This blog post all started with me throwing two gingerbread houses in the trash.
Every year our kids go to this annual holiday party and make cute little gingerbread houses. The kids enjoy a few minutes of fun, and then we take our gingerbread houses home after the party.
In a day or two they “mysteriously” get thrown in the trash. I feel really wasteful when I do it.
Would you willingly throw money into the trash? Most people wouldn’t, and I feel like that’s exactly what I’m doing.
I suppose we could eat the gingerbread houses, but that would ultimately mean a greater waste from the resulting dental bills.
It’s not just gingerbread houses either — Every year Mrs. Tako and I get invited to a bunch of holiday parties, and all the waste makes us feel pretty uncomfortable. When it comes to Christmas time, people are throwing away money left and right.
It’s as if all thoughtfulness and care around money suddenly disappears when December rolls around…
Before you declare me a Scrooge and stomp-off in protest of me attacking your beloved Christmas holiday, just hold on a minute!
We love a good Christmas holiday here in the Tako family (as much as the next person), but it’s really all the waste that bothers us.
We didn’t reach Financial Independence by wasting money, and when it comes to the holidays I feel like it’s debt by 1,000 little cuts.
Don’t see the problem? Let’s review a few of the more obvious forms of holiday waste…
Holiday Light Displays
I happen to live in one of these fancy-pants neighborhoods where people put up incredible holiday lighting displays. It’s a typical suburban neighborhood where people drive to work every morning to put food on the table, pay the mortgage, and try to provide a decent life for their kids.
The homes in my area sport A TON of holiday lights — Literally thousands of little lights burning-up energy all night long. Literally, from dusk until dawn (and sometimes they’re even kept on all day)!
While LED lights have improved the waste situation somewhat, a typical string of LED lights still burns about a $1 in energy a month. Multiply that by a couple dozen strings of lights and you’ve reached $20.
Not exactly a huge amount of electrical waste, but there’s literally millions of these lights out there world-wide burning up energy into the night — all to shine light on empty streets. Photons mostly unseen by human eyes.
Do I even need to mention all the unnecessary carbon that’s put into the atmosphere?
Do you have one of those ugly holiday sweaters you bust-out for Christmas parties? You know, that sweater that’s so ugly you won’t wear it any other time of the year? Yeah, THAT sweater.
That ugly sweater is waste. 99% of the year that fugly sweater will sit in the closet collecting dust… until that one day a year you wear it.
Imagine that was your money collecting dust instead… not earning any interest and providing very little utility in return. You’d probably feel like that money was wasted. In the form of a sweater it’s no different!
Some people even throw-out the Ugly Sweaters after the holiday parties are over. That’s even worse! While clothing styles change from season to season, there’s absolutely no excuse for a “single use” piece of clothing.
There’s never a more guilty feeling than when you open a gift on Christmas morning and realize you don’t want it.
To be gracious, most of us probably express considerable appreciation…
“Oh Thank You! I’ll definitely make use of this meat grinder for all my vegan meals!”
If you’re an especially good actor or actress you might even fake a few tears of joy… but as soon as you go home you know it’s either going into the trash or the donation pile.
Such unwanted gifts are a form of holiday waste.
We can’t talk about the holiday’s without talking about food. Food is a major part of Christmas and New Year’s, and there’s usually LARGE amounts of it. No matter how good intentioned a holiday feast might be, there’s almost always something that goes to waste.
Maybe this year it was Aunt May’s 7-layer dip that tasted absolutely disgusting, or that fruit cake nobody ended up eating… food waste is frighteningly normal during the holidays. Almost as frightening as Aunt May’s 7-layer dip.
Most people shrug this off as “only a couple dollars” and consider food waste as “no big deal”, but collectively hundreds of millions of people end-up wasting just as many millions of dollars on food that’s eventually thrown out.
White Elephant Gift Exchanges
Have you ever attended a White Elephant Gift Exchange? This kind of party game is played during holiday parties, and the entire idea is to trade a useless gifts that nobody wants.
Usually it’s some kind of useless kitsch or disgustingly ugly decoration, but occasionally there’s something OK like a candle or a cutlery set.
Most of the time, there’s no utility to be found in this activity (other than swapping junk). At best, you can save that elephant gift for next year’s party and dispose of it there.
I have friends that have been passing around this same stupid dancing fox for years.
Wrapping Paper & Packaging
Do you wrap your holiday gifts in colored wrapping paper? It’s very common. Perhaps you’ve seen the HUGE amount of paper and packaging that stuffs the trash bins of suburban homes after Christmas?
It’s crazy how much waste Christmas creates. In our neighborhood the trash and recycle bins are overflowing on Christmas day, with cardboard boxes and holiday wrapping paper bulging out over the top.
The biggest problem with holiday wrapping paper is that it’s not reusable! Holiday bags are slightly better in this regard (they can be reused), but I still see people throwing them out all the time.
Do you hang your stockings from the chimney with care? With this particular form of holiday waste I feel obligated to uphold as fealty to the great Santa hegemony. Jolly old St. Nick has us (literally) by the socks!
My kids would probably murder me if Santa didn’t come to visit… but I often wonder, “Why does a holiday gift need to fit inside a giant sock?” Isn’t that weird?
I think many parents end-up filling stockings with all kinds of unnecessary junk just maintain the holiday tradition of “the stockings hung with care”.
Live Trees & Single Use Decorations
Do you buy a holiday tree every year? I have friends that buy a live tree every year along with fresh wreaths for the front door. By the time January rolls around, the tree is very dead and the wreaths are looking really shabby.
Like other forms of holiday waste, it all ends-up in the trash sometime in January.
This one I consider a toss-up because live trees are actually a renewable resource, whereas a fake tree is usually made from some form of plastic that isn’t renewable.
However, the topic isn’t as cut-and dried (see what I did there?) as you might think — I happen to know a Christmas tree farmer (it’s a common industry here in Washington State) and I’ve seen how the industry works.
While the trees themselves don’t often need chemical fertilizers, the planting, harvesting, and shipping process burns A LOT of fuel. Diesel engines are burning constantly during tree harvest time, and often they use a helicopter to harvest the trees.
Yes, fuel burning machines actually fly in the air to harvest your Christmas trees. Once the harvest is done the trees are shipped (usually by a diesel burning truck) to the sale location. It’s a far less green industry than you might think.
Do you purchase a nice printed holiday card for friends and family? Some people still do this!
I know because I still get dozens of holiday cards every year. Heck, even our car mechanic mails us a Christmas card every year without fail! (I’m probably paying him too much!)
Like the many of the other forms of holiday waste, these eventually make their way into the trash.
While some people have switched entirely to digital cards, proponents of physical holiday cards argue that they feel less “personal”. Can’t argue with that!
It All Adds Up
While I’ve tried to detail many of the more common forms of holiday waste here, there are still TONS more. When it comes to the holidays there are plenty of ways to waste.
But that’s my point — Individually, none of this holiday waste is considered a “big deal” culturally. Most of these forms of holiday waste amount to $20 or less. Small potatoes, right? That level of spending gets a solid shrug of indifference from most middle-class families.
Collectively though, the total amount of combined waste is much greater than we imagine (and far harder to see unless you track your finances carefully).
Bottom line, while we tell ourselves “it’s not that much money”, waste is still waste. All of those little credit card charges add-up during December… eventually to a very large bill.
According to the news reports on holiday spending, 16% of American families will take 1 to 3 months to pay-off holiday spending, and many will take 6 months or more. That’s a big holiday credit card bill!
This is what I call “Debt by a thousand cuts”. Individually it’s hard to say “no” to each little holiday spend, but collectively it can grow to be a big problem.
I’m not suggesting you say “Ba-humbug!” and forget about the Christmas spirit of course. Holiday waste is a very personal thing. What is considered waste to one family might be an important part of the holiday celebration for another family.
Maybe in your family that means lots of packages for the kids. Perhaps you like the smell of a fresh cut tree in your house. Or, it could be as simple as enjoying a fancy drink as part of your celebration.
How you enjoy the holiday is entirely up to you! You control the spending AND the waste.
Our family has been trying to find ways to reduce holiday spending for years — like using a free reusable tree, hand-me-down gifts, and not sending out annual holiday cards.
We’re not perfect, but we try to keep it under control. Last year’s holiday spending was barely noticeable in our December 2016 expenses!
We simply focus on the parts of Christmas and New Year’s that bring us the most holiday cheer!
Now it’s time to ask the readers — What’s your favorite form of holiday waste and how much does it cost you?