A while back, I wrote about making your own greeting cards as a solution to the over-the-top expense of greeting cards, but merely using a blank card from a stationery store is only one narrow solution to a broader problem.
And that problem is? There is a very wide variety of situations and customs for which greeting cards are expected. Birthdays, holidays throughout the year, graduations, weddings, and Christmas are all events where people often send (or expect to receive) greeting cards, and people often keep up the custom simply because they don’t want to be seen as cheap.
Since there are so many different situations – with different relationships and connections – the simple solution of a blank greeting card with some nice writing on the inside doesn’t always work. Instead, one should try a diversity of tactics, all designed to help you (and others) spend less on greeting cards and spend more (time and money) on each other.
Discuss the situation with close relatives and friends. If you have some close friends and family that are understanding and willing to discuss things, sit down with them and suggest that you stop exchanging cards and instead exchange phone calls or visits for such situations. A twenty minute phone call is substantially more personal, less expensive (usually), and takes about the same amount of time as picking out a greeting card. The point is not to simply stop exchanging sentiments, but to have those sentiments not involve the needless expense of a greeting card.
Use a $5 bill instead of a card. This is a great tactic for a graduation card or a child’s birthday card, if one is expected. Instead of buying a card, get an envelope and put a $5 bill inside with a tiny note paperclipped (or taped) to it that says “I bet you’d enjoy this more than just another greeting card!” And, almost always, they will.
Send a letter or a picture of your family instead of a card. Cards are often just sent to express a desire to maintain a personal connection, so why not just send something authentically personal instead of a birthday card or a Christmas card? Send a picture of your family (prints are less than a quarter) and a one page handwritten letter instead of a card for such occasions – the letter won’t take that long and it will mean far more to the recipient than a generic card ever will.
Create a nice paper card with your computer. If you prefer the aesthetics of a folded card, create one on your home computer and use heavy stock paper to print them out. Use your own creativity to create a card, or use cards you like as a template. Then just print them out yourself – the cost is substantially less than it would be otherwise.
Use public domain (or non-commercial licensed) pictures for art. Many people wish to use stylized art on their printed greeting cards, so go out there and look for some! There are treasure troves of art out there that people have already marked for sharing freely for non-commercial use (like on your cards). For starters, use the Flickr advanced search and check the box at the bottom of the page that allows you to search for Creative Commons-licensed content. Then, up at the top, enter a general term or two for what you’re looking for, then use what you want for your own letters or greeting cards to spruce them up.
Use quoted poetry to express sentiments instead of greeting card text. Many people struggle to find the words to express the sentiment they want to share. One effective way to do this is to simply quote poetry or song lyrics, and a good place to get started on that is to use a poetry search engine to find exactly what you want. Rather than limiting yourself to ten poor choices of sentiment on the cards at the store, search for your own at home out of millions of poems and songs and use the perfect one in your own self-designed card or letter.
Write your own sentiments in your own handwriting. I personally find anything handwritten to be much more sentimental and powerful than anything printed. Take the time to actually write down your thoughts and feelings, even if you’re just copying a poem down in your own handwriting. It will actually mean much more to the recipient that these words are ones you evidently considered and thought about on your own, carefully and lovingly.
Encourage others to do the same through your own actions. Many people still shy away from these tactics because it’s going against the grain. My philosophy? The more you do things like this on your own, sticking your neck out a bit, the more you’re going to convince others to do the same. I’d far rather receive ten handwritten notes at Christmas than ten prepackaged Christmas cards – not only is the sender saving money, they’re sending true sentiments instead.
Now’s the time to get started, with your very next card-giving occasion. Find a tactic that works for each situation, then apply it. Each greeting card you don’t buy is at least a few dollars saved in your pocket, and each time you replace that generic card with something truly personal and sentimental, you build up a valuable personal relationship.