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Recession Lesson: Share and Swap Replaces Buy and Grab

Businesses like Bike Share are cropping up to meet the needs of recession-weary Americans. But besides saving money, many are relearning the principle of sharing.

"We have people who are foodies and have become accustomed to outstanding taste and freshness," she said. "We have people who simply are trying to make ends meet."

In February, Robert Morse of New York started -- named for a friend known for helping his neighbors before he died at age 43 -- to connect groups of people who want to help one another out on home projects or share tools.

"We hear stories about guys who have no money to go golfing anymore and are going to each other's houses and helping each other paint the house or fix the patio," he said.

Women have flocked to the Web site to borrow or rent luxury bags and other accessories. Users of a book-swapping Web site, Bookmooch, have increased 30 percent to about 124,000 since the beginning of the year. The membership of the trading site SwapTree has grown tenfold in the past year.

"We're kind of coming out of an opulent time," said Mark Hexamer, co-founder of SwapTree. "People have seen the bad side of mass consumerism. Now everyone is kind of looking for ways to cut down on the family budget."

Since the recession started, car-sharing company Zipcar has had a 70 percent increase in membership to almost 300,000. Sixty percent of the new members said they had sold their cars or abandoned plans to buy them and decided instead to use Zipcar, which charges a small annual fee.

"The downturn in the economy has people thinking of buying less and sharing more," said Scott Griffith, chief executive of Zipcar.

Local governments and faith organizations are joining in. Arlington County runs to help residents carpool. For a $40 annual fee, the District offers access to 120 bikes at self-service racks around the city.

Chris Ganson, 35, a city planner, has embraced the sharing mentality in several ways. He has joined the city's Smart Bike program as well as Zipcar. "It's convenient and it saves money," he said.

Ganson also shares a house in Adams Morgan with five other people. He pays $955 a month for a room with a private bathroom, about $600 less than for most one-bedroom apartments in the neighborhood. "It's a great thing for times like these," he said.

Emily Richards, 27, a Falls Church marketing consultant, shares books with her mother-in-law, sister-in-law and friends. Whenever she visits her four sisters in Alabama, she uses their clothing so she does not have to pack a big bag and pay extra baggage fees. She also recently let a friend borrow the vases that were part of the centerpieces at her wedding. That friend is going to use them at her wedding.

"I think I'm very frugal by nature, but it's nice to know that other people have embraced that mind-set," she said.

When the economy started getting worse, a friend persuaded Burdett to join with him. Burdett and his neighbors used to hire a handyman for small home projects. That is now a luxury. "With the recession, no one has extra cash," he said.

Burdett's network grew to about 13 friends and friends of friends. In addition to the tile saw, he now has access to other tools such as air compressors. He also does his share of helping. He recently erected a fence around a friend's father's house.

"Almost everyone I know has lost a lot, I would say half of what they had as an investment," he said. "People are helping each other and getting back together. You're not the lone ranger anymore."

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