The New Frugality: good and good for you!

While the current “Green” movement often looks more like a marketing strategy than an environmental philosophy, here is a refreshing antidote: Living Green Below Your Means, a blog hosted by New American Dream. The articles on this site portray frugality as a virtue that represents a simpler and potentially more meaningful approach to life. Topics range from Victory Gardens to conserving water during Ramadan to conscious purchasing. From a recent post, “History and Hope: When green was called frugal”:

My interest in the era of Hoovervilles and bread lines was not sparked so much by the desire to join in this fray of economic doomsday-ism, but rather by memories of my grandparents. It came to me one day that it would be great to start blogging about Lost Arts: you know, the things that our grandparents did but that somehow didn’t make it to our generation. As I wrote in a previous post: to me, much of the green movement is not like a hydroponic vegetable (engineered under high-tech conditions); it’s like an heirloom tomato. It’s getting back in touch with our roots – and traditions that are either ours or that we can make our own.

Not surprisingly, this “new” frugality is very similar to the “old” frugality some of us may recognize as that practiced by family members who lived through times of collective sacrifice (remember that?) in the U.S. or a different level of “development” in other countries. The staggering level of consumerism (and accompanying waste) encouraged in the U.S. is not in our DNA, it can be un-learned! It’s hard to imagine a better time to re-assess what is essential or superfluous in our lives and make a few changes. Could even be fun.

6 Responses to “ The New Frugality: good and good for you! ”

  1. Does anyone have any good tips for dealing with relatives during the holiday season? Three young children + large extended family = money wasted and a heap of plastic junk.

    I give out homemade preserves and freshly baked cookies as my gifts. But the problem is that everyone else gives my children far too much. By the end of the season, it is just. . . well, to be honest, I feel disgusted. Every year. How do I break this cycle? Not only does this waste harm the environment (and most toys end up in a yard sale 6 months later), but I feel that it is truly bad for my children. As I am trying to stress the true meaning of Christmas to them: giving, family, time together, hope, love, I have the rest of my family ultimately telling them the exact opposite: it’s about getting.

    They did the same thing to me when I was a child. I would have so many gifts that they would fill the car up. Considering my staggering amount of personal debt, they did me no service. I grew up expecting that I should get what I want, and I always focused on what I didn’t have. I see those same tendencies in my oldest son, and it scares me. I have to stop this cycle with my own children.

    Any advice?

  2. This is a tricky one. I too have come to the point where I don’t actually want anything. What is far more important to me is time with my family and friends. But getting around traditions with gift giving is not easy. I know some families give each person just one significant present. My mum loves to give presents so I told her I like experiences not things. It sort of works. She also asks for suggestions. I have mixed feelings about that because I like surprises and it seems a bit crass. My solution is to give her several suggestions so she can choose something from the list. The upside is its means less unwanted gifts.

    With my husband we sometimes have $10 limit on birthday presents. Its really hard to find anything for $10 but I’m always amazed by my husbands ingenuity! Actually that is what I like most – the care he has taken to think of something I might want.


  3. “Experience” gifts can be really nice (and don’t create waste!). They are also a good way to support local businesses and service providers, and can provide an opportunity for the giver and receiver to spend time together (a meal out, concert or movie tickets, etc.).

    One of the best gifts I’ve seen was a scavenger hunt, tailored to the recipient and with her most adventurous friends as participants. One person actually got her navel pierced for extra points! (I think/hope she was already planning to do it…)

  4. Gina,

    At the holidays, focusing on activities instead of things can be fun, even if it consumes in another way.

    For instance, to celebrate my nephew’s bar mitzvah, I gave him an all-expenses paid weekend in NYC – with ME. I asked him what kinds of things he wanted to do, then did some research, presented him with my recommendations, and he chose. He loves eating food from different countries. I had one mystery activity that I chose. Friday night we had dinner in a Korean restaurant (new cuisine) and went Armenian line dancing (mystery activity). Saturday we went to the Union Square farmers market and then to the Bronx Zoo. Saturday night we had dinner at an Indian restaurant and went to a comedy show. Sunday we went to the American Museum of Natural History and to the chocolate show.

    I read about a great way to spend time with your family. A kind of scavenger hunt, and great for the kids, especially those who can read. During the holiday, each person has to identify 5 animals, 5 bugs, and 5 plants. Each person can research and prepare a short info sheet on one of the bugs, animals or plants. You can create categories – like how long they live, how they reproduce, how many children they have each time, where they live, etc. – that each info sheet should try to include. Then, teams can go out and try to identify the 15 items.

    I also found in a used bookstore a huge book (1930s?) with hundreds of games in it, where you either use a deck of cards or household items to make your own games.

    Like you, Rebecca, I don’t want more things. But I always enjoy a good meal, so my favorite present is being cooked for or taken out to dinner. Last year for my birthday, two friends made dinner for me and we picnicked in our backyard garden (that one of the two friends had created)! Then we went to a movie.

    I do find it hard to get out of the consumption model, since I like to go to concerts, the theater and movies, and NYC has a lot of those things. But I also find that my involvement with sustainability has me consuming in a different way, such as seeing a documentary movie with a group of people and then discussing it.

  5. Wow Lois, what great and fun stuff to do! Want to be MY aunt?? 🙂

    I would also note that your consumption (and enjoyment) of concerts, theater, museums and movies supports the arts economy and enables the creation of more art… same with food and books, for that matter.

    I think that consumption itself is not the problem, it is that sick feeling i get after giving (or receiving) something that has no lasting value, especially if it was made by a company I don’t want to support. When a gift is wanted and will be used, and its purchase supports quality work, that actually makes me feel great.

  6. Gina,

    I belong to the Fostering Sustainable Behavior list-serve, where more than 5,000 people from all over the world share ideas. This question of less consumptive seasonal giving has been raised, and here is one of the responses. I will post more responses as I read them. (I’m always behind on my emails!)


    I used to work in Community radio broadcasting on an environmental issues show and we’d always present one programme focussed on this. Traditional alternative ideas included as follows

    Alternative presents:
    Adventure/learning gifts which families and/or friends/partners can do together, e.g., guided walks in parks, short events such as cultural talks, touch pools, museum visits, seed collecting, kayaking trip, friends group events, etc Oxfam/TEAR/ etc charity gifts where given a budget kids can choose their gifts from the charity catalogue so that instead of them getting a gift they help to spend the same money to help others and they get a card telling them how the money is helping. They could still be given something very small as a gift if preferred. Subscriptions to charities/ environmental groups/environmental magazines/herbarium &/or other friends groups, etc., like WWF, Sierra club, Kew Gardens and other more local groups.

    Alternative wrapping for presents: instead of using traditional paper use one or more cloth tea towels (you may call them kitchen towels). They often cost similar amounts, but can be used afterwards. There are still issues about where and how they are produced, but there are more sustainable options.

    Solar-powered Christmas lights are now available and as you say there is the LED vs traditional light globes.

    Just a few options which may help towards your list. I’m sure there’re many others. Good luck Edwina

    Edwina H R Davies Ward
    Coordinator, Healthy Wetland Habitats Program
    Species & Communities (Off Reserve) Branch
    Department of Environment and Conservation
    17 Dick Perry Avenue, Kensington WA 6151 or
    Locked Bag 104, Bentley Delivery Centre WA 6983
    Tel: (08) 9334 0570
    Fax: (08) 9334 0199

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