Friday, July 25, 2014

Frugalversary

Today, Brian and I are celebrating our tenth anniversary. According to this list on Wikipedia, the traditional gift for the tenth anniversary is tin, a material that isn't used that much these days; many things that would once have been made of tin are now made of plastic, which isn't traditional for anything. Still, I thought it would be nice to come up with an anniversary present for Brian that featured some sort of twist on the tin theme.

After toying with the idea of tin for a while (tin soldiers? tintinnabulation? a tin of sardines?) it occurred to me that, as we're both fans of board games, perhaps I could find some game that had "tin" in the title. I already knew there was a game called Brass, so this didn't seem like too much of a stretch. So I did a search for "tin" on BoardGameGeek.com, and at the top of the list was Dungeon in a Tin, described as "a solo or cooperative dungeon-hack." The gimmick is that all the pieces for the game—dungeon tiles, monster dice, treasure, tokens, and so on—can fit into an Altoids tin. Moreover, since the game was designed for a "One Full-Sheet Label" competition, all the printable parts of the game fit onto a single sheet of label paper. How elegant!

The print-and-play version of the game wasn't available on the Board Game Geek site, but a quick Google search led me to the correct page on the game designer's site. He had copies of the rules and the label printouts in both color and black-and-white, sized for both A4 (British) and 8.5-by-11 paper. The only other pieces required to make the game were a single sheet of cardboard (which I could easily get by salvaging a cereal box from the recycling bin), eight dice, assorted tokens, and a tin to keep it in. A quick calculation showed that I could probably put the whole thing together for under $5. True, the game only earned a middling rating from the Board Game Geeks who tried it—about 6.5 stars out of 10—but at that price, what did I have to lose? I knew Brian would be tickled with the idea of it, whether the game itself turned out to be loads of fun or not.

Assembling the game proved to be a little bit trickier than I expected. The rule sheet suggested using 19-mm indented blank dice, which aren't something you can just walk into a store and buy. They had some on Amazon.com, but the shipping would have cost more than the dice themselves. So in the end, I just bought a 10-pack of standard 6-sided dice at the game store. By printing the label sheet out slightly reduced, I ended up with square stickers that would just fit onto the sides of these slightly smaller dice. The actual printing was another unexpected snag; although I had some full-sheet labels handy, our colored ink cartridge chose this time to be uncooperative. First it was completely out of blue ink; then, after Brian refilled the blue, the yellow and magenta wouldn't come out properly. We eventually ended up giving in and buying a whole new colored ink cartridge (though we still saved a bit of money by choosing the Office Depot brand for $17, rather than the official HP cartridge for $21). And then, once the colored ink was working, the black ink ran out and needed to be refilled as well for everything to print properly. So I kept having to ask Brian to refill or otherwise fiddle with the ink cartridges without giving away what I was trying to print, sidestepping his offers to just forward it to him so he could print it out at work. But in the end, I was able to produce a readable sheet of labels and attach them to the cardboard or to the dice, as appropriate.

As for the other components, I used bread tabs (which we had a good-sized collection of) for the experience point and level tokens, soda can tabs (which I thought vaguely resembled padlocks) for the "locked door" tokens, and a small bead I had from who knows where for the "Heart token" that keeps track of your hit points. And I found a suitable tin to hold everything for only 15 cents at a yard sale, thus saving myself the trouble of buying and consuming a whole tin of mints in one month. And presto: a whimsical and appropriate anniversary gift for a total cost of $1.22 (not counting the cost of the new ink cartridge, which we would have had to buy sooner or later anyway).

Brian's gift to me was equally ecofrugal. He, too, played around with the idea of tin and hit on the idea of making me a flower out of sheet tin as a romantic gesture. He originally planned to use some little tin sheets like this that he found at Lowe's, but they turned out to be too hard to work with, and he ended up cutting himself pretty badly on the sharp edge. (Alas, a sacrifice for love!) So he switched to the medium of tin foil (which is actually made of aluminum, but Wikipedia says that's traditional too, at least in America), which he was able to fold, twist, and curl into a very reasonable flower-like shape without risk of bloodshed. Isn't it purty? As for the cost, you can calculate it as either (1) nothing, since we already had the aluminum foil on hand; (2) a few cents, since a 75-square-foot roll of aluminum foil costs about two bucks, and he didn't use more than a foot or two; or (3) $2.73 for the one sheet of tin he used (and therefore can't return) before he figured out that this material wasn't going to work. But no matter how you calculate it, we spent less than $4 total on two gifts that were charming, whimsical, and exactly right for each other.

Of course, we then went out and spent nearly $150 at IKEA on our anniversary celebration binge. But that's okay; even though it's far more money than we'd normally spend in one place at one time, you can make a case that every single item we bought there was an ecofrugal choice as well. But that's a subject for another post.
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