Successful Swaps: Bartering Tips

Learn some tips on how to barter as MOTHER's readers share their bartering tales.

Bartering Items

These MOTHER's readers have found the art of bartering: learning to swap time and talent for needed items around the homestead and turning trash to treasure.


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Suzy LaMonte from Days Creek, Ore.: 

Life without running water has its disadvantages ... especially when autumn weather sets in and local creeks become too chilly for cleansing dips.

And as Hoedad tree planters, we always come home kind of "grungy" and in need of a good scrub, too. Imagine our gratitude, then, when a fellow homesteader (who'd just bought a place about a mile down the road) heard of our plight and graciously offered us the use of his shower. (Ahhh ... hot water!)

But what to offer in return? Of course! We could rototill and expand his small garden plot, come springtime. And that's just what we did!

Many other good swaps have resulted from our utilization of the gifts of our local madrone trees. In the fall, the madrones are laden with deep red berries, which we collect and string into necklaces. The little fruits dry into firm, colorful beads ... and make great "tradables" at the many craft fairs held throughout the year here.

We've traded our "nature necklaces" for a wide assortment of lovely handmade goods: pottery, jewelry, drawings, wooden toys ... the possibilities are many, and it's always fun.

But then, that goes for swapping in general!

Margaret Higgs from Indianapolis, Ind.: 

One day last winter a neighbor of mine stopped by to visit wearing a new flannel shirt that his sister had made him for Christmas. I was quite interested in her handiwork, since it's impossible to find a store-bought flannel shirt with sleeves long enough to fit my boyfriend.

While we sat talking, this fellow mentioned how much he liked the macrame plant hanger I had just finished making. Right away, something told me my boyfriend was going to get a flannel shirt.

My neighbor worked out a deal with his sister: He would give her some help she needed in exchange for one handmade flannel shirt. His sibling made the garment (to my specifications, of course), and he then promptly traded it to me for my plant hanger.

All three of us were pleased with the arrangement, and now I hear that my neighbor's sister is eyeing his new macrame hanger ... and wanting to know if I need another flannel shirt.

Scott Feierabend from Baton Rouge, La.:  

On our 2,000-mile hike from Georgia to Maine along the Appalachian Trail, my wife and I learned how adaptable swapping can be.

We found out (firsthand!) that long-distance hikers soon tire of their repetitious and consequently unappetizing meals, and we also discovered that barter can help to remedy the situation. At a hikers' hostel in Hot Springs, North Carolina, we encountered a "swap box" ... a very simple exchange system based on give and take.

Whatever a person didn't want or could no longer use was placed in a large carton. These contributions included not only every sort of on-the-trail food imaginable, but soap, rope, books, candles, and a variety of backpacking equipment. After "shopping" through the box, an individual would replace what he took with whatever unwanted goodies he or she might have.

In this way, hikers are able — at no cost — to sample new foods, replace excess gear with more needed commodities, and (best of all) leave behind their most unappealing victuals ... knowing that the foodstuffs will probably be relished by the next swapper to come along!

We were so impressed with the system that we established a swap box at a trail stop further north.

Friendly trade works ... no matter where it occurs!

J.H Mayeux from Weaverville, N.C.: 

I was born and raised in the most beautiful part of the Louisiana bayou country, where barter is a way of life.

A boucherie, for example, was when several people would bring their pigs to one fellow Cajun's house to be slaughtered. This man would be well equipped and educated for butchering hogs. The air would be full of friendship ... and tasty aromas, for the outdoor tables were soon laden with good eatin's. In exchange for a free feast, many folks would gather to help the butcher with some of the chores around his place. Some got professional butchering, and we all profited by getting good fellowship, a great meal, and usually even some entertainment.

Now I live in North Carolina, and I'm still an active trader. Among other things, I've many times swapped my skill as a tree surgeon. On the whole, I've found that people — because of the special bonds that seal a deal — definitely enjoy tradin' more'n payin'.

Jacqueline Sintay from Forks of Salmon, Calif.: 

My husband and I have a large garden, and we often barter excess produce for things our place doesn't supply. Last summer, for instance, we had a bumper crop of luscious raspberries so we traded some of the fruit for our neighboring friends' fresh eggs, raw milk, honey, and firewood.

In the fall we needed apples, so a neighbor with a large orchard let us pick several crates in exchange for some of our vegetables, peaches, and peppermint. Then we traded some of the apples for pears!

When we wanted manure for the garden, we located a dairy farmer whose barnyard needed cleaning up. He said we could have all of the organic fertilizer we could cart away at absolutely no charge ... and we reciprocated that generosity by giving the farmer some of our finest vegetables. He was pleased to receive the fresh produce and to get his grounds tidied, and we were happy to have a dependable source of all the good compost we wanted.

There simply isn't enough room here to list every one of the successful swaps we've made, but before closing I will mention one more: We trade issues of Organic Gardening for THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS ® !

Phil Block from Newington, Conn.: 

As a transplanted Yankee (from New Jersey), I've tried to adopt the proverb, "Buy dear, use well, and make over." Accordingly, much of what I swap comes from neighborhood streets on refuse collection day. For example, an astounding number of slightly worn or damaged but still perfectly good lawn chairs and garden hoses are thrown out by the residents of my town every year. So I collect them each fall, buy plastic webbing and hose connectors at close-out sales, then repair this otherwise-expensive equipment and swap it for other things I want the following spring and summer.

Then there's the story of how I got my brand-new $3 garden shed. My friend and I went to a going-out-of-business sale, and the store manager offered us two sheds and assorted odds and ends for a pittance if we'd clear the display yard. We used my buddy's truck, and sold or traded the sale leftovers for a garden tiller, a lawn mower, some tools, and enough lumber and cement to build the foundations for our sheds. Last fall, after a season of renting out our backs with the tiller, we found that the two sheds had cost us a total of only $6.

When I barter, my greatest joy isn't in saving money ... but in utilizing something someone else has given up on, or in preventing my castoffs from becoming landfill.

Leona Guthrie from Las Vegas, N.M.: 

Swapping can be magical: I saw it turn a 1/2-pound miniature dachshund into a 1/2-ton pickup truck! Here's how it happened.

I had just subjected my husband and children to a blistering lecture, the point of which was: "We have too many horses! We can't get any more! None!"

Then we went to see a man about a goat, and he asked us to look at a mare he'd purchased cheap because her former owners were moving. I felt perfectly safe in looking ... we had no money and too many horses anyway.

Before I could stop myself, I had traded one of our fat, cute AKC dachshunds for a bony but beautiful appaloosa. The children and their father just smirked at me, remembering how I'd laid down the law.

We fattened that mare for about two months, until we met a man with five young'uns and no horse. He was a mechanic, and happened to have a nice pickup that he'd accepted in lieu of pay for repair bills.

We drove away in the truck, he rode away on a plump, shiny appaloosa, and both families were happy.

Magic? You bet!

Nancy Cook from Sacramento, Calif.: 

Although we live in a large, crowded housing development, we have a small greenhouse, a prolific organic garden, and even a modest flock of chickens that provide us with fresh eggs and meat. All of these do help considerably with living expenses, but our family is large and we recently got to the point where we needed a second income to supplement my husband's.

Our predicament was that I had no work experience to call upon. We were short on ideas and getting discouraged ... until a friend came up with the ideal (for us) solution. He offered to teach me to cane chairs and do wicker work, in exchange for our surplus garden produce.

I now have a thriving and enjoyable business that lets me stay at home and yet bring in extra money, while our friend receives a steady supply of fresh picked vegetables.

If you ask me , MOTHER, this barter idea of yours works!  

Daniel W. Raffety from Jackson, Mo.: 

Citizens' band radio has introduced me to barter! Through this enjoyable communication medium, I've met so many good people ... and made so many good swaps.

Recently, a CB buddy gave me a humidifier, a 20 foot pole for my base antenna, and a small trailer, in return for various radio components that he'll use to improve his own broadcasting base.

I sometimes get requests to help other CB-ers install their home stations, too. Generally, of course, this means that the other parties involved will then lend a hand back when I need it. For instance, I recently helped three fellows put up their antenna systems and, in turn, they all pitched in to help me install mine. A commercial installation would have cost each of us substantially more, and then we wouldn't have had the benefit of being able to converse among ourselves.

So CB swapping not only enables me to acquire items I don't have the money for, but also provides me with valued new friends.

Mrs. J.M. Willtrout from Mullin, Tex.: 

The most successful swap I've ever made occurred last summer, when I broke an ankle just as my garden started coming in.

I'd heard of the local custom of doing work "on shares" or "on halves" — in which someone does most of the labor involved (anything from gathering fallen pecans to picking fruit) for half of the end results — but I'd never had occasion to experience such an arrangement firsthand.

Since I was temporarily "out of commission," a distant relative who was also a neighbor offered to pick and put up part of my produce "on the halves." (She's elderly and hadn't raised any extensive crops her self.) I accepted her proposal with relief, and she harvested my vegetables, took my jars and lids home, and returned with cases and cases of canned foods.

Of course, we both benefited from the deal. Without my spry kinswoman's help, my garden would have gone unpicked ... and had it not been for our trade she wouldn't have had her share of all those winter preserves.

If more communities operated like ours, what a great world it would be!

Stas Grabowski from Provincetown, Mass.:  

Our home is on Cape Cod, and the beach is our back yard. I had been able to raise some crops on the shore — despite the winds that come in off the water — by using a cold frame. But growing tender plants like eggplant and melons remained a problem until we got friendly with a retired teacher who lives down the block.

Ken had some open land in back of his house (away from the beach), with only two old cottages on it. So I asked him if I could spruce up the little houses for summer rental in return for the use of a 25-foot square garden on his property. We were soon in business and my new vegetable patch quickly began to thrive.

Our yields seemed endless last summer as we ate snow peas, cucumbers, broccoli, four kinds of tomatoes, and many other homegrown delicacies. In late November, I was still harvesting things like cauliflower and parsley.

So barter wins again. We enjoyed free food from free land, in exchange for something as simple as my time and labor ... which I love to give.

Ellen Brooks and Dave Hackett from Gays Mills, Wis.: 

Like many other MOTHER readers, we exchange labor for our rent, vegetables we have for produce we lack, and piano playing sessions for having our garden plowed. But this winter we've arranged to trade three months of labor for the fun and adventure of being in a different country!

Ellen's mother plans to build a house on land she owns in Costa Rica. By bringing her labor force (us) along, she'll gain two traveling companions, some steady workers she's already familiar with, people she can consult when the many inevitable building problems arise, and advocates of alternative energy sources who want to make her homestead as ecologically sound as possible.

In turn, we'll get to experience another culture (which otherwise would be prohibitively expensive on our apple pickers' wages). And all three of us will appreciate the strengthened family bond this association is bound to create!

Tahca Ska from Manomet, Mass.: 

Since I support my family with the few dollars my handicraft items bring in, we seldom have any extra money around. For this reason — and because we live in a tipi and use horse and wagon transportation, which doesn't endear us to the typical private campground owner — we have frequent problems in our travels throughout New England.

But we've worked out a nearly ideal (if temporary) solution. Friends of ours said we could camp on their land and use the grass, water, and wood we needed in exchange for maintaining the grounds at their motel. Also, for doing painting and general building upkeep, I was allowed to display my crafts in the motel office ... which brought me a good many customers from around the country.

The motel closed after Labor Day, but that didn't end our mutually beneficial relationship with the proprietors. As my wife is very pregnant, I'm loathe to move camp just now, so in return for improving the motel woodlot my family and I have been made welcome here through the winter. With careful management, the woodlot will now be profitable ... and next year's guests will find the patch of timber more inviting now that there's a trail through it.

Dian Stout from Penn Yan, N.Y.: 

I've rediscovered swapping, and I find it still produces the silly, giggly excitement in me that it did when we used to exchange baseball cards and student photos in grade school.

Though I forgot about the fun of trading for 20 years, it all came back after my husband and I bought some property, became organic farmers, and generally transformed our lives.

We went for a marriage encounter weekend, where we met several really neat couples from our area. And it was through some of these new friends that I was reminded of the joys of barter.

I was secretly wishing for an herb garden like one of these other wives had, you see, when one day she happened to say, "I wish I could draw like you do."

"Hey," I shot back, "I'll teach you to draw if you'll give me cuttings from your perennial herbs."

Well, that woman now draws better and better, and I'm sitting here sipping my own blend of tea as I write this.

Next, my husband flipped for a beautiful lamp our new potter friends had made ... until he saw the $60 price tag. When I sneaked back to them with an antique crock we'd dug out of the cellar, however, they declared it to be of equal value and we made the swap. You should have seen Al's face at Christmas!

Dick Stanley from Stanford, Calif.: 

With today's proliferation of "househusbands," many men who work at home find themselves in need of either paying to have their correspondence typed or mastering some secretarial skills themselves.

Since my wife is in graduate school, and I'm faced with the dilemma described above, I've hit upon the idea of swapping baby-sitting for typing. I provide child care at the rate of two hours for every one hour the typist puts in. (Fellas! It gets you legitimately out of the house at night!) The arrangement has so far resulted in about $60 worth of "free" secretarial work, plus many quiet evenings spent reading articles I couldn't find time for on my "dishpan schedule."