By Jeremy Adam Smith
The members of this neighborhood group in Santa Rosa, California, save money by borrowing tools from their tool-lending library. Photo by Dustin Zuckerman, from the Shareable.net article, "Is Sharing Contagious?"
Sharing stuff and services conserves resources and builds our ties with our neighbors—but it also saves money, sometimes a lot of money. The first step is to do an inventory and look at the ways you're already sharing; I bet you'll be surprised. Then ask yourself, what else can I share?
Here are ten of our top suggestions, culled from a year's worth of content on Shareable.net—and we’d love to hear yours in a comment!
10. Tools & lawn equipment. Dustin Zuckerman in Santa Rosa, California, worked as both a librarian and a handyman. When he discovered that residents of Oakland and Berkeley could check out tools like books from local libraries, he decided to combine his two passions and start his own tool-lending library.
"Today, routers, power tools, shovels, painting kits, saws, sanders, are packed into every conceivable spot of his apartment and garage," writes Rachel Botsman. "In a camper van in his driveway he keeps weed whackers, power hoses and other bulkier equipment."
There might be a tool-lending library in your community, offered by someone like Zuckerman, or through your local library.
And while you're sharing tools, why not also save money by sharing fixing skills? The Brooklyn-based Fixers' Collective brings neighbors together once a week to share tools and help each other fix broken goods that would ordinarily get thrown away. This saves money in more ways than one! Why not start one in your neighborhood?
9. Gardens & yards. You can also share yards and gardens, which saves money on tools and food, among other things. According to attorney Janelle Orsi, "Yard-sharing has many benefits, from access to fresh food to stronger neighborhood connections to environmental sustainability." In The Sharing Solution, Janelle walks readers through all the steps to yard-sharing, from setting expectations to overcoming rules forbidding gardens in front yards.
"After all, such rules are archaic and predate our society's growing awareness of problems such as farmland depletion," she writes. "People everywhere have decided to grow food, not lawns!"
While you don't need technology to share a yard, a service like Hyperlocavore can help you manage the process, and perhaps more importantly find potential yardshare partners.
If you live in an urban area and don't have a yard to share, many cities have launched community garden programs, where neighbors share plots in a common space. But you can also start your own public, cooperative garden: When friends went to the city and asked if our neighborhood group could plant a garden in our local playground, the park and recreation department said yes, and even provided tons of support.
8. Your home. Orsi also notes that "Sharing is one solution to an unforgiving housing crisis, and it may even be a trend." Again, in The Sharing Solution she describes many examples of how people saved money and resources by sharing houses, and provides detailed, nuts-and-bolts guidelines for different kinds of homesharing arrangements.
There are also economical models for homeownership including cohousing, community land trusts, and limited equity cooperative housing that leverage shared assets to decrease costs.
There are other ways to share the costs of housing, even if you do not actually own a house. For example, if you live in an apartment building or dense urban area, there is truly no need for each household to have its own private wireless router. Talk to your closest neighbors and see if they'd like to participate in the same wireless network — you'll be able to cut your monthly bill in half, at least, and you might go in together on the cost of the router.
Another example: If you pay a monthly fee for trash pickup, for example, try sharing cans or arranging two-can pickups. Again, you'll probably be able to cut your monthly bill in half.
You can also save money on home maintenance by working with your neighbors on home repair and weatherization. The members of one "work group" in Oakland, Calif., take turns doing repair projects on each other's homes. Another group in Cambridge, Mass., has been organizing monthly weatherization "barnraisings." The barnraisings save energy and money, of course, but they also build community.
Then there's the time honored practice of taking in borders, which has been given a facelift by services like Airbnb — a marketplace for spare rooms, houses, stunning lofts, and even cabooses!
7. Food. There are many ways to save money on food by sharing, and many of them also lead to healthier food on your table. You can organize potlucks and dinner nights among friends, of course, but today there are so many other ways to share healthy food.
You can get involved in helping to grow and harvest the crops. You can join a local community-supported agriculture program or a community-supported kitchen, start a farmers market, and share beef and eggs through regional cooperatives. You might even sign up for a "crop mob" that will give you a chance to get your hands dirty for a day in exchange for a little food.
In addition, people in cities around the country have organized foraging programs that collect fruit from people's yards and redistribute them throughout the neighborhood and to people who can't afford fresh fruit. Neighborhood Fruit has a web site and an iPhone app that can facilitate your foraging.
Believe it or not, there are also restaurants around the world that allow people to barter for food. "I don't know that our five foot bartering wall will be the thing that turns this local economy in the right direction, but I do think we can make a significant impact," says Omer Orian, twenty-something co-owner of Off the Waffle in Eugene, Ore. He argues that his town possesses ample "human and natural resources" to sustain itself. "The lack of cash flow due to the economy should not stop this city from prospering."
6. Stuff. There are now dozens of websites that exist to help you share, exchange, or rent stuff, from furniture to electronics to books — almost anything you need in daily life you can get for low or no cost on the Internet. There's Craigslist and Freecycle, of course, but also start-ups like Rentalic, NeighborGoods, Closest Closet, and EcoModo.
If you look around, you'll likely also find local "really really free markets" where people meet face to face. Share Tompkins, a volunteer-run group based in Ithaca, N.Y., organizes monthly Community Swap Meets, where people give away and barter everything from homemade apple butter to original art to musical instruments. Beyond the tangible activities, writes Shira Golding, "We feel we are contributing to the creation of a social fabric rich in giving and sharing."
5. Babysitting. Parents around the country set up babysitting cooperatives, where they either take turns watching each other's kids or hire a sitter together.
It is less common for parents to share a regular nanny. A full-time nanny can earn $400-$700 per week, which is beyond the budget of many working families. Sharing a nanny cuts those costs substantially.
"Costs are split in any number of creative ways, often evenly split between the families," writes Kathleen Webb. "In a nanny-share arrangement, the nanny usually earns 10-20 percent more than her counterparts employed by a single family. Split down the middle, however, this creates a win-win situation for the families and the caregiver."
4. Knowledge. Are you an expert on homebrews, bicycle repair, or mending clothes? Do you want to know how to do these things? You could spend money on classes...or you could teach your skills to somebody else and learn something from them in the process!
Brooklyn Skillshare in New York organizes meet-ups where people show up and share their personal expertise. According to Meg Wachter, "Everyone really has something to teach, and something to learn. The seeds for the Brooklyn Skillshare began in the spring of 2009 when I attended a similar event in Boston and was inspired by the weekend-long workshops offered on a regular basis, free of charge." Today, Meg helps organize Brooklyn Skillshare events throughout the year.
And as long as you're pursuing free knowledge, don't forget libraries (the original shareable institution!) and online educational resources like the Open Educational Resources Commons.
Credit: Olli Doo
3. Clothes. My wife walked into a laundromat seeking change for a dollar, and there she discovered the "sock exchange," where customers pin single socks to a board for anyone to take and match. Such gestures make city living more fun, and they save money!
There are lots of ways to share your old duds or get your hands on someone else's recycled fashions. In addition to conventional routes — buying from or donating to Goodwill — you can swap clothes online at sites like thredUp and Freecycle. At thredUp, for example, participants list what clothes they want to share on the company's site and exchange items through the mail.
Clothing-swap parties are easy to organize and are becoming popular throughout the country — round up your old clothes, invite your friends over, and swap apparel. In New York, a group called Score! organizes mega-clothing exchanges and parties across the city. They bring DJs, artists, and fashion photographers to take pictures of attendees in their "scored" outfits. Why not organize one of these in your town?
2. Bikes. There are now almost 200 citywide bikesharing programs around the world, which use GPS and internet and mobile phone access to connect people with bikes. For example, each bicycle in Denver's new B-Cycle program can track mileage, calories burned, and amount of carbon offset — and each user is able to monitor their own fitness and see their contributions to the city's sustainability!
No bikesharing program in your city? Why not help start one? A new technology called Social Bicycles promises to unleash the promise of DIY bikesharing. For a more ambitious citywide program, Boston's official "bike czar," Nicole Freedman, says that the first step is to do a lot of research. "Learn if your city is already looking at it," she says. "City government has to be involved; it has to be a public-private partnership, because no bike sharing program can work without using public space. Anyone good in government is listening to the public; we're hired by the public, and hearing people's requests is one of the best ways to hear what's good."
And the number one money-saving shareable is (drumroll, please)....
1. Your Ride. How much does car ownership cost? Most studies estimate that the average American spends $8,000 a year on cars. Not me — I don't have a car and I spend about $1,500/year on transportation (excluding plane travel), with most of it going to public transit, cabs, and very occasional car rentals. I'm not a superhero — I'm a family man and I like convenience as much as anyone.
In fact, it's easier than ever to live without a car. You can start by exploring options like biking, walking, and public transit, which are all better for your wallet, your health, and your environment. Of course, sometimes you'll still need a car — and that's where carsharing services come in.
Between 2007 and 2009, membership in North American services like Zipcar and the nonprofit City Carshare rose by 117 percent — and is projected to hit 4.4 million members within six years.
Own a set of wheels? You can still share them. We're seeing a proliferation of new peer-to-peer carsharing services like RelayRides, Spride Share, and WhipCar, which allow both neighbors and strangers to rent each other cars. Let's say, for example, that you're visiting Baltimore, Md., for a day and need a car for touring the city. You'd look at the RelayRides website, find the nearest participant who is renting out her car, check availability and reserve the time, and then go get your ride. There are also many new companies — such Avego, Zebigo, Zimride, and Carticipate — that connect carpoolers and ridesharers over the Internet.
And there it is, our top ten list of ways to save money by sharing. I hope you enjoyed reading about them all, and hope you find a way to bring some or all of them into your own lives. If you have more suggestions or any questions about anything on the list, please do leave them in a comment!
This piece was originally written for the Wells Fargo Environmental Forum. Parts of it also appear in Yes! magazine's special issue about community resilience, on newsstands now.