Penny Forward Transcript: The Gift Economy: Where Giving and Receiving Become Acts of Kindness and Community

This week we heard from Chris Peterson (Penny Forward President and CEO,) and his wife Kelly, about their experiences with the local Buy Nothing Facebook Group they are a part of. Listen along a decide if a style of buy nothing group will work for you and your situaion.


Select here to listen to the audio podcast and see the show notes…



Pre-episode Intro


Chris: It feels  really good to me to be participating in a group like this, where we are able to sometimes get something from it, but also give back to it.




Chris: This is the Penny Forward podcast, a show about blind people building bright futures, one penny at a time. I’m Chris Peterson, …


Liz: I’m Liz Bottner, …


MOe: I’m MOe Carpenter, …


Chris: And today, we are going to be talking with me, and Kelly Peterson, my wife, and we are going to be talking about how to get things for free that you may need or want, and how to give things away if you don’t want them anymore. We do this through something called a buy nothing group in our area on Facebook, and there are many, many different types of groups that offer a similar concept. Which is basically that you can, uh, give things away that you no longer need. And no matter what kinds of things they are. Sometimes very strange things, sometimes very mundane things. Sometimes things that are perfectly good, and sometimes things that are broken, you can give them away. Or, somebody might have what you want. And so you can ask for it, and somebody might just be willing to give it to you because they’re not using it anymore. So it can be a great way to save money, it can be a great way to be less impactful on the environment, and, for us, it’s been a neat way to get to know some of our neighbors too. Kelly, thanks for being here.


Kelly: Yeah, of course. I’m glad to be here.


Chris: Tell me about your first experiences with the Buy Nothing group. How did you get involved with that if you remember it, and what kinds of things have you, do you remember getting from it, or giving to it?


Kelly: So, I first learned about the Buy Nothing group through you. You had a meeting with somebody, and I’m not, I don’t remember who that was, but, who told you about, they were on a buy nothing group through their community, and I had never heard about it before, and I thought it was interesting, so I looked on Facebook, and the community that we live in has, has one of their buy nothing sites, and so, I joined, and really at first, I just, kind of, you know, would look through my feed and see what was available, and then I started using it, and we’ve gotten some pretty cool things through it. We’ve gotten clothes for our kids, we’ve gotten toys for our kids, we’ve gotten some electronic equipment, … Do you want me to keep going?


Chris: Sure.


Kelly: We’ve gotten … jeas. I would say mostly electronics, and a lot of toys. It seems like the things that are given away on that site are often times, people that, their kids have grown up, or are getting older, and so they’re giving away toys, and I’ve been able to find a lot of toys for our younger child that way. There’s sometimes things given away like makeup, or skin products, which we’ve looked at for our older child, I don’t believe we’ve ever gotten anything for that. But people give away all different kinds of things. And you can also, you know, people will put out on the site that they’re searching for something. And that could be anything from, you know, household goods to just really unique things. So, it’s been quite fun.


Liz: Can you recall, Kelly, or Chris, the first thing that you ended up getting through the Buy Nothing?


Kelly: I think, probably, one of the first things that we got was a whole grocery bag full of 2 T clothes that we used for our son. It was getting to be the fall and he needed some new, was needing some new clothes, and I saw somebody post that they had this whole bag of clothes that were in the size, next size he would be going for, and so, I went ahead and got that, and we went through the bag, and took out the things that we wanted, and then we ended up putting them on the site, the stuff we didn’t want, and somebody else came and, and picked those up from us.


MOe: Now, I have used a lot of the For Sale groups on Facebook, and I know a lot of those have a lot of photos and things, and not very good descriptions. So how, I guess, mostly Chris, do you manage looking things up when the photos are involved?


Chris: Yeah. So, that’s actually been a topic of discussion in our Buy Nothing group, and it wasn’t one that I started. It actually was one that someone else started, and I don’t remember how it came up. But people have been very good about, for the most part, about describing the items that they have. So, they still post photos, and every once in a while, I have to admit, that somebody will post a bunch of photos and just say “Comment under the photo of the thing that you want.” And that is a little bit frustrating to me because I don’t necessarily know what it is they’re putting up. But I would say probably about eighty or ninety percent of the time, people are putting up photos along with a description of the item that they have. I really like vintage electronics, particularly boom boxes, and old console stereos and radio equipment and things like that, and, and so, I look for things like that. And sometimes people will talk about, “Oh, you know, I, I have this console stereo, and it’s been in my family since, you know, since I was a kid, and, and, it’s just time to, to have it move on and go to a good home or something.” So sometimes people are describing it out of kindness to the rest of the community, and sometimes people are describing it because it’s a little bit sentimental to them, and they want to make sure that not only are they getting rid of it, but that it’s going to a, a, a good home. The other thing that honestly helps, and I’m lucky to have her, is that Kelly, Kelly and I watch it together. And so, sometimes Kelly will see a photo of something that she knows that I’ll like, and she’ll point it out, or she’ll just say that we’re interested in it because it’s, it’s free, and because it’s free, there’s a little less risk, right? That, you know, that it’s going to be not quite what you want. Because if it is not quite what you want, you can always put it up again, and, and, give it away to somebody else.


Liz: Speaking of risk, Chris, and you were mentioning that sometimes people post photos, and say “Comment under the one that you want,” have you thought of just randomly commenting, and, you know, maybe, who knows what you would end up getting, but then you could always, you know, put that back up on the site if it was something you didn’t want?


Chris: I have. Many times, when they’re putting up photos like that, they’re putting up lots and lots of them. And I, our, our house is, is just a touch cluttered right now. So, …


Liz: (chuckles.) Fair.


Chris: You know, there’s only so many types of things that we need.


Liz: Yes.


Chris: Or, or want, but uh, you know, … people have been very kind about trying to accommodate people’s disabilities. People have been kind when somebody has, have said, you know, “I, I’m not able to drive, I’m not able to pick something up,” sometimes they, uh, you know, people will, will be willing to drop stuff off, and I’ve even seen cases where somebody said, “I’m really interested in this, I can’t pick it up,” and the person that’s giving it away can’t drop it off, but somebody else on the buy nothing group will volunteer to go and pick it up for them and bring it over, if they understand the reason why. So, it’s really, it’s really very neighborly is what I would say.


Liz: That’s cool. I merely asked just because I was curious if that did ever cross your mind.


Chris: Yeah.


Liz: “Let’s, let’s see what I get today.” (Chuckle.)


Chris: Yeah. Kelly, do you have anything to add?


Kelly: Um, one thing I would add, there was an instance that I think is kind of neat, that we were able to help somebody out. There was one day, somebody posted that they were in need of an infant car seat because they had been in a car accident, and once you’re in a car accident, you shouldn’t use the car seat anymore. And I can’t remember the specifics, but something about, you know, they weren’t able to afford a new car seat, and it just so happened that we had just moved Eliot up to the next size car seat. And so we were able to, to give that car seat, and, just makes you, kind of warms your heart when you, when you have instances like that, where  that person was really in need and they didn’t have the money to spend, and they really needed a car seat, and we were able to help them out.


Liz: Absolutely.


MOe: I love that story. Something that I’ve heard come across is that the Buy Nothing groups are very, like Chris was saying neighborly, so very neighborhood specific. Do you have any idea how big of a range your particular group reaches?


Kelly: So, it’s for our whole city that we live in. Gosh, I don’t know what the population of our city is. Do you know, Chris?


Chris: No I don’t, but it’s a, you know, it’s a suburb of Minneapolis. The city is called Richfield, and, uh, it covers a few square miles. Some groups cover a whole suburb like that, and some will cover a smaller region. Like I think there’s a south Minneapolis group that, uh, you know, is different from, say, the north Minneapolis group. I would add that one of the unique characteristics about buy nothing groups is that they really want you to be a member of only one Buy Nothing group in your particular neighborhood or your particular region. And part of that is to enhance the, the neighborliness of it all. And there are also other sort of bartering or exchange groups that aren’t related to Buy Nothing, but operate in similar ways where that might not be as much of a requirement. The Buy Nothing groups, I, I was kind of curious to learn about the history of them and how they came about. And they actually came about as a part of something called the Buy Nothing project, which was started by some women in Bainbridge Island Washington. I have an aunt and uncle that live on Bainbridge Island, in, in Washington. It’s in the Seattle area. They started a Buy Nothing group in their area, and then, it got to be so popular that they actually helped to start Buy Nothing groups outside of Bainbridge Island, and in other parts of the Seattle area, and then, it started to expand from there, and started to become national. When that happened, people started to question whether Facebook was really the right place for a group like this, or groups like this, where, you know, Facebook is a, is, corporation that’s making money off of the fact that we socialize there. And some people said “Well, you know, we’re trying to create a moneyless society with Buy Nothing groups, maybe they shouldn’t be done through Facebook.” And so the women that started the Buy Nothing project started a nonprofit organization, they started to try and raise money to develop their own Buy Nothing platform, and then, there was some controversy about them raising money for it. For a platform to facilitate this as well. And so, I want people to be aware of that, but there’s, in, in some areas, the Buy Nothing groups have been renamed to other names, and are no longer associated with the Buy Nothing Project because of this controversy. And as far as I can tell, that, those attempts to raise money were really just to build a platform that would be really good and, uh, you know, really pleasant for people to use, not necessarily to line the pockets of the women that started this movement. They were really trying to do some good, but, you know, people are funny about that, and, and, it turned out to be a lot more controversial than anyone, I think, really expected. And, so there is some stuff about that, that’s been going around the media. I, I listened to a Marketplace piece from National Public Radio today on it, and I know that there’s a story in Wired that has talked about it too. So, you know, while we’re talking about our experience with our Buy Nothing group, I do want people to know that the group may not be called Buy Nothing in your area, or there may be groups that operate very similarly that are not called Buy Nothing. And the reason for that is, is that there was some controversy about the, the official Buy Nothing project, and, and, the fact  that they were trying to, to raise money.


Liz: For the groups that are not called Buy Nothing groups, do they go by a specific name, or does it just depend on the group?


Chris: I am not sure. I learned about this late this afternoon, so I wasn’t able to figure out what any of those names are. I will say that there are some things like

that have been around for a really long time, way, way, way before Buy Nothing that still do exist as well, and it sounds like maybe MOe knows something about this too?


MOe: I was just gonna mention that Free Cycle was the other one that I know of, and I think that’s another one that’s kind of gone by the wayside, and that was more started with Yahoo groups and things, if I remember correctly. That one goes back a lot further. (Laugh.)


Chris: Yeah. Back, back to the nineties I think. Um, so, this has been … this kind of thing has been going on for a really long time, and, and it’s really great. For us, we’re not doing it necessarily because we can’t afford things. We’re doing it because, you know, some of the things that, that I look for in the, in the realm of vintage electronics, you just, you never know when they’re gonna come up, right? You know, they’re as likely to come up because someone has something in their basement as they are to come up in an antique store or somewhere else. But, we’ve also had some very, very wonderful things happen that have saved us a bunch of money on, on things that we wanted to do, or even needed to do. Such as, fairly recently, somebody posted a microwave on our Buy Nothing group. It was an over-the-counter microwave, and, and, it was only a few months old, and they had decided to renovate their kitchen, and they no longer wanted this microwave that was practically brand new, and so they were giving it away, and we had been talking about getting a new over-the-counter microwave for a long time. And I happened to, to let the guy know that we were interested, and we went and picked it up, and it turned out that it fit perfectly into our space, and, while we had never installed an over the range microwave before, between Kelly and I, and, you know, about four hours worth of, of work, uh, the project didn’t go perfectly, but it went fairly well, I would say, and we now have a new microwave. That we spent a total of thirty-two dollars on. The thirty-two dollars  came from when they took the microwave out, they accidentally broke the glass food tray that turns the food around in the microwave, and so we had to buy a new one of those, and then we had to buy some screws, and some what they call toggle bolts to, to mount the microwave over our range. So, you know, those, those two things cost us a little bit of money, but you’ll spend easily several hundred dollars on a microwave, even a cheap one, and, uh, we did it for thirty-two bucks. And then Kelly, do you want to talk about our, our most recent happy accident?


Kelly: Yeah. So, just this past weekend, somebody had posted an electronic piano that they had in their garage, and Chris said that he was interested, and chatted with the person through Facebook Messenger, and we went and looked at it, and it is an electronic piano, but looks like a real piano. It’s, it’s in a wooden case, or a wooden frame,  I guess you would say, comes with a real wooden piano bench, and was, I can’t remember, how long did she say she had had that for?

Chris: I don’t remember if she told me exactly how long, but she uh, she said she had had it in a studio apartment before she was married and they were getting rid of it because they had had it in storage for a number of year, and they had regular acoustic piano now, so they no longer needed it.


Kelly: Yeah. So, the lady’s husband was able to help us get it into our van, and we brought it home, and Chris and I tried to get it out of our van, and just knew that it was too heavy for us. I had surgery on my arm earlier this summer, and we didn’t want to risk hurting that. And so, we were able to have a friend of ours come and help us get it into the house and, and we put it together, and one thing we hadn’t asked when we took the piano was, “Does it work?” It had been in their garage I think she said for three years, and so the last time it was plugged in was three years ago, so we were crossing our fingers that it would work, and we set it up, and plugged it in, and it works, and we’ve all sat down and played with it, the kids are having a great time with it. I took piano lessons as a kid, and, but I haven’t played for years, and I was able to sit down and, I found some music online, played some songs that I played when I was, was younger, and, yeah. It was … it was fun. And, you know, Abby’s teaching herself how to play it. She plays the flute through band, but she’s teaching herself to play the piano just through the internet, and, you know, possibly we might think about lessons in the future, but, you know, I think music for kids is a, is a really great outlet, and so I really enjoyed playing the piano growing up. You know, I have fond memories of my piano teacher as a kid. She had a dachshund and he would sit on the piano bench and sit next to me  while I practiced at her house, and that was a, a great part of my life, so that’s exciting.


MOe: Would you each like to share your favorite item that you’ve gotten from the Buy Nothing groups?


Chris: I would say my favorite is, and this has happened several times. I’ve gotten several console stereos from the Buy Nothing group. However, my favorite one was a, uh, a lady that had two stereos in her house, and when I said that I was interested in them, she, she wanted to make sure that I was going to take both of them. And when we got there, she said, “You know, I … I’m really sorry, but I changed my mind. When we started talking about this, I turned one of these on and I started listening to it, and I’ve really been enjoying listening to records again. And so I, I wonder if you mind if I keep this one.” And I said, “Well of course not. You know, I, this is, is free, and I would much rather have you enjoy your stuff rather than, than give it to me.” And she also had asked if we would help her move a, a dresser. What was it, down into her basement, or–


Kelly: No, it was in, it was in her basement and she wanted it, she was giving it to somebody, so we brought it out and put it in the back of her pick-up.


Chris: Yeah. So, so it was neat that we were kind of able to help her, and that by, I think maybe I got this because I, I had posted that I was interested in vintage electronics, and specifically interested in console stereos. I think that’s maybe why she reached out to me. And sort of by me expressing interest in it, then it rekindled her interest in listening to her old records, which I really enjoyed. Even more than getting the stereo.


Liz: That is awesome. Along the same lines, similar lines I suppose, you mentioned before that you can find strange items, or unique items. Have any of you come across any items that fit either of those categories?


Chris: There was somebody that was giving away a canister that was big enough to hold three quarters of a bag of sugar. That’s, in itself, not terribly strange I guess, but it was interesting that it was, that it was noted that it would hold three quarters of a bag of sugar rather than a whole bag. I have, I have seen people give away mattresses, sometimes they’ve been mattresses that they’ve never used, and in fact, I think I saw one person that was giving away a mattress recently that they got from the buy nothing group, but they never used it, and the person they got it from had never used it. I’m not really sure what the story was behind that, but that was, that was kind of interesting.


Liz: That is interesting. The mattress that keeps on …


Chris: Yeah.


Liz: Getting received, but never used. (Laugh.)


Chris: Right. Right.


Liz: I wonder what’s wrong with it, if anything?


Chris: You know, some people make livings off of collecting scraps and recycling them, taking them to recycling places and stuff, and so, you know, people will put out things like broken furniture. And say, “You know, I’m just putting this out on my curb. And if this can help you, uh, you know, come and, come and grab it.” And, we’ve done that ourselves. With, with old broken furniture and stuff, and almost always, someone will stop by and pick it up. In fact with our old microwave. When we got the new microwave from the Buy Nothing group, we put the old microwave out on the curb, and somebody came up and put it in, in the truck, and, and drove away. Kelly, I wonder if you want to open up the Buy Nothing group and just, maybe talk about some of the things that are, have been posted recently.


Kelly: Sure. Uh, one other thing I, I wanted to say is, as far as, like, we’ve gotten to know a lot of members of the community through this, and not that we’ve made friends through it, but just gotten to know people. That lady that we, Chris got the console stereo from that we helped with the dresser, she lives just a couple blocks away from here, and she took down Chris’s number, in case she wants to get rid of that other console stereo in the future, and we also told her, you know, “If there’s ever something that you need help carrying, we’re only a couple blocks away, so please contact us.” And I just think we’ve seen a lot of cool things through it, a lot of giving back, and, you know, people looking for things. I’ve seen a lot of single moms who have moved to the area, maybe because of a bad situation that they were in, and had to leave with their kids and don’t have any furniture, or any clothes, or anything for their kids, and I’ve seen the community just really embrace these people and, and give them furniture, and food, and clothes for their kids, and, it’s just really neat.


MOe: Just, Just to clarify, ’cause I know this is different rules in different groups, but this Buy Nothing, you can both post requests and things that you have to pick up? It goes both ways?


Kelly: Yeah.


MOe: It’s not just a one way list?

Kelly: Yup, correct. You can, you can … things that you’re looking for, and then things that you are wanting to give away. And I see probably an equal number of, of both of those kinds of posts. So, uh, just looking through here, I see somebody recently posted TV stand, or maybe like a coffee table, uh, here’s a bed frame for a full size bed, somebody’s giving away a backpack, I’ve seen … another thing that I’ve seen a lot of, maybe teachers that are retiring or moving on to a different career, and they give away, and they’ll say, you know, “I’m looking to give this to, to another teacher for their classroom.” I’ve seen people give away books like that, or stickers, or school supplies,  so it’s just kind of like paying it forward, which I think is really neat. Here’s somebody giving away a raincoat for a kid, that looks brand-new, it looks like it’s hardly ever been warn. Here’s a hammock, a pizza stone, here’s one of those where it’s a mega curb alert. All sorts of kitchen stuff, plus some fluff from two couch pillows. And it’s just a mass of pictures, and it says comment below, but it has some highlights above of the different things that are in the pictures, so they did try to describe what, what they have. Yeah, here’s somebody’s giving away, they bought too many scallions. And they call them scallions, Chris. So they’re giving those away, I’ve seen people like if they’ve, if they’ve had, maybe a grad party, and they’ve bought a ton of, of, let’s say hamburger buns, and they have, the grad party’s over and they have some left and they know they’re not gonna use them, they’ll, they’ll put them up on the Buy Nothing site. First I thought that was kind of weird, but somebody’s always interested … somebody always takes them. And … really isn’t weird, especially, you know, it’s just, so they don’t go to waste, somebody can use them. Oh, here’s, somebody’s looking for a shelf, here’s some back to school clothes for teens, …


MOe: Something that came to mind was, is there special lingo that you need to be aware of when looking in these groups? I know back when I looked at stuff there was like ISO for “in search of, …”


Kelly: Yup. Yup, that, that’s what they use.


MOe: And I had no clue what that stands for. (Laugh.)


Kelly: I didn’t know what that was for at first either.


Chris: Some people will say “Flash give.” And I’m not really sure what that means.


Kelly: That means the first person that responds, it’s theirs.


Chris: Okay.


Kelly: You know, some … they want you to say if it’s a flash give, otherwise, a lot of people will say, “If there’s a lot of interest, I’ll draw a name at 9 o’clock tonight.” Or they’ll give a certain time.


Chris: Some people will edit their post if, if something’s pending pick up, they’ll put “PPU” at the beginning of the post to let people know that it’s going to be picked up, that someone’s claimed it.


Kelly: This is on the … so in their rules page, it says, “We offer members a way to give and receive, share, lend, and express gratitude, through a worldwide network of local gift economies, in which the true wealth is the web of connections formed between people who are real life neighbors. Post anything you’d like to give away, lend, or share in this Buy Nothing community group. Ask for anything you’d like to receive for free or borrow, abide by the community agreement and keep it legal. Buy Nothing Richfield is for neighbors in Richfield. If you live here, we’d love to have you join us and build community through sharing freely. In this group there is no buying or selling, no trades or bartering, no soliciting for cash. We’re an adult only hyperlocal gift economy. We are not a charity or community bulletin board.”


Chris: So, as Liz eluded to earlier, just in a world where it seems like so many of us are focused on ourselves, and focused on getting brand-new everything, and, you know, maybe aren’t as trustful of our neighbors as we would like to be, it feels really good to me to be participating in a group like this, where we are able to sometimes get something from it, but also give back to it. And I wanted to record this just so that we could share that with you if you hadn’t heard about this concept before, that this might be something that enriches your life, maybe because you really can’t afford some of those things that you, maybe really want or need. Or maybe because you really enjoy the neighborliness of, of the whole gift economy idea. Or maybe a little of both. It’s up to you to decide, but I hope you’ve found this useful. That’s all the time that we have for today’s episode of the Penny Forward podcast. The Penny Forward podcast is produced by Chris Peterson and Liz Bottner with assistance from MOe Carpenter, audio editing and post production is provided by Brynn Lee at

and text transcription of our episodes is provided by Anne Verduin. The music is composed and performed by Andre Louis. Penny Forward is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to help blind people navigate the complicated landscape of personal finance through education, mentoring, and mutual support. We offer three types of memberships, including a free guest membership, a monthly membership for nine dollars and ninety-nine cents a month, and a yearly membership for ninety-nine dollars a year. And you get access to our online courses, our weekly members only group chats, our new monthly member meet-ups, a weekly newsletter, early access to the Penny Forward podcast, and access to one on one financial counseling, as well as many more member benefits. So, please check that out by visiting

and selecting the “Join Penny Forward” link right near the top of the page. Now, for all of us in the Penny Forward community, I’m Chris Peterson, …


Liz: I’m Liz Bottner, …


MOe: I’m MOe Carpenter, …


Chris: And thank you for listening, and have a great week.


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