The Mini-Economy of a Neighborhood

by Katy on August 29, 2011 · 24 comments

You feed my cat, I'll feed yours.

I live in a great neighborhood. It’s walkable to important services like microbrew movie theaters, the library and schwanky grocery stores like New Season’s Market. (Where I scared the clerk yesterday by making a weird gurgle-y sound when my head of garlic rang up at the exorbitant price of $1.80.) But aside from all this retail frippery, my neighborhood is chock filled with great people. Young families, older families, retirees, singletons, we’ve got it all.

And best of all, my neighbors and I all frequently exchange goods and services. Not in any official manner, that requires keeping track of who did what for whom. But in a casual and easy style that fits naturally to each of us. I guess you could say that we’ve created our own mini-economy. 

I borrow your patio table when hosting a barbecue, and then I feed your cats when you visit your parents. You lend me an extra bicycle when I have a foreign exchange student, and then I water your plants while you hit up the beach during a hot spell. Everyone knows that my house is your go-to source for ladders, and that our mini-van can be borrowed to pick up large craigslist finds. And my next-door-neighbors’ kiddie wagon? It’s perfect for taking returnable beer bottles back to the store.

Not only does this culture of sharing save us a ton of money and storage space, (imagine if we all had to own our own wheelbarrows, ladders and onions!) but there’s a certain comfort in knowing that we’re all in it together.

J.D. Roth from Get Rich Slowly posted a column about what he terms “Social Capital.”   You help others, they help you. Essentially the same thing, although going beyond the immediate neighbors.

Whatever you choose to call it, making your stuff and efforts available to your friends and neighbors can only serve to strengthen your community. Which is the kind of economy I am happy to fully participate in.

Is your neighborhood participating in its own mini-economy? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”

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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Jennifer August 29, 2011 at 9:57 am

My neighbor mows our grass quite often when he is mowing his (our yards are super-tiny). He refuses money for it. Any night that I make a dinner bigger than our family of four really needs, we invite him over to share it with us. Even a reasonably-sized meal can easily be expanded for one more person if I whip up a quick dessert or add an extra side dish. I don’t think of it as exchanging goods and/or services. I think of it as building a relationship with someone we might not have otherwise taken the time to get to know. 🙂


Van August 29, 2011 at 10:30 am

We need to strengthen this kind of mentality where I live, I love it! And I love the thoroughly Japanese photo of the cat in this post. My inner crazy cat woman is geeking out of the Japanese fabric, maneki nekos, aah!


Katy August 29, 2011 at 10:35 am

That’s our cat. But I found her curled with the Japanese kitty and had to grab the camera!



Katherine August 29, 2011 at 10:47 am

This is exactly why I love our neighborhood, too!


Crystal C August 29, 2011 at 10:55 am

We have a wonderful neighborhood of people who care! I love it. I was just out this morning across the street my neighbor gave us some wonderful leftover garage sale items my girls love from her friends sale. Next door grabbed some produce from my other neighbor’s garden and set up informal canning lesson for next week. We all take care of each other just like you mentioned! I love my neighbors!!!!


Megg August 29, 2011 at 12:02 pm

We have only been in our neighborhood for a year, so I’m still working on building up this mini-economy, but I’d love to have that in my neighborhood!
I’m not sure, unfortunately, how willing my neighbors will be, unfortunately. One set of our neighbors watched our cat, and we gave them a Starbucks gift card. Then we watched their cat, and didn’t get anything 🙁 I’m feeling like selfish when I say, what the heck!
Another set watched the cat, once for a gift card, and once for a loaf of homemade bread! I like the bread payment much better.


Katy August 29, 2011 at 5:22 pm

Don’t pay your neighbors, do nice things in return. Bread, yay! 🙂 Gift cards, nay! 🙁



Shannon Breen August 29, 2011 at 2:51 pm

I WISH I had this kind of community. I live in a typical suburban subdivision in Ohio and while all the people are nice, we have very little interaction. On the last day of school at the bus stop, the woman across the street gave me a hug and said, “See you on the first day of school!” And I honestly don’t think I saw her more than twice all summer and that was just to wave to as she drove by.

P.S. Love the cat! 🙂


Kristia@Family Balance Sheet August 29, 2011 at 3:32 pm

My neighbors are great too. I live in a 40+ year old neighborhood and there are still some original home owners. They are very protective of the street, always watching over things. If we go out of town, I know my neighbors will keep a close eye on our home, water our gardens, take the trash to the curb, etc. and we do the same for them.


Kristia@Family Balance Sheet August 29, 2011 at 3:33 pm

I should have added that there is usually some garden produce swapping going on right now.


Carla @ Parentingisms August 29, 2011 at 4:49 pm

We live in an awesome street, we lucked out when we moved here a couple of years ago. I’m not sure that we are part of a ‘mini-economy’ but there is definitely lots of sharing and helping out, like us lending chairs for the birthday party of a neighbour (to which we were invited), and receiving food from neighbours when our baby was born a few months ago, to another neighbour lending his tools, etc. This is what all neighbourhoods should be!


Rachel in Portland August 29, 2011 at 6:10 pm

We have set up a neighborhood list-serv–it’s so great for publicizing block parties, getting advice about plumbers, sharing extra produce, shed-raising (or deconstructing), borrowing extra strollers when small nieces and nephews visit….It does take one person to commit to being list administrator. But the payoff is great. Our neighbors who’ve moved away still want to stay on the list!


Laura's Last Ditch--Vintage Kitchenwares August 29, 2011 at 7:51 pm

My neighbor set out some live traps to catch the coons that were eating our grapes, he comes over to get my husband’s coffee (which everyone in the ‘hood knows is the best). We help the elderly lady with changing lightbulbs, she brings us cookies when we’re least expecting it. Neighbor gives us surplus garden beans, we give him some we canned. We borrow trucks, help each other with tasks, neighbors give me surplus packing materials for my Etsy business, etc. I love living in a REAL neighborhood.


Valerie Heck August 30, 2011 at 2:54 am

I started the first annual block party in our neighborhood so that we would be more of a community. I invited 34 households, and about 8 households came. I think it was good to start small and next year it’ll get bigger!


Marianne August 30, 2011 at 4:45 am

I love my neighborhood, too. It is a very old neighborhood (houses 1890’s and newer!) We have a small, communal piece of land in the middle that is used during the summer for Friday night hot dog cookouts (proceeds go to the neighborhood association for a gazebo to be built on the land; 2 years ago the $$ went for several nice benches). We also have a wide range of people: older folks, families with kids (all ages), some SAHM’s, young couples, middle age couples…I feel very safe and know that lots of people are keeping their eyes on the neighborhood. At night, there are always families walking with babies, kids on bikes, and tons of dogs being walked. When we moved here 5 years ago from a bigger city where we lived in a new housing development with zero contact with our neighbors, I really didn’t believe places like this existed anymore.

Unfortunately, it isn’t super-walkable for grocery shopping and the like, but it can be done. (Actually, you *could* walk to the public library and downtown (some neat restaurants and farmers market on Saturday, it is just *far enough* that my laziness kicks in and I drive…)


Frugal Down Under August 30, 2011 at 5:56 am

I live in a Block of 6 units. We all pitch in and have working bees in the garden to cut back on gardener and tree loper costs. When the 3 bottom flats were flooded and owners/tenants had to go to work during the drama, the 3 tops flats came with their buckets and sponges and helped me to clean up my flat and the other 2 units.

Unit 1 does hard rubbish and garden waste runs to the dump. So I give him a meal roughly once a week. He has also given us lessons in how to change our washers, which was fantastic and a money saver for the rest of our lives.

Unit 2, gives my 4yr old daughter, cat feeding jobs when he goes off to Bali every couple of months – he pays her 5 cents a day (they shake hands on it). She loves the responsibility and it doesn’t break his bank.

When I need a car urgently unit 2 and unit 6 always offer their big man cars. We give each other airport lifts, grocery shop for each other and run errands. When someone is sick we look out for each other too.

I give produce from my garden to all the units and when I have young guests in their early twenties the party animals in unit 3 to invite them over for parties and nightclubbing fun.

We have Block BBQs, share tools, ladders, kitchen stuff, DVD’s and time. We give each slices of cake and other goodies. We share newspapers and magazines. We share skills. He put each others washing on the line and grab it off when it starts raining.

I’ve never lived in a place where everyone helps each other out. It’s saves a lot of $$$ and gives that extra feeling of community and security. We are all very different and sometimes have our tiffs but we get over it. I heard about 15 years ago the place was nicknamed Melrose Place and there were even a few weddings between the unit owners/tenants as people fell in love.

I must add; my daughter is the only child in the Block as everyone else is childless, she is very spoilt indeed; with gifts and with attention, praise and cuddles. Every single day when we get home there is someone calling out hello to her and asking her how her day went, they also aaaahhhh and ooohhhh at the masterpieces she brings home from school.


Susan August 30, 2011 at 6:52 am

I LOVE this post, Katy! It’s exactly what I am working toward in my neighborhood, where I am the new kid on the block, but have already found great neighbors on both sides of me. Plus, we are acquainted with all of the other dog owners in the neighborhood that we meet on our daily walks. We moved from a big suburban development where our neighborhood association organized annual events, but there was really not that much social interaction between neighbors, except those who had kids in activities together. Still, my close neighbors and I watched out for one another. Most people have it in them to be neighborly if you just provide them with an opening.


katie August 30, 2011 at 6:55 am

I love my neighborhood, The week we moved in two years ago we had to neighbors deliver us cookies and one home raised honey. I need a suggestion though, I have a group of elderly (not to old) woman who live next door, that are some serious food givers, beans from the garden, beautiful heads of lettuce, fresh red rhubarb (with a hand written recipe and buttermilk for the recipe) and yesterday passed me a whole flat of blackberries…. I don’t know what to trade them in exchange, any suggestions on something to show how much I appreciate their gererosity, I feel like I have nothing to share back?


Lynne August 30, 2011 at 10:39 am


We have a similar situation with an elderly neighbor, and I try to pass along items I’ve made with the food she shares (muffins I made from her blueberries, salsa from her tomatoes, etc.) because I know she doesn’t like to cook much when it’s just for herself. Also, my husband lets her know he’s happy to help with small tasks (he hung a retractable clothesline for her recently) and my son pulls her garbage can up from the curb if it’s still there when we get home on pick-up days. Just little things, but I think it lets her know we care about her.


Frugal Down Under August 31, 2011 at 4:31 am


I once read a fantastic article on a older lady who swapped cooking, washing and ironing with some young local tradies who did odd jobs around her home. Could you offer odd jobs? Clean a high to reach fan. Change a washer. Prune a tree. Give a computer/email/internet lesson. Move some furniture. Help with a harder job in the garden.

I’m thinking of the jobs my mum finds harder to do as she gets older. She can do them but they are getting harder.


Jenny August 30, 2011 at 6:57 am

You lost me at the price of garlic. Take one of those cloves and slip it into some dirt and grow your own.


Atsquared August 30, 2011 at 7:30 am

Absolutely! I recently brought supper to my neighbour who was hosting family from out of town as they cared for their sick father. She feeds my cats when we’re away. I keep a key to her house so her son can stop by when he locks himself out. 🙂

Outside of my neighbourhood, though, my husband made a fantastic arrangement with friends this morning: we’re going to trade some of our local, pastured beef (we buy a large quantity each year), for olive oil that our friends have shipped over from their orchard in Italy. Sounds perfect to me! (A *little* off topic, but I was too excited not to share!)


Julie @ The Family CEO August 31, 2011 at 9:35 am

Some of our best friends live in our neighborhood. And there is lots of sharing going on. We have one neighbor who regularly borrows our folding chairs for entertaining and our hiiiiigh ladder for hanging Christmas lights.

This weekend that same neighbor and my husband are renting an aerator and verticutter and getting our yards ready for fall together.

Love this post! I’m going to link to it in my Personal Finance Roundup on Friday.


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