12.20.2009

I Love That Cheap Means Green: the Holiday Edition



To say I came from a frugal family is an understatement. Not wanting to waste good water, my dad would make us collect shower water into a bucket as the water was warming up, which we could then use to flush our toilets. He re-used floss, and cut open toothpaste tubes to scrape out a week's worth of toothpaste. He even caused me great embarrassment once when I was a teenager: I had decided that my collection of rap albums with explicit lyrics no longer reconciled with my newfound Christian faith, so I tossed all my cassettes out, only to have my dad fish them out and scold me that he could cover over the tab and tape over them. (Apparently, wasting usable cassettes was a worse sin to him than listening to songs that liberally used the F-word and the B-word.)

Fast-forward to the present, and I proudly carry on the Huang tradition of frugality. Only, apparently now, such cheapness can be labeled as "green" and seen as commendable rather than deviant. What I do to save a buck, others laud as a way to save the planet. Works for me, especially since another thing my parents imbued me with was a love for the environment, courtesy of our subscription to National Geographic and our annual family hiking trips to national parks.

Tis the season, then, to disclose some of my favorite holiday-themed cheap tricks that I can be proud of instead of ashamed of, to the extent that they are now spun as eco-friendly. (Admittedly, some of these tactics are still shameful, perhaps not for the planet but for people's interpretation of the unwritten rules of the holiday season.)

* Used books make great holiday gifts. Hey, if you actually want to read the thing and not just use it as decoration, it doesn't matter what condition the physical thing is in, right?

* Used greeting cards make great gift labels. I actually learned this from my wife's side of the family: the half of the greeting card that hasn't been written on is just the right amount of space to write your own greeting and affix it to a gift you are giving to someone, without needing either a gift tag or a greeting card.

* Post your family holiday photo on your blog. It beats getting physical prints developed, shoved into envelopes, and sent off to the four corners of the world.

With all the money you save, consider making a donation to an organization like Heifer International. For example, for just $20, a flock of 10 to 50 chicks, each of which will eventually lay around 200 eggs a year, would make a lovely gift for a family in need in the developing world. Or, if you want to splurge, for $30, that same family can get a package of bees, a hive, and training in how to supplement the family income with some beekeeping on the side. After all, if you really want the holiday season to be about gift-giving, this seems like a far more impactful way to use your dollars.

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