Updated on 08.03.07

Seven Ways To Save Money While Cooperating With Your Neighbors – And How To Get Started

Trent Hamm

One of the biggest untapped resources for frugality is one’s neighbors. If you have a good relationship with your neighbors, the frugal benefits for both of you can be tremendous. Here are seven frugal suggestions for shared activity with your neighbors that can save you both a wad of cash.

Reciprocal babysitting Offer to watch a neighbor’s children one Saturday night a month in exchange for them watching your kids one Saturday night a month. This makes for what amounts to free babysitting one night a month for both of you. This can be especially valuable near Christmastime – my parents and their neighbors used to do this in order to get the children out of the house so that presents could be bought and wrapped.

Neighborhood meals Get several of your neighbors together and have rotating meals – once every other week or so, one family cooks for everyone. This works well for cooking something simple: hamburgers on the grill with vegetables, boiled sweet corn, or a giant cajun feast (lots of stuff boiled together).

Shared equipment Look into buying a lawnmower with your neighbor. Or an edger. Or other such expensive equipment. This saves for all of you – for just a few hundred dollars, you can wind up with many years of use of a top-quality riding lawnmower and only have to bear a small fraction of the maintenance effort and expense.

Shared food If you have a gardening neighbor, agree to grow different things in your garden and share equally. For example, I know many techniques for growing tomatoes, so I might offer to grow a large number of tomato plants and share them with several neighbors in exchange for some of their produce.

Bulk buying Talk to several families about purchasing a fully butchered and packaged head of cattle. Quite often, you can get this far cheaper than sticker price if you get ahold of a meat locker. Sell shares of it and split up the meat so that you don’t overload your own freezer. You can basically do this with any very large bulk purchase to save a lot of money over the long run.

Summer camp! The families on our block are doing a very interesting thing to save them all significant daycare expenses this month. All of the children three and over are attending a rotating day camp at the different houses of their parents. Each week, one set of parents uses a week of vacation, hosts the camp at their house, and watches all of the kids while finding fun activities for them. If daycare costs $100 a week per child that you have and you have two children, this can save $2,600 over a thirteen week summer. (If there is interest in this, I’d be glad to describe it in more detail.)

Shared resources Need pruning shears but don’t have any? Don’t run to the hardware store for something you might use once – knock on your neighbor’s door and ask. Quite often, you’ll be able to find what you need.

So, how does one get started? My wife and I have simply invited several neighbors over for a meal, just to get to know them. We do this one family at a time so we’re not overwhelmed with names and such. Then, hopefully, they’ll reciprocate and you have the basis for a relationship where you get to know them well. Don’t be afraid of your neighbors – get to know them and you’ll find a powerful resource in your life.

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  1. Brian says:

    Regular readers will know that you live in a traditional neighborhood (houses, streets, etc), but these same rules can apply for apartment dwellers.

  2. Geron says:

    I like this post a lot, Trent. I would appreciate if you could elaborate on how you invited your neighbors over. My family tried to do this with gifts in our neighborhood a while ago, but it was met with a cool response. Any tips? Thanks!

  3. Sarah says:

    Great post as usual. Please go into more detail concerning the summer camp. Thank you, keep up the good work.

  4. shadox says:

    This is a great post. I am ashamed to admit that all I know about my neighbors are their names. In some cases I don’t even know names…

    On the downside, all of our neighbors are considerably older than us – not sure how that happened – and none of them have any small kids. We have three. Reciprocal baby sitting would not be very fair in our case… :-)

  5. PEC says:

    I have embraced these ideas..I cook for my neighbors 3-4 a week. The difference is that they pay for the food…$300-$400/mo.

    I buy in bulk from Costco (with their money) and during the week I will buy fresh herbs, cheese or spices as necessary.

  6. Pinyo says:

    Good post. I wish I have that kind of relationship with my neighbor. NY is so overcrowded that “neighbor” does not exist the same way as say, Virginia.

  7. plonkee says:

    I have no desire to do this but I can see how it would work really well if there are a bunch of people in the neighbourhood in similar situations to your own. Its a very suburban thing to do (not that you can’t apply it elsewhere).

    If your neighbours aren’t interested, try some others. I don’t know how you get to speak to people, but over here anyone working in their front garden is considered available for conversation.

  8. Sandy says:

    You may also want to consider a community garage sale and/or potluck dinner. People who I never see came out for it, and everyone had a great time! September 28 is National Good Neighbor Day (http://www.holidayinsights.com/other/goodneighbor.htm), so if you’re looking for an excuse to meet your neighbors, who could give you the cold shoulder for such a goodwill attempt? I’m also looking to plan a food drive around the holidays. All of these things give people something good to talk about and it creates a lot of positive energy in the neighborhood!

  9. PEC says:

    I find the food co-op thing works by simply inviting them over for dinner…let it slowly take it’s course ..everyone is busy so if one or two individuals what to share the responsibility it is a time saver, food saver and reduces your energy costs (go green !) and more importantly you have the ability to sit down and have a meal in the company of people you enjoy. It also has a side benefit where my sons and the neighbor’s sons all sit at the table and converse rather than in front of an Xbox or Playstation.

  10. Crystal says:

    We live in LA and lived on one street for 10 years where we only talked, well, said “HI” in passing to one family. Now we have moved to a small Cul-de-sac in the same city that is just 6 houses. We have made attempts to invite the others for bbq’s, etc. But so far only one family, right next door has been receptive. Yesterday they borrowed all our tables and chairs for a party and today our daughter is going to stay with them while we work. They have two high school girls and our daughter is 12. I’m not going to give up on the other neighbors, maybe inviting them over separately as opposed to a group thing would be better and less intimidating than a crowd. I’m open to being the organizer for ideas like this – It would create a good sense of community which is something we have never had with our neighbors. Thanks Trent.

  11. Carrie says:

    I agree that if you only need something one time as in a tool, then you can borrow it. But the issues involved in someone else not taking care of a “shared” item or abusing the theory, could inevitably cost more in hard feelings than it would cost to just purchase a tool myself. I’d rather keep the friend and my own tools.

  12. Please, definitely tell us more about the summer camp. I read a tip elsewhere about something similar, only it involved a group of stay-at-home moms, who went to a different house each day of the week, saving the cost of summer camp and giving themselves fun social time in addition to activities for the kids.

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