The Successful Swaps column shares success stories in bartering, including bartering hitchhiking rides, horoscope readings and storage space.
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
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
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
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
— 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
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
— 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
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
“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
— 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
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