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Buy Nothing Clubs Help Beat Inflation

These local groups, popular with older residents, connect neighbors giving away free stuff

A bunch of unwanted children's toys and games left on the curb with a sing that says help yourself.
InPictures / Getty Images

Here’s a great way to save money this holiday season and beyond: Spend nothing through one of the hyperlocal buy-nothing clubs available around the country. 

Aimed at giving used items a second life, these groups are gaining popularity, especially with older women seeking ways to beat inflation. The Consumer Price Index was up 7.7 percent in October compared to the same month last year.

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Prices for clothing, furniture and most other consumer products are higher than a year ago. ​

“Whenever we see the economy start to sour, our statistics trend older and more toward women,” says Deron Beal, executive director of the Freecycle Network, a nonprofit gifting network. “We’re providing a vital need for folks.” 

How buy nothing clubs work

​Buy-nothing clubs are made up of community members who list things they’re giving away or post requests for items they want. No money changes hands, and bartering is not allowed. Participants meet in public places to exchange secondhand items, or leave them on front porches. Clothing, furniture, food, appliances, books and a host of other products are gifted on a daily basis. Most of the activity happens on Facebook or via stand-alone apps and websites. The groups are hyperlocal, usually limited to a zip code, neighborhood, one-mile radius or city block.​

“It's a way to connect with neighbors. You give away things you no longer need and acquire things you do need, all for free,” says Liesl Clark, CEO of the Buy Nothing Project. “Rather than going out and buying Tupperware or pots and pans, you can ask your local community through Buy Nothing and inevitably you’ll find someone trying to get rid of that thing you need.”  

The nonprofit Buy Nothing Project focuses on community building, encouraging members to share services as well as goods. For instance, Clark says some members give their time and skills to help out neighbors. Many members are older adults who need companionship as well as free items. Older adults are joining for all kinds of reasons, Clark says: to give back to the community, connect with others, make a positive impact on the environment or downsize without wasting items that still have use.

“It’s a fun and whimsical way to connect a lot of older people in need of basic supplies without having to take a 25- to 35-minute drive” to a store, she says.

Membership grows in tough times ​

Clark started the Buy Nothing Project nine years ago with her Bainbridge Island, Washington, neighbor Rebecca Rockefeller as a way to keep waste out of landfills. Since then it’s grown to more than 7 million members worldwide. It operates a free app and is on Facebook, where community members create and moderate local gifting pages. With inflation so high, the app has been getting about 1,200 to 1,500 new downloads per day, Clark says. ​

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Freecycle, which has been around since 2003, also typically sees an increase in membership during tough economic times, Beal says, noting that the network has more than 10 million members and is adding thousands more per week. 

Freecycle operates a website where individuals can search for a group from among more than 5,000 towns, join and then begin posting or applying for items they need. It’s up to the individuals to organize when and how they give items to each other. Don’t see a group in your neighborhood? Both Freecycle and the Buy Nothing Project let you create one, and both groups provide support and education for organizers.

Giving back to the community, environment ​

Buy-nothing clubs do more than save people money, advocates say: They have a positive impact on the environment by reducing the amount of waste that ends up in landfills.

With this form of circular economy, members rethink how they consume things, opting to ask for a used item to borrow or keep instead of buying it new. That can help reduce the number of goods manufactured and the toll on the environment.

“We’re keeping over a thousand tons a day out of our landfills as a result of gifting,” Beal says.