smart spending

Consumers share in savings

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Highlights
  • Collaborative consumption is a growing trend.
  • Consumer savings can be substantial.
  • Use reputable firms when borrowing or lending.

Knocking on your neighbor's door to borrow a cup of sugar and sticking around to chat is a ritual as comforting as an old sweater. Neighborly folks, take note -- socializing and sharing with neighbors has taken on some high-tech twists.

Websites that connect people who are interested in borrowing, bartering or buying used instead of new are gaining in popularity. Trendspotters have even given the phenomenon a name: collaborative consumption. And they say it's hitting home with consumers because it saves money while connecting them with like-minded folks.

"Collaborative consumption is emerging so fast and across sectors because of a perfect storm of four key socioeconomic drivers," says Rachel Botsman, co-author of "What's Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption." She says these factors are environmental awareness, a renewed sense of community, a recession that fundamentally shook consumers and a torrent of social media that facilitates collaborating.

Sites for sharing

Sure, you've heard of Craigslist and eBay. But new entrants are taking collaborative consumption into new territories, providing fresh opportunities for consumers to be frugal. As with anything, it's smart to use reputable operators whether you're borrowing or lending.

Here are four leaders in the emerging collaborative consumption field.

Lending Club: Debuting in 2007 as a Facebook application, Lending Club owes its life to social media. Lending Club is a pioneer of peer-to-peer lending. Members looking for a loan post what they're seeking. Members looking to invest money finance the loans. Lending Club, based in Redwood City, Calif., says both sides win, with above-average returns for investors and lower-than-average rates for borrowers. However, it only accepts lower credit risks; roughly 90 percent of prospective borrowers are rejected.

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Chegg: Which came first, expensive college textbooks or burdensome student debt? No matter. Chegg resolved this chicken-or-egg question -- and also got its company name -- by hatching a cost-saving answer. Chegg rents textbooks for just the amount of time you need them. Then you ship them back, Netflix-style. It's much cheaper than buying, the company claims. "The Basic Practice of Statistics" by David S. Moore, for instance, was recently listed as renting for $44.99. Purchase price is $120.95. Also, Chegg plants a tree every time someone rents a book -- more than 4 million so far, according to its website.

Airbnb: Whether you have space to spare or want to stay in a place with flair, Airbnb matches hosts and guests with a wide range of accommodations around the world. For hosts, it's free to list your space; you get paid 24 hours after the guest checks in. For travelers, a recent survey of the site showed a wide selection of options below $100 in major American and European cities.

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