Saturday, December 12, 2009

Great Green Holiday Gift-Buying Tips

It's a fact of life--most Americans' wallets (and credit card limits), are slimmer this year. But that doesn't mean we should give up our eco-conscious ways. Why would we when there are so many opportunities to save green while celebrating green?


If your young children are pining for expensive gifts, it's hard to deny them (not that a bit of denial isn't good for us!). A few solutions--there are others--just say no, find ways for your child to raise some cash toward the dream or see whether you can find a used gift. (You might be surprised that a clean, used toy without the packaging is just fine with most kids.)

To find a previously loved toy:

  • organize a toy swap in your neighborhood, at a school or community center
  • ask in your online or other groups, whether someone has a toy they'd be willing to sell or trade
  • give your child a temporary substitute for the gift and buy it after the holiday when it may be on sale

Help your child contribute toward the purchase by going through his current toys, selecting as many as you like and selling them on your local Craigslist.

Another idea is to discuss the situation with your child and ask, "Would you be happy if you only get this one gift this year?" If the answer is "yes," and you have friends and relatives who normally gift your child, ask for a contribution towards her heart's desire.


When it comes to teens, think "downloads." What teen doesn't love music or movies? Purchasing music and movies online is inexpensive and eco-friendly.

Ask your teen to give you a list of chores she doesn't like to do. Your gift can be doing one or more for a limited period of time. (We know this won't be a favorite of yours, but it costs nothing but your pride and patience!)

Teenagers also may be much more willing than you anticipate, to help others. Especially when times are tough, learning that there are others worse off than you are can help quell the self-centered longings adolescents experience. You can give teens a real gift by inviting them to participate in one or more volunteer activities during the holiday season. Let them experience the real meaning of giving. We know one teen who, after volunteering at a home for abused kids, told his parents he didn't want anything for Hanukkah except to make a contribution to the organization.


Of course, if you're crafty, you already know that amazing gifts can cost next to nothing. Short on ideas? Two great sites are Instructables and eHow, though you can google just about any item and find out how to make it.

And if you're "all thumbs," great green gifts are available by the truckload, many for under $25. There are many sites featuring inexpensive gifts. Here are a few. Find more by doing a search for "green gifts under $25."

But the best buys from an eco-perspective, are those made and purchased locally. Check out local eco-friendly stores as well of course, as holiday craft fairs.

Other excellent eco-friendly gift buying habits:

  • Look for companies that give back. Many for instance, are members of !% for the Planet (an alliance of businesses that donate at least 1% of their annual revenues to environmental organizations.)
  • One of the most eco-friendly things you can do when buying a gift for someone of any age is to be sure the recipient will like and use it. This is especially true when it comes to food that if not eaten, may spoil and end up in the trash.
  • Avoid buying gifts with layers of packaging and/or whose packaging cannot be recycled.
  • When it comes to wrapping, think about whether you really need to wrap the gift at all. How about hiding it? Kids love this, but even adults (at least those with a sense of humor), can get into it as well. A few additional alternatives to buying new gift wrap:
    • Fabric you already own. Scarves are wonderful. And any fabric wrapping can be used again and again. For ways to beautifully wrap any gift: or
    • Magazine pages
    • Maps
    • Children's drawings
    • Paper bags decorated with drawn or stamped on images
    • Decorated glass jars that can be reused for food storage
    • Decorated cardboard or plastic boxes
Lynn Colwell and Corey Colwell-Lipson are mother and daughter and co-authors of Celebrate Green! Creating Eco-Savvy Holidays, Celebrations and Traditions for the Whole Family, available at

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