Buy Nothing Project Research Initiative

By Alisa Pearlstone
Buy Nothing Project co-founders’ note: When we set up our first Buy Nothing Project group over 6 years ago, one of the first criticisms directed at us was that a hyperlocal gift economy would destroy local businesses and non-profits and thereby bring hardship to local families. Some feared that money saved thanks to gifts received would mean no more money spent locally. We hypothesized that the opposite would happen, that bringing neighbors together to share resources freely would strengthen our local community, and likely facilitate more mindful local spending. Because this criticism still arises when new Buy Nothing Project groups are launched in new places, we chose to use our first survey to pose a question that addresses this: are Buy Nothing Project participants saving money, and if they are, what are they doing with that extra cash?
— Liesl Clark and Rebecca Rockefeller


Being in a Buy Nothing group helps people improve their financial well-being. Monthly savings are helping members to better afford essentials as well as spending money more freely in local businesses.

Results from a survey of over 2000 Buy Nothing members show that participating in the gift economy through the Buy Nothing Project enables the vast majority of members to save money each month. Nine out of every ten members tell us they have extra money in the bank that is now primarily going further to meet their needs, being spent on essentials for their family and affording their bills more comfortably.

Excitingly, local businesses were the second biggest beneficiary from our gifting communities’ improved finances, with local spending being the second most popular way for our members to allocate their healthier bank balance. This adds weight to our belief that, far from being a threat to the local market economy, local business can indeed benefit from being in an area that has a hyperlocal gift economy within.

While 90% of respondents had saved at least some money each month, over a third had saved more than $20 and 15% had saved over $50, with some people routinely saving money in the $100s.

There is so much more to learn about how participating in the gift economy is changing communities. This survey has scratched the surface but we will be following this preliminary work with a series of research pieces in the coming year. This process will help us to really tell the story of Buying Nothing to the rest of the world so that we can transform even more communities that we have yet to reach. Importantly, it will also help us to improve what we are doing with our existing communities by giving us vital insights.

Thanks to all who participated and for your ongoing support and a big thank you in advance for helping us with the surveys yet to come.