Fringe Benefits of Frugality

So a friend reminded me today of an hilarious old line from The Office:

Bears.  Beets.  Battlestar Galactica.

And I feel like Dwight Schrute’s line is similar to all the awesome fringe benefits of frugality which, like the scent of gardenias, keep wafting into my consciousness:

  1. Carbon footprint
  2. Cost
  3. Curtailed trash accumulation
  4. Clever health benefits

OK had to stretch a little to get all those C’s but you get it.  These ideas are pretty common to the older generation.  My dad gave me surprisingly many talks about carbon footprint over the years.  But I am not sure these ideas are at the forefront of some younger peoples’ agendas based on my workplace’s cafeteria activity and trash barrel contents.

Take drinks, for example.  I drink mostly water, gatorade, and beer.  These are my preferences but more on that later.  I also drink tea in the morning at work.  When I first started reviewing my workplace food spending, I went from buying a coffee a day (the mindless norm) to bringing instant coffee or tea and putting it in a to-go cup in the caf (still a little lazy) to full-blown tea drinker with my own mug that I commit to properly washing occasionally.  I noticed a couple of things through this transition:

  • The cafeteria charges you $0.25 for a to-go cup even if you are filling it with your own beverage
  • I actually didn’t like the taste of the caf coffee and was over-sweetening it to compensate

My cafeteria encourages reusable containers over paper/plastic for the sake of carbon footprint.  There are many signs about this everywhere.  So I realized the cup cost is about deterring people from environmentally distressing behavior as much as it is about preventing consumption of paper goods without actually buying something.

The conditioning worked: I started using a mug, and noticed the side benefit of my trash barrel not being so embarrassingly full of containers when the facilities cleaner would come by.  What, you think amount of trash in your barrel is not embarrassing?  It is.  It’s pure evidence of your weak body’s wasteful consumption of costly calories just to be able to make it through the day in your cushy, swiveling chair.  I am working on the calories and the weakness, but in the meantime I would rather keep that business to myself if possible.

And the cost savings of bringing $0.20 grocery store tea rather than buying a $1.50 coffee and using a mug rather than $0.25 to-go cups is obvious.  But I did not initially realize the health benefits of doing this.  With tea, I use less sugar and do not crave cream in it because unlike commercial coffee, it does not tend to taste like an exhaust pipe.  By breaking out of the mindless coffee mindset, I found something I like better that is better for my health.  I know – some people are diehard coffee people.  Difference might be: I do not strictly require caffeine to function, just enjoy the comfort of a warm beverage.  Sorry caffeine zombies.

Wrapping up the whole topic though is the carbon footprint: by using a mug, I reduce the load on my company to buy cups, and for some other company to truck them along the highway to my office.  And to use coal and oil and other things to turn tree/paper product into cups.  And my reduced trash barrel load reduces concentration-zapping embarrassment, as well as the facility person’s energy lifting barrels and pushing his cart.  It reduces the dump truck and landfill load.  Imagine if everyone used mugs.  Finally those lessons from 2nd grade Weekly Reader worked on me!  With much help from my pop’s later lessons.

Here’s another great and quick example.  Love gatorade, all day long.  But I don’t like how sweet it is!  At the grocery store I buy a little bucket of gatorade powder rather than huge bottles or 6-packs.  When I lived in the city and had to schlep things on the train, the latter was not even an option.  But even now it makes damn good sense.  For $5 one of these buckets makes maybe 50 of my super-diluted servings.  Not only are bottles way more expensive, they are too sugary (and therefore not that good for you), and freaking heavy.  That translates to heavy payloads on trucks, requiring tons of gas, clogging the environment, and then making more trash in your barrel at home.  That you then have to pay to schlep to the dump!  The bucket is the key to the four C’s of frugality.

So it’s not just about pinching pennies: it is about living in harmony with nature, eliminating crap from your life and diet, and reducing schleps.  Designing your life.  Obviously the next step in this evolution is the switch to home-brewing light beer with recycled bottles…

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2 thoughts on “Fringe Benefits of Frugality

  1. I am the same way- I buy tea bags to bring into work and I use my own mug. I mostly did it because I couldn’t handle the fact that our office shop charges some absurd amount for tea, but thanks to your post, now I can remember that I’m helping the environment too. And reducing the trash embarrassment at work- ha!

    Also, the line, “because unlike commercial coffee, it does not tend to taste like an exhaust pipe” cracked me up.

  2. Yeah some people think it’s pointless to think about the environment, but the environment is also linked to costs all around. I have a daydream of opening a maximum carbon footprint efficiency bar: nothing gets thrown away. Only kegs, glasses, cloth napkins, and pickles.

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