politics

An antidote to inflation? ‘Buy nothing’ groups gain popularity

An antidote to inflation? ‘Buy nothing’ groups gain popularity

Millions of people are joining groups that help them acquire the things they need—without paying a cent. With inflation hitting a 31-year high and supply-chain issues making it difficult for people to get the goods they want on time, some have found an answer in online groups where members give things away free. Such groups have risen in popularity in recent months, and one effort known as the Buy Nothing Project hit 4.27 million members as of August. Members post items to give away or lend, or post for items they are seeking. Items in Buy Nothing groups range from food to furniture to, in at least one case, hair clippings. Buying, selling and bartering aren’t allowed. Most groups are hosted on Facebook. Liesl Clark, a co-founder of one of the biggest online gifting groups, says she expects membership to hit five million next year. Other informal gifting groups between friends and neighbors have existed online and off for years. The growth of these groups now is partly fueled by people’s desire to reduce waste, connect with neighbors and trim some spending as consumer prices rise sharply. Members may check out their local group for items, such as children’s toys, for which they may have limited use. Or they may log on to see if items they need—say accent pillows or a cellphone charger—are available before ordering one on Amazon.com Inc. “People are looking for alternative ways to get what they want and need, Ms. Clark said. Ms. Clark and Rebecca Rockefeller, residents of Bainbridge Island, Wash., started the Buy Nothing Project in 2013 out of concern over the amount of waste households create and a desire to reduce the environmental harm caused by the plastics they throw out. The group added two million members between March 2020 and October 2021, and there are nearly 7,000 Buy Nothing communities world-wide in about 44 countries. Items run the gamut. Ms. Clark has seen items ranging from waffle makers to random single socks to clippings from a haircut that someone used for a wig listed in these groups. Rising prices are in part motivating Laura McGrath to give away more and seek out some items from her Buy Nothing group. Ms. McGrath, a 57-year-old special education teacher in West New York, N.J., recently received a wheelchair for her mother-in-law to use when she visits. She also lets other members of the group borrow it for short-term use. Ms. McGrath, who recently moved to a smaller home, has been pulling items such as shelving, dishes and holiday décor from her storage unit to give to others in her community and keep waste out of landfills. “I know there may be a greater need to give now that some people’s budgets are tighter, she said. As prices of items such as furniture and groceries increase, consumers may seek cheaper alternatives, said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate. They generally haven’t made those swaps yet. Prices for apparel, a frequent category in Buy Nothing groups, rose 4.3% in October from a year ago, according to the Labor Department. The price of living room, kitchen and dining room furniture, other popular items in these groups, rose 13.1% in October from a year ago. The pandemic ushered in a wave of online shopping, with Amazon posting $386.1 billion in sales in 2020. The desire to give back and reduce waste drives membership in these groups, said Gaëlle Bargain-Darrigues, a Ph.D. student at Boston College who has conducted research on Buy Nothing groups. She said that participation often generates a sense of community. “Most members feel a sense of moral compulsion, she said. Finding free items online has limited utility as an inflation hedge, said Philip Lee, a financial planner in Wakefield, Mass. People may never find what they want, and the timing of when they need an item such as a refrigerator, may not correspond to when another member offers it, he said. Mr. Lee, an avid member of Buy Nothing Marblehead, Mass., said searching for items and arranging pickups is time-consuming. He has given two electric leaf blowers, two bicycles, beach chairs and tomato cages. Mr. Lee has received fine-art books and tablecloths. With inflation predicted to linger into next year, people might look closer to home for items, Buy Nothing’s Ms. Clark said. Jenn Crafts joined her local Buy Nothing group soon after the pandemic temporarily closed The StageCrafts, a theater-venue rental company she co-owns with her husband. The 43-year-old Los Angeles resident wanted to replace a lounge chair for the couple’s living room, but they didn’t have the money in their budget after nearly their entire income disappeared overnight. She put the request to the group and soon found a used chair she estimated would have cost about $700 to buy new. She got it free. Recently, she received new sneakers from her local Buy Nothing that she estimated would have cost about $70. Ms. Crafts has given gently used items, such as an antique pine desk left over from her theater productions. Her business has since reopened and her income is rebounding, but Ms. Crafts plans to continue to check the group several times a day. “Prices are rising and who doesn’t like to save money, she said. Download.

politics 2021-11-19 Livemint