The Successful Swaps column shares success stories in bartering, including bartering hitchhiking rides, horoscope readings and storage space.
I make my living translating books from French for hard-nosed New York City publishers (no swapping there, I'm afraid). But here in Woodstock we have something we call "the energy exchange". Everyone's into it, because — while money is scarce here — talent is plentiful.
For instance, I study astrology and have developed some skill in reading horoscopes. Since many people who want readings can't afford to pay for them, and since I wouldn't feel right taking money for what I think of as spiritual counseling anyway, the energy exchange provides the perfect solution.
The goods and services I've received in return for chart readings include: haircuts, carpentry, medical services, dinners, art works, therapy sessions, lessons in self-hypnosis and auto mechanics, organic vegetables, and psychic healing.
But my favorite exchange was the time I read a friend's chart for 62 sheepskins. She and her old man were moving away, and the fleeces that had lined their dome would have otherwise gone to the dump. I traded some of the skins for wood splitting and gave some of them away, but the rest are right here on the floor of my cabin, keeping my feet warm as I type!
— Helen Weaver
Last fall we splurged on a night's entertainment at a local folk music coffeehouse . . . and loved it! Still, we realized we just couldn't afford to frequent the place.
Undaunted, we offered the proprietress our assistance — setting up, preparing refreshments, cleaning up, etc. — in exchange for free admission. To our surprise, she exclaimed that she'd been wanting just such an arrangement! So now we often enjoy an evening's earful of great music . . . and get to participate in the fun of the whole operation besides!
And here's Terrific Swap Number Two: Mary's always looking for natural dyes for her handspinning, and one day after a rainstorm we came upon some black walnuts that had been washed down from somewhere. We did some sleuthing, and determined the origin of our find: the yard of one of our town's more "socially prominent" people. I was afraid we'd reached an impasse, but Mary persevered. And — when approached — the woman in question offered us this trade: all the black walnuts we could collect just for hauling them away from her yard because they were "in the way of the lawn mower".
We trucked our ten bushels home in high spirits. As Mary says, it never hurts to ask!
— Richard & Mary French
Bolton Landing, N.Y.
After six months in the wilds of West Virginia, I'm convinced that it's more satisfying to "horse-trade" with folks than to pass greenbacks.
My first experience with the pleasures of barter occurred when I traveled to a nearby town's fall festival. I tried selling my handcrafted jewelry at the sidewalk flea market, and found that I sold less than I traded. To be perfectly honest, popular response to my work was somewhat meager . . . but the other peddlers were eager to swap!
My day's wages included au antique bottle capper, fresh fruit, wall hangings, apple cider, and honey. I even gained admission to a tavern at day's end to hear a fine hammered dulcimer band . . . in exchange for a bracelet.
By the way, those who lack their own handicrafts needn't despair: I constantly exchange work and favors with my neighbors. For instance, in return for helping pick corn, I've been given enough ground corn, fodder, and baled hay to allow me to winter my cow cost-free!
The amount of money you save by swapping is considerable, but what gives me my real kick is that slight grin that creeps over the other guy's face when you ask, "Wanna trade?"
— Doug Nestor
I earn my main livelihood as an electrician (self-employed), and there aren't too many "longhair" electricians in this town of 3,000, so the serious back-to-the-landers frequently ask for my assistance.
It seems most of these people are either working in the construction trades, building their own places, or both . . . so I'm often called upon to wire their houses, set up welders, "energize" their wells (what pleasure to see someone's tears of joy at the first sight of water on their land!), or what have you.
In return for my work, I've been given a beautiful wood stove, haircuts for my whole family, a brand-new Skilsaw, all the firewood we can use, thoughtful personal gifts, and on and on.
Nobody keeps records of who owes who . . . it's all just done. My pleasure is in knowing I've helped, and also in knowing I can turn to these like-minded friends and neighbors for help in return.
— Jack Vaughan
Nevada City, CA
My current life in the city restricts most of the country living habits I enjoyed earlier in life. I'm glad to say, though, that my down-home indulgence in barter works just as well in town as it ever did out in the sticks.
I've been unemployed for a couple of months, and have found myself with a lot of time and no money. So last week I started putting my chain saw to work.
I cut down a tree for the wood, and traded the wood to a friend for repairs made on my freezer. Then I cut another, larger tree down in exchange for an axle I wanted for a trailer I'm building. And I did some concrete work for another pal in return for a lawn edger.
I've not only made worthwhile trades, you see . . . I've met some good people, kept busy, worked constructively, and never had to worry about exchanging money.
Barter always reminds me that there's more to life than running down to the corner store.
— Joe McGillivray
I've lived in Colorado for some time now and have spent countless hours in the mountains, under many different weather conditions. Though most folks in this region know how unpredictable the elements can be in high country, accidents and exposure still take lives every year.
Well, I've always been one to learn from others' experiences if possible (rather than finding things out the hard way), so I decided to take a mountain survival course.
Then I realized that tracking down training I could afford was going to be the problem. I wasn't having much luck until one day, while talking to a new friend, I discovered that he did volunteer work for a local mountain rescue organization. My acquaintance mentioned that he was planning a survival course much like the one I was looking for . . . and went on to complain about all the typing, phone calls, and general office work involved in getting the project underway. Naturally I immediately saw the perfect solution to two problems: Why couldn't I do the necessary clerical chores in return for free enrollment in the class?
My offer was accepted and I'm now tromping about the mountainsides with a little more wilderness wisdom . . . and a lot more respect for the magnificent forces of nature.
— Janet Chappell
Colorado Springs, CO
Since moving to the country, we've established "trade relations" with three different families. In each case, the friendship that's blossomed is a result of the swap that originally got us acquainted.
In the first instance, when I enrolled our son in a pre-school that's quite some distance away, I philosophically accepted the daily chore of getting him there. Then I found a way to share the driving with a neighbor. Once a week, she takes our boy to his school while I drive her daughter to hers (which is relatively near). My friend does what she needs to do in town on that day, and I have more time at home.
A second friendship started when another new acquaintance got interested in the sled dogs we keep. We taught him all we know about the animals, and last winter he helped my husband train and run them.
Lastly, we exchange some of nature's abundance with still a third family. They've given us raspberry starts and a row of poplars, and we've shared cucumbers, pansies, and strawberry plants with them.
Swapping is such fun, and once you get in the habit it's just second nature!
— Sandra Diedrich
Gig Harbor, WA
My favorite form of barter is hitchhiking! When that car pulls over, it's up to the thumber to find out what his/her part of the bargain is. Most often it's companionship — many's the tired driver I've kept awake with my travelin' stories — but it could be almost anything: taking a turn behind the wheel, providing an "audience" (lots of folks like to tell jokes or brag about their own exploits), or serving as map reader. Once, in Vermont, I got a ride from some people who had lost their dog. As it happened, I found the critter . . . and they were so grateful they bought me dinner and drove me halfway through the state!
— Shel Horowitz
Right now I'm traveling (Thank you, MOTHER, for the courage to try!) . . . picking fruit and working toward an eventual patch of my own soil.
When I left the city, I needed a place to leave my furniture and clothes but had no funds for storage. So here's what I did.
One clothes-loving friend has my Goodwill and antique finds hanging in her closet, to wear as she pleases. Another, whose new job required an immediate wardrobe of dresses, has that presently (to me) useless portion of my apparel in safekeeping. And still another friend, who'd just moved into an unfurnished place, has the use of my furniture.
It all feels much better than putting my well-loved things into cold storage, and in this way several people — as well as myself — are helped financially.
I find that swapping is not only more economical for all involved, but it helps restore us to that healthy realm where friendship, work, and play are interdependent.
— Michelle Miller
When a friend and I planned a backpacking trip into the Adirondacks to climb Mt. Marcy, I found I had one major problem: Since I'd never yet done any serious hiking, my equipment for the climb consisted of one lone knapsack.
One of my co-workers heard me talking about the upcoming trip and — since he happened to be a salesman for Mason shoes — asked if I had a good pair of hiking boots. When I admitted I didn't, he promptly showed me a Mason catalog that featured a really rugged-looking pair.
The boots looked great, but their price was almost as steep as the mountain I wanted to climb! Yet, just as I was resigning myself to the use of a pair of worn-out work shoes, this fellow asked me what I might be able to trade.
We soon made a deal: I'd supply my Mason man with fresh, high-protein eggs laid by my organically raised Barred Rock hens until the boots were paid for.
When I finally reached the summit of Mt. Marcy, I was ever so thankful (and my feet even more so!) for the age-old custom of barter.
— Richard Vann
I once met an old, widowed farmer who was such a good person that I decided to give him something simply for being who he was.
I knew just what that something should be, too.
When we were introduced, it had come into the conversation that this fellow's late wife had made an unforgettable apple-sauce-raisin-spice cake. He was so sure I'd like it that he'd given me the recipe.
Well, I used that old recipe to bake him a cake, and — since he wasn't home when I delivered it — left it on his front porch with a note.
What happened next was quite unexpected. My new friend telephoned to say he loved the cake . . . and to ask if I'd be interested in a garden plot! Since I lived (at that time) in an apartment, I was elated. And when I went out to cultivate We patch, I found he'd already prepared my soil along with his own!
We worked side by side in both gardens, sharing the work and the fun. I got a garden full of vegetables and a forevermore friendship . . . and all because of a cake. (Or was it because of the love behind the cake?
— Marty Person
Kansas City, MO
When I first moved to this part of the Alaska bush, I noted the tractors, Cats, and other advantageous equipment in my neighbors' yards and wondered how I'd ever survive: My only piece of machinery was a typewriter.
Yet, over the years, my work at that typewriter has provided gravel for the driveway, Cat work, firewood, groceries, and furs.
In addition, I once traded some of my homemade jams and jellies for a Franklin stove . . . and that was later swapped for a Cole airtight heater. My other barters include on-call help at a local roadhouse for labor (result: a shallow well pounded in and chimney safeties installed) and more surplus preserves for a hungry bachelor's mechanical expertise (which has kept my new garden tractor in top shape).
Perhaps the ultimate in bartering (for me, anyway) was reached when a miner in the nearby hills wanted some of my kippered salmon. No mere gold dust would I accept for that precious stuff . . . he got his salmon and I got two nicely matched gold nuggets for earrings!
— Patricia Oakes
My wife Anne and I have successfully battered our way across Europe. Several summers ago, we traveled through France, Germany, Sweden, and Norway on practically no cash. We wanted to see more of the countryside and its people than of the cities, and we usually exchanged our labor for "tent and board" at farms along our way. We were always treated wonderfully and, indeed, any groaning heard resulted not from the work we did but from the abundance at the dinner table!
This year finds us in Germany, where our best barter yet is with the art college where Anne now studies. I work in the school garden (I'm a trained horticulturist) in exchange for Anne's tuition and our living expenses.
Smaller swaps are practiced between the college and some of its neighbors. For instance, the local "shepherd ladies" (an opera singer and a photographer by profession, but they prefer the country life) supply us with sheep manure in return for a bit of pasture at the school.
Through bartering, the things we need seem to fall into our laps . . . and our experiences have shown us that destiny needn't always be determined by the crisp flick of the Almighty Mark or Dollar.
— Craig & Anne Riedel-Cook
Alfter bei Bonn, Germany
The youngsters of today who go forth and seek new places, build their own homes, and grow their own produce are wonderful . . . but I would have them know that there were those of us with the same visions and aspirations 30 years ago.
We left Miami, Florida in a "covered wagon" truck constructed by my husband and son . . . destination Maine. Among our few possessions was a handsome black marbled toilet seat of solid wood that I'd won in a radio contest.
To shorten a long story, we arrived, bought a $2,600 farm with $150 down, and went to the nearest secondhand shop in search of furniture.
There I was distracted from our purpose by the most beautiful old parlor pump organ. How my heart and soul coveted it!
"How much?" I asked.
"Tain't wuth much," the man said. "Got anything to swap?"
I offered him my fancy bathroom throne, and we soon struck a bargain.
My husband and I have made many other good trades over the years — mostly labor for labor (another story) — but none so satisfactory as that pump-organ-for-a-toilet-seat deal!
— Irene Harvey
Stockton Springs, ME
After just a couple of weeks at my part-time office job, I saw clearly that my nursing infant couldn't handle that much separation from me. (And his daddy saw this even more clearly!) So I quit my job for the sake of family harmony . . . but that put the same old uncomfortable squeeze on our budget.
Then one day, while browsing through our local natural food store, I jestingly asked the owner (a friend) if he needed a bookkeeper. To my great surprise, he answered, "I didn't know you were a bookkeeper! Wow, we could really use someone to do our books. And we'll give you some food for it!"
So here I am with a part-time job again. Only — this time — I can not only set my own hours but bring my son with me (no problem nursing a hungry baby there ). And, best of all, I quite literally "bring home the bread".
— Janet Colyard
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