Think You Can’t Afford a Pricy Purchase? Get in on a Group Buy

Two women stand in front of a home with a pressure washer
To save money, Dena McKenna (left) and her cousin Deann Coop split the cost of a pressure washer and share it between their two homes. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

Like so many good ideas — electricity, bifocals, and even swim fins — Ben Franklin is credited with one of history’s first group purchasing efforts.

In 1752, he organized a small group of property owners to band together and buy fire insurance. More than 200 years later, group buys help businesses, employers, co-ops — as well as just two cousins sharing the cost of a pressure washer or co-workers buying shared jigsaw puzzles.

No contracts or memberships are required when a few people band together and combine funds to purchase shared properties. Folks have done it for years for vacation homes or boats, but the concept of group buying can be applied to less-expensive purchases as well.

Here are a few examples of group buys, which can put purchases you thought you could never afford in your hands.

Group Therapy

Stephanie Dyer and three friends run together as the sun comes up in St. Petersburg, Fla., four or more times a week. Each one tallies 45 miles a week and averages two marathons a year. To recover from all the running and keep their legs in good condition, the runners try to get a 30-minute treatment from a physical therapist each week. They slip on “boots” that stretch from toes to knees and are connected to a pump that squeezes and releases pressure around their legs to boost stimulation.

“Ideally, we’d use them once a week,” Dyer said. “We’d have a 30-minute session for $30.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, of course, social distancing measures made it harder for the women to have sessions at a physical therapist’s office.

They looked into the cost of buying their own NormaTec Leg Pulse leg recovery system and learned it costs $1,000.

“We did the math and if we all paid $250 a person we would recoup that investment in five weeks saving $30 a week with the physical therapist,” she said. “So we will have it and pass it around as we need it on a regular rotation.”

Having a system at home allows total flexibility for when they use it and saves the time and money of booking appointments at the physical therapist’s office.

Jigsaw Puzzles that Cost … HOW Much?

When five friends who worked together as flight attendants from across the country reunited for a girls weekend late last year in White Lake, N.C., one guest brought a jigsaw puzzle made by Liberty Puzzles.

These puzzles, made of thick wooden pieces, are the top-shelf of jigsaw puzzles starting at $105 each. They include individual pieces cut in whimsical shapes such as a palm tree, dancer or long-tailed cat. Several pieces make up their own shape that then fits into the overall puzzle.

“It’s like a puzzle within a puzzle. We became addicted,” said Susan Jackson, who hosted the friends’ weekend. “Each one has puzzles within the puzzle. I could never go back to doing regular cardboard puzzles now.”

The group didn’t finish the puzzle picturing red painted flowers that weekend, but when Jackson completed the task she mailed it to one of the five friends who lives in Millburn, N.J. That woman then passed it on to another member of the group in Falmouth, Maine.

Knowing they would be spending hours at home when COVID-19 quarantines started, the friends decided to pool their money and buy more puzzles to share. They quickly bought about a dozen from Colorado-based Liberty’s website then found used puzzles on eBay.

“We ended up with 49 puzzles that we are now passing around between the original five and some of our other friends and family,” Jackson said.

Fortunately they moved quickly in buying and got good deals because they weren’t the only fans planning to hunker down with these beloved jigsaw puzzles. Liberty’s inventory dwindled as workers were sent home and the price of puzzles escalated on eBay.

“One of the puzzles we bought for $100 ended up selling for ebay for $1,500. We couldn’t believe it,” Jackson said.

Liberty is now limiting one puzzle per customer and has a warning on its website.

“NOTE about eBay selling: buying puzzles here and selling them as new on eBay at exorbitant prices will lead to being banned from this website. We have not raised prices, and are determined not to do so. Scalping during the time of the pandemic is not cool.”

Occasional-Use Appliances

Deann Coop found herself renting a pressure washer from Home Depot for about $50 for every six months or so when her front walk became slippery with moss and other buildup.

Her cousin, Dena McKenna, was regularly borrowing a pressure washer from a neighbor and felt she was starting to ask too often. So the two women in St. Petersburg, Fla., split the cost of buying their own for $250 total.

“So we have joint custody of a pressure washer,” Coop laughed. “It’s not like we ever have to use it at the same time.”

two women stand next to a pressure washer
Deann Coop (left) and her cousin, Dena McKenna, purchased a power washer to save money in the long term. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

She finds herself pressure washing more often, and thinks her home is in better condition and looks tidier.

“It’s so satisfying when you have really dirty sidewalks or stains from flowering plants,” she said. “It’s the one chore I love doing.”

Interactive Games

Sophie Wiltshire, a pre-med student at Northeastern University in Boston, is addicted to the podcast My Favorite Murder. So the crime-solving game Hunt a Killer made for a great Christmas gift. It’s kind of like solving an escape room or cold case. It comes with six months of boxes full of clues such as autopsy reports, fingerprint data, timelines, recovered letters, character analysis and more information mailed to subscribers every 30 days.

While crime doesn’t pay, it’s also not cheap. Hunt a Killer costs $180. So when Wiltshire’s mom and stepdad gave her the game for Christmas last year, they knew she’d share it with other novice detectives once she solved the crime.

Wiltshire brought all the boxes when she was home from college after classes went virtual, and her family binged on Hunt a Killer.

“When I was home during the quarantine we did all the boxes together in two nights and had my step sister on Zoom doing it with us,” Wiltshire said. “Now we’re passing along the boxes to other people in the family.”

Katherine Snow Smith is a freelance reporter and editor in St. Petersburg, Fla., and author of the book Rules for the Southern Rulebreaker.