The Art of Barter

Making a Deal

An essential part of the frugal life is to use alternatives to money whenever possible. There are several strategies for accomplishing this goal. Barter is one of the most basic and time honored.

Barter is an Ancient Economic System

The only system older than barter is the original communal sharing that dates back to the early bands of humans at the beginning of our history. Before money there was straight across trade. And, like many ancient things, it still works today. Though we may have more sophisticated  technologies for dealing with our trading partners, barter still requires at least two people, each of whom has something the other needs or wants. No matter how complex the world becomes there is always a barter economy if you seek it. During the last depression, a doctor or lawyer sometimes would come home to find a sack of potatoes or bag of apples on the doorstep, left by some cash-strapped patient or client. This is barter.

The Basics

In order to barter, you must first figure out what you want to gain, and what you have to give. These things have to be in some kind of reasonable balance, at least in the minds of the traders. A process of haggling takes place as the partners feel each other out. If an accord is reached the objects or services are then exchanged.

What Can be Exchanged?

There are really no rules. Services and goods are both possibilities. A good can be exchanged for a service. It really is up to the people involved. It is more like engaging in the exchange of favors than like going to a store. How the exchange takes place is equally up for grabs. Trust and relationship are key. If the exchange is between strangers than caution is wise. And if it is a service for a good, it may be wise to get the service before parting with the goods.

Three Way Exchanges

In recent years there has been a great resurgence of interest in the barter economy, along with some fairly sophisticated multiple party systems. One of the most successful of these is Timebanks.org. According to their website “For every hour you spend doing something for someone in your community, you earn one Time Dollar. Then you have a Time Dollar to spend on having someone do something for you” Check out their website here: http://www.timebanks.org/  This system is for the trading of services, but there is no reason why this same concept could not be applied to goods as well. In Germany during the war there were people whose business was to facilitate what in German is called a “ringtausch” which is an exchange between three or more people.

How to Get Started with Barter

The best place to start is in your own neighborhood, with the people you already know. Next time you start to think about buying something, change gears and try to figure out how you could trade for it instead. Do you love to cook but hate to garden? Why not ask the gardener next door if they would trade straight across for gardening services. Do you have a beater car but need a computer? Start asking around. Most trades just happen in the natural course of life. You just need to keep your eyes and ears open for the opportunity.

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8 Responses

  1. The idea of barter is so attractive. I’d be glad to exchange a cooked meal for a fixed computer. Or it could be furniture moving, a ride to And from where I need to go. Makes sense to me.

  2. I really like your post.

  3. Your post was very helpful. Thanks.

  4. Being English, this horrifies me to the core! Nice idea though.

  5. The idea of barter is so attractive. I’d be glad to exchange a cooked meal for a fixed computer. Or it could be furniture moving, a ride to And from where I need to go. Makes sense to me.

  6. agree,How to Get Started with Barter

  7. […] early pioneers while reenacting important parts of daily life. We actually enjoyed learning about bartering, gardening and the resourcefulness of early settlers (who used scrap fabric for […]

  8. “In order to barter, you must first figure out what you want to gain, and what you have to give.” This is where I find barter so appealing.
    In these times of bailouts and getting something for nothing at someone else’s expense, barter is a refreshingly moral activity. It encourages everyone to be a producer of whatever they can to add value in the world. Rather than just asking for a hand-out, we can first look in the mirror. It builds self-esteem and purpose. Life is like a pot-luck supper. You wouldn’t show up there empty-handed. You would bring something to the “party”.

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