Mar 172009Start a Neighborhood Co-op

This week my Tuesday Tip and Money Matters posts will be focusing on ways you and your neighbors can help one another. Today we’ll be discussing co-ops. Basically a cooperative (or co-op for short) is a group of people who come together to meet a common economic or social need.

You may be a memeber of a co-op already and not even realize it. When I was in college I bought my books from a cooperative bookstore. At the end of the year, the store gave their profit back to the students. Credit Unions are also considered co-ops and some utility companies form co-ops as well.

But co-ops aren’t just for huge groups of people. You can form one in your own neighborhood with just a few others. Find a need you all need met and start a group with a creative way to meet that need. Here are a few ideas:

kidsBabysitting Co-op
Since most couples like to get a night to themselves every once in a while and babysitters are pricy, you can setup a babysitting co-op. This means parents take turns watching each others kids, without having to pay. Not everyone has family close-by or family that is able to watch their children. So you porbably wouldn’t have a hard time finding a good group.

Be sure to keep it simple. Try to find other families that are like yours: Similar number of kids, close in age, not too far away, etc.  This will make it more fun for your kids and easier on the mom who has to double kids for the night. For some ideas on how to set one up, try these resources HERE and HERE.

produceProduce Co-op
This is an idea perfect for people who like fresh produce but don’t have a lot of space to grow it. Find a few neighbors who would like to participate. Each of you can pick a fruit, veggie or two to grow. Then when your crop is ready, you share it with your neighbors. Often when growing produce you end up with more than you can use anyway. This is not only a way to eliminate waste but also to exchange it for something you will use.

You can also join a produce co-op without having to grow anything! Many local farms will give you a basket of produce weekly, bimonthly or monthly. You pay a fee and can usually pick up your produce from a local famers market or directly from the farm. Farms give you a variety of different produce. Not only is this a great way to get produce but it is a way to support your local farmers. Go HERE to find some participating farms in the Austin, TX area or go HERE to search for a farm near you.

dinnerDinner Co-op
Forming a dinner co-op can really be beneficial. When you cook dinner, it is often easy to just double or triple the recipe. This is especially true if you’ve gotten the ingedients at a rock bottom price. One way a dinner co-op works is that several neighbors form a group. Once or twice a week, you get a dinner from one of your other neighbors. It means you don’t have to cook. You are getting a home cooked meal and it gives your family the opportunity to try new things. For more info on dinner co-ops, go HERE.

Another option for a dinner co-op is called once-a-month cooking. Maybe two or three people meet on a monthly basis to cook. You have to keep it small because of the shear volume of cooking. But the people spend the entire day cooking meals that are easy to freeze. You double (or triple) each recipe so there is enough for all the members. When the day is over, you have several meals that are ready for you to heat and serve. Remember, you don’t have to cook 30 meals in one day. Start out small. Start with 4 or 5. To learn more about once-a-month cooking, go HERE

Are you a member of a neighborhood co-op? What are some of your ideas or tips for success?


  1. On a smaller scale, sometimes my neighbor and I trade adult meals for kid meals. For example, last week she made spicy chilli and knew her kids wouldn’t eat it. So, she offered us half and we provided fish sticks and veggies for her kids. All the kids and all the grown-ups were happy!