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Saving with a little help from your friends

Jennifer Lawler Last 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," Dena countered.

I put the shirt back.

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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 cart.

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.

    Jennifer 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.

     
    -- Posted: June 3, 2005
         

     

     
     

     

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