Don't shop, swap
Cutting back is easy - in theory. You know there are plenty of things you could do without, such as a new outfit for every wedding you’re invited to this year or something to brighten up your house.
But, let’s face it, it’s not a lot of fun to have to say "no" to everything. And there are some purchases you just need to make.
An easy and completely free alternative to having to open your wallet to buy things is to swap items with other people instead. From fashion and furniture to books, skills and even your home, there is very little that can’t be swapped.
Not only does swapping represent an opportunity for you to get the stuff you need without having to fork out, it’s also a great way to get rid of your old clutter. Plus, it’s environmentally friendly and helps create community feeling.
General swapping websites
Google ‘swap shop’ and you find 398,000 listings in the UK. It seems that swapping really is the new spending, with credit crunch consumers determined to feed their passion for shopping without having to spend a single penny.
Swapshop.co.uk is one of the better swapping websites. It’s completely free to join, and allows you to earn points for your your unwanted items. These points can then be used to ‘buy’ items offered by other users.
Items up for grabs include DVDs and music, computing accessories, furniture and children’s toys.
Snaffleup.co.uk isn’t exactly a swap shop, but it still allows you to get rid of unwanted items and request other people’s unwanted possessions. All you need to do is register for free and list your items.
Swapping is ideal for people with small budgets – like students. Studentswapshop.com allows people with study to swap anything from books to computer games. All you need is a university email address and you can get started. You’ll also find lots of special offers online for students, such as restaurant vouchers and cheap travel deals.
Whether you need to get a builder or plumber in, want to learn a new language, or need someone to bake you a dessert to blow your dinner guests away then it may seem as though you have little choice but to cough up. But there is another way; skill swapping is fast growing momentum in the UK, as it’s a completely free way to benefit from the skills of others and offer up your own talents in return.
Skill-swapping is completely free – all it costs is a bit of your time.
Websites such as teamuphere.com and swapaskill.com have thousands of listings from people with a skill that could be useful to you – from website design advice, help with DIY problems or music lessons. All you need to do is register and create a profile, explaining exactly what sort of things you could offer people in exchange for their skills.
Swapaskill recommends you thinking about the things you enjoy and are good at as well as your professional skills – so, gardening, DIY or even cooking could be possible talents you’ll be able to swap. In addition, if you can drive then perhaps you could volunteer some chauffeuring services.
You can then contact other people on the website and negotiate how you can help each other.
Alternatively, community websites such a gumtree.com feature listings for free skills. These tend to be requests or offers of language skills, but free music lessons also feature.
It’s also worth checking out whether there are any Local Exchange Trading Schemes (LETS) in your local area. LETS are arrangements between a group of people, where skills, services and goods can be exchanged through a pooled system of credits and debits.
While there is no money involved, you create a local currency, which can only be spent within this group and is based on your own contributions.
Books and hobbies
If you’re something of a bookworm, then you’ll know how expensive it can be to feed your hunger for new reading matter. Paperbacks might cost as little at £7 but non-fiction tends to be dearer, making reading an expensive hobby.
While it’s free and convenient to join your local library, there is another way to enjoy books without having to spend any money. Swap sites such as readitswapit.co.uk allow you to exchange books with other users and receive new titles for free. If you like a book then you can keep it, or you can put it back on the website and swap it for another.
Another alternative for people living in London is choosewhatyouread.com. This not-for-profit organisation helps circulate books among Londoners by allowing people to donate and borrow books from temporary 'libraries' set up in stations.
Another clever swapping website is gardenswapshop.co.uk. You’ll find everything from bulbs and seeds, to tools and even ornaments on this site, making an expensive hobby a lot more affordable.
Cheap high street fashion shops and supermarket clothes brands have, to a large extent, made it possible for both men and women to indulge their passion for fashion without spending a fortune. But, if you want to enjoy new clothes, shoes and accessories for free, then swapping – or swishing – is the answer.
Swishing.org promotes what it calls the art of swishing – basically, getting a group of friends or colleagues together to swap clothes and socialise at the same time.
Swishing party etiquette demands that you bring with you at least one item of clothing or an accessory (and make sure it’s of good quality and clean). You then have the opportunity to try on other people’s offering before the ‘swish’ opens and you grab what you can. It’s great fun, environmentally and wallet-friendly, and could see you give your wardrobe a new breath of life without the expense of hitting the shops.
Hybird.co.uk is another UK-based swishing website that promotes clothing swaps in London. Sign-up to its mailing list and receive regular updates on forthcoming swishing events.
Swishing is already popular in the US but is growing in popularity in the UK too – last year it even went mainstream after VISA got in on the act and hosted a clothes swap in London. It plans to hold another event this summer; again, sign up to its newsletter at visaswap.com and keep up-to-date with its plans.
Whatsmineisyours.com is another fashion-swapping website. Unlike swishing parties, this site operates as a community between “like-minded style addicts”.
The website has three sections; in the first, you can swap clothes with other users, in the second you can buy and sell vintage and contemporary fashion items, and in the third you can browse designs from up-and-coming boutiques.
If you’re after beauty items, Beautyswapshop.co.uk is a specialist beauty exchange website. Membership is free, and you can advertise your wares and search for other people’s in its forum.
More people are ditching hotels and rental villas and turning to house-swaps for their holidays.
With budgets stretched and the uncertain economic climate prompting many people to cut back on their spending, luxuries such as holidays could be out of the question. But many people are refusing to give-up their much-earned breaks, and are turning to more economical ways to enjoy some sunshine, culture or outdoor activity holiday.
For those that like to holiday close to home, as well as those who would rather travel abroad, home-swaps are looking increasingly attractive.
“Home swappers – or hoppers - have been priced out of going abroad because of the value of the pound,” says Jackie Wiltshire, founder of swapping website UKholidayswapshop.co.uk. “But holiday accommodation in this country is getting harder to find because so many people from the EU want to take advantage of the exchange rate.”
As well as offering a cheaper option than paying for a hotel or renting an apartment or villa, home-swapping offers you the security of knowing your property won’t be unoccupied during your absence.
Of course, you will still have to pay for travel, insurance and food during your holiday. But the savings you make by not having to fork-out for accommodation should help.
There are also considerations to make, such as the terms and conditions of the swap.
Intervac.com offers more than 20,000 home exchange listings in some 50 different countries. As with traditional home swaps, no money changes hands between you and the family you are swapping with. However, you will need to become a member of intervac.com to start swapping.
Focusing entirely on the British home-swapping market, UKholidayswapshop.co.uk is a relatively new website founded by two keen ‘hoppers’. The site allows you to browse properties and state your swap preferences for free. However, if you want to list your own home and take part in swaps then you’ll have to join up.
It currently costs £14.95 for a year’s membership, but this is a special introductory offer and it would normally set you back £29.95 to join.
Around since 1985, Home Base Holidays (homebase-hols.com) offers one-year membership for £29 or two years for £39. You can search for holiday home-swaps from around the world and listings in Australia, Canada, England, France and the USA are even sub-divided by state/county/province.