How To Barter

by heather

Bartering has been around since we decided to stop walking on all fours and start standing upright. And before we cottoned on to the whole “money in exchange for services performed” idea, bartering was all we had. It was an easy way to get what you need.

As you know, however, bartering has fallen out of favor in the last couple hundred years. After we left our farms and moved inwards for city life, we became more independent. We needed our privacy more, and our neighbors less. And after all, we had all this “money” now. We could just buy what we needed!

It seems as if we’re making full-circle again, though. More of more of us have less and less money to buy what we need, thanks in large part to the sagging economy. So, bartering is starting to make a huge comeback.

But, most of us have no idea how, or what, to barter. Bring up the idea to some people and they begin to feel immediately uncomfortable. After all, most of us have never bartered in our entire lives. We don’t have anything to offer, right?

Wrong. All of us have something to offer. We just have to get back into the swing of trading goods and services with our friends and neighbors.

The Benefits of Bartering

There are several advantages to bartering.

Obviously, “saving money” tops the list here. When you trade a good or service you don’t need for one that you do need, no money changes hands. Everyone saves money in the transaction.

Another benefit to bartering is the fact that it’s eco-friendly. Instead of going out and buying a brand new piece of furniture, you can find a used piece from someone else. Bartering cuts down on the consumption of new goods by extending the life of our “stuff”.

Also, bartering helps us make a connection with someone else. We do something for someone, and then they do something for us. It’s incredibly gratifying.

What Can I Barter?

The great thing about bartering is that you can barter anything. Really.

Here is a list of some items and skills you could offer to someone else in trade:

  • Babysitting services
  • House painting (interior or exterior)
  • Plumbing services
  • Tools
  • Furniture
  • Artwork
  • Computer skills (troubleshooting, website design)
  • Music skills (teach children to play an instrument, offer to play at a wedding or party)
  • Yardwork and/or landscape design
  • Carpentry skills
  • Writing services (writing for businesses, on their websites, brochures, etc.)
  • Photography
  • Medical skills (midwife, dental, vision, medical doctor, veterinarian)
  • Dog training services
  • House-sitting
  • Houses (seriously: people really are swapping houses)
  • Cars, motorcycles, scooters
  • House cleaning/professional organizing services
  • Office space
  • Vacation houses/condos/timeshares
  • Cooking and baking services
  • Personal training/massage
  • Legal services/advice

And that list is just the tip of the iceberg. Truly, the number of things you could barter with someone else is endless!

Here’s a good example: I’m a commercial copywriter by trade. I’m going to be bartering my writing skills with my hairdresser, who needs some copy written for her website. I’m going to write up some content for her, in exchange for a fabulous hair cut and color. It’s a win-win. She’s saving money, and I’m saving money.

Another good example is my dad. He loved the house my aunt was living in, three miles down the road from his. It was quirky, closer to my grandmother, and had a smaller yard. My aunt, in turn, loved the house my dad was living in: it had an enormous yard for her granddaughter to play in, it was further away from the road, and had more space inside. So, they switched houses last month. Another win-win.

Need another example? Ok, on (see resources list below) for Michigan, someone is willing to trade a brand new water heater in exchange for a deck power-washer. Someone else is willing to trade their bedroom set in exchange for some light electrical work on their home. A private detective is willing to trade his services for some plastic surgery (no, I didn’t make that up).

You can trade anything, which is why bartering is so frugal and fabulous.

How To Barter

Step 1: Be Very Specific About What You’re Offering, and What You’re Looking For

The biggest mistake most people make when they start bartering is that they’re not specific. They’ll place an ad looking for someone to do “yardwork”, in exchange for something they have to offer.

But, what does “yardwork” really mean? Is your yard a 1/2 acre, or is it 5 acres? Does the grass just need cut, or do you need the beds weeded, the leaves picked up, and the brush pile burned?

Be as specific as you can when it comes to what you’re looking for, and what you have to offer. And, set limits. For instance, if you’re willing to trade babysitting services in exchange for something else, how many kids are you willing to watch? How long are you willing to watch them for?

These details might need to be hammered out once you find someone willing to trade. For instance, if you need electrical work done and you find an electrician willing to do it, then you might need to watch his or her kids for several nights for the trade to be equal. This aspect of bartering closely ties in with Step 2, which is…

Step 2: Assign Value

The trick to bartering successfully is to trade things of equal value. So, assigning value to your skills if you’re currently not getting paid for them might be a bit tricky.

Because this is so individualistic, only you can decide who much your time, your skills, or your item is worth. But, it’s important to figure this out at the beginning. So, search online and see how much these things are worth.

If you’re currently working with your skills (for instance, if you’re a house painter, plumber, writer, web developer, landscaper, etc.) then you probably already know how much your time and skills are worth. So, you’ve saved yourself a step.

Step 3: Get Connected With Others Who Are Looking For Trade

Your best bet for finding others who are willing to barter is, you guessed it, the Internet. There are tons of amazing websites cropping up that are putting people in touch with each other who want to trade services. I’ve included a lengthy list of online resources you can check out at the end of this article.

You can also barter within your own family, neighborhood, or community.

Step 4: Watch Out For Scammers

Some sites go to great lengths to protect their barterers from scammers. Others say to barter at your own risk.

If you’re unsure about someone, then ask for references and check them out online. Some people have gotten scammed after doing their part of the bargain, and then getting nothing back in return when the person disappears.

Me, I’ve never had a problem (but, I’ve also only bartered in my local community, with people I know). I think most people have good experiences, but there are always some who are willing to take advantage of people.

To be safe, make sure you get full contact information before entering into an agreement with anyone.

Step 5: Watch Out For The Tax Man

Yes, Uncle Sam wants his share, even if you’re bartering. Legally, you do have to claim bargaining transactions. According to the New York Times:

For tax purposes, barter is treated like ordinary sales, and its value must be reported. The barter exchanges record all transactions and report them to the Internal Revenue Service. Of course, informal bartering among small companies and independent contractors has gone on for decades, and some report the revenue and pay taxes, while others prefer to operate within the underground economy.

Bartering Resources:

  •– This is one of the biggest bartering sites out there. You can barter anything here. Definitely a great resource to find people to barter with. If you just browse the “Browse Trads” link, you’ll see tons of offers and get really inspired.
  •– Yes, another awesome site for trading services. Their motto? “Life is more than cash.” I like it.
  •– Barter Bucks is geared more towards businesses helping other businesses (for instance, a web designer builds a site for a house painter in exchange for getting his house painted).
  •– This is another site that focuses on B2B bartering; their goal is to help businesses reduce expenses and raise profits through bartering.
  •– Barter Bee focuses only on trading games, music, and movies. But, it’s got a great selection since the focus is so narrow.
  •– Hyperlocavore is a community that’s dedicated to one thing: gardening. Their mission is to share seeds with other newbie gardeners who are looking to start their own gardens this year. This is a wonderful site, so if you have excess seeds you’d like to send to someone check them out.
  •– I’ve used Freecycle a ton; it’s a great site for bartering and giving away things to others who can use them.
  •– Craigslist’s bartering offers have gone up over 100% since the economy began to tank. In larger metro areas, there’s probably a ton of stuff listed.
  • Margaret’s Buddy Fridays– Margaret is a blogger in the UK; every Friday she publishes a “Buddy” post, which is designed to help the new wave of under and unemployed learn practical, new skills that will help them survive. While not directly related to bartering, this could be a way to learn something new that you could barter in the future.

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