Creative Ways to Save Money
In recent years, the average family of four has spent over $5,300 on food, nearly $3,000 on gifts, $2,100 on clothing and $3,000 on recreation. That's all well and good when you're spending money that you have, but what about if you're watching your pennies because of a layoff or a plummeting 401(k) balance?
In this economy, both are all too common. So it's time to get creative. Yes, there are certain expenses in the family budget that are fixed—your rent or mortgage, utilities, car payment, gas to get you back and forth to work and groceries to put food on the table. I'd put childcare and health insurance on that list as well. But most other things are variable expenses: You get to decide where to cut back.
One way people are doing that is by not buying the things they wan—books, DVDs, toys—and instead, trading, renting, borrowing or even taking someone else's unwanted belongings. These days, the Internet has made it easier than ever to find the stuff you're looking for—for free or at the very least, cheap.
Here are a few of my favorite ways to save...
A similar concept that caught my eye as a mom is Zwaggle.com. Parents know how fast babies and toddlers outgrow clothes and shoes, and keeping up can put a major dent in your pocket. With this site, you can trade the items your child no longer wears or uses for the things you need—including strollers, high chairs and winter coats. Again, you pay shipping, which Zwaggle spokesperson Caitlin Haedicke says usually averages around $7.
A couple of the biggies: Avelle (www.avelle.com) and From Bags to Riches (www.frombagstoriches.com), which rent designer handbags, and Borrowed Bling (www.borrowedbling.com), which of course focuses on jewelry. Most of these sites have a range of membership options that allow you to rent at a discount, or you can rent as a guest for full price.
Before you sign up, a few things to think about: How often are you going to rent items? Are you renting something that you'll use a lot, in which case, would buying it actually be more economical? Is insurance included if the item is lost or damaged? Sometimes it is, but often it's not. The last thing you need is a big bill when you're trying to cut back.
Another helpful resource for borrowing tools is, interestingly enough, your local public library. Many are starting to build up tool collections, so definitely check it out before you put up the cash for a new power drill.
One of the biggest examples, Freecycle (www.freecycle.org), has over 4,000 local groups. Members post items they want to give away, and you can reply if you see something you want. Because of this network's popularity, I had a little trouble getting anything I e-mailed for—time is of the essence—but there are a number of smaller alternatives that work in much the same way: Freesharing (www.freesharing.org), Sharing Is Giving (www.sharingisgiving.org) and FreeUse (www.freeuse.org) are worth a look.
Because of the economy, new sites like the ones I've mentioned are popping up all the time, so always read the fine print and check to be sure the site lists contact information—a working e-mail address, phone number or both—so you can get in touch with a real person with questions.
Find out how you can save $5,000 in one year.