The Successful Swaps column shares success stories in bartering, including stories on bartering wrapping coins, trading stamps and working a Maine farm.
In MOTHER EARTH NEWS issue 37, Bill Wodraska shared some of his thoughts regarding one of humankind’s better ideas of bartering and offered up an interesting suggestion: “I’d like to see a continuing feature on barter and skill-and-labor exchanges,” said Bill. “Maybe MOTHER could even swap subscriptions for contributions to the department. ” “You’re on!” we replied . . . and announced our still-standing offer: Anyone who sends us a short account of an actual barter that gets printed in this column (write THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS, Hendersonville, North Carolina) will receive a 12-month subscription (new or extended) to MOTHER.
Bartering Wrapping Coins, Trading Stamps and Working a Maine Farm
My older brother (a busy executive) saves his loose change in jars, but never finds the spare time to figure up what he’s collected.
Once — quite unbelievably — he asked me if I’d be willing to “bother” myself with wrapping the coins and carting them off to the bank . . . in exchange for half the total amount-of the savings. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance.
What a fun way to make money! Our two and four-year-old daughters, my husband, and I turned the task into a game: While sorting the mounds of loose coins, we’d all try to guess what the grand tally would be.
Amazingly, my brother’s “leftover change” totaled $156. We happily sent him a $78 check for his share . . . and used our half for a much needed yard shed.
And what was so neat about this whole transaction was that both parties viewed the swap as sure-fire “easy money”.
— D.E. LeSage
Manahawkin, New Jersey
I used to have many thousands of postage stamps, but when my husband died I discovered I needed other things more. If I had sold my collection outright, I would have realized only a fraction of the stamps’ value . . . so I decided to trade them for items I could either use myself or give away as gifts.
As a result of an ad I ran in the “exchange column” of a few women’s magazines, I swapped off my entire assortment to several ladies. In return, I received handcrafts, needlework, cash refund coupons, discount coupons (which I can exchange again), and other similar goods.
Now I own many beautiful articles I otherwise couldn’t afford to buy . . . and the folks with whom I swapped have acquired valuable additions to their stamp collections without having to pay top prices.
— Margaret C. Nellans
Here on Nantucket Island we enjoy the relaxed pace of small-town living . . . for nine months of the year. Then comes Memorial Day weekend and — with it — chaos! Boatloads of tourists and “summer people” from the mainland swell our population from 4,500 to over 20,000 (where it remains until around Labor Day when the wave finally subsides).
As you can imagine, we year-round residents who truly love the solitude and beauty of our island resent the pressures caused by this seasonal boom. So last summer I was overjoyed when I discovered a way to escape (temporarily, of course) . . . by swapping labor at haying time on a rural Maine farm for room and board and all the incidental pleasures of simple country living.
Besides haying, I helped harvest honey from a hive, trap native brook trout to be used in stocking a pond, plow and disc the fields, feed the sheep, and do a variety of other “chores” that to me were welcome relief from the hectic summer scene I had left behind in Nantucket.
In addition to all that, I was regularly fed good home-style cooking and met several fascinating old-timers from “down east”. And — most important — I solidified my friendship with the farmer and his family (an act which, I hope, will lead to even more successful swaps in the future).
— Berry B. Woolley
I usually charge $610 per animal when goat owners want their does bred to my nice young Nubian buck. But recently a fellow (who was hoping to build up a herd of dairy goats but who just couldn’t afford my buck’s services) and I worked out a swap.
You see, I had just purchased a small, beat up Honda sedan (dents, rough paint job, the works) to save a little on the cost of gas. So when I found out that this fellow painted autos and did bodywork in his home workshop . . . well, the tradeoff became obvious.
Now everyone’s happy: my friend (who’s on the way to owning a nice goat herd with his dozen or so pregnant does) and me (I now can show off my beautiful “new” economy car). Things couldn’t have worked out better!
— John Hunter
Bartering has become a necessary part of my family’s life here in rural Montana. A case in point: Our second child was due to arrive in February . . . a time when winter snows were piling up deeper and deeper. And, since we planned a home delivery, we certainly wanted to keep our two-mile-long road open in case of an emergency. So I offered our 70-year-old neighbor use of my strong back and chain saw for cutting firewood if he’d bring out his snowplow and clear off the road. We both thought it was a good trade.
Our older neighbors, by the way, have proven to be real “gold mines” when it comes to barter. And they, in turn, seem to love my wife’s canned goods, our farm-fresh eggs, my “muscular assistance”, and all the other items or services we exchange.
Before I forget it, MOTHER: I’d like to swap my complimentary subscription for this contribution to my brother-in-law for a set of encyclopedias!
— William Voves
We barter as often as possible, but a recent trade was the most rewarding and memorable of all.
My husband Charles is a seminary professor. His field of expertise — Old Testament studies — had taken him to the Holy Land once, and he was anxious for the opportunity to take the trip again . . . this time with me and our daughter. (Needless to say, my daughter and I were equally excited at the prospect.)
We talked of the journey often, but wondered if and when we might ever be able to afford such a trip. (Seminary positions are not noted for their high salaries.) Then, last fall, Charles received a brochure announcing a tour of Israel (including a three-day seminar) scheduled for the last two weeks of January 1978. The flyer stipulated that every five paying participants recruited for the trip would net a free trip for the recruiter. When we saw this, we immediately got busy and enlisted enough people to at last provide all three of us with the awe inspiring experience we’d been dreaming of.
Of course we did incur some additional expenses on the voyage, but nothing we couldn’t handle after swapping out the basic cost of the trip itself. In fact, this has been our biggest barter to date . . . and we’re not stopping there: We’re already working toward another expedition for next January . . . but a month-long one this time!
Although not all tours can be set up on this type of barter basis, I’ll bet there are plenty of groups out there willing to swap “free rides” for paying customers. Ask!
Thank God barter is still alive, well, and very active!
— Doretta E. Baughman
Kansas City, Missouri
Have you ever thought of your homestead as a vacation resort” If you haven’t, you should. This new view of your land could be the start of some beneficial barters, as it is certain to be for US.
This summer, four college boys from the Midwest will be vacationing in the Rockies at our “expense”. That is, they’ll be camping out on our spread, and we’ll be feeding them and — on weekends — driving them around to see the sights. During the week, they’ll repay us by digging ditches, pouring concrete, and making adobe bricks.
In this way, we’ll receive the help we need, and the boys will get experience and recreation: Our home will be built (as was our nearest neighbor’s) in exchange for food, tours, and a scenic campsite.
— Jean Nava
Barter isn’t a word we hear much around here. Folks in this neck of the woods call it simply “tradin’ an do a lot of it!
An example of our trades is the time we put down new flooring in our house . . . and traded the leftover scraps of linoleum to a friend for a 50- by 100-foot almost-clear sheet of plastic. The plastic had a few holes, but it covered a lot of cold frames and all the drafty windows in our house for several winters.
Since then, my family has entered into a host of swapping deals. I gather walnuts on the property of one of my uncles and receive half the crop in return. And my husband hauls this same uncle’s hay and bush hogs for him in exchange for enough hay to feed our cattle all winter long.
Even our seven-year-old son is becoming a “tradin’ man”. When I insisted that a pair of mallard ducks given to him by a friend were too noisy, he swapped ’em to his cousin for eight quackless Muscovy ducks. Then he bartered one of those birds to an uncle of his for two roosters and a laying hen. (My son’s bargaining has earned him a perpetual greeting from this uncle: “What have you got to trade me today, boy?”)
Now Uncle wants to swap our children a summer’s worth of riding his Shetland pony for all of our pasture that it can eat. For the young’uns, this is the sweetest deal of all.
— G.A. Bowen
Working with our local Boy Scouts Club, we’ve discovered ways of helping others that benefit our group as well . . . and — after all — isn’t that what swappin’s all about?
We approach older folks and ask their permission to remove unwanted, dead limbs and small trees from their property. In exchange, we get the wood itself . . . which we then split and sell as fuel. (The money finances our camping trips.)
Everyone benefits: The homeowners get rid of the wood at no cost or effort, and the scouts learn woodmanship, fund raising, financial responsibility, and teamwork.
— Joe Quigley
Haddon Heights, New Jersey
Early last spring, my husband and I finally realized our life’s dream: We bought 40 acres of farmland, complete with an old house and run-down farm buildings. As a result, however, most of our available capital went into restoration work . . . leaving little cash for the purchase of equipment and livestock.
In our search for a solution to the problem, we remembered that — during the renovation of our property — my husband had built a driveway for an electrician friend in exchange for some rewiring work. Maybe we could use barter again!
And so we began: An old bathtub — left over from the remodeling period — was swapped to a neighbor who needed a stock waterer . . . for six pullets and a rooster, plus the use of the neighbor’s tractor and manure spreader at barn cleaning time. Thanks to this trade we not only enjoy fresh, country eggs . . . but also a much better crop of corn (thanks to six loads of fertilizer).
Let it be known that the “horse tradin’ ” referred to by the old-timers is still very much alive and well!
— Kathy Bunch
Grass Lake, Michigan
Five years ago in the spring, my wife and I left the impersonal city and moved to the Catskill Mountains. Our meager savings were soon exhausted, however, and we weren’t sure we could stick it out. Thank heavens we were saved by accidentally stumbling onto the barter system!
Our first trade brought us free rent in return for room renovation, and this kept us going long enough to establish a floor sanding business. That enterprise, in turn, gave us six months — rent free — in a beat-up old farmhouse, in exchange for floorwork. We lived in paradise until spring, when our six months ended.
Once again we had no money and nowhere to go . . . but swapping came through for us again. The landlady of a tiny house three miles closer to town saw the work we’d done in the old farmhouse, and — as a result — offered us a two — month lease without charge, plus half a tank of oil for doing her rental’s floors and painting. Saved once more!
Well, we’ve been here ever since . . . and we’re still tradin’. Farmer Johnson recently approached us and declared, “My wife would love to have beautiful flours in our home too, but we have no cash to pay for ’em.” So I finished his 150-year-old dwelling’s floorboards in exchange for 300 gallons of milk — to be taken whenever needed — plus some fine philosophy and stories.
Then Farmer Bouton asked us to do his kitchen floors in exchange for six gallons of maple syrup. And last spring — when I wasn’t working — I volunteered to help the same man with his annual sappin’. He accepted my assistance gladly and said, “Never be without syrup.” And Farmer Bouton really meant it: Whenever I let him know I’ve run out, a gallon appears on my doorstep the next morning.
Thank goodness for barter and good friends.
— David Hayden
Halcott Center, New York
Since we retired, my husband and I have really been “living better for less” through barter.
One of my longstanding trades has been with a neighbor who has a convalescent mother: I sit with his mother, and he feeds our livestock when we’re away on brief trips. Another neighbor keeps our mechanical equipment in good working order in exchange for our help baling hay and our assistance in other harvesting jobs.
We’ve also traded watermelons for green beans, eggs for potatoes, and plants and trees for various other items.
But the best swap of the year for us is the cool, clear water from our newly dug well. This cost us only some tires the well driller needed and which — conveniently enough — we happened to have on hand.
We’re convinced that swapping is the best way possible to stretch a pension!
— Mrs. J. J. Burnette
Auburn, W. Virginia
Bartering can be a real friend to anyone getting started in farming . . . it sure was for me!
Livestock on our farm was “as scarce as a frog in the Sahara Desert” . . . until we started swapping. We began by gathering corn — tree for the gleaning — on the farm of some friends. ( We followed the pickers down the corn rows, collecting missed ears and throwing them into an old wheelbarrow. Before long, we had a huge pile.)
Our first deal was half a pickup load of the foraged crop in exchange for three young porkers . . . and we brought our first critters home. Next we traded a further portion of the produce to another neighbor for chickens, ducklings, and a litter of rabbits. The remainder of the corn was then fed to our new animal friends . . . who returned the favor with fresh eggs, ham, bacon, pork chops, and a roast duck for Thanksgiving dinner. (A share of the hams went to a neighbor for hickory smoking the whole lot.)
Since those first trades we’ve swapped tomatoes and carrots for a double-bitted axe, a dozen insulators for an old Enterprise meat grinder, and firewood for a dozen auger bits.
Swapping has a great many advantages over cash exchange: no recordkeeping, no taxes, and everyone leaves satisfied. The barter system will always have a place on our farm.
— G. David Gehlhar
Since our family moved into an area with lots of friendly people a short time back, we’ve had opportunities galore for trading.
We’ve bartered tobacco sticks for mowing . . . extra eggs for preserves, jellies, and fruit juices. . . and worked in our neighbors’ fields for the use of their farm equipment.
But the most important swap of all is the one made with a nearby couple in their 70’s. They’d been dairy farmers in the past, but — due to health reasons — could no longer keep any cows. So we struck up a deal: Our neighbors bought a Brown Swiss bossy and occasionally furnish some of her feed . . . and we keep her on our farm and milk her.
Now both families have a constant supply of milk. In fact — since our elderly friends consume only about a gallon a week — we have enough left over to trade off a surplus three gallons every seven days for other needs. This “tradin’ stock” brings us ample scrap wood-cut to fit our stove — from a friend who works in a furniture factory.
The possibilities of barter are endless, and the results are so satisfying. Nothing beats the closeness created by sharing.
— Cynthia Woods