Bartering: Off-Grid Living Without Money

Reader Contribution by Aur Beck and Advanced Energy Solutions Group
1 / 2
2 / 2

Living without money in today’s society is a challenge but can be satisfying. My dad didn’t like that his tax money was going to support wars (my dad said as part of our national budget the war costs were creeping up on 40%), so he figured that he wouldn’t earn more than the $6,500 a year, a point beyond which required him to pay federal taxes. In 2019, for example, the minimum for single filing status, if under age 65, is $12,200. I did see my dad’s social security statement, and all of the first 20 years of my life, he filed but didn’t have to pay any taxes due to earning less than the required amount to file. Somehow he convinced my mother, and later us kids, to join him on this voluntary vow of poverty.

What Are the Majority of Expenses Most People Have? 

  • House/land. We traded house/land sitting in exchange for a place to stay. Now I rent out part of my home to cover all expenses, such as taxes and insurance, while some repairs I work exchange.
  • Food. We grew a lot, bought in bulk, and ate on the bottom of the food chain with almost no meat or dairy, working for farmers in exchange for bulk food.
  • Vehicle. We traveled with horse drawn wagon, and had a truck for work that brought in money to cover its expenses.
  • Electricity. We lived completely off the grid either very low tech or solar later.
  • Health. We took great care of ourselves with good food and plenty of exercise.
  • Telephone for work that brought in money to cover its expenses.
  • Trash. For years, we produced so little trash that our neighbors would let us share their service for the 3 or 4 little bags we had each month. Now my renters pay enough to cover this.
  • Internet. When I was growing up, it was pre-internet. My first computer operated on DOS. Now my renters or my company pays enough to cover this necessary convenience.

Almost all of our homesteading costs from getting animals to seeds to hay to using the neighbor’s tractor we bartered, mostly labor exchange, as most farmers needed work help more than money. Quality laborers are so rare to find.

A barter exchange we have done is with our neighbor who has all the equipment to hay our fields and since we have nine horses we need a lot of hay to make it through the winter. Our partnership is they help us put up the hay with us providing the majority of the labor and they get to take home a percentage of the hay baled for themselves. Most years, we put up plenty extra to be able to sell or trade some of the excess hay.

Bartering and Haggling

Have you ever bartered or haggled? It is a common and fun country past time where the goal isn’t to outsmart the other person but rather make it so both sides feel that they got a good deal. If you “outsmart” the other person,  later they may realize they got a very horrible deal so they won’t want to work with you again. It needs to be a mutually beneficial transaction so both of you can be friends and continue to do deals in the future. It is a way of thinking long-term!

My favorite haggle was when I was in Mexico for more than three months and I went to the farmer’s market. There everyone haggles, as it is a highly prized skill and a great way to pass the time. I almost didn’t speak any Spanish but after 20 minutes of animated gesturing and haggling (me mostly in English and the vendor/farmer all in Spanish), the vendor enjoyed the haggling session so much he gave me all the vegetables I had picked out. Then we started haggling as I wanted to give him money and he was trying to explain that it was so much fun that he couldn’t take my money. I, in the end, had to just leave some money on the table and run away laughing. 

Another common barter I will do is talk to a farmer who, during his or her busy season, I would offer to help them by taking off their hands any of the seconds (the less-than-perfect-looking) tomatoes for a very low price, for trade and/or work exchange. I don’t care what the tomatoes look like because I will cook them down (in my solar cooker) into sauce to can. After years of this, I have farmers call me to get a bunch of bushels of tomatoes right before they have to throw them out. The disadvantage is the tomatoes always need to immediately be cut up, cooked up and canned. The farmer likes me as they hate throwing away their hard fought works of art that they grew. 

My dad regularly horse traded (another way of saying haggled or bartered or traded) both horses and cars. I hope this helps inspire you to try stepping outside your comfort zone in the money economy to try to figure out ways to live that do note require much cash.


Aur Beck has lived completely off-grid for over 35 years. He has traveled with his family through 24 states and 14,000 recorded miles by horse-drawn wagon. Aur is a presenter atThe Climate Reality Project, a fellow addict atOil Addicts Anonymous International  and a talk show co-host at WDBX Community Radio for Southern Illinois 91.1 FM. Find him on theLiving Off Grid, Really!?!? Facebook page, and read all of Aur’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

Finally — a hands-on marketing field guide designed specifically for green businesses selling recycled, natural, and organic products. While sales of eco-friendly products are at an all-time high, many green business professionals are frustrated by their poor marketing results. How can you reach more buying customers? What marketing channels will produce the best results? How can you better promote the performance and value of your eco-product?

With Wildly Profitable Marketing for Green Businesses Selling Eco-Friendly Products, you’ll quickly discover how to steer eager prospects and customers swiftly to your business using search engine optimization (SEO), social media, mobile marketing, your website, and other online and offline approaches.Order from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store or by calling 800-234-3368.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.