From Buy Nothing to Freecycle, gift groups help boost budgets and build community

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When Sherose Badruddin, 38, joined her local Buy Nothing group in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, five years ago, she did so purely to save money. As a single mother, she was on a tight budget.

“I joined my Buy Nothing group in 2016 to get free stuff; I thought that was it,” she said. “Very soon after, I discovered it was so much more.”

She found new clothes and shoes for her son, who was then 5 years old, and connected with families in her community that she wouldn’t have met otherwise, she said.

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In addition, she realized that even though she was working to economize, she had a lot to give — when her son outgrew toys and clothes, she donated them back to the community.

“I suppose I could have taken them to a thrift store,” said Badruddin, who works at a local library and later became manager of the Buy Nothing group in Chapel Hill. “But being able to give to a neighbor feels really good.”

A boom during the pandemic

Groups promoting gift-giving and the free exchange of goods and services have been around for a while. The Freecycle Network was founded in 2003 by Deron Beal to recycle items and Buy Nothing was started in 2013 by Liesl Clark and Rebecca Rockefeller as a social experiment on a local gift economy and to reduce the use of plastic.

Both groups experienced growth during the corona pandemic. Buy Nothing grew by a third in a year, according to its founders, and now has 4.27 million participants in more than 44 countries around the world using more than 6,800 Facebook groups (an app is also in the works and will be launched). launching soon).

During the pandemic, “communities came to realize that sharing is one of the biggest ingredients of resilience, which is trusting your neighbor,” Rockefeller said, adding that during lockdowns, many people felt comfortable or able to go to stores. but felt safe by contactless retrieval of a decontaminated item from a neighbor’s porch.

Freecycle saw an increase in activity during the pandemic, something Beal also noticed during the Great Recession more than a decade ago. The organization now has approximately 9 million members and is in more than 5,000 local communities around the world.

“Our organization’s growth is completely counter-cyclical,” says Beal.

The budget saver

For Kate Muth, 44, her local Buy Nothing group in Brooklyn, New York, means her family has been able to try things that wouldn’t fit a budget or that she would never think of buying.

This includes a pull-up bar, which she kept for one of her daughters – she has two, ages 4 and 9 – during the pandemic.

“That’s something nice that I would never have spent the money on,” said Muth, a customer experience strategist.

Occasionally, the group has also shielded her from a repeat purchase, as was the case with her blender. She had given one away a few years ago, but recently she thought it might be nice to have one again. Instead of going to the store, she could get one from the community.

These gift-giving groups can help people who spend less or are more conscious of their wallets, says Tania Brown, a certified financial planner and coach at SaverLife, a nonprofit focused on helping low-income Americans. money.

Feeling compelled to reduce consumption during the coronavirus pandemic, Brown imposed a no-spend challenge on her family for a week as an experiment. It ended up going so well that she now recommends similar challenges to interested customers.

“At the heart of it is a conscious intent about your spending,” she said, adding that being part of a gifting group can help you slow down hasty, emotional spending by looking for something within the community.

For those interested in spending less or being a more conscious consumer, Brown recommends starting small.

“It could be as simple as not spending money on an item you normally buy impulsively, or going a week without credit cards,” she said. “It doesn’t have to start with this massive change.

Environmental impact

Sure, such groups started with environmental goals in the first place — to help people recycle better and consume less. While there are financial benefits, founders and members alike say they are often driven to join groups to be more sustainable and connect with their communities.

“I feel like it has more of an impact on the environment because we’re throwing less stuff away,” said Ramona Monteros, an administrator of Buy Nothing Noho Arts (North) in Los Angeles. Although she has gotten things from her group, she is more active on the giving side, for example donating clothes and toys that her two young boys have outgrown.

“I have so much stuff I need to get rid of, and someone else can use it,” says Alison Kamat, 69, a retired librarian who lives in suburban Washington, DC, and volunteers at Freecycle.

There’s also the thrill of finding something you’ll love to use, or that can be given a new lease of life with a little elbow grease.

Recently, Kamat found such an item: Someone in her local Freecycle group placed a fajita pan that had been outside all winter.

“I spent a whole morning sanding it and making it really nice, seasoning it and it’s a great pan now,” Kamat said. “It was really worth it; I was really proud of myself.”

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