4.Borrow and barter
Communities have some great grassroots programs like skills banks and toy lending libraries that can save you money and hassle. You'll have to do your own homework to find if your town has either of these, or you can start one yourself.
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Toy lending libraries, in which parents donate the toys their kids have grown out of and check out others, are a good alternative to the Weeble graveyard in your kid's closet.
A skills bank is a clever way to barter services and get to know your neighbors as well. It works like this:
If you're a car mechanic, for example, you promise the "bank" you'll deposit, say, 20 hours of your services a week. In exchange you can withdraw 20 hours (or the dollar equivalent) of gardening, housecleaning, whatever, from another member, even if it isn't a direct swap.
I lived in a small town that had a vibrant skills bank. One single woman got her Volkswagen repaired by one member, which she repaid by sewing stuff for someone else. The volunteers liked each other so much the bank turned into a social club as well.
Skills banks, which are essentially barter exchanges without a profit motive, can be community wide or limited to a neighborhood, homeowners' association or club.
One caveat: The IRS considers barter income the same as cash, which means it's taxable.
This isn't always cheaper than shopping the old-fashioned way, but it gets major points for convenience and thus, simplicity.
The time I used to spend banking, filing my taxes and shopping has been compressed into a few hours a month sitting in front of the computer. I pay bills online, shop for groceries, order gifts, send Christmas cards. I've even bought two cars online.
Grocery shopping through a service such as Fresh Direct is considerably more expensive than, say, Safeway and you don't get the benefit of coupon specials. Because your groceries are delivered to your door, however, you also don't have to give up a precious Saturday waiting in a checkout line.
Buying a car online is usually cheaper than buying it at a dealership and infinitely more pleasant.
If you've already test driven the car you want and you know the options you want, it takes about 10 minutes to order it from dealers online and another hour or so to complete all the paperwork. The company delivers the car usually within a week.
I calculated and filed my taxes online this year using TurboTax software and the Quicken Web site. Even with a lot of itemized expenses and deductions, it took four hours to fill out the federal and state forms and file them electronically. I got my refunds within 10 days.
I've had less luck shopping for clothes. In fact, I've ended up returning more items than I kept. They were too big or too small; the fabric all wrong; the color flat. Most online stores have generous return policies, but until they're willing to pick up the box from my doorstep, it's too much of a hassle to meet the simplicity rule.
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