You may have heard the term Co-Op before but weren’t sure what it really meant. Often, the first thing people think of is farmers. You may have wondered also if it is a type of business. Let’s start with what a Co-Op is. A Co-Op (short for cooperative) is when a group of individuals or businesses get together for mutual gain, whether social, monetary, or otherwise.
The most popular and oldest form of co-op amongst families is the local food co-op. In many communities there are co-ops available to join, in which you can often exchange or purchase fresh locally grown produce, handmade goods, and other merchandise. If you want to know exactly where your food is coming from and support your local community, this is a great option for you. The idea of a food cooperative is fairly basic. They run on a member volunteer basis. Some have annual fees, some don’t. Sometimes the co-op is set up in a marketplace open to the public as well.
Some are even tech savvy enough that you can go online to reserve your items for pickup for the coming week or delivery time, so you can plan ahead what you would like to purchase. Or with other cooperatives, you are set up on weekly box pickup where you receive a box of food and goods for a set price and it will vary by season and availability. It may include fresh breads, eggs, meats, etc. in addition to the seasonal produce. Sounds wonderful, right? This all comes with a cost. Generally, food co-ops are more costly than shopping at a big box store. This is not the cheapest option for a family on a budget, however if you have some wares or goods to offer up yourself, you may be able to offset your family’s grocery costs through selling of your own excess baked goods, produce, etc.
Another type of co-op that can greatly benefit a frugal family is relatively new on the scene. It is the online co-op. There are groups all over the internet that come together to buy goods at wholesale pricing from large companies, small companies, and even from overseas. These types of groups are even found on major social networking sites. To the educated consumer, these can be a great blessing. But beware, there are cons involved as well.
It all starts with a host or hosts, who run the cooperative. The host(s) of the online co-op seek out suppliers and companies who offer wholesale pricing. For example, cloth diapers are HUGE in the online co-op community. The host finds a supplier who is offering say a 45% discount off retail on orders of 500 or more diapers. Well, who needs 500 diapers by themselves? But coming together as a group allows buyers to get some great discounts on items they need. The host places one large order for the group that then gets shipped to the host. The host sorts and mails each order to the buyers from the group. There are local online co-ops in some areas as well, where hosts allow buyers to pickup their items to save even more by avoiding shipping costs.
The hosts will generally charge a “buy-in” fee that covers their time, packaging materials, etc. involved with the buy. In a good co-op this fee will be minimal, between $2.00 and $5.00. It is important to be prudent in researching an online co-op before engaging in any transactions with them. Scams are prevalent on the internet, and the co-op world is no exception. Be sure to check into your hosts and read any feedback that may be on their discussion boards. Also be wary of co-ops purchasing “knock off” goods from overseas. Imitation products are at risk of getting seized by customs and you may be out your money. Customs may also apply a duty fee to the shipment that the host may then pass on to you. Additionally, the quality of such items may be significantly lower, which in the end will not save you money. Finally, purchasing knock off goods should be done at your own moral discretion as well. Consider how you feel about the items being imitation? Is it worth the risk of them being seized by customs?
If you belong to a good online co-op, with a variety of offerings, this can be a good and bad thing for you. While it’s good that you have found a trustworthy site for great deals, you may end up breaking your budget with things you decide you “need.” Make sure to keep track of what purchases you are making and from which co-ops to keep yourself on track budget wise and to make sure you are receiving the goods you are ordering.
Who’s to say you can’t create your own hybrid version of a co-op either? Do you have a co-worker with a ton of raspberry bushes and you have an excess of tomatoes? Why not plan a swap? Your neighbor has cows or chickens? Check with them about trading some homemade bread for meat or eggs. A co-op doesn’t have to have hundreds or thousands of members. All you need is two people coming together for mutual benefit.
written by: Ricki Pritchett
Ricki Pritchett is a wife, mama, and full time corporate workin’ woman. She has a passion for writing, crafting, nail polish, and good microbrews.
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