Before the commercial revolution of the 19th century, the problem in the U.S. economy was often that of production. The transition away from agrarianism toward industrialization meant that the problem became that of consumption. According to some analysts, consumer spending represents two-thirds of the nation’s economic activity. However, the current economic crisis has made people view their spending habits and “needs” in a different light and many people are reverting back to the basic principles of bartering, borrowing from family and neighbors and even renting or repairing equipment. Although the shopping days may not be over for people, there are many alternatives to buying new that are easier on the household budget and have a lighter impact on the earth.
If you have a decent sized yard, there are a lot of tools that seem to be “needed”. Though it’s easy to go out and purchase new, it is often just as easy to find tools at local garage sales or even in family member garages (e.g. parents and grandparents). For regularly used tools, try finding used before purchasing new. For equipment used once per year like aerators, hedge trimmers or thatchers, call your local rental shop using the Yellow pages or the Internet for rental rates. Before picking up/renting your equipment, ask a few neighbors if they need to use the equipment also and split the cost.
House projects are a necessity of homeownership and it seems every project requires the purchase of new equipment. Before loading your cart at the hardware store, make a list of all the equipment you need and call your local rental shop for rates. A quick search at Diamond Lake Rental (diamondlakerental.com) yielded a myriad of available equipment for rent such as: air compressors, automotive tools, carpet cleaners, floor polishers and strippers, concrete equipment, demolition hammers, generators, hand tools, jacks and hoists, ladders, backhoes and even all the equipment you need to wallpaper or paint a room. Again, you may also want to consider asking neighbors or family if they have the tools you need. Oftentimes, homeowners share similar projects that require similar tools! If you do end up borrowing tools, offer the borrowee any of your tools or bring the tools back along with some fresh veggies from your garden in exchange.
Consignment and second hand clothing shops are common and consumers have a lot of good, quality clothing available. Over time clothing can require repair, however, like replacement of a zipper slide, reweaving or even alterations if your body size changes. Two of the most common alterations and repairs on clothing and their approximate costs are: basic pant hem ($10), zipper slide repair ($12). Before tossing your “broken” clothing, search for a local alteration/repair shop like Sew What! Alterations (sewwhatalterations.com) for an estimate. If you are creative and skilled with sewing, you may also want to consider refurbishing your clothing into new fashion items.
Growing up, I remember regular trips to the local shoe shop with my grandfather to have his shoes shined or resoled. In fact, I’m pretty certain in his fifty years of working, he only owned two pairs of dress shoes. When they had scuffs or a hole in the sole, he had them repaired. Although it is easy to drive to a store and purchase a new pair, it isn’t always the most economical option and certainly not the most sustainable choice. Shoes make up a significant portion of our landfills. Shoe repair can save you money and make your shoes more comfortable. Shoe repair at a place like Fast Eddie’s Shoe Repair (fasteddiesshoerepair.com) services include : worn sole or heel replacement, stretching shoes for increased comfort, water and stain protection, non-skid heel tips, Velcro and elastic replacement, adjustment of sole or heel height and salt removal (very important for Minnesotans!). Many shoe repair shops can also shorten belts, repair zippers or restitch handbags.
Depending on your cycling habits, purchasing a used bicycle is often the best option. Most of the local bike shops sell both new and used bicycles for every skill level: road bikes, 3-speeds, mountain bikes, cruisers and hybrids. Before purchasing new, call a few local bike shops and ask about their used inventory. If you don’t have an immediate need, be patient, as used bike inventory changes throughout the season. There are also places like the Sibley Bike Depot (sibleybikedepot.org) where you can earn a bike by volunteering, or buy one of the many refurbished, reasonably-priced bikes.
Outfitting children or adults with new sporting equipment can be expensive, especially considering children grow out of equipment from year to year. It makes the most sense environmentally and economically to buy used at local garage sales (craigslist.com or your local newspaper), to shop at stores like Play it Again Sports (playitagainsports.com), or check out a used equipment sale or swap like the annual Ski Swap (mysl.org/events/skiswap). You can even trade in your old equipment to help pay for your purchases.
Learning one or more musical instruments is common for children and adults, but equipment can be expensive. For example, a basic single French horn can cost over $2,000 and that doesn’t include any annual maintenance and cleaning. Buying gently used equipment at places like Music Go Round (musicgoround.com) is more economical. There are also numerous instrument shops that will rent equipment. A google.com search brought up over 300 stores in the Twin Cities which rent musical instruments. Determine what your needs and budget are and buy used or rent.
Whether you are a frequent party planner or have one barbecue per summer, there is always needed equipment. Borrowing from friends and family is a possibility but you may also want to call local rental shops for a variety of items: canopies, disco ball, karaoke machine, serving trays and tables, and even a champagne fountain. If you frequently host parties, you might want to also consider creating a “party kit” by buying used dishware and cloth napkins from a resale shop like Savers (savers.com). Plastic plates/cups that can be washed and used again or glassware that may be mismatched, but have character and provide less worries if broken rather than using your good china or dinner sets for parties. You could also consider a BYOD party, where you ask your guests to bring their own dishware to your party. This could be a fun way to initiate a conversation with your guests about reusing instead of using disposable serving ware.
Technology is great, but electronic equipment does break down. Before driving to the store you should check to see whether the broken equipment is under warranty. If not, review the manual that first came with the equipment for trouble shooting options. If you have lost your manual, most manufacturer websites now have manuals accessible online. Another option is to call the manufacturer as most have a customer service repair line; they can often walk you through basic fixes. Depending on what is broken, search online or in the yellow pages and call around for estimates. Places like The Geek Squad (geeksquad.com) fix anything from computers to televisions, GPS systems and even appliances. Be sure to dispose of truly broken electronics properly, as many can contain hazardous material. To find a drop off location in the metro area, visit rethinkrecycling.com.
Before you buy, you may want to ask yourself a few basic questions:
1. Will I need this item more than once?
2. Will I use this item only one time per year? If yes, is this also something my neighbors or family could use in conjunction?
3. Does the cost of buying new make sense in the household budget?
4. Are there any benefits to buying new versus used or renting?