I recently had a long conversation about being frugal with my partner when I was in Los Angeles. The dialogue spanned the gamut of ideas and things we could each do to cut down on waste and save some money in the process. Packing lunches, spending less on entertainment, and enjoying the company of others (a free activity) dominated the list. Then, the conversation turned to ways that I frugally make money.
She had long noticed I kept different piles in the recycling, and assumed that I sorted it. In a way, she was right – I did sort it. I told her the purpose was to take advantage of Iowa’s bottle deposit/refund of five cents for each one.
Her grin turned to a smirk and then to a chuckle and then into uncontrollable laughter. “You’re really saving the cans for the bottle deposit?” She said. In that moment I wondered who was the crazy one. How could she pass up five cents? Why wouldn’t I try and get that refund? I get money back and recycle in the process! I began to explain how I had grabbed cans from classmates and out of trash cans to get the bottle deposit when I was at school, too.
This was when I realized: I’m insane. Here I am spending precious time in my life – collecting cans. I get paid about $20-25 an hour at work, and I’m grabbing cans from people and places for five cents. It would take 400 cans to equate to my one hour of work. The math wasn’t adding up.
Sometimes it takes a mirror to realize how comical you look. 400 cans would easily take hours of time to collect, and then I’d be stuck transporting them to a designated refund location. Again, the math didn’t add up in time or money. Here I was trying to be frugal, but between the loss of time and the harm on the environment of driving to a collection facility, it was undermining my ambitions.
There are better ways to make five cents. Frugaling means more than scavenging for cans, doesn’t it?
But some habits die hard… As I flew back from Los Angeles to podunk Iowa, the stewardess handed me a full can of orange juice. As I poured the cold beverage into my single-serve cup, I wondered whether I should save the can. It’s worth five cents. Every little bit counts, right?