Saving with a little help from your friends
week I was at a garage sale with my friend Dena, hoping to find
a dresser for my daughter's room. My 7-year-old is hard on furniture
so I had no intention of buying new. As we browsed at one table,
I picked up a shirt my daughter's size. Dena glanced at it and pointed
out a flaw.
"It's only a quarter," I said. "She won't wear that,"
I put the shirt back.
Saving that quarter isn't going
to get me much closer to owning the house of my dreams, but it symbolizes
a way of shopping that has taught me how to make a dollar stretch.
I go shopping with Dena because any time I look in danger of buying
something I don't need, or of paying more than I should, she performs
an intervention and saves me from myself. In other words, I save
money with a little help from my friends.
Shopping with friends is one way to avoid impulse
buys (but only if your friends don't encourage you to buy on impulse).
When I shop with Dena, I don't even bother to look at most of the
things that catch my eye because I know she'll give me The Look.
On my own, those very same things could easily sneak into my shopping
Other strategies for getting a little money-saving
help from your friends include:
Putting the word out. One
woman I know circulates an e-mail newsletter among family and friends.
Everyone lists things they need and how much they're willing to
pay for them. They also list things they own that are in good condition,
but which they no longer need. Then everyone trades. Following her
lead, I tried this with my family and got rid of a bunch of extra
kitchen equipment while netting a great desk for my daughter (free!)
and a bunch of DVDs that my sister's kids had outgrown, but that
suited my daughter perfectly (also free!).
Swapping coupons and other
valuables. My small-town newspaper doesn't offer much in
the way of coupons, so one of my friends clips them from the big-city
newspaper she gets and shares them with me. I've saved hundreds
of dollars on items I intended to buy anyway. One of my sisters
signs up for every electronic newsletter possible and forwards coupons
to the rest of us if she knows we'll be interested (I get the ones
for the bookstores; one of my other sisters gets the ones for the
clothing stores). When one of us gets a gift certificate or gift
card we can't use, we swap. Our trades aren't always straight up,
but it evens out in the end. If I have a loyalty coupon or store
dollars set to expire before I can get to the store, I make sure
one of my sisters or a friend ends up with them, but check to make
sure these are transferable to save any hassles.
Buying in bulk.
Families are smaller these days and many times can't use up all
of the product in a bulk package -- but the savings can be substantial.
In my case, I live in small places and move a lot, so I don't want
to store a case of green beans under the bed and then have to haul
it halfway across the country. But if I can split it, I will. Last
week after the garage sale, we stopped by a country market for fresh
produce. I wouldn't have bothered for myself, but we split a batch
of fresh-picked asparagus for next to nothing. Sharing the savings
with family and friends helps everyone out.
Swapping chores. Dena
has a pickup truck, which is why I thought of her when I needed
to buy the dresser for my daughter's room. Even if I had bought
new, being able to pick the dresser up and bring it home would have
saved me a delivery charge. In this case, since I was purchasing
the dresser from a private individual, it was the only way I could
have gotten the thing home (without dropping more money on a rental).
I was able to return the favor within a few days, when Dena needed
help with a project at work. We both felt fine about asking for
the favor because that's what friends are for. If you're not sure
about the reciprocation, prevent yourself from being taken advantage
of by starting with small swaps. If your friend understands the
rules of the game, great. If not, you've only lost a little time,
and you can move along to finding a friend who does understand.
Get together. Dena
and one of her friends occasionally get together to do a new project
or learn a moneysaving skill. They're more motivated doing it together.
"When you feel stuck or overwhelmed, it's nice to have a partner
who can help you get going with a project," Dena said. Buddies
can often get things cheaper, as well. For example, two friends
can hire a personal trainer together, with each contributing half
the fee. Not only are you more motivated to do the program if you're
doing it with your friend, you've saved half the cost of hiring
someone on your own. So if you need a service, try to split the
cost with a friend.
Picking up bargains for each
other. One afternoon at the grocery store,
I noticed a shelf of mixed nuts, each can priced at 32 cents. Sixteen
ounces of mixed nuts can sell for $5.99 and up, so this was an unbelievable
deal. The expiration date was months away, so I knew I could stock
up -- and I also knew my family would love to share in my find.
So I bought everything on the shelf (more than I would use up myself)
confident that as soon as I could share the news with my family
they'd be at my door ready to take home the treasure and happily
reimburse me for the expense. In the same way, one of my sisters
snapped up a princess nightgown for my daughter the minute she saw
it on clearance because she knew I 'd been looking at it for a Christmas
present. Bargains are often local and unexpected, so if you can
trust each other to pick up a bargain when you see it, you'll reap
real rewards. Sometimes you may guess wrong, but in the long run,
it's worth the few mistakes for the savings you'll see.
Friends and family can help you
reach your financial goals if you let them know you'd like their
help -- and that you're willing to help in return.
Lawler is the author of more than 20 books on subjects ranging
from martial arts to popular culture to small business ownership.
Her work has appeared in magazines such as Family Circle, Cooking
Light and American Fitness. She pinches pennies in Kansas with her
daughter and two rambunctious dogs.