Short on funds? Get to know these two friends: Freecycle and Barter

For many of us, January is the month we spend paying for all of the fun we had during the holidays. In this article, Cynthia MacGregor shares two ways to combat the financial strain of an overextended holiday season.

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  • While I mostly deal with interpersonal issues, those aren't the only problems a divorced mom has to deal with. Shortages of funds run a close second. With your ex's income stream no longer flowing into your household, save only for whatever payments he's court-mandated to pay, things are very likely to be pinched for you.

  • Today I have two suggestions for you. FreeCycle and Barter.

  • Let's look at FreeCycle, first. While this wonderful organization's avowed purpose is to keep as many discarded items out of the landfills as possible, rather than to make free stuff available, in the course of fulfilling their mission, they supply a lot of people, and especially moms, with items their households need — at no cost. Go to www.freecycle.org to find the group nearest you. (If there is none, consider starting a group in your area.)

  • FreeCycle is free to join and free to participate. Group members post their available giveaway items to an email to the group and watch incoming emails from the group for announcements of available stuff that they might need. In my area, at least, the most frequently posted items are kids' stuff and household stuff — everything from appliances (large and small) to furniture, cookbooks to curtains. If you're not averse to hand-me-downs, you can outfit your kids (and yourself!) in gently used clothing via FreeCycle, cook in pots and pans acquired through FreeCycle, sit in a chair found on FreeCycle, read a FreeCycled book under a small tree that also came from the organization, while your small child plays nearby with a toy you got for him or her from another FreeCycle member — and you'll even occasionally find lawnmowers, pianos, and other high-ticket items.

  • Naturally you won't get everything you ask for. There are bound to be others with their eyes on the same goodies you want, and it's totally up to the giver as to whose request she honors. But the giveaways are indeed totally free, and if you can acquire some of your family's necessities on a no-cost basis, that will definitely help your pinched budget woes.

  • Now that we've settled FreeCycle, let's talk about barter. Barter is a time-honored system in which you trade either goods or services for the goods or services of another individual. It doesn't have to be goods-for-goods and services-for-services. You can trade goods for services or vice-versa. There is no hard-and-fast rule that covers the value of a given item or service, either. That's totally up to you and your trading partner to decide.

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  • If you know someone who, although not a licensed hairstylist, is good at haircuts and sometimes cuts hair for individuals in their homes or his/her own, offer to cook a couple of nights' main courses and deliver them in containers if she'll cut your kids' hair in exchange. Or maybe you're the one with the haircutting skills. And maybe you could offer a free haircut — or several — to someone who would mow your grass, shovel your snow, prune your bushes, or detail your car in exchange.

  • Perhaps you have a piece of furniture you no longer want, a small box of books you're ready to part with, an outfit you've grown tired of that's still in good condition, or an aquarium that no longer houses any tropical fish. These are all tradable commodities — either in exchange for other items or in exchange for various services.

  • Bartering also works for childcare. Instead of paying a babysitter, which can get pricey, consider asking another mother — perhaps a friend of yours, or the mother of one of your child's friends — to watch your child at her house one evening while you go out, in exchange for your doing the same thing for her on another occasion. (Naturally other trades can work for childcare, too. You can offer help with tax prep, if you're good at that sort of thing, or bake a few pies or cakes, or wash her large, shaggy dog a couple of times, or help her college-bound son write the essay for his college applications in return for her watching your young child one evening.)

  • A friend recently offered me a Thai dinner in exchange for my writing her will. (No, I'm not a lawyer. It will be a simple, plain-language document, which I feel confident in drafting for her since it doesn't involve any tricky technicalities.)

  • Think about what talents and abilities you have as well as what actual physical items you wouldn't mind parting with. You can also create items to trade away, if you are an adept craftsperson, whether your talent is knitting or woodworking or some other craft.

  • So there you have it — FreeCycle and barter, two ways to get what you need at no cost. Of course, if you are knitting a sweater for a fellow barterer, and she doesn't buy the wool, you may incur a minimal cost, but it's still bound to be way less than the retail value of the goods or services you're trading for.

  • It's a win-win situation, or, to use one of my favorite expressions, "Everybody goes home happy."

  • So start by looking up FreeCycle online to see where the nearest group is to you, and then start thinking what you'd like to barter for with your new trading partners. Welcome to two whole new ways of getting the things you want or need — at no, or virtually no cost.

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  • Cynthia is a contributing expert atHopeAfterDivorce.org, FamilyShare.com, CupidsPulse.com, and LAFamily.com.

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