Personal Bartering

Barter
To trade goods or services without the exchange of money.
— American Heritage┬« Dictionary

Many people are in a financial bind right now due to the global economies being nearly destroyed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Millions of jobs have been lost … some temporarily, some permanently. Even for those who still have work, many are seeing their wages reduced. Money is tight and the immediate financial outlook doesn’t look very promising for the next year or so.

That being said, all of us still have a personal need for products and services. The reality is that many people don’t and won’t have the money to pay for the products and services they need. Forget about what is wanted. For many, life is down to fighting daily to meet their basic needs of food, shelter, medicines and other necessities. There are many articles to be found on the Internet that give good advice on how to:

  • Reduce your living expenses
  • Increase your income by taking a gig job or a second job, work longer hours or by starting your own micro-business
  • Sell unused or unneeded personal belongings
  • Move to a smaller, cheaper home

I have yet to read an article that mentions barter as way to get the products and services you need but don’t have the cash to pay for. Yet, barter has been around for centuries.

Selecting Services and Items to Barter

Consider your skills and talents
The most obvious bartering options is a service you already provide in your job, or have provided in the past. Everything from repairing small engines to making clothing alterations to baking goods can be offered in bartering. But, potential bartering partners need to know you have the skills and experience in which you are willing to offer in bartering. Showing examples (actual or photos) or other type of documentation of what you have done in the past will accomplish this important aspect of bartering.

Identify skills related to your hobbies
If you enjoy cooking and baking, you can offer people a home-cooked meal. Some art and craft items are in high demand, especially if you offer to create a piece customized to the interests of the bartering partner. If you can’t think of a good or service created by your hobby, ask family members or a close friend for suggestions.

Tip – Think about hobbies related to home upkeep or maintenance, such as gardening, cleaning out the gutters or repairing a sagging wood bookshelf.

Offer less specialized tasks that others dislike doing themselves
Many bartering trades involve pet sitting, garden weeding, errand running, house cleaning, grocery shopping, and other services that some people can perform more easily or better than others. If you enjoy any of these common tasks, consider offering them for barter. You will be surprised at how many people will readily accept a barter for these types of services.

Find items you no longer want or need
Look around your home and garage from a bartering perspective; there may be things that would be hard to sell but easy to barter in small barter transactions. Unwanted books and clothing, an extra toaster or other appliance, or even unopened wine bottles or food items can be exchanged in small trades. Don’t forget about collectible items, collections and vintage items.

Finding Barter Partners

Look for bartering websites
Websites where bartering connections range from the all-purpose to specialty products and services. A few examples are:

Craigslist – General merchandise and services
SwapStyle – Clothes
ThreadUP – Kids clothes
BookMooch – Books

Tip – Make sure to read and understand the instructions, process, membership fees, or fees to receive or send items before you sign up.

Join or start a time bank to trade services
If you are interested in trading services more than goods, join a time bank in your area or start one yourself in your locality. Anyone who joins the time bank can “hire” someone else for any type of work. Instead of getting paid, the person who does the work gets the number of hours she worked recorded in the database. She can then “hire” another member of the time bank for that number of hours. In a standard time bank system, one hour of work is always worth the same as another hour of work, regardless of how much hiring someone to do that work would normally cost.

Find bartering partners in your community
Searching the Internet for bartering groups in your town or area may lead to a community forum where you can make deals with people near you. Also check out your local newspaper, community message boards or locations where flyers are posted to find out about products and services being offered. One major advantage to local bartering is the ability to trade items or services face to face. It’s also great for bartered items that are too heavy or delicate to mail or ship.

Advertise in your local area
Advertising locally is a great way to draw attention to bartering. Put up flyers around your community, talk to neighbors, or organize a meet-and-greet swap. Finding regular or long-term bartering partners this way can be a great way to save money on recurring needs such as lawn care, handyman services and housecleaning. It also allows you to build relationships with your neighbors.

Ask If A Barter Is Possible
It never hurts to ask whether someone is open to a barter arrangement … as long as you take”no” for an answer. Most people are not used to bartering, but may be willing to accept a barter under the right circumstances. Mention what services or goods you’re offering, ask if there’s anything specific they’re looking for. Drop the subject if they aren’t interested.

Securing a Better and Safer Barter Transaction

Do research on the potential barter partner before you commit to a transaction
If a friend referred you to a barter partner, ask that friend about the partner’s integrity and reliability. Request that the bartering partner show examples or samples of his work (if possible), and ask about his experience, certification or licensing, when applicable. The more valuable the transaction, the more important it is to make sure you’ll be receiving a high-quality barter.

In detail, each barter partner needs to describe their service or item
It’s critical to be exact about what you are offering before you get too far into the negotiating. Does “yard work” mean trimming the hedge, or a full landscaping job planting new trees and shrubs? Are the items you are offering fully functional, or are there non-functioning parts the other person needs to know about? It’s difficult to negotiate a barter transaction if the two parties have a different understanding of what’s being offered and what isn’t.

Come to agreement on the value of each service or item
For personal casual trades between friends, you might quickly decide in a conversation that one French lesson is worth one gallon of homemade vegetable soup. When dealing with strangers, or conducting more valuable barters, it’s wise to discuss the value more formally. Each party needs to explain how much they would normally charge for the items or service they are providing. Be open to haggling over this amount or reducing the price if it still results in a barter that saves you money. Once you’ve agreed, for example, a used lawn mower is worth $100, and an hour of garden work is worth $20, finding a barter that is fair to both parties will be much easier.

If you can’t come to an agreement, add something extra to sweeten your offer
This can be cash, another item you can throw in, or an additional service.

Verify that you have the following details covered
For larger transactions, or transactions with strangers, it’s a good idea to have written agreement or contract. For many small barter trades, an oral agreement or a confirmation email may be sufficient. Either way, make sure you agree on the following points before you close the deal:

  • Which barter partner is responsible for providing tools and small supplies, ingredients, or materials? If something additional needs to be purchased, who pays for it, and who gets to keep any newly purchased tools or excess materials after the barter transaction is completed?
  • If applicable, how much follow-up service is included or expected? For services which usually require an undetermined amount of additional time, such as website maintenance, it’s a good idea to agree on a maximum number of hours that is included before a new agreement needs to be in-place.
  • If your barter partner is providing a service in your home or garden, should an advance notice be given before she comes over, or is she allowed to stop by and work even if you aren’t at home. In many cases, it’s better to have a set day and time to perform the service each week.

Following the steps and tips above will put you in a position to have successful bartering experiences in which everybody involved is happy with the bartered transaction.


Do you have experience in bartering on a personal basis? Please share your thoughts and experience in the comment section below.

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Published by W. M. Brown

I am a retired U.S. expat living in Ecuador. I was a business owner for 32 years before retiring in 2012.

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