Sharing Is Caring… About Your Finances
You learned the importance of sharing back in kindergarten, but your teacher probably didn’t mention the benefit it could have on your piggy bank. By sharing products with others instead of buying them outright just for yourself, you can often save a significant amount of money in the long run.
You can do this in a variety of ways, from reserving a plot in a community garden to grow your own fruits and veggies to joining a car-sharing service if you only need an automobile for a few hours at a time.
Here are 10 of the more interesting things you can share to cut costs this year.
Photo Credit: andrechinn
It’s a dilemma every budget-conscious traveler faces: You want to see the world, but can’t always afford to pay high hotel fees. If you don’t already have a friend who lives in the area you’re visiting, one option is to join a “home-sharing” service, which allows you to stay in the homes of other members for free or for a low membership fee.
HomeExchange offers more than 41,000 home-sharing listings in 144 countries, and you can take advantage of an unlimited number of exchanges for a membership fee of $9.95 per month. There are two types of exchanges: home exchanges and hospitality exchanges. Home exchangers trade their homes, condominiums or apartments at a time that is convenient for both parties (the website says that one exchanger traded his home for a 40-foot yacht, and another couple swapped their villa in Italy for an RV in Oregon because they had always wanted to tour the U.S. in true nomadic style). Hospitality exchangers, on the other hand, host each other in their homes at designated times. Your home exchange partners stay with you as guests and then you go and stay with them as their guests.
Another home-sharing service is CouchSurfer, which has no membership fees and does not allow hosts to charge you to stay in their home. The service boasts millions of members in more than 230 countries and territories around the world, and does not require you to host someone first in order to be eligible to stay in someone else’s home.
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The concept of sharing books is nothing new (remember the local library?), but what is new is the fact that you can now share digital books rather than just those old paperbacks and hardcovers.
As MainStreet has previously reported, Amazon is allowing its Prime members who own a Kindle to borrow free e-books just as they would from a traditional library, and boasts a selection of more than 50,000 titles. To find eligible books, just bring up the Kindle Store on your device and select “Kindle Owners’ Lending Library” as the category. The title will display the option to either purchase or borrow for free.
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While it might make sense to rent a car for that family vacation or business trip, what if you only need a car for a few hours every so often? In that case, you might want to consider joining a car-sharing service such as Zipcar.
Zipcar provides you access to cars located all over your city, which are reserved for you near where you work or live, usually in off-street parking spaces. Every member gets a Zipcard, which is about the shape and size of a credit card and unlocks the car when you hold it up to a card reader. You can reserve cars by the hour or the day and fees vary by location. For example, in New York City Zipcar has a $60 annual fee and a $25 application fee, and costs $8.75 per hour Mondays through Thursdays and $13.50 per hour Fridays through Sundays. Gas and insurance are included, and you’re entitled to 180 free miles a day.
Another way to share cars is by carpooling. If you don’t have friends or family members who are interested, you can arrange carpools with other people in your area on websites such as Craigslist (click “Rideshare” to view these types of listings) or eRideShare.com.
Photo Credit: Zipcar.com
Want to save money on your grocery bill? Consider skipping the supermarket produce aisle and growing your own bounty.
If you live in an apartment complex or own a house without a backyard garden, you can do this by joining a community garden, which can be used to grow everything from fruits and vegetables to flowers and herbs. These also typically have low membership fees. Oftentimes members pay for a section of the garden that they are responsible for tending, and get to keep what is grown on that plot. For instance, the Seattle’s P-Patch community garden program requires members to pay a $25 application fee plus $12 for each 100 square feet they’d like to garden, so a 10-foot by 10-foot garden would cost just $37 a year.
To find a community garden near where you live, you can visit the American Community Gardening Association website and type in your location.
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Cars aren’t the only mode of transportation you can share – many cities around the country are also offering bike-share programs, which let you save money, help the environment and stay in shape.
Denver B-cycle allows members to pick up a bike at any “B-station” and return it to that same station or any other “B-station” when they’re done riding. Membership/access fees cost $8 per day, $20 for a week, $30 for 30 days or $80 for a year, and additional usage fees are applied if your rides exceed 30 minutes. While an argument can be made for it being more cost effective to actually buy a bicycle if you bike often, participating in a bike-sharing service might make sense if you only need a bike once in a while, are visiting an area for a short amount of time or don’t have room to store a bike in your home.
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If you don’t want to go out and buy a tool that you might need for that occasional home repair project, consider asking one of your neighbors if you can borrow it from them. If the neighbors you already know don’t have the tool you need, the sharing site NeighborGoods might be able to help.
First, you’ll have to create an account on the site and include your location. Then when you search for items you need, the website will bring up a list of members in the area who have that particular item, and will give you the option to email them to set up a time to borrow the item. You can also create postings to advertise stuff that you own and are willing to share with other members.
While NeighborGoods allows you to find everything from electronics to baby carriages, it seems that a good number of posts have to do with tools. A quick search of tools in New York brought up listings on everything from wrenches, hammers and pliers to bike cable cutters.
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Hiring a service to shovel your driveway each time it snows isn’t realistic for those on a tight budget, but what if you don’t have the time or energy to shovel your property yourself? A snow blower is one option, but buying one yourself can be expensive (they typically cost hundreds of dollars, and some are priced at more than $1,000). A great solution is to co-own a snow blower with a neighbor or a group of neighbors.
The same concept can be applied to lawnmowers and other pieces of large equipment that you might only need occasionally.
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Although the government has done quite a bit of cracking down on music sharing, one company that still allows you to do it legally is the music-streaming service Spotify. Members of the service can simply copy the link of a playlist or track and then drop it into an email or a social website such as Facebook or Twitter – all your friends have to do is click the link and Spotify will play the music.
Spotify comes in different versions – the free version gives you unlimited streaming for the first six months, though it comes with ads and there are limitations on how much you can stream after six months. You can also opt for Spotify Unlimited for $4.99 per month, which does not include ads or time limits, or Spotify Premium for $9.99 per month, which is like Spotify Unlimited except you can also play music on your mobile phone and use the service when you’re offline.
Photo Credit: Spotify.com
Let’s face it: Parents need a little time away from the kids every now and then, but hiring a baby sitter can get expensive. A great solution is to join a baby-sitting community where you can exchange services with other parents, so that someone can watch your little ones when you are busy, and you can do the same for them.
One popular website that helps facilitate this is BabysitterExchange, which allows you to find a baby-sitting community to join or lets you create your own with trusted friends, family members or neighbors. The site gives groups an easy system to make sure everyone is doing their fair share: You spend tokens when other members sit for you, and you earn tokens when you sit for other members.
In addition to baby sitting, you can also use the site to arrange pet sitting, carpooling, tutoring, house sitting and more.
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Do you find yourself wanting to buy more clothes and accessories than you can afford? A good solution is to share some articles of clothing and accessories with friends. You can either borrow clothes you each already have, or pool money together and buy a few key pieces. Of course, when it comes to shirts, dresses and shoes, for instance, you’ll want to make sure you’re sharing with friends who are about the same size as you, though size doesn’t usually matter for accessories such as bags, jewelry and scarves.
To keep track of who has what, consider creating a free wiki page that each person can access and update through a website such as wikispaces.com.
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12 Things to Stop Buying
There’s no doubt that sharing products can help you save your hard-earned cash, but there are some things you should consider cutting out of your budget altogether this year. Check out this MainStreet roundup for suggestions on 12 things to stop paying for in 2012.
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