Service Exchange, Instrument Exchange, and Other Barter Agreements

Readers wrote in to share the details of the barter agreements they negotiated over the previous year, including a professional services exchange and an instrument exchange.

067 instrument exchange - banjo - Fotolia - KELLIS

One Florida instrument maker negotiated an instrument exchange in which he traded a banjo for a wood stove to his his workshop.


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The following are among the barter agreements readers reported negotiating in the past year. 

Service Exchange

I've known for some time now that I could swap for expensive items (which I wouldn't be able to afford any other way), but MOTHER EARTH NEWS recently motivated me to make bartering a regular habit. To date, I've exchanged my goods or services for a Kohler generator, boat storage, fire wood, and even for food. And it's not just the practical aspect of bartering that appeals to me, either. I'm hooked into the ethics of it as well! I prefer swapping for items rather than accepting "freebies," and it also seems that trading provides a more genuine transaction than just forking out the almighty dollar for merchandise.

But I was especially happy to discover that bartering can help me professionally, too! As a college instructor teaching "human communication," I often supplement my not-very-large paycheck by consulting for private business firms. Unfortunately, however—although I do

provide a much-needed service—many potential clients are scared off by the cost. So, when my dentist suggested that we swap his tooth-tinkering skills (to cap my chompers) for my communications evaluation of his staff, I jumped at the chance to do some serious trading. I simply studied the office interaction while having the dental work performed ... and—after the first successful consultation session—the doctor even wondered whether he'd done enough on his end of the deal!

What a great way to do business! In fact, from now on, I aim to operate my consulting firm on a barter basis as often as possible!

C. M. S.

Instrument Exchange

I own a small woodworking and instrument repair shop, and the onslaught of winter found my establishment still unheated. Not particularly wanting to lose fingers or ruin a partially completed musicmaker through cold-induced clumsiness, I began searching for some practical means of warming the place up a bit.

At first I ran the gamut of available electric heaters, but besides the fact that none of the watt-wasters was adequate to warm the shop, I found myself feeling guilty about consuming so much energy so inefficiently (not to mention that my electric bill was beginning to increase faster than the rate of inflation!).

I was still mulling over my heating problem one blustery winter afternoon, when a friend showed up at the workshop and admired a banjo I was building. It turned out that he was hankering after just such an instrument ... and before long the musician proposed a trade involving my new banjo and his antique stove! Well, in practically no time at all, I had a warm shop in which to work and—more important—was discovering the many pleasures of wood heat.

Since then the timber-burner has been moved into my house, where it is a continuing source of cheer, and I've even built several wood stoves: one for the shop, another to warm the water in my hot tub, and a third that I traded to a friend.

I guess it just goes to show that you can find eager swappers even down here in the Sunshine State!


Rototilled Garden for Chicken

My wife Viola, our three-year-old Damian, and I have been dining on a delicious harvest of chickens this winter, thanks to a convenient trade we made last autumn. This is how our "fowl feast" deal came about:

I'm a mechanic of sorts, you see, and had recently completed repairs on a rundown rototiller. But before giving the clodbuster a clean bill of health, I wanted to take it for a spin ... to be sure that the "cure" had worked. And since my garden was already sprouting a fall cover crop, I was searching for some "not-so-green pastures" to till.

While I was visiting my neighbors one evening, the folks happened to mention that they were thinking of selling 35 egg layers who were past their prime ... and, in the course of the conversation, I discovered that the couple had a frostbitten garden that needed to be turned under before the winter weather arrived in full force.

Well—aside from the fact that I'd been looking for a bare garden plot to till—I have a pretty strong bent toward barter (and am mighty fond of a tasty hen decorating my dinner plate now and again) ... so I offered to test the sodscrambling machine on my friends' soil, in exchange for a number of their cluckers

Now my neighbors have a garden that's just waiting for the first daffodil to poke its head through the snow, and we have a freezer packed full of featherless fowl!


Maple Syrup Trades

This morning, as I opened my last quart of homemade maple syrup, I was reminded of the many items the sweetener "bought" me—through barter—over the past year.

I was bitten by the "sugaring bug" for the first time the fall before last, and immediately began trying to locate some tappin' trees. Well, it just so happened that my neighbor had a beautiful grove of sugar maples nestled along his creek ... and although he admitted that he'd like to be able to feast occasionally on a plateful of flapjacks drowned in a sea of syrup, my next-farm friend couldn't be persuaded to spend his crisp winter days toiling over a vat of bubbling sap.

So we struck up a bargain: I would tap the trees of my choice (and use all the dead wood I needed to stoke up the sugaring fires), and my friend would get half of whatever syrup I coaxed from his maples.

Well, by the time the spring flowers began to parade their petals around our farm, my share amounted to four gallons of the lip-smackin' sweetener. And that was just the beginning of my trading spree!

When my garden soil needed a boost of organic fertilizer, I swapped some syrup for a spreader load of manure from a local dairy farmer. Then, later in the summer—when the vigorous vegetables had occupied every available cultivated corner and were camped out all over my kitchen counter as well—it seemed that I had gotten the best part of the deal, so I gave the dairyman a couple of bushels of sweet corn to even out the bargain.

Now, as I settle back after a delicious breakfast of steaming hotcakes and (of course) syrup, I'm glad that sap season is just around the corner because I'm sure looking forward to another year of good eating and good swapping!


Assorted Deals

Swapping is so much a part of our lifestyle here in Tucson, Arizona that it's impossible to keep track of our bartering deals! Just a sampling of some recent swaps includes trading "dough babies" for hand-dipped candles, exchanging two embroidered pillowcases for a collection of African butterflies, and receiving a bolt of elegant hand-painted fabric, and a load of beautiful oak lumber (which we used to build our children's beds), in return for some of our silver artwork and jewelry.

We swap for the "essentials," too. For example, I "purchase" my pick of fashionable garments without money by working part time in a friend's vintage clothing shop. (And with the high prices that are normally charged for women's wear these days, my deal saves us a lot of cash!)

Another advantageous exchange—one which is necessary to our simplified lifestyle—involves my writing the monthly newsletter for my daughter's alternative school. Believe me, trading off part of the tuition sure helps our limited budget stay out of the red!

And, now that money is becoming even scarcer (and it looks like the economy won't be budging from its low condition in the months to come), I'm swapping every chance I get. So how about it ... this story for a subscription?