You, too, can trim down that hefty wallet

Metal and plastic Washington Shopping Plates and a Central Charge Service card.
Metal and plastic Washington Shopping Plates and a Central Charge Service card. (John Kelly/The Washington Post)
By John Kelly
Wednesday, October 20, 2010; 10:06 PM

Washington Post Staff Writer

No one need suffer from the heartbreak of loyalty card overload. That was the message I got from readers after last week's column on how those retailer "rewards" cards increasingly fill our wallets and encrust our key chains.

What readers pointed out is that you don't need the plastic card. You just need the bar code and/or the number. A smartphone helps, too.

Cheryl Belloli of Clifton uses a free Droid app called Key Ring. "The phone's camera acts as a scanner and scans in the barcodes for the loyalty cards," she wrote. You just scan the barcode from your phone at the store.

Jennifer Folsom uses the CardStar App. "Easy," she wrote. "It even takes my local library card!" (That would be Fairfax County.)

Don't have a smartphone? A company called will put six bar codes on a plastic card that fits in your wallet. The cost is $4.95.

In my column I scoffed at the idea that retailers would work together to create a universal card, but many, many readers remembered a time in Washington when some merchants did something sort of like that.

"There is a better system and the D.C. area used to have it," wrote Ronald Batleman, who now lives in Winnabow, N.C. It was called the Washington Shopping Plate and it allowed customers to shop on credit at several local department stores.

"I used it up until Hecht's went belly up," wrote Maureen Norton. "I am sure many other Washingtonians will remember this wonderful memory!"

Wrote Kathy Gambrell: "The accounting for the [Washington Shopping Plate] was done using a paper ledger. Imagine what technology can do for it now!"

I did a bit of research. The Washington Shopping Plate - so called because it was a tiny metal plate embossed with the cardholder's name and address - was announced in The Washington Post with a full-page ad on Oct. 1, 1950. The headline: "If you have a charge account with any of these six stores watch the mail for your new group shopping plate."

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