Tuesday, May 26, 2009


It occurred to me that there ought to be a term--"ecofrugal"--for people who routinely do things that both save money and help the environment. Some folks may be doing these things primarily to be green, while others want chiefly to keep more green stuff in their pockets, but the result is the same in both cases: a healthier planet and a healthier bank balance.

I Googled the term to see if anyone else was using it this way, and I got a few hits, but they seemed kind of scattered. For example, Frugal Village has an article on "Eco Frugality" (two words), which cites some well-known thrifty practices that "run parallel with green living." An article on reusing household items from a site called Gomestic uses the term "eco-frugal" with a hyphen, and someone calling herself grrlscout224 has posted a photo set on Flickr with the title "ecofrugal." And there is also a recently created blog titled "The EcoFrugal," which as yet has a grand total of one entry. But so far, the use of the term seems fairly haphazard. It doesn't seem to have gained much popular currency.

The only source I found that offered anything like a definition of the term was an article on "Eco-Bounty" at trendwatching.com, which noted that many manufacturers are seeking to shift the image of their products "from ‘worthy but expensive’ to ‘cheap and, oh yes, worthy’" in order to attract both "cash-strapped consumers...going out of their way to save money" and "consumers [who] are still primarily interested in sustainable consumption, but no longer willing or able to pay the usual premiums." It cited as examples the new Zoe and Zac line at Payless and the Mini, which is now being marketed as a planet-friendly car that's cheap to run.

Which is all well and good, but a bit incomplete as a philosophy. The products you buy can be a part of an ecofrugal lifestyle, but they're not the only part, nor even necessarily the most important part. In fact, I'd venture to suggest that ecofrugality has more to do with not buying stuff. It's about thinking before you make a purchase: "Do I need this? Will it really make me happier? Could I repair the old one instead of replacing it? Could I make do with something else I already have? Could I borrow it from a friend, take it out of the library, get a secondhand one on Freecyle or Craigslist?" Only after thinking through these questions do the ecofrugal start balancing considerations of price and pollution.

The point I'd like to make about ecofrugality is that it's really a single ideal, not just two unrelated ideals that sometimes go together. A sustainable lifestyle isn't really sustainable if you have to go into debt to maintain it; a frugal lifestyle isn't really frugal if it wastes natural resources. And in most cases, the eco-conscious choice is also the wallet-conscious one. Most of the money-saving trends I cited in my April 11 entry are green trends as well. More people may be adopting these measures now as a way to save money, but as they become more mindful about how they live, they may discover they value the environmental benefits just as much as the financial ones. In the end, this recession might just turn out to be the dawning of the age of ecofrugality.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Credit Crackdown?

This week the New York Times ran two contradictory articles about the current crackdown on credit card issuers. Monday's article, "Credit Card Industry Aims to Profit From Sterling Payers," suggests that since Congress intends to limit the ways in which card issuers have long made money off high-risk cardholders (e.g., slapping them with massive late fees and jacking interest rates way up after a single late payment), the poor banks will have no choice but to start going after "deadbeats"--that is, the 40 percent of cardholders who pay their balances in full and on time every month. According to the article, people like me who have been getting a free ride should expect to start paying annual fees or maybe being charged interest on each purchase immediately after it's made, with no grace period for paying off the bill. But Tuesday's "Your Money" column, "Consumers Are Dealt a New Hand in Credit Cards," dismisses these ideas as "just so much saber-rattling," since credit card issuers don't want to lose customers--even "deadbeat" customers--if they can help it. After all, the card issuer does make money from the merchants on every transaction, so it's definitely in the banks' interest for people to continue charging as much as possible to their cards, even if they don't do the issuer the additional favor of carrying an interest-laden balance.

The second idea seems more plausible to me. After all, card issuers have to realize that if they start making their terms too onerous, people like me will simply jump ship. Ten years ago, it might have been difficult to get by without at least one credit card, but nowadays there are more options--PayPal for online transactions, debit cards for in-store purchases, reloadable prepaid cards, gift cards. And moreover, if there's even one card out there that still has no annual fee and a reasonable grace period, then all the deadbeats can switch to that card, and whoever issues it will get a whole 40 percent of the market overnight. So unless all the banks get together and make a deal not to make such a card available (which I'm pretty sure would be illegal), I don't see how there wouldn't be at least one of them eager to be the only no-fee card on the block.

I'm willing to live with having my rewards dialed back. The main reason I used the card was for convenience, anyway; the rewards were just a nice bonus. And if they want to lower my credit limit, oh well, it's not like I was using it all anyway. But the minute they try to stick me with an annual fee, it's au revoir, Visa.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A new drug

Okay, here's a reason it's actually a good thing that I've been out of work for a while: because it gives me more time to devote to my latest addiction, online cryptograms. The Puzzle Baron's site, www.cryptograms.org, makes the mechanics of solving them much simpler and more straightforward than it is with a pencil and paper. If you fill in one letter substitution, it automatically changes every occurrence of that letter to match. If you decide you've made a mistake, you just change or delete the letter you and the same change appears throughout the entire puzzle. If you decide you've messed the whole thing up entirely, you can just hit "reset" and it will delete everything and give you a blank slate again. You can even set it to show letter frequencies (so that if you aren't sure where to begin, you can just try guessing that the most commonly occurring letter is "E" and see where that gets you) and to advance the cursor automatically (moving ahead to each new unassigned letter as you type).

All this makes it possible to solve a single medium-length quotation in roughly one minute. And since that was so quick, you feel perfectly justified in clicking "Try another cryptogram" to move on to another. And another. And another. And before you know it the entire bag of Oreos is empty.

I'm going to have to figure out some way to ration my use of this site once I actually have paid work to do again. Otherwise, I'll keep logging on for a five-minute work break and emerging again two hours later.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Haphazardly, in our case. So far, we've planted five crops, with extremely mixed results:
  • The snap peas are coming up splendidly--in fact, they're growing so fast that I'm a little concerned we won't have time to erect a trellis for them before they climb past the tops of the beds.
  • The spring onions, which never grew at all last year, seem to be coming up as well, though it's hard to be sure at this stage that they're not weeds posing as onions.
  • Three out of four parsley plants didn't survive transplanting, and I ended up buying new seedlings at the annual plant sale at the university to supplement them.
  • The spinach, just like last year's shows no signs of sprouting at all.
  • The lettuce is the oddest of all: there's no sign of it in any of the squares where I actually planted it, yet in other parts of the beds, little lettuces seem to be popping their heads up more or less at random. I can't figure out whether the seeds I planted somehow got washed out of their places in a heavy rain, or whether the lettuce I planted last year, which bolted in the summer, has re-seeded itself and is somehow coming up through all that dirt we turned over in the new raised beds and the compost we piled in on top of that.
I'm a bit nervous to see how our tomato, pepper, and basil seedlings survive the move, which is scheduled for next week. They all grew all right last year, but things are so weird this year, I don't know what to expect.