The Neighborhood Cooperative

Last weekend, our town had a “city wide yard sale.” There was a bit of promotion of this event by the city council and quite a few homes participated (we would have, but unfortunately we hadn’t been at home for several weekends in a row due to my grandmother’s passing and several other family commitments, so we simply weren’t aware of it until it was too late). We were able to find a few really cheap interesting cookbooks, my daughter got a pile of My Little Ponies for fifty cents, and my son got a Batman mask (that he’s played with incessantly) for a dime.

One thing I couldn’t help but notice was that there were a lot of people out and about. They would simply go down a block, visiting several sales in one swoop. It was quite clear that the presence of a large number of yard sales in such a compressed space had really brought out the crowds – the collective nature of the yard sales had brought out more people than just an individual sale ever could have.

So, it occurred to me: why couldn’t any block or neighborhood do this? A group of people get together, agree to have a yard sale on the same weekend, each contribute a few dollars to advertise, and thus attract far more visitors to their sale than they might otherwise have (because of better advertising and the group effect).

It goes beyond that, even. There are many ways in which you can form a collective with your neighbors in order to save you both some money. Here are some suggestions for doing just that.

Babysitting If you have children and multiple neighbors have children as well, discuss starting a babysitting collective with two or three other families. One night a week, one of the families in the collective hosts all of the children, allowing the other parents to have a date night or another free evening – for free. Do this on a rotating basis and, in exchange for one evening where you have a small army of kids in your home, you have two or three evenings of free babysitting.

Meals Once or twice a week, have a meal exchange with your neighbors. Prepare a double amount of what you normally would make, then package the extra half and hand-deliver it to a neighbor. Then, in exchange, the other family could deliver a meal to you one or two nights a week. Of course, you could also simply eat together on a scheduled basis if that works well for you. Doing this enables you to use many ingredients in bulk, saving money on meal preparation and saving time as well (since half of the meals are simply delivered to you, ready to eat).

Household equipment Why not share a lawnmower with your neighbor? How about a snowblower? One great model for this exists in our neighborhood, where one person owns a snowblower and provides fuel for it, but is not in good enough physical shape to operate it. Thus, one of her neighbors actually operates the snowblower, using it to blow the snow out of both driveways (and often doing a large swath of the block’s entire sidewalk as well).

Gardening If two or three neighbors all have gardens, why not specialize the gardens and freely share the produce? This allows one family to focus specifically on a crop or two, making garden maintenance easier for all of the people involved. You can even carry this to the level of canning and/or freezing, agreeing to swap prepared garden products with neighbors.

This sounds intriguing, but how do I get started?
Ideas like this are obviously great ways to save money, but how exactly can one get this started?

The biggest obstacle for many people is simply bringing up the subject. It often seems uncomfortable to suggest such an arrangement with a neighbor.

So how do you get past that step? It’s easy – create a situation where it’s quite comfortable to raise such a topic. Invite your neighbors over for a casual meal and broach the subject when everyone is comfortable. This gives you the opportunity to figure out for yourself how comfortable you are with them, sets the stage for the issue quite well, and also provides for a nice social opportunity.

Another obstacle is making sure that one family isn’t merely taking advantage of others. Again, the best way to avoid this is to take charge yourself. Come up with your own plan and propose it to the others that might be involved, letting them decide if they want to go along with it. It’s usually easier to go for “simple” instead of “perfect balance,” though – instead of sweating issues of co-owning items for yard use, for example, consider a situation where one person “owns” the item and others share it easily and openly.

Another useful tactic is to make the arrangement very open and without extensive commitment. For example, don’t implement a tight long-term schedule for swapping babysitting evenings, at least at first. Let people get used to and comfortable with the arrangement, then suggest formalizing it more if everything works (so that people can plan ahead for certain weekends). This also makes it easier for the arrangement to end if it doesn’t work well. Remember, it doesn’t take much time at all for arrangements like this to begin to save you real money.

Good luck!

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