went to the same school as the main author and he seems to have been teaching at the business school I attended (and at the time when I attended, funnily enough, though I don’t seem to remember him) and that gave me the comfort to buy the book and learn something.

The book has three parts.

The first part of the book is an apology for and a wordy taxonomy of “simple rules,” supported by examples. Rules for making decisions come under three categories: “boundary rules” (yay or nay), “prioritizing rules” (a > b > c) and “stopping rules” (e.g. when to acknowledge that you’re going to have to propose to your girlfriend). Rules for doing things better also come under three categories: “how to” rules distil an art into a small set of principles; “coordination rules” are used by units of a large ensemble to lend it its macro properties; “timing rules” and “time pacing” rules guide when to take action. I could not tell apart “stopping rules” from “timing rules” but maybe that’s just me.

Next comes a chapter on how to craft rules. Natural selection does plenty of crafting (I can see how most of nature’s “coordination rules” are generated along those lines), but we are encouraged to “codify personal experience,” “draw on the experience of others,” “distil scientific evidence,” and “negotiate an agreement” on what rules to follow.

Finally comes the third and longest part of the book, which is a laundry list of cases where “simple rules” were applied. I found it very tedious and evenly split between companies I never heard of that followed closely the advice of the author and famous/successful companies and individuals who did not really follow simple rules at all. In particular, four pieces of advice are given:
1. find what will move the needles;
2. choose a bottleneck;
3. craft the rules;
4. change the rules when the facts on the ground change.
The successful examples I’d heard of before only really seemed to be following the fourth piece of advice, which to me makes total sense.

I could have done without the last 110 pages of this book basically.

I can totally see how a single athlete or gambler or performer or criminal acting without ready access to a cheatsheet or a computer would do well to stick to a couple basic rules. But in a world where Formula 1 pitstop strategies are decided by teams of scientists using stochastic programming I think the whole concept is a bit of a gimmick, and sadly that’s also how I ended up feeling about the book.



Michael Pollan rule:
"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

Surgeon General WWII triage rules:
1. Sort into following categories
---> Stable vital signs: Green
---> Unlikely to survive even with heroic medical intervention: Black
---> Badly injured (a shot at survival, but only if they receive immediate attention: Red
---> Others: Yellow
2. Give those with black tag palliative care
3. Treat the rest in the order Red, Yellow, Green

HF rules for investing in Yeltsin Russia:
1. Have revenues of $100 million to $500 million
2. Compete in an industry in which we have previously invested
3. Offer products the typical Russina family might purchase if they had an extra $100 to spend per month
4. Work only with executives who know criminals but are not criminals themselves

Zipcar Rules:
1. report damage
2. keep it clean
3. no smoking
4. fill'er up
5. return on time
6. pets in carriers

Chefs' Rules:
1. Do not copy recipes by other chefs
2. Do not pass proprietary information from a chef on to others without permission
3. Always acknowledge the author of the recipe

Rules judges actually follow (but shouldn't) when deciding on bail:
1. Did the prosecution either request conditional bail or oppose bail altogether?
2. Were conditions imposed on the bail by a judge earlier in the process?
3. Did a previous court insist on keeping the defendant in custody?

Burglars' rule for breaking in:
Avoid houses with a vehicle parked outside

DARPA rules:
1. The project must further the quest for fundamental scientific understanding
2. The project just have a practical use

Obama's rules for sending in the drones:
1. Does the target pose a continuing and imminent threat to the American people?
2. Are there on other governments capable of effectively addressing the threat?
3. Is there near certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured?

Cash-strapped private Brazilian railway CEO's (Alex Behring's) rules during financial crisis:
1. Projects that remove bottlenecks to growing revenues
2. Projects that provide benefits immediately
3. Projects with minimal up-front expenditures
4. Projects that re-use existing resources

Old Mesopotamian rule for investment:
A man should place his money one third in land, a third into merchandise, and keep a third in hand

Male crickets:"Choose a mate who meets your quality threshold"

Loeb's stopping rule:
If an investment loses 10 percent of its initial value, sell it

Rules to stop eating:
Parisian: Stop eating when I start feeling full
Chicago: Stop eating when I run out of a beverage
Chicago (bis): Stop eating when the TV show I'm watching is over

Scott Fischer's Everest climbing rule:
If you aren't at the top by two o'clock, it's time to turn around

Donald Sull's bouncer rules:
1. Don't let trouble in the door
2. Stay sober until the last patron leaves
3. Double up for heavy metal, ska and punk bands
4. Keep the bikers on your side

Lobby's sports commentary how-to rules
1. set the scene;
2. describe the action;
3. give the score or results, regularly and succinctly;
4. explain, without interrupting, the stadium's reaction to the game's event;
5. share "homework," such as historical facts and figures or personal information;
6. assess the significance of the occasion and key moments

US Forest Service how-to rules
1. start an escape fire in the path of the advancing fire if possible;
2. go to where the fuel is thinner;
3. turn toward the fire and try to work through it;
4. don't let the fire choose the spot where it hits you

White Stripes how to rules:
1. no blues;
2. no guitar solos;
3. no slide guitar;
4. no covers (hugely broken later, btw);
5. no bass

Elmore Leonard how to rules:
1. avoid prologues;
2. never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue;
3. try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip

Google hiring rules:
1. look for eccentricity;
2. look for strong referrals from other Google employees;
3. avoid anyone with even the smallest inaccuracy on their resume

Locust coordination rules:
1. flee from locusts chasing you from behind
2. try to eat the locust in front of you if it gets too close

The Second City coordination rules:
1. build on whatever is said or done just beforehand by saying "Yes, and..."
2. don't tell jokes (because they stifle an emerging storyline by imposing an artificial punchline into an organic situation@
3. make others look good

Naploeon's "coordination" rule:
"march toward the sound of gunfire"

Insomniacs' timing rules:
1. get up at the same time every morning;
2. avoid going to bed until you feel sleepy;
3. do not stay in bed if you are not sleeping;
4. reduce the time spent in bed

Migrating dragonflies' time-pacing rules:
0. avoid headwinds and instead surf the prevailing breezes (not a time-pacing rule)
1. fly only when the nighttime temperature falls for two consecutive nights
2. stay put on windy days

Hilltopping rules for butterflies (from natural selection):
1. fly uphill most of the time
2. fly toward the highest slope in sight
3. pause to check out local peaks, even if they are not the highest, but leave if you do not get lucky right away"

Standup comedians' rule (from natural selection)
"don't steal jokes" (probably inversely related to success, but hey)

Tina Fey's rules (from codifying personal experience)
4. when hiring, mix Harvard nerds with Chicago improvisers and stir;
9. never tell a crazy person he's crazy

Slime propagating algorithm (from which the Tokyo tube drew "experience")
1. begin by searching randomly in many directions for food;
2. when you find food, thicken the tube;
3. when you don't find food, shrink the tube

Roomba vacuum cleaner (presumed) rules:
1. turn when you hit an object;
2. spiral when caught in a corner;
3. return to the docking station when power is about to run out

NOAA negotiated rule:
"all boats must stay two hundred yards away from the whales and four hundred yards away from their path"

Shannon's three rules for eating:
1. eat breakfast;
2. stay hydrated;
3. eat as much as you want of anything that can be picked, plucked or killed
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa0b6ba5c) out of 5 stars Insightful, entertaining, and useful - simply a great book April 21 2015
By Henning - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book is intellectually stimulating, practically relevant, and very well researched. Sull and Eisenhardt provide a compelling answer to how we can navigate the challenges of today’s complex world: Simple Rules.

Sull and Eisenhardt are the world’s foremost experts on the topic of simple rules. For years, both are leading researchers on how individuals, teams, and organizations succeed in overcoming complex challenges. This book builds on this cutting-edge research, finding a way to communicate meaningful insights in a very entertaining format.

The authors show how we can use simple rules to structure and simplify complex decisions. Recognizing the power of simple rules allows us to master personal, everyday challenges. For example, simple rules are a great way to increase productivity, minimize procrastination, or succeed in a diet. Once they’ve helped us make the right decisions, simple rules are also a great tool for implementing the decisions well. Simple rules are also highly effective for management. For example, firms like Google rely heavily on simple rules to manage their growth.

I really enjoyed reading this book, and I found it very useful in my personal and my professional life. The presentation is both insightful and entertaining, reminiscent of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers or Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit. The authors’ use of different topics, be they college football, complexity theory, or medical care, to illustrate the power of simple rules was fascinating. In brief, this book is full of both perceptive ideas and memorable stories.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa0b6b684) out of 5 stars Less is more. Simple is best. Simple Rules. April 15 2015
By Jeri Zerr - Published on
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
As a society, we have complicated our lives to the point of going postal.

I've built a number of online communities, initially the rules were simple. As moderators joined the team, the rules grew. More rules, we needed more moderators. More moderators, the rules grew until they were impossible. As moderators left, I didn't replace them. Instead I cut back the rules. My newest communities have the simplest rules of all - Respect one another. There is NEVER an issue. Ever. In years. Seriously. Simple Rules.

In Simple Rules the author shows us examples where the simplest rules dominate decision-making, from Wall Street to the street crime. Did you know leaving a vehicle in the driveway could be the best deterrent indicating someone may be home? Interesting. 24x7 I usually have a vehicle in the driveway. My neighbors who rarely do? Yep, they've been burglarized before. Btw, they're home more than we are...

If your life has gotten crazy, Simple Rules may help you realize the methods to looking around your situation at home and at work. Simplify. Less really is more.

My Simple Rules include -
* standard power cords for electronics - tablet, kindle, phone, GPS, etc.
* I stopped buying special cleaners, pesticides AND herbicides. Now it's baking soda, vodka, white vinegar, salt, essential oils, Dawn. Between these I can make window cleaner to herbicides, plant and dog pest repellents too. When we're out, I make another batch in minutes. It's easier to keep a few staples in our pantry than all the chemicals. Safer too!
* no variety of credit cards to this n that store or cause. Credit cards ONLY from the place I bank. Online bill pay, too. Now paying bills takes literally 5 minutes twice monthly. How easy :-)
* oh yeah, our Depression Era fathers had the same rule - never buy anything on credit if you can't pay for it outright (except maybe a house). This rule saved us from certain financial ruin when the economy tanked a few years ago. We found we were both without a paycheck simultaneously. Scary. We got through it, likely due to our Simple Rule.