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Monday, November 17, 2008

It's in the cards

Last week, I started a conversation with you about Christmas shopping, shopping in general, gift giving and the economy. In the poll about Christmas shopping that I'm running here in PlainTalk, 16 of you have responded, and the results are mixed. Some aren't changing their Christmas shopping habits, while some are going without gifts altogether. (And of course, some readers don't celebrate Christmas, and as I continue this "series" of posts about shopping, I'll try to include other holidays and just everyday shopping as well.) But there's little doubt that the economy, here in the U.S. and all over the world, is on everyone's mind. How can a person celebrate the season without going broke, while helping resuscitate an economy that's gasping for air?

Let's start with a tradition that often arrives early -
holiday cards. I'm always stunned when I receive a Christmas card before Thanksgiving - now that's a dedicated card sender! But, let's talk greenly: "The 2.65 billion Christmas cards sold each year in the United States could fill a football field 10 stories high." (

While I love a beautiful or funny holiday card as much as anyone, that number is startling because of the underlying truth: all or most of those cards end up in the garbage - some may be recycled. Often, the more attractive the card (think glitter, foil, mylar, fancy envelopes), the less likely it can be recycled. So consider ways to trim down your mailing list. Save the paper cards for those who will truly be touched that you remembered them - I know, for example, that sending a card means a lot to some of the senior ladies at my church who do not have the wide circle of friends they once enjoyed.

When you've got the list whittled down, considering buying cards that are made from recycled materials and/or cards that can be easily recycled. Better yet, skip the boxed cards at the discount store and buy cards that can make a difference. How? Well, chances are you, like me, receive packages of greeting cards in the mail from charities asking for a financial donation in return. They may not be the prettiest, stylish cards, but send in your check and use them. You'll feel better, you will have skipped the mall entirely, and the people who receive them will get the message - you care enough to send a card and care enough to make the world a better place.

If that doesn't work for you, consider buying cards that benefit charitable organizations. Some are right here in the Chicago community, like Little City in Palatine, IL. Little City sells holiday cards every year that are designed by and that benefit its developmentally disabled residents. Check them out here -- fun designs that send an important message about the dignity of the disabled and your desire to help. The picture at the top of this post is a Little City card, designed by Brian Kaplan - it's my favorite of their designs this year. Another option is UNICEF. They have cards for every season, and special occasions like birthdays. Buy several boxes and you'll be set for the year. See the cards here.

These are just two examples - if you know of another organization that sells holiday cards to benefit its good works, please post the information here and share it with us. Thanks to reader Sara who informed us about Misericordia's cards - see them here. (I like the mixture of religious and non-religious cards, plus some cool Chicago-themed choices.) Yes, buying cards that benefit a charity is more expensive, but it's also a way of giving back, so that your efforts to spread the joy aren't simply spreading a trail of paper. It's particularly perfect if you aren't exchanging gifts with people this year - a card that is also a donation is an ideal way to share the true meaning of the holidays with your community, with the whole world.

If you haven't taken our Christmas shopping poll, there's still time -- just click your answer into the box at the top of this page.


  1. Linda, Ken and ToozerNovember 17, 2008 at 9:47 PM

    While we don't send as many cards as we once did, we still send cards to old friends and people who have moved away that we like to keep in touch with over the years. And much as we used to make fun of those "newsletter" holiday greetings that listed every little thing the family members did in the past year, we now write one of our own, featuring of course, Toozer, our 18-year-old cat. We try to be "green" by e-mailing the newsletter whenever possible. We set aside the day after Thanksgiving as the day we get our cards ready to go out. It's a family tradition. Pizza and Christmas cards!

  2. I too have a pending shopping list for Thanksgiving, will do it in the coming weekend.

  3. Karen,

    My name is Rachel Leon and I'm writing a feature story for my college newspaper on how the economy will potentially affect Christmas shopping (and vice versa). I plan to mention ways to save money and give to charity. If you're interested in being interviewed, please email me at raquelita[dot]leon[at]gmail[dot]com.

    - Rachel Leon

  4. I always try to purchase cards/gifts that will give back. It does double duty in the fact that a percentage goes to a deserving organization. Also - I alway seek out the places that donate to various organiations. I love seeing the "thank you's" posted on the walls. I'd rather get my pizza from the chain that gives back 20% to various school fundraisers than the ones that do not. It is my way of saying thank you to those organiations that support those who are trying to make a difference.

  5. We don't send many cards these days, but we always choose cards from Misericordia. It's a wonderful organization, the cards are both lovely and pretty inexpensive. The link is:


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