Keys to spending less & living well: find the free


Over the past few weeks, I’ve been talking about five fundamental elements of saving money and enjoying a fulfilling life. These steps have worked wonders in my life, and I know they can for you too!

We’ve already talked about Cherishing Your Long-Term Goals, Tracking Spending, Being a Planner, and Joining Communities.

The fifth and final key is:

Find the Free: Ask, Swap and Do-it-Yourself

Give and Take

Instead of spending the time and effort selling my stuff on places like Craigslist or to other moms on a listserv, I prefer to give it away. I’m no entrepreneur but, in my experience, the money earned in consignment sales and eBay is not worth the effort. It makes me feel bad to get so little for objects that were well-loved by our family.

In contrast I save time (and money, if time is money) and feel good when I can just bag it up and find someone who is grateful to have it, whether it’s a neighbor or friend, someone in Freecycle, or a charity like Salvation Army.

Maybe because I regularly give, I feel comfortable asking for cast-offs such as hand-me-down clothing.

If you belong to a group (see my last post about Joining Communities), it’s easy to send an email asking if anyone is ready to pass along their baby boy clothes or if someone could lend you a luggage rack cargo carrier.

Do-it-Yourself or Delegate

You don’t have to be crafty or good in the kitchen to make home-made party supplies and food. There are lots of other ways you and your family can band together to get jobs done.

Think about how your children can help the economy of family—it teaches them life skills and the value of working together.

When we lived in New York City and could not spare a dime, my two daughters (then aged 5 and 7) helped me clean the house. We used a cleaning wheel to keep it fair and consistent, and every Saturday and Sunday morning we each took our turn to dust the living room or clean the bathroom or vacuum the bedrooms. It’s amazing how well children respond to being treated like grown-ups, and how feeling needed and respected can foster a sense of unity and strength in a family.

Barter, Exchange, Swap

Within a community of people, there is no limit to what you can exchange among others. Here are just some of the ways you can save money, make friends and have fun:

  • Clothing swaps (kids, womens or family clothing; it’s easy to host a clothing swap party)
  • Toy swaps (organized between families like a clothing swap) as suggested by Buttoned Up’sPretty Neat: Let Go of Perfection and Get Organized
  • Neighborhood tool sheds: “No one has to invest a lot of money to own a lot of tools that only get used periodically,” says Karen Falter of Cincinnati about communities that swap tools. “The neighbors make a list of who owns what and circulate the list to everyone. They develop a set of rules about what to do if someone breaks or loses a tool and an easy method of going about borrowing tools. I knew a group that made a group purchase of a snow-blower, decided who stored it, shared costs of maintenance and passed it around when needed.”
  • Dinner exchanges (See the New York Times’ Save Time and Stress with a Cooking Co-op)
  • Babysitting swaps, babysitting parties, babysitting co-ops, co-operative preschools

This is my fifth and final post in this series about keys to saving money and making life better. I hope you have found them to be helpful and do-able.

Have you found creative solutions to getting the things you need for free?

By Amy Suardi, Buttoned Up’s Savings Expert

Amy Suardi loves to find the silver lining of living on less at Frugal Mama.