The barter system: making your community work for you

The barter system

The barter system
As a society, we’ve become used to simply buying the things we need or paying for whatever services we require. But once upon a time it was common for people to trade products and services instead. In fact, bartering was how people survived before money was even invented.

When your budget is tight and you have something to offer, this can be a fantastic way to get some of the things you need without having to pay for them. It’s also a great way to become more engaged with the community around you and to get to know your neighbors.

For example, perhaps you love to cook but aren’t able clean your home the way you used to. You may be able to barter with a friend or neighbor who can clean your home each week in exchange for some of your delicious homemade soups and stews. Or maybe you’re a whiz when it comes to hemming pants, darning socks and putting in new zippers, and a friend is willing to pick up and deliver your weekly groceries in exchange for some tailoring.

The possibilities are endless – and a wonderful way to get the things you need, and to share some community spirit in the process!

Where to begin

If you’re interested in exploring the world of bartering, it’s a great idea to start with family, friends and neighbors. Not only do they know and trust you (and vice versa), but they’re also a potentially large pool of people to draw from.

  1. Consider what you can offer. Do you have items you are willing to trade? Think about all the things you own but never use: DVDs, CDs, furniture, dishes, children’s items, clothing and electronics. Can you provide a service others would want? Think about the things you’re good at: cooking, baking, organizing, sewing, babysitting, knitting, or dog walking.
  2. Consider what you need. Are you looking for regular help around the house? Do you have a repair job that needs doing? Do you want new books to read or new movies to watch? Do you need a new kitchen table? Do you need someone to drive you to a regular appointment? Are you desperate for a regular babysitter?
  3. Make a master list. List the items you have available for barter. Be as specific as possible, including age and condition of each item. Adding photos is also a fantastic idea. List the services you are willing to do in exchange for something else. Again, be specific about your skill level and abilities, and the amount of time you’re willing and able to spend on each task.
  4. Reach out. Talk to trusted family, friends and neighbors. Explain that you’re interested in bartering for goods and services, and ask if they are similarly inclined to participate. Ask those that are interested to follow steps 1 – 3.
  5. Share your lists. When everyone is ready, swap your list of items and/or services with interested family and friends, and set up calls to discuss the details of any swaps that seem interesting to both parties.
  6. Make special requests. Once you have your little community of swap-friendly folks set up, you can reach out with special requests as they arise. If you’ve just put a dent in your dining room wall, for example, reach out to someone on your list who is great with a putty knife and spackle for help!
  7. Go big! If all of your swappers know each other, why not make it a large, communal bartering system that everyone can take advantage of? Ask if everyone wants to meet once a month to exchange updated lists and strike a few deals over coffee and cookies at your place.

If you don’t have friends and neighbors who are interested in participating, you can also try reaching out using sites like Swapsity in Canada, blogs like Shareable in the US, and newspaper articles like The Guardian in the UK, or Community Exchange System (CES). CES is an online exchange system that matches people who have something to offer with people who are willing to swap for it. There are 1019 exchange groups in 97 countries using the CES website, so it’s possible there’s a group local to you.

Your own personal community exchange system can help you and your group of swappers save money, declutter your homes, and finally get those odd jobs that keep getting put off completed once and for all.

Even if you don’t want to set up a formal group or explore options like CES, when you’re in need it’s always worth asking if someone you know is willing to swap for something to help you out.

For more tips on successful bartering, visit Real Simple and Money Crashers.

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