When my husband and I were faced with yet another round of holiday expenses, we started cutting back wherever we could — especially with food.
Our monthly food budget was about $250 for the two of us, and we knew it would cover all the gifts and tinsel if we were careful.
Luckily, we had a nice stockpile of dry and canned goods to start using in early November.
But by the second week and third night of rice n’ cheese SpaghettiOs, I started dreaming about spinach salads covered in freshly sliced strawberries. We needed to find a way to get some greens back into our diet of Campbell’s mystery casseroles — without running to the store.
I thought Craigslist might be a good answer — and the solution soon filled our fridge with more fruit and veggies than we could eat.
Here’s how we did it…
Bartering for Food on Craigslist
We all have $5-$20 items laying around our homes we’d love to sell if we could just find the right buyer.
Maybe you’ve tried posting these items on Craigslist or eBay, without success. They fall into the not-worth-much category, but they’re too expensive to just give away when you’re tight on cash.
Using the free Craigslist app (also available on Android), I listed a beautiful blue coat for $10. It only had one small hole above the pocket, but not a single person was interested after two weeks on the site.
Not one to be discouraged, I reversed strategies.
I reposted the coat in the Free category, but with one very important addition to the post: “Although this is free, if you had some food items to trade for it, like veggies, grains or vegetarian canned goods, that would be much appreciated.”
I expected to get more of a response just because it was listed as “free,” but I was overwhelmed by the generosity and number of emails from strangers offering what they could.
In just two days, I was flooded with strangers offers to bring me everything from bags of frozen broccoli to pounds of shiny purple plums.
After considering all the offers, I wrote back to an awesome woman who worked at a local fruit stand. She’d offered to bring me a mix of whatever she had left over.
And, oh man, did she hook us up.
Between the fresh bunches of kale, bags of heirloom carrots and organic pomegranates, she probably gave us about $18 worth of produce, almost double what I’d originally asked for in cash.
I tried this strategy again with a brand-new pair of $20 sweater boots.
Within a day, I heard from a fantastic guy who actually offered to take us grocery shopping for whatever we needed. We were too busy with work, so I asked him to bring us some fresh tomatoes and surprise us with whatever else he wanted.
We were surprised indeed. In total, here’s what he brought for us:
4 boxes of veggie pasta: $6
2-pound bag of apples: $4
11 cans of various mixed veggies: $12
1 box of oatmeal packages: $2.50
8-pack of applesauce cups: $3.50
1 jar of fancy mushroom wine simmer sauce: $4.50
2 pounds of vine tomatoes: $5
2-pound bag of colorful heirloom lentils: $6
2 ripe avocados: $2
2-pound bag of mini cucumbers: $4
2 limes: $1
AND one beautiful bouquet of flowers that tremendously brightened my day: $6
Total value of groceries scored: $56.50
Each time, we’ve DOUBLED or TRIPLED the cash asking price in goods we needed.
I estimate we’ve received about $180 worth of fresh produce and other kitchen staples during the past few months. Added to our monthly grocery budget we haven’t been using, we’ve saved about $750 and had a very merry holiday indeed.
We’ve done so well with this strategy, it’s been three months since we’ve stepped foot into a grocery store for anything other than laundry detergent. And I doubt we’ll stop until we can see the floor of our junk closet.
There’ve been times we’ve done so well, I’ve actually had to slow the pace at which we post items.
Should You Give It a Try?
I’ve discovered three real advantages to this strategy, besides saving money:
1. You Can Filter Out the Flaky People
You know, the ones who are more likely to waste your time by not responding to your reply or no-shows.
How? You can tell immediately if they read your post fully if they offer to bring goodies. If they don’t mention that part, they probably just skimmed it quickly — and might not follow through.
2. You Create a Pay-What-You-Can Model
By asking people to bring what they can, people tend to be extra generous — especially when it’s a necessity like food.
3. You Get Rid of Clutter
Getting rid of clutter is brain candy to me. I don’t know about you, but having a clean house beats a Swedish massage any day in my book.
Granted, this strategy does have limitations.
I live in Seattle. There’s a fairly dense population and practically everyone has a car, so it’s not a big deal for me to ask people to come by to trade.
You also can’t be picky like you would in a grocery store, nor can you control the quantity you receive, but I see these as advantages that help me learn new cooking skills.
You might be wondering why I use the “Free,” instead of the “Barter” section — which is closer in definition to what I’m doing. Simple: I’ve found not enough people use the “Barter” section to make it worth my while.
Some Tips for Using Craigslist Safely
If you’re put off by the idea of meeting strangers, let alone accepting food from them, I get it.
Over the years, Craigslist has been my go-to tool for furniture removal and garage sales, so I was already comfortable when I started this experiment.
Here are a few tips Craigslisters use to stay safe:
- Use an email with a fake name when posting and responding to ads.
- If you’re going to meet someone, bring a friend along.
- If you just aren’t comfortable with them coming to your home, or vice versa, pick a neutral, public place to meet.
- Don’t post your phone number as a method of response in your ad. This isn’t for safety, it’s just really annoying to get phone calls from random strangers all day.
- Remember, this is no more dangerous than a food drive or going out trick-or-treating. Just use common sense and you’ll be fine.
This bartering strategyis one of the greatest discoveries I’ve made on Craigslist. And with spring cleaning right around the corner, you could join me in covering those counter tops with a rainbow of fruits and veggies.
Tonight’s dinner is heirloom lentil soup with a mixture of canned cubed tomatoes, oven-roasted shallots, and some rich avocado sliced on top of each bowl.
It sure beats SpaghettiOs with a side of sodium. Go find some junk today and fill that fridge!
Your Turn: Will you try this strategy to save money on food?
Laura Hamilton is a Youtube vlogger for RollingDiaries and fellow Penny Hoarder who’s always looking for ways to live beyond her means. She currently resides in Seattle with her husband and her imaginary dog, Nickels.