One of the greatest assets in my life is a priceless community made up of my friends, family, and other community members. My community is greater than the sum of its parts. Saving me money is just one benefit.

Mutual mooching

I first read about mutual mooching in Amy Dacyczyn’s “The Complete Tightwad Gazette,” but I paid little attention to it. Doing favors for people and getting favors back? Mmm, no thanks. I hate feeling beholden to anyone.

But that was then.

Now I see the benefits, the mutual benefits, of helping each other. As I mentioned in one of my audition posts, I have myself a nice, little “scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours” thing going. Mutual mooching will always have benefits other than financial ones.

If you focus only on the financial benefits of your community, you lose. When you do your best to strengthen the community because you care, and you view the financial benefits as simply a bonus, you win.

Take our friends and family with kids who have created “date night groups.” Four families are in each group. One month, two couples watch all the kids while the other two couples enjoy a kid-less evening. Everything switches the next month. Free, guilt-free babysitting. Like I said, mutual mooching has other benefits. In this case, the kids develop friendships with other kids.

My stay-at-home-mom friends also swap babysitting. Every Friday, for instance, one friend will watch a friend’s kids. The next Friday, they switch.

“It’s so great,” one friend said. “I can plan all my errands on that day. Or I can take some much needed me time and do something for myself that I never have time to do. I get two free days a month! And I love it.”

They all confess that it keeps them sane. Again, the babysitting is free.

Sharing infrequently used, big items is another way to build community and help one another.

For instance, our fixer-upper requires lots of home repairs, which requires lots of tools. We have some and borrow others. The rules? Return it in better condition than when you borrowed it. And if the tool spends more time at your house than at its owners, it’s time for you to buy one for yourself.

How does everything sound so far? Easy? Not so fast…

Un-mutual mooching

We have a really nice lawn tractor. During the grass-cutting season, “someone” borrowed it two to three times per week. At first, we were quite willing. The “someone” filled it up with gas, no problem. But then one month stretched into two. And then one year into three. Finally, he or she purchased his or her own lawn tractor, and was surprised by how expensive it was.

Also, I live in the country, but I work in the city. Every day I drive almost an hour to get to work. Most of my friends and family live in the same area I do, but they work in the small towns, away from the malls and shops.

For them, a trip to pick up vacuum cleaner parts or a visit to Hobby Lobby eats up about four gallons of gas and a couple of hours…unless the person who works in the city picks it up for you.

And that’s what happened for a while: “Hey, Lisa, I have (something) at (some store). Can you pick it up for me and drop it off on your way home?”

I did it willingly – for a few months. But then I realized it was adding 20 minutes to my already long day.

I got tired of it. Still wanting to be helpful, though, I worked out a mutual mooching deal: Sure, I will pick up whatever you need. And when I drop it off, I will also pick up a fresh, hot meal from you for me. If they don’t want to pay my price, they find someone else to get it.

For the most part, it’s worked out really well. Still, I’ve received a few comments like “Can’t you just do this to be nice, instead of demanding something for every favor you do?”

That’s not true, of course. I don’t have a little notebook where I keep track of favors and check them off when the favor is returned. But in the case of Lisa’s Pickup and Delivery service, I stand firm.

If you want it, you feed me and my husband. The end.

To avoid similar problems, when tapping your community for help, clearly communicate your expectations along with time frames. Kind of like what I ended up doing with my pickup service.

More often than not, however, what happens is something different.

“My washer is broken. Can I do my laundry at your house?”

And you say, yes, of course. You assume they are in the middle of shopping for a new washer and just need to do a few loads this week.

After a few weeks of timing your laundry loads around their loads, you realize that this might go on forever. You don’t say anything because “at least they bring their own detergent.”

I made that story up, but you get the point. The deeper you get, the more awkward it is to get out. Ideally, you want everything to even out in the wash. We’ll talk about more benefits next time.

Do you have any mutual mooching arrangements? How have they worked out? Do you ever end up feeling like someone else took advantage of the deal? Or are you the moocher?

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