You don’t have to belong to a worker-owned co-op to get the benefits. Cooperative models can also help you lower costs and build community at home. Here are our seven favorite ways to save money with cooperatives at home:
Items you don’t use every day make great things to buy together and share with your neighbors, to save money and reduce clutter. Consider sharing things like: tools, vacuum cleaners, small cooking appliances like juicers or yogurt makers, yard tools like lawnmowers or snow and leaf blowers, video cameras, camping gear, large sports equipment like kayaks, extra tables and chairs, and more. Each neighbor could contribute an item, or you can pay for them together. Keep them in a shared shed or location to which everyone has access. For practical and legal advice on starting up informal sharing groups, read Janelle Orsi and Emily Doskow’s book The Sharing Solution (Nolo, 2009).
Share child, pet, or elder care
Many groups across the country have banded together to swap care hours. Most track hours on a shared spreadsheet, like those available at babysitterexchange.com and babysittingcoop.com—so if you spend two hours caring for someone’s toddler, for example, you can get two hours of babysitting for your ten year-old in return from someone else in the co-op. Find out more in our article,“Caring for Children and Elders, Cooperatively.”
Share a car
Live in a city where you don’t need a car every day? Car-sharing programs across the country provide access to a fleet of cars when you need them, for much less money than you’d have to spend buying and maintaining your own car. Find a car-sharing network near you via carsharing.net, or see if you live in one of the 50+ cities or 250 college campuses across the US that has a Zipcar.com car-sharing program. Prefer to keep your car but share rides on occasion? Our article “Carpool for the Climate and Community” has valuable tips for you. Or, get advice to start a bike share here.
Meal cooperatives help busy people eat healthy, home-cooked food more often with less time required in the kitchen. Participants either agree to bring an item for a regular potluck, or take turns cooking meals for each other—usually on a weekly basis, with coworkers in the office or with neighbors at home. Meals can either be shared together, for an added sense of community, or dropped off, for a low maintenance sharing of labor. For more details, see our article, “Cook One Meal, Eat for a Week.”
Share solar power
Solar buying co-ops are popping up across the US as people join together to share in the pre-purchase research and to negotiate lower group rates for solar panels. Several report shaving from 50 to 80 percent off the cost of their solar home systems. Consult our article, “Solar Buying Co-ops,” to learn more.
Share tools and home repair
Need to do some repairs or energy-efficiency retrofits on your home? Chances are your neighbors do, too, but are balking for the same reason you are: the costs. So pool your home repair knowledge while saving lots of money as you fix up each other’s houses. Find out more in our article, “Neighborhood Home Repair Teams.”
Save money at your local co-op
The stories of cooperatives here focus on models that are transforming local economies in significant ways. But co-ops can transform the contents of your pocketbook, too, by helping you save money on green necessities.
Many food co-ops offer a program where members can volunteer a couple hours a week in exchange for a discount on organic food and body care items. At People’s Food Co-op in Portland, Oregon, for example, member-owners can opt to work in the store in exchange for an up-to 15 percent discount on their purchases. Since the co-op’s mission is to provide good food to its members at the lowest cost, its prices are already lower than what consumers would see in the organic section of a chain grocery store.
If you don’t have a food co-op nearby, save money by gathering five friends and form a buying club with Frontier Natural Products Co-op. Frontier provides everything from organic foods and body care items to Fair Trade herbs and essential oils. The worker-owners of this national co-op have committed to prioritizing “purity and quality, environmental responsibility, and respect for the people involved in growing the products,” says CEO Tony Bedard.
Buying clubs enjoy wholesale prices (35 to 50 percent off) when shopping by paper catalog or online, and they save shipping costs and reduce related climate emissions, too.