Social Supply-Side Economics

Almost immediately after my article yesterday about the costs of preparing for additional children, Eileen wrote to me with a very worthwhile comment:

In that article you barely mentioned the value of family and friends who will give you lots of hand-me-downs and other items. Since you talk about the social value of things, I was surprised at this.

I agree wholeheartedly with Eileen that, if you have family and friends that have young children themselves, you might be in line for a lot of free used baby, toddler, and child items. For example, my mother’s best friend had a child about four years after I was born and my mother gave her best friend mountains of kid stuff to help out.

I like to call it “social supply-side economics.” To put it simply, you’re hoping that the things that others have might “trickle down” to you over time. This isn’t just about children’s items, it’s about everything from garden equipment to help putting a roof on your house. It’s about babysitting in a pinch and about giving you a ride when you have a flat tire.

The best way for you to make it happen in your own life is to maximize the chance for a trickle beforehand by beating down a path. You can do that by sharing things yourself. When you have items you no longer need (or are easily willing to share), share them. Each time you do, you prepare the path. When you have a free afternoon and a friend asks for help, offer that help. Each time you do, you prepare the path.

One problem with this avenue, though – and we faced it – is that it’s rarely a given that someone will have these items on hand and be ready to give them away when your child arrives. Among our friends and family, we had one sibling whose children were just a bit too much older than ours. They had decided to not have any more kids and had sold off most of their baby stuff before our first one arrived. We also had some other friends with children, but they were all expecting to have additional children down the line. Thus, we were pretty much on our own when it came to picking up the items we needed (and still need) for child care. Instead of waiting for hand-me-downs, we head out to thrift stores and other such places.

The lesson is simple: never rely on the social supply side. Plan assuming that you won’t get any help at all and then be grateful when something works out. Patience is really the key. There are few things in life that need to be done as quickly as we think they need to be done. Take your time with it, come up with plans on your own for accomplishing what you have in mind, then talk that plan over with friends. If someone has a better idea, great! If not,

Another problem with this is the “greed” factor. Don’t plan as though your friends and family will just hand over their stuff. They may be intending to keep it for their own future children. They may be intending to sell it to recoup some of their financial cost. They may have other people that they intend to give some of the items to. All of these are reasonable plans for the stuff they have – and you shouldn’t be insulted or offended (or have your plans destroyed) because they chose one of these alternate paths.

Again, the lesson is simple: don’t expect others to just hand over what they have. Greed never wins out.

The best way to get social supply-side economics working in your favor is to start out being the giver. Give your time to others. Give the things you don’t need to others. Give your contacts to others.

Yes, sometimes your generosity won’t be returned. On the other hand, not only will your generosity often be returned (sometimes with interest) by others, your reputation will do nothing but go up. People will see you in a more positive light because you give your time and talents to others without expecting anything in return. That positive reputation itself is a very powerful thing.

If you’re hoping for hand-me-downs later on, help out by babysitting now every once in a while – or find other ways to help out. Later on, when you have a child, your generosity will be returned in surprising ways.

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