Your Best Bartering Stories

MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers share their most successful bartering stories.
By the Mother Earth News editors
January/February 1985
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Sometimes a simple barter can save you lots of time, money and trouble.

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At age 18, I made one of my most successful barters. While working on a farm here in Florida, I traded my labor for a brood sow, which surprised me two weeks later with nine piglets. I kept the piglets, but I traded the sow back to the farmer for a 10-gauge Winchester shotgun!

-C.T. Florida

I've made many successful swaps in my life. One began when I moved into my new home. While cleaning up the toolshed, I found a box full of unusable (I thought) junk, which I decided to discard in the nearest trash bin. But when I went to throw the box away, I met a gentleman who was preparing to cast off his "useless" chain saw.

Needless to say, I left with his junk and he left with mine. And it didn't tak eme long to find the problem with the chain saw, which now runs like a dream.

Not long after that, I noticed a fellow across the road from my house thinning his woods with an axe. I offered to help in return for the wood. His agreement, as he wiped his sweaty forehead, was heartfelt.

Still, my best trade came when I offered to take a lady I loved on a canoe trip if she would marry me. It was a great trip, and neither of us regrets the trade!

-D.M. Missouri 

Our friends bought an older home in Dallas and invited us over to show us around. My attention was drawn to the two old ceiling fans in the living room and bedroom. Coated with years of paint, they didn't look like much. When I asked my friend abou his plans to rejuvenate them, he gave me that "you've got to be kidding" look and explained that he wanted to replace them with new, more energy-efficient, brass-looking fans. I offered to help him with the installation of the new fans in exchange for his old-timers. I suspected that these fans might be good old cast-iron Hunters; ther was no doubt in my mind when I hoisted those 50-pounders down the ladder.

Back home, I stripped off the paint, and, boy, was I surprised to find that the housing wasn't cast-iron at all, but solid bronze! In fact, the fans were entirely bronze, from the oil reservoirs to the wiring bells! I polished the machines up nicely. Now one is running smoothly in my parents' home, and the other will be an anniversary gift to my wife's folks. The Hunter Company looked up our serial numbers and found that our fans were made in January of 1945. All in all, I'd say I got a pretty good deal for a couple hours of helping a friend!

-M.S. New Hampshire 

As the owner of a typesetting and graphics business, I like to barter for as much as I can, and I do barter for such things as clothing, chiropractic care, massages, etc. But my favorite barter was with a customer who wanted a poster I had of a large strawberry. The poster was out of print, but since he was in the small fruits business, my customer offered to buy the poster from me. I wasn't overly fond of the poster, but I am overly fond of — so I traded the poster for several crates of strawberries.

-D.C. California

Soon after our move to Central America, we bought 50 acres with the intention of homesteading them. However, when another farm became available — complete with house, bran, shop and developed fields — we decided to make our home there and consequently ended up with surplus land. Not long after that, another couple (also eager to escape the norther rat race) arrived and fell in love with our extra acreage. They didn't have the cash to purchase it from us, but the would-be buyers sold photovoltaic systems, so we started thinking about a swap. ()We were still using kerosene lamps.)

We worked out at rade: A complete solar electric system for us in exchange for our extra tropical farmstead, which just goes to show that sometimes what seems impossible can be made possible through barter.

J.W. Belize, Central America

As a newly single mother with an empty bank account, I discovered to my dismay that my 7-year-old car needed a new carburetor. When I went to price one at the local auto parts store, I overheard the owner say that he was going to hire some extra help for a pretax inventory. Much to my surprise, I heard myself say, "I'll trade you an inventory clerk for a new carburetor."

After we had shared a good laugh, the proprietor and I agreed to exchange 25 hours of my labor for the car part. I left the shop very pleased with my trade and ready to tackle the second part of my problem: the installation.

My next stop was at a garage where the bookkeeper admired my daughter's outfit. When my offspring proudly announced that her mommy had made it, the woman remarked that she wished she could sew such beautiful clothes for her two little girls and asked me how much I would charge to make such an ensemble. I jokingly responded, "It's too bad you can't repair my car, because I'd be willing to swap you four outfits for a carburetor job."

A man's voice behind me announced, "It's a deal!" He then introduced himself as the garage owner and husband of the bookkeeper. In three weeks' time, the auto parts store was inventoried, the auto shop owner's daughters had new clothes, and my car had a new carburetor. In addition, I had arranged a third barter.

Since I needed a babysitter while I took the inventory, a friend agreed to watch my two preschoolers if I would take care of hers when her third baby was born.

B.W. New York

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